Talent shows are rarely fun. If your most immediate memory of such an event is not something akin to a half-remembered hip-hop routine to Ciara's "One-Two Step" from sixth grade, blame post-traumatic stress disorder.
But we’re at Northwestern now. This institution boasts more successful artist alumni than Morty does purple swag. U Nu Arts Night Pt. II, a collegiate version of the standard middle school torture device, successfully wiped out talent-show stigma and made magic happen.
You probably weren’t cool enough to hear about U Nu Arts Night part I, a smaller gig that took place in Weinberg senior Joshua Brechner’s apartment back in November.
“It was a way to put my album out,” explained Brechner, who planned and performed at both events. “I wanted to announce it without it being just a way to promote myself and my work.” With 15 performers and about 45 attendees, Brechner’s crowded apartment show was a tiny, raging success. On Saturday, thanks to J.J. Java owner Chinelo Oparaeche’s excitement about the idea, Brechner was able to promote his new five-song album by expanding his already-successful event into the larger venue. But the bigger gig hasn’t strayed from its humble roots.
“Most people don’t major or study what they’re performing…we don’t have many voice majors singing, or piano players playing piano,” said Brechner. “It’s a very scary thing to share something so personal…so I [bring] other people to perform with me and share the moment.” Indeed, no written piece could do adequate justice to the night’s precious moments, which included improvisational rap about Oreos and Goldfish, poems about The Keg, sketch comedy and Beethoven. There was some phenomenal and genre-diverse original music, including the traditional singer-songwriter stylings of Gabriella del Hoyo, the psychedelic electronica band GSSTOAK and the self-produced experimental rap of “Caeto Moon.”
As is to be expected from a labor of love on a college budget, there were some technical difficulties that persisted throughout the night. Plus, the background noise at J.J. Java is both frequent and piercing – think espresso machines and the El. But when it came to Brechner’s performance as U Nu, the screech of the grinder and the rumbling of the train overhead actually added to the vibe of the music.
“This is the first time I’ve done anything with electronic music, so if it gets fucked up, then, whatever,” said Brechner. Consequently, all of the “fuck-ups” seemed almost purposeful, a mirroring of the event itself.
What made the night so special? Performer Paul Marino articulated the sentiments of the crowd in a truly poetic fashion. “Sometimes I kinda get lost in a sea of everyday, passionless monotony," he said. "It’s nice to see people giving their hearts to everyone else.” Marino smiled before he delved into his own song-poem set. The applause he received for his comment spoke just as eloquently as Marino himself. The performers were diverse in terms of subject matter, but they shared an intense level of creative energy that comes from intrinsic motivation. The night went nearly two hours longer than planned, with Zach Robinson’s radical music act closing the night at nearly 1 AM. Still, a sizeable contingent of people stayed the entire time, demonstrating a profound love for the art itself and the friends who produced it.
But the quote of the night went to slam poet Kirk Vaclavik for both its scatological reference and unintentional relevance. “Drop that shitty sack of shame,” he declared in Quake, “and embrace your ability.” If there was any shit or shame, it certainly wasn’t on display at U Nu Arts Night II. But ability? Again, more visible than Morty’s Purple Pride.