Deerhunter’s art-rock noise reverberated off the domed ceiling of D.C.’s Sixth & I Synagogue, under which the capital’s college radio community united for a first-ever collaborative concert this week.
American University’s WVAU, University of Maryland-College Park’s WMUC and George Washington University’s WRGW joined musical forces to bring ambient punk rockers Deerhunter back to D.C. for the first time since October 2010 in the unprecedented District College Radio Presents show. (Georgetown University’s WGTB did not officially participate, but the station helped promote the event.)
“Everyone had really interesting events going on, but there was never really an initiative to put these forces together. And especially because we are working with people who have really cool interests and [are] booking people and have these awesome ideas … I just wanted to meet other people from the stations and see what we could do together.” Paula Mejia, general manager of WRGW and a senior at GW, said.
What they could do together turned out to be not only booking a mesmerizing, dynamic headlining act and selling out an 800+ seat venue in little over one week, but also playing up each station’s strengths — which according to Mejia are: WMUC showcasing live local talent, WVAU booking “awesome” acts and WRGW’s working with businesses and nonprofits — to best reintroduce college radio on the D.C. scene.
“I think it was good for us to put all those things together, all the things we’re good at, and show the big D.C. community what we can do. I think it sets a good legacy for us that we did this first really big show,” Emily Thompson said, live music director at WMUC and a senior at UMD.
While WMUC still operates on a frequency, that’s not the norm for college radio, including their D.C. counterparts. The Internet gives the stations a greater opportunity to reach more people, though it can be difficult to make noise on the depths of the web — especially to the extent of college radio’s influence in the heydey of the late ’80s and early ’90s with launching bands like Black Flag and Mission of Burma, Mejia said.
WVAU General Manager Emily White mentions her station’s unofficial slogan, which continues the theme of college radio stepping up on the local music scene.
“Our joke tagline is always ‘We Exist.’ College radio now sort of exists more for the people within it than the people outside of it, and I think an event like this is important because of that shared communal excitement we get to have and feel ownership of something and do something really cool,” White said. “But it’s also that little ‘hey! College radio! We’re still here! We’re doing something really cool’ to the community.”
Though this was not just an opportunity for district college radio to increase their off-campus presence — on-campus, the stations experienced bumps of support, from members to non-members.
WRGW’s Mejia said several underclassmen expressed interest in joining the station and WVAU’s White said students at American are aware that the station is more than that hallway window into the studio people use to stare at DJs like a fishbowl.
Another bonus for the universities: a limited number of reduced ticket prices, and even free tickets, were made available for students, aiding college radio’s mission and love for sharing music.
The April 22 District College Radio Presents show also marked the first night of Deerhunter’s latest string of shows playing material off their newest record Monomania, set to be released May 7 and available to stream until then via NPR Music. It was only the second time Deerhunter performed since August 2011 — the first being a mysterious, noisy performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Experiencing Deerhunter’s performance was an hour-long visit to frontman Bradford Cox’s strange, wonderful mind, and the Sixth & I Synagogue setting only added to the spiritual vibes. Deerhunter opened their set with a warped jam that led into the trance-inducing “Cryptograms,” from their 2007 record of the same name, covering the surfaces of the venue with noise and distortion. Cox donned a black wig and a white cheetah-print blouse hung on his lanky frame which bent around the stage over his guitar, mic and tambourine (maracas also made an appearance).
The trance continued through the main set closer, lead single and title track off the upcoming Monomania. Though a bit obvious to end with the new single, the song is perfect for that role, with continuous shouts “mono-monomania” and loud, psychedelic droning that likely left ears ringing for days. Before the song ended, Cox slinked off the stage leaving his band members to continue blowing minds (and ears).
New York’s experimental electronic artist MAS YSA was the first opener, appropriately setting the night’s tone with sampling choirs and Counting Crow’s emotional “Colorblind” piano track over dance beats. It’s easy to see why Deerhunter picked the second act Jackson Scott to open their upcoming shows; his odd presence and ambient rock is obviously Cox-inspired, though no where near as fully formed yet — Deerhunter’s soundcheck was noticeably more complete.
Fortunately the headliners weeded out any negativity and promptly set the audience in an hour-long daze.
A ticket to the hypnotic performance was much coveted and understandably so. WRGW GM Mejia said, “Our old GM posted on my Facebook that people were selling tickets on Craigslist, and he’s like, ‘There’s a black market for tickets. Good job.’ We made it.”
Full disclosure: Marissa Cetin is Web Director and a DJ at WVAU.
This article is part of USA TODAY College’s Spotlight Series, which features student bands, campus organizations, student entrepreneurs and start-ups, student-run media, student artists and any other students doing cool, admirable and proactive things. If you’d like to nominate a student or an organization, please submit here.