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Vanishing Act

Observer Scene | Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What happened to Notre Dame’s music scene? Throughout the 1990s Notre Dame students formed bands left and right, recording demo tapes, playing parties and local bars and clubs. Although Sweep the Leg Johnny and Chisel are the most famous indie bands formed by Notre Dame students, more than 20 other student groups emerged from 1989-2000 and created a subculture of live music at Our Lady’s university that has virtually disappeared today.

The student body should be ashamed by this, especially in light of the thriving music scenes of other universities. The four members of alternative favorite Vampire Weekend met at Columbia. Two undergraduates at Harvard formed the band Chester French (playing tonight at Legends) and signed with Pharell Williams’ Star Trak record label as seniors. MGMT went to Wesleyan. Duke University is so proud of DJ/MC Mike Posner (a current junior) that his EP is featured on the university’s iTunes U page. In light of these statistics from similar schools, Notre Dame’s lack of practically any student-based music culture is even more glaring.

The South Bend/Notre Dame bands of the ’90s recorded their demos and albums on tape decks, in local studios, and wherever they could find recording devices. We live in the age of GarageBand and other easy means of music preservation. The technology has made it so that any person with a computer can press a button and make an mp3 file of themselves playing instruments and singing. Myspace and Youtube have only simplified the ways a band or an artist can get noticed. And yet the decline of Notre Dame’s music scene persists.

Acoustic Café cannot be cited as an example of Notre Dame’s student music life. One or two students with guitars in the LaFortune basement cannot compare to a rock band or a student MC in terms of popularity, cultural relevance and the potential for wider campus involvement. It says something about the university that the only ongoing student music night features acoustic sets rather than anything heavier (and potentially more appealing). Legends’ upcoming “Battle of the Bands” is the only event wherein Notre Dame’s music venues open the doors to student bands, and I plan to attend just to see if any of these elusive bands show up.

Ten years ago Notre Dame produced alternative music acts that toured the country and recorded albums. Notre Dame students also formed bands, recorded demos, and never played music again after they graduated. Now – nothing, or very close to nothing. Who’s to blame for this continual decline? The university? The student body? Whatever it is, every person on campus should recognize the loss of live student music at our school and work to recreate a music scene. If you’re in a band, email us at Scene and we’ll write about you. If you play music, find others with instruments and think about writing some songs together. Every university should have a counterculture, even ones as traditional as Notre Dame.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Ellie Hall at eprister@nd.edu