If you’re not a naïve freshman (sorry), you’ve probably noticed an eerie trend in the evolution of nightlife at Wesleyan. Program houses, which used to host a bustling concert scene, boasting three or four live shows a night, have made the switch to a new beast entirely: the aux party. If you’ve ever sat shotgun in your friend’s car, you’re probably familiar with the aux; it simply means that anyone holding the magic aux cord has the power to subject everyone else in the vicinity to their music taste, for better or worse. At Wesleyan, aux parties are essentially democratically curated dance parties that allow even the most storied halls of 200 High to become glorified Bar Mitzvahs.
Now, I have nothing against dance parties. I like to dance, and I’m only half white so I’m only half embarrassed about it. If I’m socially lubricated enough, I can even look past bumping against sweaty softboys and taking intermissions on the Movement House porch so I don’t suffocate from the Juul fumes. I understand the need to let loose in a higher-key environment than our student music scene can provide, judging by its current affinity for Pet Sounds and Elliott Smith. Not to mention, simple DJ sets provide an easy way to create an inclusive environment for all students, since almost anyone can make a playlist on their phone. Live concerts haven’t always curated a welcoming space; everyone is aware of the White Music Boy trope, and there is truth to the stigma.
However, the campus music scene is a well-coveted gem of Wesleyan nightlife. Few other colleges can boast such a high number of student bands and successful alums (insert MGMT reference here), but any near-defunct frat house can dim their lights and queue up a playlist of early-2000s “throwbacks.” At this point, putting on Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” is as cheap of an approval tactic as shouting out “Go Pats!” on the loud side of Usdan. Aux parties are fun, but they aren’t special. Fountain has traditionally provided the sweaty dance scene, and program houses have filled in the rest, but recent regulations have put concerts in a chokehold. With increasing pressures from ResLife to limit stages and non-program events, aux parties seem like the easy way out for program houses and other societies to open their doors without a cumbersome amount of foresight and planning.
One way ResLife continues to get away with the so-called “War on Fun” is through institutional memory, or the lack thereof. As a sophomore, I’ve been shocked to speak to upperclassmen about the proliferation of concerts as few as two years ago, and how the scene has halved and quartered in size since then. Student music publications such as Aural Wes have recently resorted to including DJ sets and other less band-centric events on their weekend previews, indicating a dwindling amount of real content to cover. Despite a variety of groups showcased at the MASH, campus concerts have been carried almost exclusively by the same three or four bands; the rest have had key members graduate, go abroad, or just simply don’t have the time to stay active. (You probably know what three bands I’m talking about.) As a result, freshmen eagerly line up outside aux parties, never even realizing what they’ve been missing. As key music scene members graduate, a new generation may not even think to fill their shoes. It’s all fine and good if students genuinely choose to phase out certain elements of nightlife, but students and ResLife have historically butted heads about concert regulations, even if resistance wanes a bit more each year.
Another obstacle to the music scene is its infamous reputation for promoting elitist or exclusive spaces. A cultural shift has taken place to emphasize spaces for women, queer and trans individuals, and students of color, and this is a welcome shift in all areas even beyond nightlife. The music scene does not have to be an adversary to these efforts; in fact, several new student groups have made a concerted effort to include a greater diversity in their ranks. The time and (especially) money it takes to master an instrument will always play a gatekeeping role that simply does not exist for anyone who wants to walk up and play a song on their phone, but the solution is not to stifle an important community on campus. Representation comes from exposure and organic interest, not tokenism. Underclassmen won’t look to take part in a dying social scene, especially one that has been declared corrupt before it has gotten a chance to reform. How do you make music more inclusive? By expanding it, not paring it down to the few die-hard music boys who still cling on.
Aux parties can still exist alongside concerts; they’re a welcome diversification in what can seem like the monotonous routine of Wesleyan weekends. However, they shouldn’t act as a substitute for the artistry and creativity of actual students. Student concerts represent a unique intersection of personal expression and public spectacle, not to mention that they provide an alternative nightlife for students less inclined to be intoxicated. It’s possible to enjoy a concert sober. One is less likely to enjoy a sweaty dance rave sober. Cutting concerts out of your weekend rotation may serve some while it alienates others—let’s face it, we didn’t go to Wesleyan because we wanted to attend dry frat parties. It’s time to cut the cord and let the aux run free. Or at least, consider turning them down a notch.
Brooke Kushwaha is a member of the class of 2020. Brooke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter as @whinefromabox.