Hot red and white lights pour over the audience in true Badger fashion. On stage, a performer waves at a concert-goer that he recognizes from his biology class, the sound technician chats with his guitarist roommate and the show’s talent buyer enjoys a drink with a student radio show host.
This is common for the University of Wisconsin campus music scene. The performers know the jazz club attendees, who know the house show hosts, who know the music majors. It’s a small but familiar and tight-knit circle on campus.
The uniqueness of this music scene stems from the wide range of backgrounds and diverse music styles on campus, UW student musicians say.
With more than 45,000 students, the UW campus has become a melting pot of music genres and geographical backgrounds. The young artists live alongside fellow students who come from various genres and talents. Out of this large population, a creative community emerged from a collection of musical experiences, niche interest groups and diverse influences.
The university has several opportunities to assist students with their creative endeavors by connecting them with other students, such as The Studio learning community in the residence halls, the WUD Music talent booking club and the WSUM radio station.
Within these groups, student musicians have not only been able to work together on projects — they have made friendships and established lasting communities.
Senior student musician Deryk Gonzalez, also known as Deryk G., is still close friends with the group he met his freshman year in The Studio learning community. He said his musical style has been shaped and inspired by the group he surrounds himself with.
“It’s kinda like the people you’re surrounded by cultivate whatever you’re gonna do later,” Gonzalez said. “I was just surrounded by so many really great people, and that’s like, what happened. I felt like I could do so much more with music.”
Once a student gets involved in the music scene, there is a lot of overlap between the clubs and who they may see out at a show. Gonzalez said that he will see a similar group of people at the jazz jam session at Cafe Coda on Saturday nights as he would spot at his own shows or at the WUD Music meetings, for example.
Gonzalez said students who are passionate about music have searched for, found and built a strong community on campus.
“I just wanna play good stuff, give my friends opportunities to play with me and give people that do other forms of art the opportunity to help me,” Gonzalez said. “And — I don’t know — just create a community of people who just are weird like me.”
One of the house show hosts, Ayden Schultz, a senior who also works for WSUM, has put on two house shows at his residence this fall. At his house, which he calls The Harrison House, Schultz has performed with his band, Sex, Fear and has welcomed a line-up of local, student and out-of-state bands.
Schultz’s latest show hosted around 80 people. Guests packed into the basement where the band was set up, filed up the stairs and into hallways. Some attendees even listened from rooms on other floors with the music reverberating throughout the house.
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“It’s just a fun way to interact with the music scene in town and make connections that way for my band and for myself,” Schultz said.
The shows Schultz has put on so far have featured similar genres, ranging from indie rock to post-punk. Schultz explained that house shows usually have a consistent genre at most venues. The consistency element draws similar crowds from place to place — resulting in a dedicated group of house-show-goers.
“There’s definitely a concrete house show community. It’s just a place to be with very cool people who are usually very friendly and just enjoy music,” Schultz said. “It’s like going to a concert but more intimate and community-driven.”
These intimate, community-driven experiences have grown popular on the campus music scene. The lively city atmosphere and highly engaged music audience encourages the prevalence of these shows.
Tim Anderson of the rock band Able Baker said Madison provides a niche area for this kind of music scene to thrive.
“The size of Madison is really unique,” Baker said. “We’re close to Chicago and Minneapolis, [so] there’s just kind of the atmosphere of a lot of serious music industries and that kind of infrastructure around us, and I think that seeps into what’s going on in Madison.”
Anderson went to school in Minnesota and eventually ended up moving back to his hometown of Madison. On the Isthmus, he has grown his band and developed relationships with different music players in the city.
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These interactions and opportunities have shaped Madison and the UW campus into a creative empire, fostering the growth of musical creations and communities on campus for student musicians like Gonzalez and music-lovers like Schultz.
“The smallness, chillness and accessibility of different types of musicians interacting with each other, I think that is definitely something people talk about in Madison,” Anderson said.