Death Cup: When Greek Life Went DIY

 

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Prince Daddy and The Hyena

 

When I first arrived in front of the Zeta Psi Fraternity house in the decidedly vanilla West Campus neighborhood of Austin, I was surprised. Though I had spent countless hours there with friends in previous semesters, chugging away cheap beer and biding my time on the spacious porch, the house now resembled something more immediate and tantalizing—strung up lights, a makeshift stage, a haphazardly charming poster proclaiming the day’s event, Camp West Campus SXSW Showcase.
Four months in the making and culminating in an 18-hour concert, 21 bands and roughly 1000 people filled a fraternity house for one of the most memorable experiences of SXSW.

An Austin historical landmark, the plantation-style home rests on old bones. Though the large painted greek letters in the front lawn proclaimed it kin to the countless other houses that dot West Campus, Zeta Psi’s age and storied past whip an air of unconventional charm within the traditional and oft-derided bastion of primarily Anglo-Saxon collegiate tradition. The house residents and brothers carry this air with them—a multicultural patchwork of various backgrounds and majors. Bernie Sanders stickers are stuck to the walls next to Keystone Light signs and a Dali print hangs in an upstairs room, keeping a watchful eye over a dirty bong.

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The Zeta Psi House

 

Possibly due to the gleeful surrealism for SXSW or a mutual bond over music and cheap beer, I was able to put on a punk concert at a fraternity house in the heart of West Campus with the help of my friends and the enthusiasm of the bands that played. The music of South by Southwest has evolved over time from a grassroots celebration of new and noteworthy musicians to a something approximating a Millennial Ayn Rand’s raunchy fantasy. Though this massive and loosely connected festival gets overrun with press and media attention at every Capital One or Schlotzsky’s-sponsored event, the backbone of SXSW is still confined to smaller, more makeshift events. As more cutting edge music shifts toward a do-it-yourself approach in the face of rampant corporate sponsorship (see essentially every college rock group of the 1980’s), UT students tend to flock to their friends’ living rooms and co-op basements to see their favorite band perform a short, sweaty, and often unforgettable set. Or, in this case, a fraternity house.

Prior to the day of the show, the well-worn house was buzzing with activity. Plywood was hastily hauled in to construct the stage, the PA system and backline were lugged by a tired pickup truck unsure of its own capabilities. Hushed, frenetic conversations were held when last minute thoughts spiked into the forefront of the organizers’ minds. Between the looming fear of Fire Marshals, impending threats of sound ordinances, and the ever-present question of who the hell would even show up to a frat house to see a punk show and why did we even do this, it was soon apparent that there was much to act upon but little left actually worth discussing– at some point, it seems that all one can do it hope, cross fingers, and rely on downtown Austin to become the tech-savvy clusterfuck that it is known to be and divert all of the attention away.Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 1.00.01 PM

As the day before Camp West Campus wore on, things slowly fell into place, much like some day-drunk puzzle. Kegs were delivered, nails were hammered in, I chain-smoked. As the lights were plugged in and the sun power-walked toward the next hemisphere, the house seemed transformed into something approaching unequivocally Interesting status, for better or worse. Sweating and with the witching hour approaching, our comfort-colored subjects scattered away from their clubhouse, eager for the next morning. This is not to say that all involved knew what expect–minus a few self-aware individuals in line with the scene– the briskly shouted adieus of “it’ll be lit” can still be heard swirling around Lake Ladybird to this day.

The next day began early and loudly. At 10 am, many of the more musically-inclined brothers arrived to prepare for door times and the first band loading in. At around noon, Meach Pango, began to play. As they filled the house with exuberant music, warm bodies began to trickle in, somewhat bemused expressions on their face. This was not particularly the crowd that would normally find themselves in the proverbial belly of the beast, much less on one of the busiest days of SXSW. If you had closed your eyes, however, the sounds vibrating around the vicinity of the address conjured up images of 17434485_1775632369117420_8970939993670587461_osweaty basements rather than spacious homes– cathartic, angst-filled, and brimming with a community. A diverse lineup was paramount to the viability of the event, and the organizers succeeded, bringing sounds made by LGBT, queer, and non-binary musicians to take the main stage of a southern frat house. Around 3 pm, the crowd really began to roll in to hear the music. The knowing, ironic smirk of many of the patrons faded into smiles and shared nods of genuine enjoyment. Camp West Campus was in full swing.

Around 7 pm, the main acts took the stage. Kissisippi, Oso Oso, Prince Daddy and the Hyena, Mom Jeans., and Heat, one after another after another. Bodies crammed into one another inside the small living room. Outside, on the front lawn, beer was languorously sipped while cigarettes were smoked.  Beer pong was being played, a team of drunken fraternity brothers up against a team of equally drunk cooperative members. Possibly due to the unmistakable heaviness of THC-laden air inflating the house or the day drunk-now-evening drunk carefree attitude of those present, there was a semi-tangible feeling of experience present in the air. This was a weird event, sure, but it was also incredible. The bands sounded amazing, each one better than the last. During Mom Jeans’ set, brave souls were crowd surfing the small room as people slammed into one another, all hastily choreographed to the joyous cacophony of jangly guitars and angst-ridden lyrics.

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Mom Jeans.

 

Just as ingrained in the storied history of UT as the desire to stay DIY is the culture of Greek life. In recent years, Greek life at UT and around the country has been the subject of much debate, to say the least. Derided by many as either the fledgling remnant of a racist and misogynistic America or upheld as the gold standard by which the quintessential college experience has to be compared to, Greek life in Austin has always had some sort of clash with the more liberal, inclusive populace. However, this is not to say that SXSW, Greek life, and DIY culture perpetually occupy separate spheres. Sometimes, things come together. On the balmy March day, many of the people filled inside the house soaked in a gut punch of a feeling– a form of nostalgia for the present, almost. Every moment is heightened, each conversation is affirming and immediate. Each song provided the parameters of an experience meant to be savored, indulged in. There was some sense of community formed in the 14-hour long showcase between everyone present before the buses took us back to work, or school, or home, or somewhere else where a moment like this couldn’t happen.  Camp West Campus was closing down for the season but had delivered more than one could have hoped.

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DISCLAIMER: The author was not an active member in this, or any, Greek Letter social organization at the time of writing this or when the events took place. However, he has had past associations with the Zeta Psi fraternity. This article and its author do not condone any actions of greek life as a whole or of any system that works to artificially impose a hierarchy of elitist, racist, sexist, or otherwise intolerant behavior upon a community that supports it.

Art as a Social Tool: Pitchfork Media

Pitchfork Media is an online music journalism website, advertising itself as “the most trusted voice in music”. Though the website’s bread and butter are album and

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Pinegrove and Alex G, two bands associated with the Emo Revival movement, play a house show during SXSW 2015. 

song reviews, they also publish articles and interviews with various musicians. The content is primarily focused on independent music of all types of genres, and in recent years has incorporated more mainstream hip-hop and trap into its lens. Pitchfork has many regular contributors with each author roughly specializing in their own genres. Pitchfork utilizes a ten-point rating system in all of its reviews and an additional “best new music” tag on certain albums and songs deemed essential listening.

 

As one of the most popular and widely used music criticism websites of the digital age, Pitchfork utilizes many different ways to connect readers with music beyond a computer screen. They host an annual festival with many musicians considered to be on the cutting edge. On their social media, they create and post mini-documentaries about classic albums on their Twitter and Facebook profiles. They often utilize their social media as something of an extension of their own website, linking pages and articles to form one cohesive and singular brand message.

Though a music criticism site, Pitchfork does not exist in a bubble, as evidenced by the articles they publish. Recent articles posted about the best protest songs of all time and coverage of music’s impact on political unrest work to deliver a more cohesive message about Pitchfork’s brand personality as a whole. This proves a point that in the digital realm where music is concerned, it is essential for success to move beyond mere content delivery to creating some kind of larger context that gives meaning to the content distilled. The Pitchfork target audience is wide, honing in on those oh-so-coveted tech-savvy, culturally aware Millennials. They attempt to utilize music not just as an extension of what it means to be aware and informed in the digital age, but as the pinnacle— the merging of a defined social conscience, expression, and art intertwined through the communal nature of music.

They attempt to utilize music not just as an extension of what it means to be aware and informed in the digital age, but as the pinnacle— the merging of a defined social conscience, expression, and art intertwined through the communal nature of music.

One of the most prominent writers on Pitchfork is Ian Cohen. Having written for Pitchfork for a number of years, the albums that he reviews are mostly centered around punk and indie rock. More prominently than most other writers on the site, Cohen positions himself as something of a champion of the Emo Revival genre. A far cry from the Myspace and Hot Topic days of the early 2000’s, the genre has been gaining traction in many circles for its heartfelt lyrics combined with punk-influenced instrumentation. His online presence reflects this dedication to evangelizing the genre. On his Twitter, he interacts heavily with members of the various bands that he reviews. This is noteworthy because though musicians and those who write about their art have long found themselves kindred, if sometimes adversarial spirits, their interactions have never been as public. In addition, the nature of Twitter allows for others to join in on the conversation and become familiar with those who make the music in a way that was previously
impossible.

(Excerpt from) American Summer by Joan Didion

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Joan Didion pictured with her daughter, Quintana Roo

Joan Didion (born December 1934) is an American author and journalist. Raised in Sacremento, California, Ms. Didion was a defining voice in the New Journalism movement, and through her writings became a leading moral agent of American literary media throughout various cultural uncertainties and upheavals in the late 1960’s and ’70s. Writing for Vouge in 1967, before the height of her fame, “American Summer” details the singularly intoxicating moments of youth with clarity and dignity, relaying her personal past experiences via clear-eyed prose that would soon detail the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of present events.

 


It is the summers of our middle childhood that we remember with an almost impossible clarity. We may forget the summer we were married; we do not forget being twelve years old and lying face down on the deck of a red-sailed Star and trailing one hand in blue Maine water, so cold it seemed to burn the bone.We may forget the summers we traveled, may no longer see clearly the rose windows at Chartres; we see instead, as if the retina had been indelibly scarred, the yellow of the columbine, the white rush of water over rock, somewhere near Colorado Springs, the summer we were ten. Because my own middle childhood was spent in the Sacramento Valley, where summer is less a season than a five-month siege, my mother and brother and I would go, come June, to a place on the Marin County coast called Stinson Beach: unkempt, desolate, so rickety that geraniums obscured even the sunbleached Coca-Cola signs; a sandspit with approximately the resort pitch of the Outer Aleutians. Summer is, after all, the season of escape: the landscape in which to contemplate, alone, our failures and our possibilities; the safety valve, the frontier that none of us wants—or can afford—to see closed.

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Stinson Beach, CA, where Ms. Didion spent her childhood summers

What we remember later are the alone moments, the impromptu moments. Few children remember their swimming lessons; we remember instead the feel, summer nights, of a faded batiste nightgown against our legs as we leaned out an upstairs window and tried to hear the music down the lake, and wished we were old enough to get kissed. We remember, imperishably, later, how it felt to sit up all night on someone’s terrace listening to old Mabel Mercer records and watching the sun rise, veiled and white, on steaming New York mornings. We remember the mauve twilight wastes of Park Avenue on August Sundays, when we could put on a silk dress with no slip and exchange desultory summer gossip in cool lovely places like the Blue Angel and the Stanhope Gate and not worry a great deal about dinner. We may not remember where we were going, but we do remember the hot and littered airports, everywhere; the night jets between New York and California that flew, perhaps five nights a week, with six and seven passengers, four of them in shirt-sleeves.

mother-and-son-at-the-beach-seaside-1950s-vintage-old-film-8mm-home-movie-251_sdf0iexx__s0013“Summer is, after all, the season of escape: the landscape in which to contemplate, alone, our failures and our possibilities; the safety valve, the frontier that none of us wants—or can afford—to see closed.”

We recall the evening fogs blowing in over Cape Cod and Cape Ann, and how on the last afternoon of one Labor Day weekend in Rockport the leaves had already begun to drift across the square. We remember the rain falling every afternoon about four on the North Carolina Piedmont, and watching tobacco sold in towns like Durham, and drinking Dr. Pepper and Grapette, that deep violet liquid which runs in the veins of the Middle South. We remember walking alone on the endless white dunes of the Fire Island Reef; we can see, with our eyes closed, the blown cypress at Carmel. We recall in dreams a burning, shimmering, improbably moving, never-never stretch of the Green River in Utah—seen once, from the windows of a Western Pacific Zephyr. So many places to be alone, so many escapes. So many summers that we can keep—if we want to—for ourselves, keep forever. And we had better. Because you just turn a corner, someone once wrote, “and the sweet swift years are gone.”

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