Music is an essential part of our lives; it defines our experiences, builds communities and is a platform for free expression. But music is also a point of contention on Western's campus, specifically where genre representation is concerned.
ASP Pop Music brings several acts to campus each year, and most of their shows are in sold-out venues. But Paul Israel, founder of WWU Metal and Hardcore Club, offers a different perspective.
“It's the same people [going to all the shows],” he said. “It seems like the Western campus is trying to be an official stop venue for huge acts. That's not what I envision a campus community to be.”
Israel began WWU Metal and Hardcore Club out of the frustration that certain genres, particularly heavy metal and hardcore, were not as well-represented on campus as mainstream rap or indie rock. Israel has tried booking metal shows on the Western campus but has had only minimal success because Israel does not have a running budget or a staff to assist in organizing the show. Trying to do it all himself has proved to be difficult.
“A huge organization with funding has [the] capability to book all these bands. I can't take the responsibility of representing an entire genre,” he said.
One reason that not all the shows individuals try to book for an on-campus venue can happen is because of financial stability, Hunter Motto, ASP Pop Music Coordinator said.
“The AS is built so that anyone who wants to do an event, can. [But] given the limited number of events we do, every single event needs to be financially feasible,” he said.
Heavy metal acts don't have benefits that equate with the costs, Motto said. Because of the insurance industry, it costs more to get insurance for a heavy metal band, and the turnout would not be as huge, he said.
“We have a history…[that] the metal shows we do have not been successful,” Motto said.
He added that more students request indie rock or rap and that ASP Pop Music “has developed a culture around it that is mainly indie pop and rap.” Judging by student requests, Motto has to determine what acts will appeal to the biggest audience.
“The point of ASP Pop is to bring acts that can fill up the biggest spaces on campus,” he said.
Another factor Motto has to consider when booking bands is if they will agree to come to Western at all.
“These [heavy metal] acts don't do college shows,” he said. “It's rare you get a metal act on the college circuit.”
The disconnect appears to be strong between the Western community and the local metal bands Israel wants to book. Sam Top, bassist of local metal band Piano Mover, feels little connection with the Western community.
“It sounds like there should be more cultural interplay between Bellingham and Western,” Top said, but he added that he might regret it. “We end up playing bars because that's the environment we're most used to,” he said.
So why try to get these bands on campus when they won't draw large crowds and cost more to bring? According to Israel, a having variety of bands play on campus promotes diversity, even if it doesn't bring in the highest revenue.
“They [ASP Pop Music] need to represent the whole campus. [Western] should supply a venue for artistic expression of any form, whether or not it's the popular form,” Israel said. “If everyone is spoon-fed one genre…what do they have to compare to? Why wouldn't other people on campus want to see it?”
But ASP Pop Music by name promotes popular music, Motto said, and “punk, grunge and metal are intentionally not popular music.” Once the high cost and low demand are factored in, it's a tough sell.
The best way to influence the musical content on campus, Motto said, is to start a club and undergo the process yourself. Loa Records, which books bands of various genres, has had success bringing several bands to campus in the past.
The ASP Pop Music Web site also has a suggestion box and a discussion board on Facebook where students can post which bands they would like to see, Brittany Smith, ASP Pop Music Assistant Coordinator said.