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Student musicians to face off at Battle of the Bands

Sixteen groups over the course of four weeks will compete for a performance spot at Spring Jam in April.
Image by Wesley Ho (courtesy)
Emily and The Space Butterflies are an indie pop rock band with Olivia Rodrigo-esque undercurrents.

Battle of the Bands, an annual showdown where student bands compete for a chance to perform at Spring Jam in April, kicks off Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. in The Whole Music Club.

The University of Minnesota’s Student Unions & Activities (SUA) is hosting one competition every Friday in February. Each of the four contests will feature four student bands, with the audience voting for their favorite from each night to win a spot in the final round at Spring Jam. The remaining four acts will face off in April until one group is crowned champion.

For many of these bands, competitions like this are about much more than just playing another gig.

Events like Battle of the Bands allow for student music groups to meet and form connections with each other, further strengthening the University’s band community.

Pullstring is an alternative-rock band with Green Day influences that will perform at the second battle on Feb. 9. The band started at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic when music venues started to open back up, according to Alex Fuller, a senior studying psychology at the University.

Fuller, who plays guitar and is the main vocalist and songwriter for Pullstring, said Battle of the Bands provides valuable opportunities for bands to network and support each other.

This is not the first time Pullstring has competed. They performed last spring and went up against the eventual grand champion, Dial Tone, in the preliminary round. Since then, Pullstring has played multiple shows with Dial Tone and connected them with a music studio to record their debut album.

“That’s a whole lot of connections out of that one show,” Fuller said.

The Gentlebrass are an all-brass band that specializes in covers. (Image by Blake LaBarge (courtesy))

Joshua Taylor, a junior studying math who plays saxophone for The Gentlebrass, another group performing, shares this sentiment of a supportive campus band community. He said student bands at the University have been extremely encouraging, and it is common for groups to go to one another’s gigs.

The Gentlebrass, an all-brass band that specializes in covers, is competing in the third battle on Feb. 16. Also second-time Battle of the Bands performers, they progressed all the way to the Spring Jam final round.

While competing at Spring Jam last April, Blake LaBarge, a junior studying music and who plays trombone for The Gentlebrass, said getting to perform with other groups at Battle of the Bands was a great way to expand their network.

“Interacting with the other bands was also very cool because they’re all nice people, they’re all just there, you know, playing music, having fun,” LaBarge said. “It’s just nice to kind of connect and network.”

Not only does Battle of the Bands introduce music groups to each other, but it allows for bands to perform for new audiences and broaden their reach.

Another band performing, this time on Feb. 2, is Emily and The Space Butterflies, an indie pop rock band with Olivia Rodrigo-esque undercurrents that formed last February. As a newer band, they understand the importance of playing gigs that will expose them to new audiences.

Emily Malmgren, a senior music education major who is the namesake of the band, serves as the lead vocalist, songwriter and keyboardist for the group. After seeing the application call for Battle of the Bands, she thought it would be a good idea for the group to try to take part in the event to reach new people.

Pullstring is an alternative-rock band that started at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image by Josh Toke)

Henry Rieffer, another senior music education major who plays bass for the band, said Battle of the Bands also provides the opportunity for other genres of music to be featured on a broader scale within the University.

According to Rieffer, the University’s School of Music, along with many colleges across the nation, primarily focuses on classical and jazz and does not offer much space for rock and pop music that Emily and The Space Butterflies concentrates on.

Ultimately, events like Battle of the Bands are important for both the performer and the attendee in increasing access to art on campus, said Jacques Tousignant, a recent music education graduate of the University who plays guitar and trombone in the group.

“You have a place at the U, people your age and people who can easily just come see the show because they’re on campus, fellow students,” Tousignant said. “I think [Battle of the Bands] gives a really good, accessible way for you to play a show for people and get some experience doing that.”

Battle of the Bands starts on Feb. 2 and continues every Friday for the rest of February.

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