For some perspective, I turned to Dan
Selzer '97. For nearly two years, Selzer has administered "New
York Happenings," an e-mail list that chronicles and promotes
the best upcoming culture, be it an underhyped DJ gig by one of
Europe's most famous mixmasters or a loft party in Brooklyn, where
adventure seekers can watch five obscure bands self-destruct in
somebody's living room.
"On the list, bands that are really big and successful
and that are going to make it get mentioned in the same breath with
bands that nobody's going to care about," Selzer says. "They
get an equal amount of attention because they all know each other
and they're all friends."
Friends from the days of Wilder and the 'Sco? "Sure.
It's very Oberlin-centric. That's still a big thread on the list."
Selzer calls Oberlin a "spawning ground" for great music,
attributing its mystical rock-breeding qualities to WOBC and the
now-defunct Co-op Bookstore's legendary CD department.
The "New York Happenings" list, which now claims 1,200
members, started small. In May 2001, Selzer had begun DJing at a
sleek Lower East Side bar called Plant, and he sent out regular
e-mails to encourage friends to stop by.
"Right around that time, the music scene started
to pick up," recalls Selzer, who spent his junior and senior
years at Oberlin as WOBC's music director. "My e-mails went
from 'Here's what I'm playing at Plant' to 'Here's what I'm playing
at Plant, and by the way, Andy is having this party and the Plantains
are playing.' I wanted to let other people contribute, so I opened
it up into a democratic utopian community."
The list remained small until a Village Voice
writer cited it in the paper's "Best of New York" issue.
The New York Post and New York magazine soon followed
suit, labeling Selzer a scene maker and crediting the list as the
best way to find out about cultural events.
The list's size quickly mushroomed. "It's a runaway train,"
Selzer sighs. He keeps the conversation on topic by screening new
members' e-mails and deleting irrelevant posts. He's proud of how
his list has knit the scene together.
"If I've accomplished anything as a 'scenemaker,'
it's been introducing people to each other," he says. "I'll
see a posting about a party with a particular combination of bands
and DJs and bookers, and I'll just sit back and smirk, thinking,
'I know how these people connected.'"
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs didn't need an e-mail list to make connections.
It just kind of happened. One week they were purveying their gritty
garage rock to small clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn; the next week
they were touring Europe with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and being
touted as one of Rolling Stone's Ten Artists to Watch in
2002. Frontwoman Karen O (her last name long gone) is one of the
city's most charismatic performers, revered for her gleefully uninhibited
onstage antics. She's also an Oberlin alum, having logged two years
on campus before finishing her degree at NYU in 2000.
"I probably performed three times during my whole
time at Oberlin," Karen says. "Once I played in somebody's
bedroom. One of my friends broke down in tears; it was really intense."
Brian Chase, the YYYs' drummer, remembers that
show well; he even has a tape of it. As a jazz studies major and
active member of the campus band scene, he spent his college years
switching easily between Warner Concert Hall and off-campus basements.
"I had my feet in both worlds," he acknowledges happily.
"Everybody was eager to put on as many concerts as possible,
to play with each other regardless of whatever instrument or background."
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of Fury and the Sound