As Friday, Feb. 15 drew to a close, punk/dance band The Woolly Mammoths proved victorious at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) “Battle of the Bands,” joining three other New England bands in a night of local musical variety and mosh-inducing excitement at the Memorial Union Building’s Entertainment Center, all hosted by the Memorial Union Student Organization (MUSO).
The Boston-based group – alongside Durham, NH-based indie band Daylo, Boston-based acoustic-punk act The Michael Character and alternative indie group debt. from Fitchburg, MA – performed for a crowd of UNH students so packed that, per MUSO music director Sophie Topouzoglou, the space frequently reached and remained at maximum capacity for most of the show, requiring staff overseeing the show to keep additional patrons outside of the center’s entrance.
The Woolly Mammoths ultimately won a $200 check courtesy of MUSO and the chance to be the final act to close out the hectic night.
“It feels great, man,” member and trumpet player Chris Giottonini, who joined over the summer, said as he and the rest of the band took in the win. “Everybody was having a great time, we were having a great time, you know, that’s why we’re here… everything just falls right into place; it feels really good.”
The competition featured bands playing roughly 30-minute long sets with 15 minutes of transitional setup in-between. With no seating in sight, guests crowded the front of the stage as they cheered on their favorites. During some of the more intense songs, the crowd would periodically transform into a makeshift mosh pit as students playfully rammed one another and formed temporary holes in the crowd for in-the-moment dance-offs between the more courageous attendees.
“Tonight, my friend told me about this, and I saw some posters about it; it seemed really cool,” first-year environment conservation and sustainability major Brenna McNamara, who entered the event prior to Daylo’s performance halfway through, said. When asked what band she was rooting for the most, she replied “definitely Daylo; I’ve heard Daylo before, and they did not disappoint.”
Adorning the center were traces of the show’s desired theme showcasing post-Valentine’s Day blues, ranging from multi-colored roses at the front of the stage to numerous custom-made cut-out hearts, some symbolically ripped down-the-middle and others featuring phrases such as “THIS IS MOVING TOO FAST” and “NOT MY TYPE.”
Corresponding with this level of detail, Topouzoglou stressed that much planning went into the competition’s return, a process similar to how MUSO hosts other musical events.
“I do a lot of scouting, get word-of-mouth from people about bands… for this show, it’s pretty local, but [with] other shows, I’ll reach out to touring bands and people that MUSO members are into and like to hear and want to see,” she said. “And I kind of reach out, negotiate pricing, do all the contracting, and then we as a unit kind of put on the show… we set up, do sound, hire sound tech[nicians]… a lot goes into it.”
When not performing, the other bands waited in the center’s backstage area where various snacks such as pizza and cupcakes awaited them, all the while engaging in friendly conversation despite the event’s competitive nature. Each band had both similar and unique reasons for attending.
“I grew up thinking you had to be really special to do it [play music], and then I just picked up a guitar and taught myself,” James Ikeda, who portrayed “The Michael Character” at the event and has played in nearly 40 states nationwide for over a decade, said about his background in music. A history teacher from Quincy, MA who teaches at Bunker Community College in Boston, Ikeda brands his music as “political acoustic punk” as he makes efforts to tie in current political and social issues into satirical musical works.
“It’s really hard [competing], but it’s fun; I’m just here to enjoy the music,” he added as he stressed for more “real conversations” on difficult topics through music and humor.
“I don’t know [the other bands] extremely well; I listened to a little bit of them before coming here and I like them all,” Johnny Gifford, a vocalist and guitarist for debt. who describes the group as a “noisy emo band,” said. “And they all sound very different than us, which I also like because I think that having a show with all sort of different-sounding bands is a good thing; helps bring different people, helps give you different perspectives on music… .”
Topouzoglou told The New Hampshire that this newest “Battle of the Bands” is the first UNH has offered in decades, with the last one being held in 1990s.
“It’s something people only used to see in movies, so I wanted to bring it back. So, I figured, why not the day after Valentines’ Day,” Topouzoglou said. “It’s so important to bring the arts to campus. As people say, the arts are dying, and we don’t want to see that [happen]. We especially strive to bring artists that are underrepresented or part of diverse groups, and really get their names out there and show people that music and art and poetry are not one-dimensional; there’s so much more to it.”