In most ways you could say it was your average Saturday night. Students from all years and interests had chosen to spend their evening in the cozy confines of Arts Haus. Live music blared from the speakers, and the very frames of the house quite literally seemed to shake from the noise. One of Tufts’ own funk bands, the ever impressive Housecat, opened the night’s entertainment, before giving way to a manic, nearly violent display of punk rock, courtesy of New York based band Native Sun. Seemingly out of nowhere, students had a concert hosted in the safety and convenience of campus, all without having to pay a dime. But who do we have to thank?
Despite having existed for close to 50 years, the history and origins of Applejam are shrouded in mystery. While it was a film club for some of its existence, the primary function of Applejam today is to book music acts and bring them to Tufts. A glimpse at Applejam’s archaic webpage from 2005 shows that in the past they had booked impressive musical acts such as Arcade Fire, Yo La Tengo, and Bombay Bicycle Club.
Speaking with senior Sasha von Didkovsky, one of Applejam’s co-presidents, he recalled that his underclassman weekend experiences typically consisted of “People standing around and bobbing their head—they stay[ed] [at the party] until there [was] no more alcohol and then they [went] home.” Most importantly, he stressed that “no one even dances,” and that Tufts parties could “aspire to be more than that.”
In this respect, Applejam events are so much more than a concert. Cole Wennerholm, a sophomore and the other co-president, observed that “people were coming for the show and staying in spite of a lack of alcohol. They were staying for the music, and that’s a good sign.”
While the social impact of Applejam is significant, its existence also provides Tufts students a gateway into the intimidating realm of DIY/underground music. “A lot of people on campus want to get involved in the [underground/DIY] music scene but don’t know where to go,” said Didkovsky. He also said that even when he did find venues, he “was unable to go to shows because of over 21 policies.” By removing these barriers and bringing the bands to Tufts, Applejam is not only able to provide students with a convenient, safe, and free means to consume their music, but also provides the bands with an audience.
“I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to punk music, but I really enjoyed the chaos and energy of the concert,” said Miranda Yu, a junior who attended the Native Sun show. “I never even would have thought about watching a punk band if it wasn’t so easy, and I’d definitely consider going to another [Applejam] show in the future.”
In an industry stiff with competition and underpayment, the ability to provide bands both a gig and an audience should not be discounted. This is especially significant in the DIY/underground music scene, where most performers are still early on in their careers. Expanding more on their booking process, Eleana Tworek, a senior and one of the former co-presidents of Applejam said that “by using a Tufts house [which saves on venue costs], we are able to generously pay the talent.” She went on to say that “many Allston underground music clubs have been shutting down,” an indication of the difficulty of surviving in the business of DIY/underground music.
In addition to providing music for the masses, Tworek used her position as an opportunity to increase minority representation in school and in the overarching music scene. Historically “we seemed to only book white indie bands because that’s what the DIY scene was back then. When I was elected, I decided we’re getting women, we’re getting people of colour, we’re getting queer people, we’re getting queer people of color, and so on.” Since then, Applejam has been successful in booking bands from underrepresented groups. Didkovsky went on to add that “Last semester, [the talent] was mostly people of color, people who identify as queer, or both.” For instance, Native Sun is a band of primarily Latinx origin, and in a particularly homogenous genre like punk, their work is especially refreshing.
Not overlooking Tufts’ own fledgling music scene, Applejam has a practice of always having a student band open for every event. This provides the opener the unique opportunity of performing with career musicians, hopefully giving them the connections and the experience necessary to elevate their musical progression. Going further, students should look out for Applejam’s semesterly cover show, where the night’s entertainment is provided solely by Tufts students. Wennerholm added that “The only barrier to play is to fill out a Google form,” and he hopes that students will take full advantage of that.
With two successful shows already under their belt and a cover show scheduled for February 15th, Applejam is showing no signs of slowing down. Corresponding to its 50th anniversary quickly approaching, this iteration of Applejam appears to be the most ambitious yet. “We have this unique opportunity to have real bands perform at school, and we want to fully utilize every aspect of it.” Wennerholm went on to say, “We want to expand our focus beyond just booking shows. We’re looking for anybody with ideas. Anyone interested in any facet of the DIY scene should join Applejam.”