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Monday, February 06, 2023

Starting your journey in the Madison music scene


First, you go to a WUD show. There are many ways to enter and explore the Madison music scene, but no first step comes close to being as encompassing and helpful as this one. WUD Music’s events are free and wonderful, and it’s impossible to imagine UW having such a tight-knit music community without them. You’ll find local indie pop stars hanging at the Vince Staples show, house party DJs swaying to Alex G and every mishmash of listener and performer in between. The instant you get to campus, pick a WUD show and go to it. The faces you’ll see there will become markers for your music journey in Madison for years to come.

Second, get a radio show on WSUM. The act of consciously arranging an hour of music and sharing that hour with the city of Madison will refine and expand your music tastes, along with lead you towards fellow hosts with amazing shows of their own. And if you don’t have time for your own show, listen to the dozens of other students pouring their hearts and tastes into a concentrated hour of music goodness. You might stumble across a song that will change your life, in which case you should call in to the station, ask the DJs what song is playing and thank them for sharing it with the world.

I know these come across as rigid demands, but it’s hard to imagine an incoming freshman developing a healthy relationship with UW’s music community without at least trying these organizations out, as they are filled with the most dedicated and welcoming musical minds on campus. Any step after is completely up to you, but WSUM and WUD are the base. They keep the world of UW music spinning.

Beyond these institutions, Madison has a wealth of other venues and communities. The Majestic and Orpheum bring in the biggest touring acts, and chances are that your favorite acts of all time will wind up in one of these two spaces before you graduate. They are genre-less and most often 18+, but tickets can get expensive and the crowds can sometimes be a pain. The Frequency and High Noon Saloon offer smaller and more intimate shows which sometimes include local acts and are good choices for a spontaneous night out.  

Then there’s DIY venues, or Do It Yourself venues, or house shows, or “why am I drinking wop and listening to a math rock band in my O. Chem partner’s basement?” The DIY community in Madison is a bit ambiguous; some people are trying to build a community with safe shows for touring and local bands, while others just want to throw a party under the pretense of live music. Some people simply run a show for the thrill and disregard any precautions for creating a respectful environment for showgoers. Avoid these by finding local acts you like, and see what kind of shows they’re linking on Facebook. You can get the gist of a show by the event page alone.

As for dance clubs; sorry, it’s rough. Liquid, the only 18+ dance club near campus, is terrible and hosts interchangeable EDM bros on any given night. Your best bet is to become 21 years old and wander off campus to venues like Natt Spil and Cardinal Bar, which host great DJs that play a wide range of genres. There are also DIY shows for more experimental and avant-garde club music on campus, but I shouldn’t really speak on that as I am personally invested in the scene.

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Here’s some local names to get started with: Trophy Dad, Gynosaur, Lucien Parker, Proud Parents, Post Social. This list is neither comprehensive nor informative in the slightest. It’s up to you to see these artists and their friends and to make your own decisions from there.

That’s all the advice I have; the rest is in your hands. Thanks to the music diversity in Madison, your journey will be very different than mine, and that’s incredible. Never settle for the same, get lost and find new people and sounds everyday, because the best music you’ve ever listened to is still waiting on you to hear.

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