Watching How to Dress Well Open for Danny Brown at NYU Taught Me Hipsters Don't Understand the Point of CollegeBy Kevin Munger
The true subversives.
NYU kicks off every school year with a “Mystery Concert” with bands that appeal to different factions of their famously diverse undergraduate student body. They post clues about who’ll be performing on their Facebook on the days leading up to the event; it’s cuteif you’re the kind of person who posts on college-sponsored Facebook pages.This year, after a false alarm in which some potheads got too excited and decided that a Reservoir Dogs clue could only mean that Dr. Dog was coming, an altogether different, hipper group of potheads got excited that Danny Brown was headlining a set that would also include Speedy Ortiz and How to Dress Well. You had to be an NYU student to attend, but hey, I am, so I lined up to enter the swanky Skirball Center. 300+ undergrads and two grad students (me and my roommate) were able to find the time to attend the free performance.
As Speedy Ortiz was wrapping up, I smelled a group of bros in front of me brazenly drinking vodka out of a water bottle. By the time How to Dress Well was ready to play, they were drunk enough to be rowdy for a dude I had heard a lady in line describe as the “Hipster God.” Given that the instruments onstage were limited to a grand piano, a violin, and effects pedals, the bros were in for a rough show.
The bros were endlessly amused by the voice of Hipster God Tom Krell, which they described as “fucking weird,” which is apparently bro slang for “a cross between Jonsí and The Weeknd.” Though every song received raucous applause, one of the bros felt confident to yell out “Play that one song!” Without missing a beat, Krell mockingly said “Nice work, bro…you did it, dogg,” to the delight of the minority-bro audience.
After another song ruined by mindless brodom, these bros were chastised when an earnest young man leaned forward and scolded them: “Can’t you see how beautiful this is? Just chill out.” The intensity cowed them for a while, but tensions escalated as other bros yelled out rap adlibs (“CHYA!”; “BOW!”) between songs and generally failed to appreciate how beautiful Krell and company’s performance was. Finally, a lady yelled out, “SHUT THE FUCK UP,” to which one of the dudes responded “Go fuck yourself,” which caused the lady to scream back, “I WILL PUNCH YOU IN THE DICK.”
Krell calmed everyone down with a self-described “power ballad,” then stoked to see Danny Brown, saying that “[DB] and A$AP Ferg are the two dopest rappers right now.” As the crew cleared the stage and set up a laptop platform, everyone got up and stood in the aisles and in front of the stage. A guy wearing a North Face raincoat came out and played “Hard in da Paint” to get the people going, and by the time he’d transitioned to an Avicii song, one of the drunk bros tried to crowd surf.
Either by luck or design, his five friends lifted him on their shoulders and only managed to toss him onto the stage. After standing up and finding himself on stage by himself, he proceeded to execute the drunk-dude-at-a-house-music-club dance in a manner that could generously be described as enthusiastic. The highlight of the performance was the classic jerk-off pantomime, made all the powerful by the fact that he was wearing a brand new Sonic Youth t-shirt that was pretty clearly purchased from Urban Outfitters. Crew offstage were waving at him to leave, but he ignored them.
People were confused as to what was going on, and many of them seemed angry. He’s breaking The Rules! Someone stop him, we feel uncomfortable, think of THE RULESSS.
On one hand, this guy was playing the stereotypically entitled NYU bro, doing dumb shit for attention and to impress his friends, blissfully comfortable in a privilege that he probably took for granted to the point where he’d never considered that others might not be able to move in this way. But on the other hand, the absurdity of the crowd’s anger is sort of what an elite private school education is all about: being exposed to bold, challenging people who can help you grow into a well-rounded person. Though the introverts and artsy folks would have preferred reverent silence during How to Dress Well, that would have been way too self-important—anything less than lose-your-shit enthusiasm is inappropriate for a Danny Brown show, even if his opener demands otherwise.
Uncomfortable, jarring juxtapositions are the real service that college, at its peak, provides. And the Mystery Concert is college as fuck. Though How to Dress Well and Danny Brown come from staggeringly different musical traditions, a whole lot of the same people like both of them. On the other hand, this show was clearly stretching some people’s boundaries. Many of those who came for DB had probably never seen anything as experimental or minimalist as HtDW, but this was also many people’s first rap concert.
The dancing bro was the most college person there, and not just because of the trite signifiers he inhabited as comfortably as a pink-ass polo and a pair of Sperries. He pushed limits and made people think about the foundations of authority and false dichotomy of the crowd/performer relationship. Admittedly, this was only possible because of the privilege to experiment without consequences that he is afforded as a student at a private university. Instead of condemning this, we might improve our society by aiming to make it possible for more young people to do dumb shit and be more innovative and creative.
Just as the Adderall Admiral was about to take the stage, a seriously pissed-off NYU Safety Official tried to drag the bro offstage, but he just turned around, jumped, and melted into the arms of a crowd that appreciated his efforts—at least, enough to not turn him over to the cops.
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