Biking through the chilly March night on my way to Music @ Mars, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. It was my second time covering a Music @ Mars showcase for The Daily, and when I entered the lounge and saw the warm fairy lights, instruments and enthusiastic crowd— people huddled together closely, reclining on bean bags, spilling onto the floor, squeezed into couches beside their friends— it was a pleasantly familiar sight. I sat crisscrossed on the floor with my notebook on my lap. An electric keyboard stood in front of the crowd, forecasting the performances to come, with two large speakers standing on each side. I noted on the wall in the middle of the makeshift “stage” hung a curious abstract painting of a rocket taking off, the exhaust from the engines painted as bubbles of color.
“It feels warm,” said audience member Alex Romero ’21 as he got more comfortable on his bean bag. “I mean, this feels like what a Week 9 event should be. I can sit down and soak in the vibes.”
It was the same pleasant, lively atmosphere I had known when I went fall quarter. This time, however, the indie artist showcase was officially hosted under the auspices of the new Volunteer Student Organization (VSO) Palm Drive Records. The music VSO, co-founded by Elizabeth Gray ’20, Izzy Angus ’20, Federico Reyes Gomez ’21 and Cooper Reed ’21, has produced a series of recording workshops this quarter advertised by posters plastered around campus, featuring their black-and-white palm tree and record disc. With the mission of celebrating and bringing visibility to the hidden work artists are doing on-campus, the indie showcase hosted by co-founder Elizabeth Gray plays perfectly into what the music VSO hopes to achieve on campus.
When asked how the latest Music @ Mars event relates to her work with Palm Drive Records, Elizabeth reflected on how indie student musicians may not always feel as though they have the right space or audience to perform their work: “I think because there is somewhat of an implicit and internalized pressure on student-artists to perform covers, it can be difficult for these artists to feel like an audience wants to hear originals. I often feel as if I have to sneak originals into a set of mostly covers because I think the audience just wants to sing along with what they know, and I’m afraid of losing momentum. We hope that Music @ Mars provides a space for artists to feel empowered to perform their own work, since our audience is comprised of people who come because they want to be hearing originals.”
The latest Music @ Mars certainly delivered in giving space to student-artists to perform their music, featuring everything from classic rock, blues/Americana, surf-and electronic music to sampled Youtube beats, French and Stanford lingo. The night began with Charlie Kogen ’23, who began with his original song, “The Only One I’ll Take It For Is You.” Kogen’s voice, sound, and even his stage presence — playing the electric piano demurely while looking occasionally into the audience — immediately hit with a classical air. Kogen and his music seemed straight out of an upscale New York City restaurant in the 1950s — think Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Billy Joel; man and his piano singing forlorn love-songs in an echoing room. His lyrics, while melancholy, carried an uncanny patience and buoyancy to them, singing about a kind of love that’s flawed and unreciprocated, but fated and enduring. The gentle but pained words reminded me of Johnny Rivers when he welcomed his “baby” back to the “The Poor Side of Town.” Between songs, Kogen talked about his musical inspirations — some of his songs were inspired by lived experiences and others by imagined ones. Yet his song “The Right Mistakes” was written about wanting to combine his actual life with the ones he lives through his music. Though it was his first time performing many of his songs, Kogen wowed the audience with his unique sound, clear voice and remarkable songwriting ability, and definitely inspired more than a few new fans.
Aditeya Shukla ’22, better known by his stage name “Adi,” brought out a guitar for his set, performing acoustic versions of his songs which had originally been composed electronically. The transition to acoustic, however, was seamless, with Adi’s voice being perfectly suited to the mood— soft, deeply emotive, haunting. His singer-songwriter and Americana sound told stories of wavering emotions and wary feelings of affection. “No Stories” deftly captures the disillusionment and disappointment of an ending summer — cooler weather approaching, things unsaid, opportunities unseized, freedom receding once again. After the song, Adi announced to the crowd that they’d no longer have to hear “a guy up here singing sad songs,” and promised to satisfy those who came to the showcase to get “turnt.” After that, Adi flipped the mood in an instant, bringing out a trap beat and rapping to a song inspired by the “OY/YO” sculpture recently erected in front of the Cantor Arts Center. The song was hilarious, poking fun at icons of Stanford culture, such as 5-Sure and Marc Tessier Lavigne, and was filled with so many sharp and clever lines that I couldn’t write them down fast enough. The crowd’s favorite by far, however, was, “You see a stop sign, all I see is go.” Though the song hasn’t been added to Adi’s Spotify yet, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who needs a good laugh with some cleverly worded jabs at the Stanford experience.
Mariam El-Mansouri ’22 then entered the stage with William Kingsfield ’20 on electric guitar. Mariam began by dazzling the crowd by singing a cover of the French song “Rein de Rien,” with William dishing out smooth, bluesy chords alongside her. Mariam has a strong, lovely voice with a tone vaguely reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, or maybe a bit of Alicia Keys. The second song she performed was self-composed and untitled, and conveyed the feelings created by many of the poignant dilemmas that arise from love in the modern world. Mariam’s vivid lyrics communicated the feeling of blooming love, uncertainty and insecurity, the dread of being unsure of one’s relationship status (which is, unfortunately, very relatable … tsk tsk). My favorite line from the song was when Mariam described “playing with your hair with my fingertips.” Between her surprising French intro, William’s guitar skills, and Mariam’s vocal talent, the performance was simply unforgettable.
Parker Day (Cameron Woods ’20) began his set by telling the audience about his unique, creative process: writing raps based on Youtube beats that call to him. While humble by nature, Parker Day is a talented lyricist with an invigorating stage presence. Before his song “Stay Golden,” Parker Day bantered with the audience about experiences with high-school exes, and then dove into a song that transitioned from longing for a missed relationship into a compelling verse about the loneliness of the Stanford campus and fears of “not making it.” Parker Day’s observations really stuck with me and validated my experiences, and, judging from the nods in the audience, I wasn’t the only one. The song “Vacation” was fittingly composed off a sample of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, and was inspired by his trip to France. Equal parts carefree and cheeky, the chorus was so catchy and moving that Parker had the entire audience singing along unprovoked, as if they weren’t hearing the song for the first time. Parker Day showcased a great flow, uplifting energy and deeply moving, skillfully worded lyrics. The show wouldn’t have been the same without him.
The final performer was Cat Davis ’21, who performed songs she had written for classes here at Stanford. From her first song “Nice Try,” Cat Davis’s clean vocal dexterity was already apparent. Cat has an excellent range, able to go from deep notes to falsetto seemingly effortlessly within the span of a single chorus. According to Davis, people have referred to “Nice Try” as “savage.” After listening to the lyrics, this description is understandable — the song is a bold call-out to an insincere suitor and their tactics. Beyond lyrics, both of Cat Davis’s songs featured jazzy, experimental sounds; “Don’t Worry Baby,” in particular, contained modulated backing vocals that imbued the song with a beautiful, slightly ghostly air.
Sitting on the bean bag (I eventually upgraded from the floor to a bean bag) in the Mars common room, and watching all of the performers, I couldn’t help but have the feeling that I was watching artists who would someday be “the next big thing.” The talent was overwhelming. It feels like the kind of thing you’re going to tell your kids — you saw them first, you saw them before they “made it.” So many different sounds, personalities, feelings and art styles were represented. Thanks to the remarkable originality and creativity of student-artists, Music @ Mars has consistently delivered completely new and enticing material for its audience, who gather during the stress and bustle of Week 9 to simply enjoy music together. And now officially produced by Palm Drive Records, alongside various music-recording workshops, Music @ Mars with its consistent good vibes has become an anchor in the ocean of musical opportunities for student-musicians on-campus.
Natalie Francis contributed reporting.