Photograph by Mila King
On Friday night, students and family gathered in the theatre to see seven bands compete for the top spot, but the event ended up being spiked with political controversy. As AP Badminton, one of the bands that performed at Berkeley High School’s (BHS) “Battle of the Bands,” prepared to play, with strumming fingers, picking hand and drumsticks at the ready, there was a poignant air of professionalism contradictory to what might be associated with two teenage boys in grungy clothing, one wrapped in an American flag toga. The hot red stage lights shone eerily behind them and it dawned on us that cheeky names, spotty attendance, and racy togas aside, this was an opportune environment for some serious artistic expression.
There was mixed energy in the crowd as AP Badminton set off into a ripping piece of hypnotic rock. After the two song allowance, a solo vocalist, Onye, offered an original song and a cover of “Sweater Weather” by The Neighborhood. Following the arduous hustle and bustle of mic testing and keyboard shuffling, peppered with jokes from a young emcee, the next band, Bait, was led into their set by an enthusiastic and charismatic frontman. The first song was a laid-back confessional piece, with lines like, “I’m pretty bad at sex/I don’t know what is next.” After Bait, the trio Kanye Starts a Noise Band arose, adorned with punk attire and the exciting addition of a saxophonist. Could we be in for the treat of an alternative horn solo? Instead we heard driving drums playing off rhythm with a squealing horn and fumbling guitar, complete with plenty of shrieking. The a capella club Hot Pitches then contributed two pop ballads complete with modern dance choreography and matching red clothing.
The band Mitus Whale brought forth well put together pop rock covers with expressive vocals, and a feathered top adorning their singer. They were highly lauded by the audience despite having to fight through several technical difficulties.
So far we had seen that there were many talented students here to express their unique identities through music, and a minority who wished to use the platform for their own tragic inside joke that shamed Kanye’s name. We had yet to stumble upon the impending event that would capture the feeling of the political scene at BHS.
There was a change in atmosphere as The Deplorables approached the stage, with an American flag helmet on their drummer, patriotic guitar straps, and a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt. After they arranged their instruments, the frontman for the band moved the large standing American flag from the side of the stage to the center, had a short interaction with the stage manager, returned the flag to its place, and announced to the crowd something like, “Patriotism isn’t allowed at this school.” During this activity the lights were turned off and on before the band played. They played a small warm up, as bands before them had done, and performed one of their songs, “Sticks and Stones.” Then the lights went down onstage and the emcees reappeared. The Deplorables left hurriedly to light applause, although their performance was one of the most practiced and professional-sounding of the evening, with no timing slips and fiery blues guitar.
In a brief interview after the event, the frontman of The Deplorables (the moniker Hillary Clinton gave to Trump supporters), explained that they chose that name because their views make them unpopular, and that they feel like a part of a frightened and suppressed minority of people with somewhat conservative views at BHS. He said that they were attempting to represent ideals of “Anti-PC, we should be able to say what we want to say, not be censored on everything.” It’s unclear whether their failed flag flaunting was a part of this censorship. According to the stage manager and the band, they had asked for permission to use the flag in their performance the previous day, but had their request denied for unclear reasons. However, the band went forth with their plan anyway. In a statement released by the lead guitarist, “To the tech guy: Sure, you can tell not to wave the American Flag on our set, but we’ll do it anyways”. The stage manager later said he didn’t want them to use the flag because they might break the flagpole.
The top three performers were chosen by the judges and they each performed their last pieces; as you may have guessed, The Deplorables did not make the final round. The Hot Pitches, Bait, and Mitus Whale were chosen for the finals by the three judges of the event. The last bands had one more opportunity to show what they had practiced, and then the judges convened for a few minutes to determine a victor. The Hot Pitches were announced the winner. The Battle of the Bands was a great occasion for people to perform the music they had worked hard on, and were largely supported by their peers in their expression, even if there was a cloud of political confusion left over the stage by the end.