In light of the ongoing pandemic, multiple campus organizations have had to scramble to modify their events; the Associated Student Program Board (ASPB) had one of the biggest tasks of all. After the disappointing but necessary cancellation of Spring Splash, it was dubious whether ASPB’s annual fall concert, Block Party, would be cancelled as well. Excitement built on social media platforms once ASPB announced that Block Party would be hosted, albeit with a couple of major changes — it would be held completely virtually and over the span of two nights.
The excitement seemed to double once the lineup video was released. In a shocking move, ASPB turned away from the rap and hip-hop heavy lineups of recent years and revealed artists that would surely satisfy the different music fans that make up UCR. On Friday, DJ Carisma opened the event. Her set up was small and casual, and it was a bit awkward at some parts as she tried to get the virtual crowd excited from her own home. This was, unfortunately, a continuing trend. Without the infectious energy of a crowd to bounce off from, several of the artists struggled to be entertaining.
The event was streamed through Vimeo, a video platform with the ability to have a real-time chat box. In the chat, UCR students expressed their excitement for the next artist, Rico Nasty, the D.C.-area rapper who boasts collaborations with artists such as Kali Uchis and Doja Cat and also has over three million streams on Spotify. She seemed to be the most awaited artist, but unfortunately, she was also the most disappointing by far. Her set-up left much to be desired. While DJ Carisma had hung up LED lights near her DJ booth to boost the ambience, Rico Nasty “performed” in front of her television. “Performed” even seems too strong of a word. Like DJ Carisma, the lack of crowd meant that Rico Nasty was essentially singing alone in her living room and she did not seem to attempt to liven up for the event. Even worse, the stream glitched for most of her set. The video recording was subpar and the audio quality was downright terrible. The chat blew up with jokes to defund ASPB as the audio quality remained incomprehensible. It was unknown whether the video streams would in fact be live, and Rico’s stream showed that it was not as she continued to “sing” despite the obvious audio issues and posted a selfie on her Instagram in a completely different outfit. Her audio would have been fixed quickly had it been a live show, but it continued to sound like gibberish through the end. Considering her lazy set up and the quality of the video overall, students would have been better off watching a video of one of her concerts from their phone; at least then, it would have been free.
Up next, Dominic Fike, rapper and singer, was a welcome change. Although the video was also obviously prerecorded, it seemed like Fike’s team had put in an immense amount of effort in creating a decent setup. Fike appeared at an empty warehouse, in which he continually joked was too hot for him to feel comfortable in. The video and audio was crystal clear and remained so for the entirety of his set. Better yet, while Rico Nasty ran through song after song without much regard toward the Highlanders watching, Fike made constant comments during and in between songs to address the audience. He called out “Yeah, Highlanders!” more times than I can count and even addressed the camera and said, “If I had gone to college, it definitely would have been at UCR.” By trying to personalize it to UCR, it made the experience a lot more special, it was like being at an actual concert instead of just watching a music video. The chatbox was lively during his set, but it quickly became too unmanageable to watch; trolls flooded the inbox with aggressive political messages in what seemed to be a attempt at riling other users up and the chat was eventually shut off
The chat was turned back on for the headliner of Day 1, Kaytranada. The producer had a less fancy set up than Fike, but it was very cozy. He was in a corner of his home surrounded by his DJ materials and, like DJ Carisma, had LED lights casting a warm purple glow. He wore a soft looking sweater that added to the coziness of his atmosphere. There is not much more that can be said about the producer besides the indisputable fact that his set retained the distinctly woozy sounds of his songs, which he peppered in with his more upbeat hip-hop beats.
Day 2, although more organized than Day 1, was pretty underwhelming. All of the artists were far better setup than the ones from days prior; San Francisco dream pop group No Vacation had the most simple set up by far, but it was organized and the quality of their sound matched the ones of the much fancier Los Tucanes De Tijuana, a Mexican norteno band and most surprising artist to be included in the lineup. Los Tucanes De Tijuana were back dropped against a black stage and light show, which was the most enjoyable viewing experience. Although the next three artists, D Smoke, Tchami and YG had an impressive setup (after all, expectations were low after that Rico Nasty performance), it was pretty forgettable for someone who isn’t into their music genres. Producer Tchami tried to bring the club vibes into Highlander homes with his stunning visuals and house music as did the beats of YG and D Smoke, but without the energy of the crowd to match, all the artists failed to bring about the same experience that an in-person Block Party would have achieved easily.
Although ASPB’s effort is worthy of applause, this year’s Block Party was a letdown. While it has the most diverse and extensive lineup of prior years, it seems like the money was misplaced considering it seemed like the artists were left to their own devices to create their own setup and manage audio and visual quality. The distinction between the quality of video, sets, apparel and most importantly, sound was jarring throughout, as none of the acts had any sort of cohesion. The ongoing pandemic will likely affect winter quarter’s Winter Soulstice and spring’s Spring Splash. Highlanders can only hope that ASPB learns from this lukewarm experience to bring about a better event next quarter.