Student-led group SALT brings alternative music to UMass Amherst

For the past four years, students at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst have been bringing alternative DIY local and regional music to the college through a student organization called Students For Alternative Music (SALT).

Whether it’s heady math rock, cool indie rock, intense hardcore music, experimental bands, or psychedelic rock, students involved with SALT have developed hands-on skills for booking and hosting local and touring bands.

Local bands that have performed at SALT-organized shows in the past include CT-based hardcore art punk band Space Camp, minimalist punk band Landowner, experimental math rock band Tundrastomper, and more than a dozen others.

Mike Hanson, a 21-year-old senior at UMass Amherst from Longmeadow studying political science who is a member of SALT, told the Valley Advocate SALT started as a way for students who were in bands to organize shows at the college. Today, the group books bands from around the country, with an emphasis on diverse bills.

“The people who have been carrying it on since have been building on that legacy,” Hanson said. “It was started out of someone’s interest to break open the scene at UMass because there’s a lot of bands.”

He said he wanted to become involved with SALT after hearing that the group was important to the local DIY music scene.

“It’s one of the biggest outlets for music at UMass; especially alternative music at UMass,” Hanson added. “When I realized that they were one of the only venues for music at UMass, I was interested in their presence. There’s no one else at UMass who’s making an attempt to book bands.”

There a lot of underground DIY house venues in the area, one of which is where Hanson first heard about SALT. Hanson was able to experience the rich music scene by frequently attending shows at a now- closed house venue in Hadley called “The Flip.”

“I developed a love for the scene and its people, especially people locally who are trying to make music happen … The bands that come through are the lifeblood of the area,” he noted.

Students involved with SALT sift through the group’s email inbox for submissions or book bands they’re interested in bringing to the college, he said. Right now, Hanson is working to book a date to bring psychedelic R&B and indie jazz rock group Sodada to UMass Amherst sometime this fall.

“On a monthly basis, we get more than 10 [emails from bands] and less than 20,” he said. “Usually it’s east coast bands running up and down doing a circuit, but other than that it’s your plain old legwork looking for groups that you really want to have.”

Most shows take place at UMass Amherst’s Agricultural and Engineering department in Room 119, but SALT has also hosted shows at local DIY house venues in the area, he said.

“We’re looking at a bunch of different spaces as the semester opens because we’re trying to figure out [where to have shows] at new spaces to keep our options open and to make it accessible,” Hanson said. “I know a lot of people who have trouble finding [Room 119]. It’s a big building, but for some reason Room 119 is hard place to find.”

Although four years might not seem like a long time, for college groups who have members graduating every year, sustaining groups can be a challenge, he said.

“There’s so much booking potential because there’s so much weight as far as what SALT has done in the past,” he noted. “We don’t see as much booking groups as old as we are with that much consistent ground to stand on.”

One of SALT’s goal for the upcoming academic school years is to get more students on campus involved with DIY booking; others include making sure that artists are compensated when they play shows at the college and creating mixed eclectic bills of bands that showcase a wide variety of musical genres.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

For more information about SALT visit the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/saltumass/

Author: Chris Goudreau

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