Bands compete for Fall Fest opener


Thomas J. Yang

Influential J, winner of the PPC Battle of the Bands, performs at the contest on Tuesday evening. (Photo by Thomas Yang | Staff Photographer)

By Madison Hook | For The Pitt News

The crowd hushed as INFLUENTIALJ strode onstage, mic in hand, while his original music video projected onto the wall behind him — featuring eye-catching scenes of the performer throughout Pitt’s campus dressed in an electric blue suit beside the bright red doors of Heinz Chapel.

The rapper made his Battle of the Bands debut a memorable experience by engaging the audience and descending from the stage into the crowd to perform his music.

Not long after he left the stage, the judges deliberated briefly before naming INFLUENTIALJ as this year’s Battle of the Bands winner — an announcement met with raucous cheers from INFLUENTIALJ’s posse of friends and fans, and from the rest of the crowd as well.

Three musical acts competed tonight at Battle of the Bands in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room for the chance to open for musical artists Amine and Desiigner at Fall Fest Sept. 23.

Sponsored by the Pitt Program Council, the event is held twice a year in anticipation of Fall Fest and Bigelow Bash in the spring. PPC Special Events Director Zach Linn began planning a month ago — getting the word out through posters, social media and campus TV screens in order to find Pitt’s best musicians.

“It’s a great opportunity to give the musically inclined students the chance to perform on a big stage with headliners they know and like,” Linn, a senior psychology major, said.

The entry qualifications for the event are simple — a group must be majority Pitt students, and winners from past years cannot win again.

“That way we know it’s for the Pitt audience, no matter what,” Linn said.

There are no limits on musical genre or type of performance, and participants do not necessarily have to have a band to compete — past winners have been rappers, DJs and dance groups.

“It’s more of a performer event than a band event,” Linn said.

The first band to take the stage was Medicine Man — a four-piece group of Pitt students who played covers of “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf and “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles. At one point, lead singer and guitarist Thomas Misciagna flipped his guitar behind his head and performed a solo backwards.

Medicine Man’s drummer Alex Richter, a senior chemistry major, later described their sound as “music your dad listens to — but with more energy.”

When Medicine Man concluded their performance, the second band — Mellowspace — got ready to perform. Pitt students Nathaniel King and Tim Chebuske, both junior civil engineering majors, took the stage, along with Nathaniel’s brother Robert King, 23.

“This is our first time performing outside of our basement,” Chebuske later said.

Mellowspace opened with an original song called “Phunk,” followed by two song covers — “Actually She’s a Rocket Scientist” and “Carousel” by blink-182.

Finally, it was time for the last act of the night. The lights of the WPU Assembly Room went dark as Linn announced the final performer, INFLUENTIALJ. The “one man band,” as INFLUENTIALJ called himself, took the stage with a dazzling light show and original visual experience accompanying him.

When asked about the creation of his vivid music videos, INFLUENTIALJ said the visuals were a result of a “collaborative effort between myself and my videographer.”

At the end of the night, the panel of judges left the room to deliberate — returning less than five minutes later to announce INFLUENTIALJ as the winner. The group was comprised of students from WPTS, UPTV, Pitt Tonight’s house band “The Allies of the Boulevard” and Sony Music’s Pittsburgh college marketing representative.

INFLUENTIALJ — or James Gandy — is a junior majoring in business and marketing. He started making his own music at a young age, but became interested in recording his own beats when he turned 15.

“I’ve been writing music since I was nine years old, and producing it, because my aunt’s a musician,” Gandy said.

Though he’s created and posted his own music videos on YouTube, and has songs available on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud, INFLUENTIALJ is eager to take his first big stage next weekend alongside his influences and in front of his peers.

“I’m ready to take this stage — this is my first real show I’m ever doing,” Gandy said. “I’m happy to be reppin’ Pitt.”

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