For the first time in a year and a half, Remsen Bird Hillside Theater was transformed into a concert venue Oct. 23 for the first FallFest during the pandemic. Organized by Occidental Programming Board, the concert was free to students. The show was double headlined by theMIND and Mick Jenkins, friends and frequent collaborators who came up together in the 2010s Chicago rap scene alongside artists like Saba and other members of the Pivot Gang collective.
“Whenever we get to link up on stage, it’s the most fun that we can ever have because our touring parties know each other, we are all friends, we’ve recorded music together,” theMIND said. “To play a show with him, let alone co-headline and s—, with him it’s so much fun.”
After Programming Board teased a surprise guest on Instagram, Saba joined theMIND onstage to perform “BUSY/SIRENS ” during his set.
theMIND said the year and a half he spent without playing shows has given him a new appreciation for performing when he takes the stage.
“I did not expect to feel like I missed the stage as much as I did,” theMIND said. “Now it’s more of a feeling of, every time that I’m on stage, I try to live that moment all the way through.”
theMIND, whose real name is Zarif Wilder, said he has been making music since he was 9 years old, but never imagined succeeding in music professionally.
“I grew up in foster care in Philadelphia. I never expected to be able to travel the world playing music like that. It was the furthest thing from my mind,” theMIND said.
As his music career has taken off, theMIND compared his current life and journey as an artist to a lucid dream.
“How did we get here? And yeah, it doesn’t feel real — it kind of feels like this lucid dream that we’re constantly going through,” theMIND said. “And if I am asleep, and you guys are interviewing me from the other side of this, do not wake me up.”
Most recently, theMIND released his second album “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” Nov. 13, 2020, which features fan-favorite song “Ms. Communication.” theMIND also plans to release a deluxe version of the album, with three or four additional songs.
As a lyricist, theMIND described himself as a “cerebral” writer and said he leaned more toward writing sad songs during the pandemic.
“I want to get to the point where writing just kind of feels like subconscious thought,” theMIND said. “It kind of feels like that’s what happens with art — it’s like a blackout thing, like I’m not actually doing it. It’s the mind doing that s—. It’s not me.”
In addition to his upcoming deluxe album, theMIND said he plans to release an EP and has a perfume in the works called “Gemini S—,” which consists of two separate fragrances that can be worn together or separately.
Mick Jenkins’ performance teased several songs from his new album, “Elephant in the Room,” which came out Oct. 29, the week after FallFest. Jenkins said much of the album is inspired by his experiences during the pandemic and features many collaborations which were made possible by his recent move to LA. Although he said he did not create anything for a long time during the COVID-19 lockdown, he began to draw musical inspiration from his everyday experiences during the pandemic.
“My surroundings are always going to be a huge influence,” Jenkins said. “I think those things find their way into my music, even unintentionally sometimes because I am pretty honest as far as what concepts and direction I’m going in with my music.”
Jenkins described the lead single off of “Elephant in the Room,” “Scottie Pippen” as a particularly honest song. The lyrics describe a failed romantic relationship and Jenkins’ coming to grips with being alone.
“It came from a super real life experience, kind of heavy,” Jenkins said. “That was one that hits super, super close to home.”
Jenkins said his personal lyrics also inform his performance style, and his music lends itself to smaller, more intimate shows like FallFest.
“I prefer shows like [FallFest] all the time,” Jenkins said. “My music is personal, so [I like] having the ability to create a bond with a small group of people versus hoping 5,000 people f— with me at one time.”
Lauren Samaniego (first year) said small concerts create a special atmosphere, bringing the performers and audience members closer together.
“The size definitely helped make it feel more intimate,” Samaniego said. “Whoever’s performing can pick out people and not just see a mass of [people].”
Having collaborated and rapped alongside each other on songs like “Dehydration,” Jenkins said working with theMIND is an integral part of his artistic process.
“If I needed somebody, like a taste tester basically, he’s one of the people that I definitely send music to,” Jenkins said. “There’s only a few people like that.”
For aspiring musicians, Jenkins believes the path will be difficult no matter what, but he offers some words of advice.
“It’s just gonna be hard and you’re gonna want to quit,” Jenkins said. “If you do quit, you’ll probably quit right before something works out. So if it’s something that you really love, just keep doing it.”
JOHN!, or John Gayden (senior), an independent rapper hailing from Louisiana, kicked off the show with the task of warming up the crowd.
“I think the crowd energy was right,” Gayden said. “It was exciting to get my music back out there and get to perform some of my newer unreleased stuff.”
JOHN! was joined by his friends D.J. Adams (senior) and Josiah Sheffie ‘19 onstage.
While a student at Occidental, Gayden said he got the chance to show off while onstage at FallFest.
“As a performer, it’s a different side of me,” Gayden said. “I feel like regularly I’m more chill or laid back or I kind of stay to myself, introverted. But then on the stage I just get to have fun and dance a little bit.”
He also credits his Louisiana upbringing for inspiring his music, which has helped him develop his sound in LA.
“I think growing up in Louisiana gives me a distinct experience,” Gayden said. “Just growing up, it’s edgy and very rough, but it’s also very communal. I do love to have fun and party and stuff, and so I really try to take those experiences and encapsulate them in my music.”
Gayden said he wants his upcoming album, “Digital,” to be full of songs that are fun to perform live — but most of all, he wants it to be something that he is really proud of.
“I just want to make something that gets the crowd going and have the crowd engaged and interactive,” he said.
Gus Leifeld (first year) took the stage second, donning a wide brim hat and boots.
“I guess I just really like looking like a cowboy,” Leifeld said.
Leifeld said he was still relatively new to playing music live but took the opportunity to apply to open for FallFest and to his surprise, was selected.
“It was super cool to be up there [on stage],” Leifeld said. “I’ve performed my music a handful of times, but not too much. This is a bigger situation than the past.”
But Leifeld is no stranger to performing, thanks to his background as a circus performer in his native Minnesota. Leifeld said he has performed wall tramping and other circus acts for the world’s largest youth circus group, Circus Juventas, an organization that gives a platform for circus performers aged 16–25.
Leifeld also said he produces all his music even though he only has a basic background in some instruments.
“I play guitar, sort of, I play piano, sort of,” Leifeld said. “Mostly I use MIDI and synth and stuff.”
Despite his experience in producing music and performing, Leifeld said music is something he does on the side.
“I just like to keep it as a hobby,” he said. “I don’t want to make it academic or make it an obligation.”
Samaniego said she was most impressed with Gus’ performance since she normally gravitates toward bedroom pop.
“I think my favorite performance that night was Gus. I feel like that’s the type of music that I vibe with the most, kind of bedroom poppy,” Samaniego said. “And it’s kind of crazy that he’s a first year [student].”
Looking to the future, Samaniego said she is excited for SpringFest.
“I’m excited to see the lineup for the next [concert] that the Programming Board puts together,” Samaniego said.