I have a recurring dream/nightmare that one day a cappella will take over everything. Instruments will be banned – guitars, violins and flutes put to torch or thrown into Lake Michigan. The cursed a cappella half-dance, half-bounce will haunt our steps for the rest of our college careers. I call this nightmare, this terrible end of days, the Aca-pocalypse.
This is not such a far-fetched idea! As tour guides are so fond of saying, the most superior film about college – Pitch Perfect – was actually based on Northwestern's own a cappella scene. Here, there are 13 (!!!) different a cappella groups (that I know of) all singing their hearts out for musical supremacy.
The only way to survive the Aca-pocalypse is to be prepared, to know thy enemy. After two years on campus living, loving and learning with aca-folks (yes even attending some shows), I have sketched out a handy guide of an outsider’s perspective to all a cappella groups on campus. If you come away with nothing else, I hope you can suss out who could be potential allies, and which is the first group to take out when the time comes. The rest is in your hands.
On the ethical consumption of a cappella on campus…
There are two main types of groups: the special interest/identity based groups and the more general interest groups.
Soul4Real is the premiere Black a cappella group. They do NOT do the a cappella bounce that afflicts other groups, which makes me think it has nothing to do with a cappella and more to do with people who do and do not have rhythm.
Brown Sugar, the premiere South Asian fusion group, is besties with Soul4Real. Brown Sugar could almost make a cappella cool, in a self-aware yet corny but also ironic kind of way.
Treblemakers is the premiere East Asian interest group, whose occasional black suits/dresses with a pop of color serve fierce Glee’s New Directions realness.
Shirei is the premiere Jewish interest a cappella group. They win the award for random-est location to visit for their spring tour - sorry to the residents of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for what they were forced to endure last spring.
Yes, these groups all describe themselves as “premiere” and if we took that word away from them, blood would probably be spilled – but that’s besides the point. I like these groups the best. They stress that they’re welcoming to people of all identities and backgrounds, and also expose the audience to worldwide (and criminally overlooked!) genres and music styles in their performances. Students of color are able to find community and have some fun singing little tunes together. I cannot hate on that. If the aca-pocalypse is ever upon us, I am certain these groups will not be the cause!
General a cappella is a vast and confusing ocean. Luckily, the rest of this guide will be devoted to summarizing them with a few quick observations, musings and a thorough vibe check by yours truly.
Thunk, founded 1993. The oldest. I have watched this performance many, many times. It is suspicious to me how above averagely beautiful the ensemble is. I don’t know if they’re debating headshots America’s Next Top Model style on top of musical talent during auditions, but the results are damning.
Significant Others, founded 1994. This group is for women and non-binary people specifically. This is very important! Public service even. It gives the girlies something to do instead of being feral, climbing trees etc. (regular girly things). Grrls + non-men rule, boys drool! Grateful they took this message to heart.
Purple Haze, founded 1996. Are they named after a strain of weed?! How did they get away with that? Though unsurprisingly theater energy runs powerfully through NU’s aca-scene, I feel the power of the theater kid more forcefully with Purple Haze than anywhere else. The theater kid to end all theater kids. The one to rule them all.
Asterik, founded 1997. They seem like the group most similar to the treblemakers from Pitch Perfect. Their vibes feel kind of fratty, but really any group of men organizing together will automatically activate my fight or flight.
Freshman 15, founded 1998. To me, they are the golden retrievers of NU a cappella. They sing fun silly pop songs by Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars and the like. They also wear very iconic embroidered bowling shirts. I am a large fan of any sort of coordinated Look, so F15 gains fashion points.
X-Factors and The Undertones, both founded 2001. Something crazy must’ve happened in 2001 because it saw the birth of two different groups. Why? What happened? My romantic mind conjures images of enemies who formed rival groups in order to best each other and ended up kissing in the end. Anyway, these groups are fine I guess. X-factors’ colors are pink. Undertones are blue. Do you see what I mean about enemies to lovers?!
Extreme Measures, founded 2006. When I think of EM, I think of their performance at fellow NU student group Steamheat’s holiday cabaret. They were all wearing these heavy Christmas sweaters under powerful stage lights and sweating something fierce. Anyway!
Tempo Tantrums, founded 2016. Group for low voices. Minus fashion points because I think the yellow and purple striped tie they wear is ugly. Plus points because they seem like a group of extremely ethical people.
There you have it! My guide to the aca-pocalypse, a few quick and dirty facts on the aca-scene at NU. My survival plan when/if the aca-pocalypse comes? Dangle Thunk as bait, let Asterik fall into a terrible trap, force everyone else to do a riff-off to the death. Easy peasy.
As you can see, a lot of what differentiates these groups is just vibes. Finding your place at an institution as large as Northwestern can be overwhelming, and underneath it all I think a cappella is a place for people to make friends and sing things. As long as they’re doing it far away from me, I say let them sing I guess! Until then, I’ll see you at Soul4Real’s next concert!