NYU Mystery Concert: Loop pedals, mosh pits and ‘Happy Birthday’

Students met performers Ethel Cain, Skaiwater and Polo Perks with an outpouring of love.

A crowd of concert attendees is lit by a purple light. A male screams into the camera.

Jonathan Yu

This year’s Program Board Mystery Concert brings amazing performers with connections to the audience in their unique ways. (Jonathan Yu for WSN)

Julia Diorio, Contributing Writer

There was a sense of contagious energy in the air as students excitedly chatted in anticipation of the three acts coming, eager to blow off steam from the beginning of the semester. Artists Ethel Cain, Skaiwater and Polo Perks performed at this year’s Mystery Concert on Sept. 15 at Le Poisson Rouge. NYU Program Board, a collection of students dedicated to coordinating affordable special events for the NYU community, had high hopes for this year’s event, and the crowd went above and beyond in response.

When choosing this year’s acts, Steinhardt music business student Alejandro Alderete, the program chair of the Program Board, said that NYU had a history of selecting artists that didn’t always mesh with each other musically but always had overlapping crowds that brought people together. Perks and Skaiwater had vibrating bass lines and mosh pits, while Ethel Cain had the whole audience swaying with flashlights.

Gallatin senior Declan Dwyer, one of the Program Board’s concert chairs, said they attempted to hit multiple genres when booking artists, to try and get as many people to come for the free event. Many students in the crowd had said that they and their friends came to the show simply because it was free, something that the Program Board promoted on its social media.

As the first act of the night, Polo Perks was able to slip through the crowd unnoticed, disguised by a small hand towel over his head. When he entered the stage, he brought a burst of energy. Polo Perks even went so far as to join the commotion on the dance floor, hyping up the crowd himself. Even if students were unfamiliar with his rap music, they were screaming in adoration by the end of his performance. He exited the stage to shouts of “We love you, Polo.”

Program Board president Aryana Dehghan, who also studies music business, shared that the goal of the group’s events is to “put you onto the best entertainment before it blows up.” Polo Perks certainly met this goal, as several students were pulling up his Instagram page mere minutes after his exit.

Skaiwater performed a solo set which consisted of him, a loop pedal and a small laptop in the corner. He showed off his technological and musical skills in his performance, proving his specific effects-driven live looping techniques, which are vital to his music. 

During his set, Skaiwater created mosh pits, but stopped to make sure a fan was OK when needed. He even sang “Happy Birthday” to a fan. The crowd interaction, excitement and energy in the air was emblematic of why so many first-years chose NYU as their school: to have free artistic opportunities and experiences.

Alderete said that the Program Board’s goal was to book singer-songwriter Ethel Cain, stressing that she was the center of the concert from the very beginning. Cain, a stark contrast to the first two acts, had the audience entranced. Her sound was ethereal, effortlessly hitting high emotional notes in her vocal performance and reaching out to connect with the audience. 

At the closing show of her first headline tour, Cain expressed to the crowd that she considered the Mystery Concert “the unofficial afterparty.” It was a much softer tone, a much slower pace, and yet every audience member enjoyed themselves.

“There’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm in the crowd, which is really refreshing,” Marlee Kula, a member of Cain’s team, said. “The fans are really excited, but I definitely think there’s a young energy and excitement in the room, which is exciting to see.” 

Each performer connected with the crowd in their own way. Polo Perks went among the students, Skaiwater brought them up on stage and Cain seemed to look every student in the eye. Aside from the sheer kindness and camaraderie shared by the performers, each artist offered one piece of advice to students.

“No matter what with school, music, anything, video gaming, anything really — If you apply yourself to it, you’ll be great at it. 100%.” — Polo Perks

“No matter if somebody says your shit is trash, they just only have one perception of what trash is,” — Skaiwater  

“The worst thing you can do is stop doing what you’re doing. Keep doing it.” — Ethel Cain 

Contact Julia Diorio at [email protected].