Down it, fresher!

All the Crap Music Small Talk You're Going to Make in Freshers' Week

"Wanna head down to the open mic night?"

by Josh Baines
20 September 2017, 9:00am

Photo by UCLU Photo Society via Flickr

As mum's sobs ring in your ears and the Scunthorpe United stickers on the back of dad's Skoda sink into the quicksands of memory, remind yourself that this is what you wanted. You chose this. You chose to be deployed in a too-small bedroom with nothing but a pinboard and a Warhol print for company. You decided that all you wanted from life was the chance to meet like-minded folks who'd washed up in Coventry or Hull or Exeter in search of the kind of communality and acceptance your collective hometowns could and would never offer. And you, sadly, are the sole agent of blame for the fact that in roughly four hours time you're going to be extolling the virtues of John Maus to a complete stranger while the rest of the entire university are fucking like the cast of a post-apocalyptic Love Island. Welcome to Freshers' Week!

When I look back on that dizzying time – a moment that seems so vivid, so easily accessible, so recent but did, in fact, take place a terrifying nine years ago – I don't think about the sex (none of that) or the drugs (nope), but the rock'n'roll… well, that still causes me to experience excruciating embarrassment that immediately makes me want to chisel my own brain out in an attempt at memorial burial. Did I think people I'd met a night bus ago wanted to look at my CD collection? Yes. Did I think those same people would then want to spend the night in my single bed as a result of spying my prized Dischord boxset? Absolutely. Did I then, one evening during a one-day festival, write the words "BENGA. GOOD!" in one of those people's notebook? You might very well think that, but I couldn't possibly comment. OF COURSE I DID.

Uni is a lot. You'll learn to hate people based on their footsteps, and fall in love with others purely because you're pretty sure you heard them mention Descartes once. You'll lie about the loss of your virginity and exaggerate how many GCSEs you have. And you'll find yourself talking about music a lot. Why? Because everyone has listened to music at some point. Trust me, the one thing you'll be desperate for in the next few weeks – more than reassurance from friends and family, even more than a trolley-dash round Iceland – is the safest conversational common ground imaginable. Here, then, is how to get through ten terrible conversations you're about to have in smoking areas and grease-stinking kitchens, over canteen-bought coffee and cheap cider.

"The thing about The Beatles is…"

Every university in the world contains a stronghold of freshers who really, really, really love the Beatles. You, being 18 not 56, have no real opinion on the Beatles. You just don't care about them, in the same way you don't care about Icelandic economics or your own liver. These Lennon-lovers will try and spread their peace-and-love sentiments for about two weeks when, weirdly, all of them will drop out without telling anyone. Should you get stuck in an introductory wine-and-cheese session next to one of them, do the honourable thing and repeatedly ask why Ringo Starr was so fucking shit at drumming and now supports Brexit but didn't actually vote. Keeping asking, over and over. It's for their own good.

Photo by Gary Burns

"It's quite funny actually, let me put it on."


"Go on… one more!"

Against all odds, you've managed to get a party going in your flat. Look, there's two strangers talking about Lil Peep! Listen, someone's trying to explain rhizomes! Is that… yes, it is: two guys with goatees are rolling a bad spliff! This is perfect, you think. Except one thing. A guy you're sure no one in the place has ever seen before has decided that what really sets a party off is playing nine-second snippets of Drexciya, Merzbow, Gangsta Pat, Dr Buzzard's Original Savannah Band and John Fahey at a time. This is where small talk becomes Big Action, and you've got to do the honourable thing: forcefully escort them off the premises, return to cheers from the crowd, and triumphantly hit play on "Bodak Yellow."

"Jazz has a really unfair reputation."

What do you say to a mature student who looks like Ned Flanders' dad and is clutching a John Coltrane record at the function? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

"Fancy heading down to the open mic night?"

If you take anything away from this piece, make it this: never, ever befriend, trust, or rely on anyone who contemplates attending an open-mic night, let alone taking part in one. Do you really want your last flushes of youth marked by long Tuesday evenings spent watching Tom from Tewksbury croak through a Jeff Buckley song on a five-stringed, out-of-tune guitar? The love of your life is out there meeting the love of theirs and you're supping a pint of IPA as a hurdy-gurdy trio jam endlessly in a pub in in Penge. Don't be that person.

"You into The Cure? They're kinda depressing but I really like their early stuff."

Step away. This person will burn fish fingers at 4AM, be heard shagging at 5AM, and then found in the kitchen, crying, alone, at 5.15AM.

"It's a 90s party!"

If there's one thing keeping the flayed body of UK nightlife alive, it's 90s nights. Canny promoters from Livingstone to Lyme Regis has wised-up to the fact that nostalgia and vodka make perfect bedfellows. Binge-drinking to "She's Got that Vibe" might seem like a sort-of reasonable thing to do, but: A) you're just buying into the idea that the world today is so terrible that all you can do is burrow into the half-remembered recent-past; B) torpedoing a WKD while a DJ mixes "Saturday Night" into the As If theme tune will only make you want to stumble headfirst into the grave before you've ever had a chance to get a letter sent home regarding your poor lecture attendance, and; C) YOU WERE BORN IN THE YEAR ACTUAL 2000 AND YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT AS IF IS.

"It's quite touching actually, let me put it on."


"Heard of Berghain?"

A warning: halfway through an ill-advised sixth night out in a row, a bloke failing to hide his comfortable middle-class background with a jacket that looks like a very expensive bin-liner is going to try and tell you all about this "mad fucking club in Berlin, right," and you're going to have to pretend that you've not already read the 14 articles published this month that guarantee you entry into the world's most famous nightclub. Nod when he mentions the bouncers, smile when he brings up the Panorama Bar blinds, and begin slowly rubbing your forehead against the nearest wall when he tells you that "the trick to getting in, right, is, like…"

"Hahaha, yeah, I just like what I like really, you know, Queen, Disney soundtracks, that kind of stuff!"

You're at the wrong university. Leave now.

You can find Josh on Twitter.

Objectively Correct Lists
Freshers Week
going to college