Spider-Friends. Dipset Taliban. Diarrhea Planet. These aren’t the names people typically associate with Belmont University. But Belmont’s music scene is of two worlds. The showcase circuit is the public face of the school—the suggested path to collegiate stardom, beginning with classes and ending with Best of the Best on stage at the Curb Event Center. But there’s a burgeoning underbelly, existing at the corners of Belmont’s music scene in nearby basements and warehouses, slowly gaining attention in Nashville.
At the forefront of the underground movement is the Belmont Underground Music Scene Awareness Project. BUMSAP was started in late November 2009 by sophomore Trent Houghton with the intention of promoting the local music community by exploiting social networks like Facebook and MySpace.
“I would say that you’ve got this aspect of Belmont that promotes the showcase music, they promote you to get into big, major labels and to sell yourself. To me, the showcase is all just an image. There’s great artists that get turned down by the showcase because they don’t have an image,” said Houghton. “I think there’s so many damn kids at Belmont that don’t relate to that.”
Houghton’s goals for BUMSAP are simple: set up shows, promote bands and, ultimately, “bring about a local music community within the bands that no one hears at our music school,” according to the project’s Facebook description. But because these bands often can’t or won’t rely on Belmont for support, they’re forced to get creative.
Diarrhea Planet, a punk band formed by Jordan Smith and Evan P. Donohue, is one band in the scene that can’t perform in the Belmont system.
“They probably wouldn’t even listen to our recording if we turned it in. I don’t think we would be allowed to play in [Curb Café] even,” said Smith. “That’s another problem with Belmont, they have too many conservative limitations on what they accept and allow here. Which is weird, because it’s a music school.”
Despite the barriers preventing the band from performing at Belmont, they have developed a name for themselves by performing in houses and smaller venues like The End and Little Hamilton. Their debut EP, “Aloha,” was released for free and was covered positively in local music blogs Nashville Cream and We Own This Town, who rarely devote space to Belmont artists.
“I think there’s that slight prejudice of Belmont music because of the Belmont music that’s known,” Houghton said. He also said that some bands declined to participate in BUMSAP because of the reference to Belmont in the title, even though the project is unaffiliated with the school, its music program or any faculty or staff. Houghton argues that the entire mindset of underground bands is different from what could be considered Belmont’s mainstream.
“I think the mindset of the kids in the showcase scene, the kids who want to conquer the world, is different from those people that know this is what we do for fun because this is what we love,” Houghton said.
The underground has professed a do-it-yourself ethos that traces back to previous independently minded companies and projects. Dirty Eye was founded by Belmont grads Bo Brannon, Edwin O’Brien and Matt Johanson to promote talented artists like Darla Farmer and Andrew Combs who didn’t necessarily fit the mold of their genres. Although they started booking shows at Douglas Corner, eventually they moved on to booking bigger events in downtown warehouses.
“I would really like to maybe teach one day at Belmont in 10 or 15 years, if I can make [Dirty Eye] work the way I see it, because I didn’t feel like the professors at Belmont really encourage [you to] ‘do it differently, do it creatively, do it yourself’,” said Brannon.
Despite the differences in ideology between Belmont and BUMSAP, most of the participants in the scene understand why Belmont professors teach the way they do and have had positive experiences with some forward-thinking classes. But the ultimate goals of the music business program will always conflict with the goals of the underground, according to Houghton.
“Belmont teaches kids to make money and they teach artists to sell themselves to make money and that turns off so many people, including myself, that we faction off into our own little underground community,” Houghton said.
But while dismissing some of the classes, Houghton and others within the scene expressed pride in the creativity coming from the students. Many of these student-musicians come to Belmont seeking a kind of community that does not inherently exist on campus. Houghton hopes that through the efforts of BUMSAP and other similar projects, they can change that.
“That’s all that BUMSAP is, it’s an effort to build a community,” he said.