Curating the Vibe
Leaning into the Columbia party.
By Dominic Wiharso
My initial foray into hosting took place in a Carman floor 13 mega-suite, inhabited by ten freshman boys, on the first night of college. It was doomed to fail from its inception: the stakes were far too high and our beer pong table was far too small. Obviously, no one had fun. We were strangers gathered in a shoebox with bottom-shelf vodka poured into crumpled Poland Spring water bottles, hoping that this critical function would ignite lifelong friendships. Personally, I am proud of having had a hand in curating such an offensive vibe. It was the freshman party to rule them all.
Thirty minutes in, an authoritative knock cut through the haze of slurred conversation. A second knock rattled the door, piercing through the RapCaviar Muzak and bringing the small talk to a sudden stop. The party culminated in bodies streaming into the hallway, off to the next event, leaving the roommates of 1314-E to write down their names and UNIs in an RA’s Notes app. As I hid in the bathroom, I heard a heated game of truth or dare through the door: “I dare you to kiss me.” I smiled to myself.
From that consequential first night, I learned that hosts at Columbia occupy a precarious yet powerful position. It is easy to falter under the weight of the title of vibe curator. The burden falls to the host to set the party’s tone and being shut down by an authority figure can be the end of a host’s legacy. A good host knows how to draw people in, preferably through an esoteric yet attention-grabbing flyer: no time, no date, no address, an unreadable typeface. Bonus points if the flyer does not correspond with the theme, which must read as mysterious and referential. Finally, hosts must craft an exclusive, unpredictable guest list. I spent a long time believing that guest lists are secondary to a host’s blood, sweat, and tears—focus your energy elsewhere, because people will come and go regardless. You’re throwing a dorm rager, not Martha Stewart’s dinner party.
Columbia hosting occurs most often in the form of the ubiquitous kickback, the more intimate and relaxed relative of the party. Here, the host is tasked with vibe curation beyond perfunctory logistics—they are required to interact with each and every guest, bringing them into the fold. Last year, my roommate and I decided to host movie nights in our spacious double, monopolizing on a timeless hosting formula: no extraneous planning and an opportune setting for wine and beer. A movie night should always be bookended by a regular kickback, so as to allow for a seamless transition between the main event and peripheral mingling. As the semester progressed and our friends’ disdain for the Brooklyn rave commute increased, we found ourselves hosting often.
After the summer, however, when our youthful spirit had room to roam free, the allure of the kickback dissipated—I could barely rally a group of close friends to sit through a Peanuts special. I found myself looking to my peers for hosting inspiration. What was getting people to leave the comforts of their Carlton Arms singles and trek 15 minutes to a function?
First, I turned to Columbia’s premier music organization: Bacchanal is notorious for hosting the best-attended event of the year, defined by day-drinking and living out unsatiated state school fantasies. Though the line-up for last year’s annual spring concert was unanimously dubbed as “not giving,” everyone duly funneled into the subway, united in the search for loud music. When it comes to Bacchanal, there is an undeniable hosting mastery at play. It’s an all-inclusive experience with little drama for attendees (besides securing free tickets). But the fact that it’s Columbia’s event will indeed turn off the most indie of us. Instead of reveling in the Terminal 5 atmosphere, the Bushwick-obsessed crowd left early in search of IPAs with guava undertones and obscure, unpalatable house music.
At the other end of the spectrum is Greek life. For those who want to stay close to campus, a frat party is an almost inevitable destination. Over Halloweekend, ADP—the literary society that falls on the fraternity spectrum—adopted the role of host with its massive brownstone open to those roaming Frat Row in search of the block’s most exciting party. I trained my eyes on the hosts’ execution. ADP exuded an entrancing energy, attracting countless corsets and bodies smeared with fake blood. I wondered whether the vibe that ensued that night was what the hosts expected. I looked at the party’s flyer for evidence. Unbeknownst to me, the party was a collaboration between ADP and Columbia’s Caribbean Student Association, an unexpected synthesis of social scenes. The vibe had been unintelligible that night but didn’t feel forced. The playlist was an inclusive amalgamation of ABBA, Bobby Shmurda, and Daft Punk. The hosts did their jobs; they galvanized a night of fun. I wish I could attribute this to a particular decision they made, but there was no formula. The vibe itself flipped the script and was headed by those in attendance.
I felt the vibe’s onus shift from party-thrower to party-goer. I used to assume that hosts had to prove that their party was worth more than a cursory stop and that if the energy was not in full swing, it was because their chips were stale and their music was annoying. I know that I myself was always searching for the most aged, robust, full-bodied vibe. But the bodies streaming into ADP that night shifted my paradigm.
We can be disdainful of the lack of options, space, and centralization allotted to having fun at Columbia, but this discontent also stems from a lack of our own investment. It can feel frivolous to care about party politics, but we have stakes in every event we catch. It doesn’t matter if the party doesn’t fit your tastes exactly—I’m calling for party-goers to define the nightly vibe for themselves and make it their own. No function has to be a fail. An uptown night might surprise you.
All of this to say: Mel’s tonight is going to be a movie.