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Road to Royce: Student bands face off for chance to perform at historic Royce Hall

Bryce Fleming and her bandmates gather on the Nimoy stage at the end of the Road to Royce battle of the bands on Monday. The group will be the student headliner for Sudan Archives on May 16. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Maya Vibhakar

April 16, 2024 11:18 p.m.

Student bands battled it out onstage at UCLA’s newest venue for a chance to perform at the university’s most historic one.

Co-hosted by the Student Committee for the Arts and UCLA Radio, the Road to Royce took place Monday night at the UCLA Nimoy Theater and gave four student groups the opportunity to compete for an opening spot at SCA’s Royce Hall show May 16. The show – which SCA has hosted annually for decades – is headlined by a celebrity performer alongside an opener from the LA area and an opener from UCLA, said Lauren Nemeh, a fourth-year cognitive science student and a programming director at SCA.

“In the past, we’ve had incredible performances with Magdalena Bay, The Marías, Doja Cat, Bob Dylan in the ‘60s, Weyes Blood,” Nemeh said. “We essentially bring emerging and talented artists to UCLA for students to enjoy for free.”

Band member Dylan Mai strums fervently on stage. Gutterball also includes London March, Jannick Jain, Connor Engel and Ryan Sardenberg. (Renee Rubanowitz/Daily Bruin)
Band member Dylan Mai strums fervently on stage. Gutterball also includes London March, Jannick Jain, Connor Engel and Ryan Sardenberg. (Renee Rubanowitz/Daily Bruin)

This year, SCA had the opportunity to host the Road to Royce contest in the Nimoy, UCLA’s newly restored theater that opened in September. Charlotte Wren – a fourth-year civil engineering student, an SCA co-chair for the event and member of UCLA Radio – said the two organizations have a shared mission of uplifting underrepresented musicians. Wren added that bringing accessible entertainment to campus was a key goal for both SCA and UCLA Radio.

“Making these performances free is crucial,” she said. “UCLA offers a lot of resources, but it can fall flat on offering free entertainment to students, so it’s important for organizations to make that up and put on their own shows.”

[Related: Getty Center’s College Night invites students to reexamine history through art]

When it came to selecting which bands would compete, Wren said SCA looked at more than 20 submissions from different student acts before picking four finalists – Whistle Hill, Selkie Winter, Gutterball and Bryce Fleming. The four acts, which took to the stage at 7 p.m., were each given 20 minutes to perform for a lively crowd and a judging panel consisting of both the SCA programming directors and Stig Edgren, an executive producer and designer of live events and a lecturer in the music industry program.

The first group up was Whistle Hill, a four-man band helmed by musician and third-year student Ibrahim Hussain. Despite debuting that very night at the Nimoy, Whistle Hill performed with a distinct and cohesive flair, blending pop rock with “midwest emo influences” – a style described by the band themselves in their introduction. By the end of their set, the band had the audience cheering with each performance in the three-song lineup reminiscent of the ‘90s rock scene.

Indie rock singer-songwriter Selkie Winter, alongside her four-piece student band, performed next, bringing a mix of soft vocals and hard-hitting lyrics. Winter crooned four original songs, including two new singles called “Desert Sunrise” and “Swimming,” both of which Winter said will release Friday. Throughout her performance, Winter showcased both her vocal and songwriting talent, waving goodbye to the audience amid yet another round of applause.

“Her sound is best described as atmospheric and transcendental with an emphasis on poetic lyricism and poignant instrumentals,” Wren said while introducing Winter.

B: Accompanied by a seven-member band, vocalist Bryce Fleming croons into the microphone. The winning performance of the night, Fleming&squot;s set included the original works "Close," “Swept Me Off My Feet” and upcoming single “Summer Rain” as well as Alicia Keys&squot; “Fallin.’” (Renee Rubanowitz/Daily Bruin)
Accompanied by a seven-member band, vocalist Bryce Fleming croons into the microphone. The winning performance of the night, Fleming's set included the original works "Close," “Swept Me Off My Feet” and upcoming single “Summer Rain” as well as Alicia Keys' “Fallin.’” (Renee Rubanowitz/Daily Bruin)

The band Gutterball, consisting of lead singer London March, guitarists Dylan Mai and Jannick Jain, drummer Connor Engel and bassist Ryan Sardenberg, played third. The band’s original songs had indie rock influences, with the topics of each chorus ranging from budding romance to infidelity to Halloween, with March telling the audience to pretend it was October during the latter performance. The six-song lineup included a cover of Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” sung by March and a final performance with Jain at vocals that was seemingly influenced by classic rockstar endings.

The night closed with singer-songwriter Bryce Fleming, joined onstage by a seven-person student band that included saxophone, trumpet and trombone players. After opening with a powerful rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’,” Fleming continued to showcase her soul funk and R&B influences through her original music, performing her songs “Close,” “Swept Me Off My Feet” and her next single, “Summer Rain.” While Fleming’s dynamic vocals were enough to captivate the crowd, the saxophone solo in the middle of the performance also had a moment to steal the spotlight – all part of a stage full of talent that had the audience clapping throughout the set.

[Related: Music Preview: Familar artists bloom once again in upcoming spring releases]

Once Fleming and her band finished their final song, the judges deliberated for 10 minutes before Edgren came up onstage to announce the winner of the Royce Hall opening act. Edgren acknowledged the talent from all four performances before announcing the judges’ final choice – Bryce Fleming.

Cheers erupted from the audience, which included Fleming’s family and friends, as Fleming and the band were ushered onstage. While they accepted their flowers, Nemeh and Nina Tartibi, a fourth-year cognitive science student and a programming director at SCA, announced the headliner for the Royce Hall show as violinist and singer Sudan Archives, who will be performing after LA opener Angela Muñoz and, now, Bryce Fleming on May 16. The audience gave one last round of applause as the SCA programming directors thanked the crowd for coming and congratulated Bryce Fleming and her band one last time.

“This is super cool and super new for us,” Fleming said as she left the Nimoy stage. “It’s going to be really fun.”

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Maya Vibhakar
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