In recent years, universities have seen the rise of alternative culture with many societies dedicated to rock and metal, fandom, and (in some extreme cases) fetish. With the emergence of these societies, mainstream university events have begun to see competition between the alternative nights and their own activities.

So why do people want to go to the alternative parties?

As a reference point, I will use this year’s Christmas ‘Alt Ball’ organised by the rock society and offered to members of sister societies (such as LGBTQIA and metal society). The previous year’s ball was held in a pub and filled with party games to find the best head banger and limbo dancer but by 2015 it had risen to draw people away from the mainstream Guild of Students ball. This year the venue was a closer rival to the great hall and the ticket sales confirmed that more people than ever were deciding to choose what may be the only ball to end with 100 people doing the macarena to Rob Zombie, instead of the traditional dance.

“We want a night that plays our music, not just the top 40”

“I don’t want to get caught between the sports societies getting wasted”

For some, the allure was the chance to enjoy an evening tailored to their own musical taste rather than to the masses. Some Guild run events can begin to feel as if they belong to the sports teams or to those who only want to listen to new pop hits. While this can be fun, it becomes repetitive and excludes alternative tastes. However, the Alt Ball was suited perfectly to the niche market it served while still encompassing enough variety to include anyone dragged along by a friend or partner. In spite of being part of an ‘alternative’ culture, these societies open themselves up to anyone who is not a member and include them in their activities. They keep the old favourites (where would we be without the head banging competition?) but successfully blend them with a welcoming atmosphere and desire to see everyone present has a great night. Those guests not a part of the society were happily surprised by the inclusion of the occasional pop hit and so the night proceeded with no-one feeling they were unwelcome.

“It looks like this year’s ball is just aimed at freshers, we aren’t being offered tickets”

In 2014 I attended the main university Christmas ball, as well as the alternative, and enjoyed it immensely. However, as a second year, tickets were very hard to get as the event had been advertised only to first years. The ball had been eagerly anticipated by many second and third years who were disappointed that it was no longer aimed at them. Now it wasn’t just the music that excluded us, but the type of event. Second years were no longer welcome and so sought the inviting arms of the alternative ball or external events. Plenty of nightclubs ran their own Christmas events which were attended by a huge number of disenfranchised second and third years.

“Its really expensive and there isn’t even a posh dinner like last year”

The final category of comments appeared to be over the price of mainstream events. “Why pay £15-£25 when you can pay £5 for a night with people you like more anyway?” was a familiar cry,  and it is worth considering. When students begin to run out of money at the end of term, they become especially concerned with what they can get for it. While there are many students for whom the Guild’s ball is the perfect night out (and reports were very good), others wanted something a little more laid back and affordable.

It seems that the drift from the mainstream has been driven by the desire to create a space for those who never felt truly included in that aspect of university life. Sadly, and possibly to accommodate the shift to alternative parties, the mainstream ball was downsized and so alienated more students, driving them to alternative nights. No culture can appeal to everyone and it is fantastic to see the growing presence of alternative cultures coexisting with the mainstream, ensuring that everyone can find something to their tastes.

Of course, it is always possible to have twice the fun and attend both events 😉

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