The rise of the ents officers

October 3, 1997

THE THOUSANDS of university students attending freshers' events in the next few weeks will get into the swing of campus life with some first-rate bands, such as indie popsters Teenage Fanclub at Bristol University and trip-hopping Mercury Music prizewinners Roni Size and Reprazent at the University of Wales, Cardiff.

Student entertainment has come a long way from the time when a covers band in the student union bar was thought to be sufficient accompaniment to the important business of downing pints.

Today student entertainment is a multi-million pound industry, and the role of the "ents" officer has become one of the most important in a student union.

Matt Williams, ents manager for the National Union of Students, says unions can no longer sustain a deficit from entertainment budgets. At many universities, the profits from functions are used to subsidise non-profit making activities such as welfare and sports. The tricky part is striking a balance between making money, but not pricing students out, while providing the type of entertainment the "customers" want.

"Students are consumers of their student unions and they don't want some dodgy pub band: they want a quality act," Mr Williams says.

The rise of dance culture means many first-year students now arrive at university with months or years of clubbing under their belt, knowing exactly what they want for entertainment.

According to Mr Williams, a typical night at a student union club might start with a DJ and lighting and visuals used to create mood and atmosphere. The bands might use a combination of "real" instruments and technology such as synthesisers and sequencers and put on more of a show instead of simply getting up on stage and playing.

Adam Saunders, booking agent with promoters Value Added Talent, says students are enjoying more well-known bands as record companies try to tap into the student circuit.

University tours have played an important role in the rise of top groups such as Oasis and Kula Shaker, as a student union can provide an up-and-coming band with bigger audiences than many regular venues.

But this creates problems for student bands. Mr Williams says this is partly because ents officers can no longer afford to risk an act not turning up to play.

The music industry may well rue student unions' shift towards economic rationalism if the next generation of bands fails to materialise because they could not get gigs. New talent is its lifeblood and universities in the past have proved fertile breeding grounds for tomorrow's rock stars.

But the NUS's Mr Williams for one is not worried: he is confident that students will continue to meet at university or college and make music.

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