Side streets and stadiums

I was walking past the pub near my ratty apartment when I caught sight of a concert poster. Brewing Trouble, it advertised, in a font that screamed punk rock.

I googled the address and came up with a nondescript door in the middle of a neighborhood. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would the attendees be a generation or two above mine, head-nodding from their seats in a smoke-filled bar? Would the music be good, or at least fun to dance to? It didn’t matter; I like finding new places, and little adventures to fill a Wednesday evening. I’d be going.

            I brought a friend from MIT. Together we found the nondescript door, pushed it open, and entered a converted warehouse that was anything but. A steady beat pumped through the place. Bright graffiti covered the corrugated iron walls, and inside, the walls were plastered with posters for protests and band gigs long past. The drinks were cash-only and cheap, and the crowd sported alt-fashion, piercings, and ink. The music turned out to be quite good.

            I realized immediately that this was something I’d been missing.

            The people in this crowd reminded me of the alumni of East Campus and Senior Haus, two dorms at MIT. Living at East Campus this past year, I’ve grown used to being surrounded by queer culture; moving to Denmark, I didn’t realize how much I’d miss it. I love seeing and taking inspiration from different forms of self-expression among my peers and growing in an environment that believes identity can be whatever you make of it. You can be whatever you make of yourself. I was happy to have found that space again.

Ungdomshuset, a music venue in Copenhagen and a fount of alt culture

I love the communities I’ve found in Copenhagen, the people I can hang with and talk to for hours, if we aren’t dancing or jumping in the ocean. I am one of few queer people in this group, though everyone is accepting, and I feel safe talking about whatever comes to mind.           

And a lot of the things I need — to be surrounded by queer culture, activism, people who will grin about cutting logs by pulling a chainsaw back and forth — can be found anywhere, and everywhere. I just need to keep my eyes open.

Amber Velez ’24

This summer I found that my life is going to be one where I inhabit multiple spaces which fill different parts of me. Some of my co-workers nerd out with me about man-powered chainsaws and how Fresnell lenses work; others have read my favorite books and shared my music taste.

Canal by the harbor where my co-workers and I go swimming

            I’ve been catching good feelings in the hearts of a few different crowds. I went to my first metal festival at the beginning of summer, and danced before a stage dressed in black, in a sea of band shirts and leather. All around me was a field full of people coming out for a type of music my friends back home don’t really listen to. I realized I’d found another corner of the world where I belonged.

One of the myths of MIT is that of a student-driven, nerdy, maybe a bit of an outcast — who comes to MIT and finds their place. That student settles into a community where they fit better than they’d ever fit before. It’s a nice myth, and one a good deal of students, at times myself included, can relate to. But it’s fraught in its way because no community will exist around us at this scale ever again. Four years of fitting in and what then?

The crowd at Copenhagen Pride

College in the all-consuming way America presents it is not a sustainable lifestyle; of course, we must move on. Still, sometimes I catch myself wondering, what will happen after? How will I find communities in the big wide world?

The answer I’m finding now is that MIT contains many niches I fit with. But it doesn’t actually have metal concerts. And a lot of the things I need — to be surrounded by queer culture, activism, and people who will grin about cutting logs by pulling a chainsaw back and forth — can be found anywhere, and everywhere. I just need to keep my eyes open.

In the graffitied warehouse, we danced, pushing each other back and forth, less aggressively than at the metal fests I’ve been to. After the final band, my voice shot from cheering, my friend and I mingled with the guests and organizers. Some were from Copenhagen, others from Texas and New York. They’d travelled here and found this space.

I’ve found that you carve out space for yourself, whether it’s in fields covered in black banners; or at the edge of a pier, shivering while your friends beckon you toward the water; or in a spray-painted warehouse somewhere north of the city proper.

Amber Velez, MechE and History ’24, spent the summer working at Seaborg ApS, a start-up developing a compact molten salt reactor.