Julia Stemmer: Play It Right (Sylvan Esso)

Guest Columnist
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2017

I cannot begin to quantify the number of parties I have attended with Steff and Stefan where we have taken over the music. From tiny dorm rooms to large bars, the three of us are constantly arriving somewhere, deciding we want to hear something different and asserting our musical tastes on everyone else, grinning with glee when we hear other people blurting, “I love this song!” and watching everyone, including ourselves, begin to dance embarrassingly in corners. Almost all the socializing I’ve done over my four years as a Brunonian has been with one or both of these people standing next to me, letting me analyze every room, putting up with my overly large arm gestures when I get excited and, of course, dancing late into the night.

Everyone has her story of her first interaction with a future first-year roommate, whether it was a stilted email exchange or a near-automatic Facebook friend request. Steff, however, followed me on Twitter. Our first real conversation happened when she responded to a tweet I had posted with Bon Iver lyrics — apparently my musical tastes came as a pleasant surprise to her. While we always got along as roommates, I can pin down the start of our actual friendship to the night when we sat, lights off, on our respective beds, separated by 10 or so feet of Keeney linoleum, blasting Kanye West’s recently released album, “Yeezus.” We sat there in the dark, maybe once mumbling, “This is really good,” for the entire duration of the album. When I came home a few weeks later and she had fallen asleep midday with a Fleetwood Mac song I grew up with playing softly on her computer, I knew that Brown’s mysterious first-year-roommate algorithm had definitely worked out for us.

I met Stefan through a variety of embarrassing circumstances I will not describe here, but when I was barely friends with him, I found myself sitting on his desk chair late at night after a string of likely mediocre freshman parties, watching the music video for Stromae’s song, “Papaoutai.” We marveled at its creativity, the hypnotic wonder of the dance moves, the colors. He soon became a fixture in Steff’s and my room, pregaming for Friday nights out, discussing our beyond-boring applied math professor and strategizing for the housing lottery.

Sophomore year, the two of them lived down the hall from each other while I lived with a roommate in a dorm a few blocks away. When my roommate’s taste for nothing but The Smiths became too much to bear, I would walk over to Marcy House, and the three of us would sit in Stefan’s tiny single, where the soundtrack was always FKA Twigs, Grimes, Lana del Rey and Lorde.

Junior year we mostly played dance music and forced everyone we knew to listen to Skrillex’s “Stranger” — a lot. We blared Diplo on weekdays and synced up Keys N Krates to strange and silly Youtube videos. On quieter evenings, Stefan would request Alt-J, and the three of us would talk, planning our futures both separately and apart: Stefan, an international student, had no idea where he would be in the world, and Steff would adamantly refuse to return to Florida, but beyond that, she did not know what would happen. Every time we talked about post-Brown life, I would always say, as a lifelong Brooklynite, “I’ll be in New York, so come visit.”

And both of them did: Stefan and I once yelled song requests to an overwhelmed-looking bartender in a noisy bar frequented by Columbia students, and Steff came to visit one summer when we bought tickets to see Flume. Barely 21, we were nearly the oldest people there, laughing at the dolled-up high-schoolers while we just danced and danced.

Senior year has been a blur of Stefan and I dancing in the living room to M.I.A.’s latest album while Steff and I debate which Rihanna song to play at Captain Seaweed’s. I am going to miss every time we played Cher’s “Believe” to end our nights out and every time we have cracked up at the sound of “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics, which inevitably recalls that time a friend hijacked the music and only played that song for an unbearable 30 minutes straight at a party we threw in my Young Orchard apartment.

To Steff and Stefan, who have let me play “Collard Greens” by Schoolboy Q as many times as I have wanted, who will end up at business school in North Carolina and teaching math in India, respectively: Thank you for sharing your musical tastes with me for four years, and I cannot wait for you to come back to New York so we can dance in my living room for years to come.