For the first time in Duke’s history, the annual Heatwave concert was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday, Aug. 28.
Heatwave is a Duke tradition organized by Duke University Union (DUU), that usually takes place on Abele Quad on West Campus. Big-name artists who have performed at Heatwave in the past, including Rico Nasty and Snakehips, amplify the excitement and buzz of the beginning of a new school year. This year, rapper Denzel Curry headlined the virtual concert.
Sophomore and DUU Campus Concerts chair Rohan Bhambhani believes that Denzel Curry was certainly the right choice to headline the concert this year.
“Denzel, in my opinion, is one of the best rappers out right now,” Bhambhani said. “His energy in terms of what he brings to the table as a live performer is incredible, and obviously with a virtual setup, that’s essential.”
Some of Denzel’s most popular songs on Spotify include “Ultimate,” “Clout Cobain” and “RICKY.” His latest release is titled “Lemonade.”
Small Town Records signed rapper TGBEAM opened for Denzel. Senior and Small Town Records chair Mitra Kiciman commented on the decision to include TGBEAM in the lineup.
“His music is probably the most similar to Denzel Curry’s and made the most sense as an opener for a cohesive show,” Kiciman said.
Adding to the challenges of putting together a large concert, a virtual concert environment posed an unprecedented challenge to student engagement in the event. One way that DUU attempted to get students excited and engaged before the event on Friday was through setting up a meet-and-greet with the headliner.
“[Fans of Denzel] had the opportunity to meet the artist and talk about whatever for thirty minutes,” Bhambhani said.
In addition to the meet-and-greet, Kiciman said that Small Town Records and Campus Concerts wanted to emulate the feel of an in-person event. Both TGBEAM and Denzel Curry performed on actual stage sets, and both artists talked to and shouted out the audience between and during songs to try to keep up engagement.
“We did our best to recreate the atmosphere of a live performance by having the artist be on a stage and having them say things as if they were actually talking to a crowd,” he said.
Bhambhani also expressed his confidence in Denzel’s ability to keep the crowd interested.
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“We want to make sure everyone is as engaged as possible, even though it’s very hard to accomplish that in a virtual setting. But I believe that Denzel specifically is one of the few people who can actually do that.”
The event opened with TGBEAM, who brought a great energy to the stage, drawing the audience in with his chill rap beats as well as his aura of authenticity and positivity. He performed his own songs, such as his 2019 single “Day Trip.”
After TGBEAM, the concert transitioned to Denzel Curry’s stage, which included his DJ’s setup. Denzel performed many of his hit songs, including “RICKY,” “Psycho” and “Super Saiyan Superman.” To excite the audience even more, Denzel also brought out multiple surprise guest artists: Guapdad 4000 performed the song “Lil Scammer That Could,” and JPEGMAFIA came out to perform “VENGEANCE | VENGEANCE.” Denzel brought the same level of energy that one would expect at an in-person concert, and proved he was a true performer, as he motioned at the audience through each camera angle, he shouted “What the f— is up Duke University,” and talked to the audience about his own life and beliefs.
Denzel ended his show by performing his most popular song to date: “Ultimate.” Each song that Denzel performed seemed to generate a positive reaction from the audience, as students were messaging excitedly in the Zoom chat for the entirety of his show.
After the concert, Kiciman commented on the attendance and overall quality of the production.
“I was pretty happy with the quality of production of both of the sets,” Kiciman said. “Obviously, Denzel had his professional team and his set looked really good. We also did our best as far as our artist’s set: good lighting, some editing, and good audio quality. Overall, given that we can’t have anything in person right now, it was pretty good.”
COVID-19 has ushered in an era of firsts, especially for college campuses, and this virtual concert was a perfect example. The Heatwave concert this fall was unique, both in the terms of the virtual venue as well as the artist. Still, the audience members were drawn into the concert and were able to feel the electric energy of front row seats to Heatwave from the comfort of their own rooms and homes.