The Internship, a band headed by Moses Sumney, plays a UCLA undergound parking garage
The Internship, a band headed by Moses Sumney, plays a UCLA undergound parking garage

Which Has a Better Music Scene: UCLA or USC?

The rivalry between USC and UCLA is long and storied. Do you bleed cardinal and gold, or blue and gold?

This question is usually most heated on the football field. But we wondered: Which university has the better music scene?

To duke it out we brought in two of our writers: Chris Walker, who graduated from UCLA in 2012, and while Gabrielle Canon, who graduated from USC in 2009. Both are convinced their music scene is superior.

Moderating is Ben Westhoff, who barely got into college and, frankly, could care less about either school. Let's get ready to rumble!

Radio Moscow debuts their new album on KLAEXPAND
Radio Moscow debuts their new album on KLA
Chris Walker

Radio Stations

UCLA: KLA is our raunchy, student-run station that has been thrice banned by the FCC for swearing and illegal broadcasts. Since it became UCLAradio.com in 1999, KLA has won top honors as the best university internet radio station in the nation. Listen in and you'll everything from the latest in electronic, rap, metal, and indie rock. KUSC, meanwhile, specializes in classical and is L.A.'s prime supplier of geriatric home soundtracks and elevator music. -Chris Walker

USC: SC students don't consider KUSC our station. We've got KXSC, our student-run station plays everything from Fidlar to J Dilla. That's probably why MTVu featured KXSC on College Radio Countdown, and how the small station has managed to pull off huge concerts including a monthly series at our on-campus bar  and a festival that brings together new student talent and big names. -Gabrielle Canon

Point: UCLA

Next: On-campus performances and notable alums

KXSC Festival at USC
KXSC Festival at USC
Courtesy of KXSC

On Campus Performances

UCLA: The University of Spoiled Children may have the bigger budget, but UCLA makes good use of its taxpayer money by finding acts before they become big. Over the years UCLA has hosted a litany of groups before they became well-known. You may have heard of some of them: Jimi Hendrix. The Talking Heads. The Minutemen. R.E.M. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Eyed Peas. Just to name a few. -Chris Walker 

USC: The USC concert committee (oh, sorry, UCLA - do you not have a concert committee in house?) plans a bunch of free concerts throughout the year. It has booked artists including Big Sean, A-Trak, Travis Barker and Mix Master Mike, and Walk the Moon. Oh wait, I forgot to mention that those were headliners for just for one show. Oh, and then there are our pep rallies, where folks like Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, Childish Gambino, Ra Ra Riot, and Cold War Kids have helped work up the crowd by performing before the rivalry game. (The other best part of this ceremony is the Bruin Bear bonfire). Then there was the time Sir Elton John stopped by for a free show just to play with our orchestra. Plus, in addition to the sometimes-venue known as our quad, we have three on-campus venues; Ground Zero, an on-campus coffee-house, showcased Imagine Dragons, Hot Hot Heat, and Minus the Bear before they became big names. -Gabrielle Canon

Point: USC

L to R: Jimmy Iovine, USC Dean Erica Muhl, Dr. Dre, USC President C.L. Max Nikias
L to R: Jimmy Iovine, USC Dean Erica Muhl, Dr. Dre, USC President C.L. Max Nikias
Steve Cohn/University of Southern California

Notable Former Students and Current Affiliates

UCLA: I'm not familiar with many famous USC musicians. Hmmm. Oh yeah, there was Lil' Romeo, who I saw getting stuffed in Pauley Pavilion when he played on USC's basketball team. I think he got one rebound. As for UCLA, students there can take classes with jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, walk by a locker used by Jim Morrison, and go to the 'Spring Sing' competition each May, where past student winners include Sara Bareilles and Maroon 5. A trip through the yearbooks also reveals Anthony Kiedis, members of Linkin Park, Dr. Demento, and that lady who played bass in Black Flag. -Chris Walker

USC: Perhaps you have heard of Dr Dre? He and Jimmy Iovine, of course, donated $70 million to establish their "Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation." Other residents of USC's Thorton School of Music are producer Young Guru, who's worked with Jay-Z, Motown maven Lamont Dozier, producer Glen Ballard, and Randy Newman. As for alums - Young MC busted his first move as a USC student in the '80s, followed by Macy Gray, Dexter Holland, and Mark McGrath. Flea has taken classes there too, even. There are many more - including some we might not even want to take credit for, like Nick Lachey. -Gabrielle Canon

Point: USC

Next: Student bands

Which Has a Better Music Scene: UCLA or USC?
photograph courtesy of KXSC

Student Bands

UCLA: When it comes to student bands, UCLA is clearly the favorite. Westwood has been an incubator of talent in recent years, including members of Haim and Moses Sumney, who was listed on the Weekly's top 10 artists to watch in 2014 list. With current student artists We the Folk and Toy Light playing the likes of the Bootleg and Low End Theory, UCLA remains one of L.A.'s hottest spots to scout new talent. -Chris Walker

USC: USC is a music-making machine. In 2009 the Thorton School of Music established the Popular Music program - the first of its kind - creating a laboratory for launching new talent. Rolling Stone called it "the cutting-edge department that's become the site of one of Los Angeles' most productive new music scenes," and alumni are already making waves. Rozzi Crane is opening for Maroon 5, Suemy Gonzalez was nominated for a Latin Grammy with her group Trio Ellas, Scott Hoying scored a Sony record deal as part of Pentatonix - the group that won NBC's The Sing-Off in 2011 - and the band Bear Attack has landed three songs on prime time TV. All this talent uses the USC student body as a sounding board, performing on campus and at an annual Troubadour showcase. -Gabrielle Canon

Point: UCLA

The Internship, a band headed by Moses Sumney, plays a UCLA undergound parking garage
The Internship, a band headed by Moses Sumney, plays a UCLA undergound parking garage

Off-Campus Performances

UCLA: Having outstripped the area's few official venues, UCLA's music scene has gone underground. Sometimes shows are held, literally, in parking garages, or else rooftops, courtyards, or living rooms. When I graduated in 2012, there were no less than three concert series showcasing talent each month. It's not uncommon for 300 students to show up before the cops do. One time Flying Lotus even stopped by and played my friends' living room, pretending to be a UCLA physics major. Another time a USC student showed up. We paid him for the pizza. -Chris Walker

See also: Westwood Sucks, So These UCLA Bands Made Their Own Scene

USC: Cool that Flying Lotus came by campus one time, but see, when he's playing an actual set we can go and see him without having to drive all the way across town. We've got easy access to downtown and the venues on the east side. Our school provides a free shuttle to L.A. Live, and The Shrine is right across the freaking street. Then there's the Row which, don't scoff, puts on good shows: Last year Phi Sigma Kappa hosted one of the biggest raves of the year, and meanwhile Riff Raff showed up to a party at Phi Kappa Phi. -Gabrielle Canon

Point: UCLA

Next: The moment of truth

Major Lazer headlines UCLA's annual 'Bruin Bash' concertEXPAND
Major Lazer headlines UCLA's annual 'Bruin Bash' concert

Closing Arguments

UCLA: The only thing more embarrassing than USC's performance in the cross-town football game last year is its music scene. USC has nowhere near the number of student artists making news. Even a Trojan could do that math. I think we all know which is the University of Second Choice in Los Angeles. -Chris Walker

USC: It's ok, we get it. You win a few football games and you get a big head. It's pretty cute actually. Keep enjoying your parking-garage concerts. USC is too busy launching the next generation of music-makers, dancing to the biggest acts in the business (right out in the open!), and partying with legends. -Gabrielle Canon

Winner: UCLA

Judge Ben Westhoff's comments: It was a very close race. Clearly USC has the better musical infrastructure, but when it comes to a pure groundswell of talented, energetic students making music, UCLA takes the private school cake.  

Like us on Facebook at LAWeeklyMusic

The 10 Best Record Stores in L.A.
Top 20 Musicians of All Time, in Any Genre
Shitty Band Names: A History


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories