Bonding and branding: College band BenderWorld is climbing the ladder—in classic Gen-Z style

In the tidal wave of short-form video content that has dominated social media since the advent of TikTok, there is the occasional odd clip that will stop your mindless scrolling in its tracks.  

Scroll. Cat wearing a sweater. Scroll. “Use this kitchen hack the next time you—” Scroll. Top 10 greatest NBA rivalries. Scroll. “As fighting continues in the eastern territory—” Scroll. “Hey there, we’re a Reno band just trying to make this music thing work—” Scroll. 

Wait, what was the last one? 

Scrolling back would introduce the viewer to BenderWorld, a Reno band composed of vocalist Lauren Juillerat, bassist Benjamin Luery, guitarist Ryan Kowalczuk, rhythm guitarist Davis Dunkley and drummer/producer Jack Barrington. With the release of their latest single, “Red Lipstick,” and a fundamentally Gen-Z social media savviness, BenderWorld is part of a wave of young musicians staking a claim in the Reno music scene. 

BenderWorld got its start in the fall of 2022, when Barrington and Kowalczuk, Las Vegas locals and friends from high school, decided to follow through on a longtime plan to start a band. As students at the University of Nevada, Reno, they began to recruit classmates. 

They acquired Luery first, a kindred spirit they met through their extracurricular musical pursuits. Juillerat met the band through digital kismet, posting anonymously to an app called Yik Yak, which allows the user to connect with others in a nearby physical location. 

“I decided that I was going to post, ‘Does anyone want a singer or want to start a band?’” Juillerat said. “And Ryan responded to my thing immediately. He’s like, ‘Oh, I have a band. Do you want to audition for it?’” 

She agreed to a short audition at UNR’s Argenta Hall, where Dunkley had also been invited to attend. They both became band members, and Argenta Hall became their practice space for the rest of the semester—as well as the site of their first live show, in April 2023.  

As the spring semester drew to a close, the bandmates practiced as often as they could, building a set list of covers and as many originals as possible. They recorded and released their debut single, Dreams, on April 14, 2023, before Barrington and Kowalczuk returned to Las Vegas for summer break. 

YouTube video

Last fall, however, their pace became frenetic. On top of busy class schedules, part-time jobs and after-hours obligations, the band threw themselves into a crammed performing schedule, playing live at whatever venue would have them. 

“We were like, ‘We should be doing shows every single weekend live,’” Juillerat said. “And that was a huge mistake, because we started scheduling so many shows that we had no time to record. We had no time to practice or make new songs, because we had to get ready for the show every weekend.” 

The bandmates dove headlong into the Reno music scene, playing house shows at the DIY venue Fort Ralston, crowdfunded concerts at West Street Market, backroom sets at the Holland Project, and Station 9—an art studio and event space in Sparks that opened in 2023. At almost every show, they found a supportive crowd of peers, fans and fellow musicians. 

“The community is so tightly knit, at least in my opinion,” said Kowalczuk. “I remember when we first formed our band, and we were probably at just 100, 200 followers on Instagram, and no real fans besides our friends. We already were having other bands reach out and say, ‘Hey, do you want to open for us?’” 

BenderWorld released “Red Lipstick” on Feb. 13. An impressively cogent blend of genres, the single starts with a twangy guitar riff straight from the shoegaze playbook, and cascades into a hyped-up, double-time chorus reminiscent of the heady days of 2000s pop punk. Drenched in splashy reverb from the drums to the wandering bassline, Juillerat’s vocals lament an unfaithful lover and carry the listener between disparate tempos. 

“I think what makes it interesting, and kind of makes us a little different from the other bands in Reno, is that the single was recorded on our campus in the basement of the library,” Barrington said. “I use those Audio-Technica microphones to do vocals, and then everything else was directly inputted into my computer in my bedroom.” 

“Dreams,” the band’s aptly named first single, shimmers and boogies through a haze of dreamy chords, tight drum patterns and groovy basslines. Like a puff of smoke dancing on the breeze of a golden summer evening, the vibe is so chill, it’s almost anesthetizing. 

Listening to BenderWorld’s sparse recorded catalog, one might not even think it’s the same band—such is the width of the stylistic chasm between the two songs. It works, though. It is, delightfully and simply, the sound of college kids having fun, with all the angst and triumph that comes with it. 

Inspired by a diverse range of sounds, BenderWorld’s members mostly agree they are an “indie” band. 

“I think indie’s more of a mindset and not a genre,” Dunkley said. “Like, Jack produces and does all the mixing and mastering. I reach out to other bands and try to get shows and stuff. Ryan and Lauren will both handle video editing. And Ben will handle different things. The main idea of indie, for me at least, is that we’re doing this ourselves.” 

Part of that DIY mentality is their approach to social media. Most local bands use social media as a digital telephone pole to post fliers for upcoming shows—and that’s it. A few use it as a repository for professionally curated material like promo photos or snazzily edited show highlights. BenderWorld, on the other hand, leans into social media as an active method of finding and communicating with fans and friends alike through goofy videos and show announcements. 

“I don’t think we really saw it as a tool until recently when I was like, ‘Hey, we should start posting like stupid TikTok videos that could go viral,’” Juillerat said. “So we recorded a video of me over Jack while he’s drumming, and Ryan pretends to throw a chair at him. And then we started picking up in views and followers.” 

The band’s introduction video referenced at the beginning of this story has more than 140,000 views as of this writing. Even with only two songs on Spotify, BenderWorld regularly pulls in hundreds of monthly listeners. Something else that helped them build a fan base: Describing themselves as a Reno band. 

“Someone commented on one of our Instagram reels the other day that went more viral, and they said, ‘I’m surprised this is my first time hearing of a Reno band, and that there are not more, because I feel like there’s nothing else to do in Reno,’” Juillerat said. “But there are a lot of bands in Reno. So, (saying we’re from Reno) also helps, because other bands want to support you, and then you support them. It pushes the community out bigger for other people see.” 

As opposed to simply being a “band from Reno,” BenderWorld markets itself as a “Reno band”—and yes, there is a difference. Annoying purists might argue that blatant self-promotion could destroy an insular scene like Reno’s, but to BenderWorld and the community of young, excited musicians searching for their own space, likes, views and followers are breeding cohesion and community. 

“I’ve gotten, like, five people—random people have come up to me like, ‘Are you in a band?’” Luery said. “A guy in my Spanish class was like, ‘I saw your reel on my Instagram.’ So I think it’s been kind of working.” 

BenderWorld hopes to record and release their debut EP sometime this year. Until then, you can find them on Spotify and