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It was circa 4:30 am Saturday night.
Young Empires just finished their set at the Pure Volume House for what I gathered to be a Hype Machine showcase, but it seemed nobody knew where they were, who was throwing this party, nor what band was on. This, to my knowledge, marked the end of 2010’s CMJ Music Marathon. Both the condition of the “House” and its 4:30am inhabitants really epitomized said “Marathon.”
The floor had a coating of liquid that was deep enough to make a splash with each step. That liquid was made up of varying levels of spit, beer, melted ice (FACT: there was no water offered at the Pure Volume House), Pop Chips (?!?!?!?!) (will I get paid for that reference) (can I?), tequila, energy drinks, vomit (specifically in the hallway on the way out), and perhaps some juices generated from genitalia.
Everyone was on his or her 9th or 10th winds, drunkenness distracting from exhaustion. The lucky ones who were locals and had the privilege of showering no longer complained about others’ stench.
It’s all part of the fun. Or at least the experience. Such is CMJ Music Marathon.
But nobody shows up for the spit, vomit or semen on the floor. Nor do they come for the oily haired, sweaty hipsters wearing tank tops plastered up against them during packed shows. They come for the music.
This year seemed a little different than other years. I remember last year being a competition of who knew about more secret the xx shows, and even if you knew where to go, you still had to be super VIP or wait on an endless line. Bands like The Antlers played 5000 shows thereby announcing themselves as another important band to-be. There were a few other big ones. Particularly, I remember there always being a recognized big show of the night every night.
This year, I think the playing field was a little evened out, and also more deeply populated with good bands. I did not attend one show that I had to wait on line for, badge or no badge, and managed to avoid any really packed rooms.
The obvious exception is that other “CMJ” show at Madison Square Garden. Confusion abounded about CMJ listing under their schedule Phoenix (with surprise encore shared by Daft Punk—it was incredible) being supported by Dirty Projectors and Wavves at Madison Square Garden in a Bowery Presents promoted concert.
Turns out this late addition to the schedule came from the band’s and label’s respect for their roots coming from CMJ and similar scenes. Even though this show was planned long before CMJ announced its schedule, and tickets were already on sale, the band made sure to set aside a good amount of complimentary tickets for badge holders. This really typifies CMJ’s significance in the music industry.
So many bands were in town. Hundreds are listed on the official CMJ schedule, but I’d say it’s safe to triple that if you want to actually estimate how many bands played over the four days. In case you’re reading this and don’t know exactly what CMJ is, it’s a combination of a music festival and convention, taking place over four days in October in New York City. South by Southwest is the only thing that really compares.
Midem is heavier on the convention side of things, Winter Music Conference is all about dance music, more about DJs and parties, and then the convention is huge as well. CMJ and SXSW are really the only two of this type. The way in to both is to purchase a badge, which allows you into everything that’s CMJ affiliated.
The concerts are divided into a few different categories. If you don’t care, it’s just a whole lot of good music, and it makes no difference. If you do care—the easiest ways to distinguish things are between the signed and unsigned bands and then the labels, the sponsors and the aggregates—between both the bands and labels and the bands and the consumers.
Examples of signed bands are, well, Phoenix and Dirty Projectors. Top unsigned band is easily Oberhofer, but bands like White Arrows and The Rassle won’t be label-less for long. Pretty much all of the labels have a presence here, from Epic Records doing a showcase for Oh Land and others at Pure Volume (some funny stories about that one in case you feel like asking around), to Glassnote Records having three bands playing CMJ and five in town this month, to small labels like Captured Tracks or Neon Gold making their presence known.
The big aggregates are ones like Pure Volume, Fader Fort, Spin Magazine, Pop Justice, and the sponsors that make a big splash are Ray Ban, Levis, Vans and many, many more.
There are some bands that come to CMJ to get a record deal. Some bands come to build buzz for their record, perhaps gain a sponsor or two, and definitely look to get some good ink from the endless press coverage. If they play a particularly epic show, it can kickstart their career.
CMJ is a perfect melting pot of all genres of music in one place, with all elements aligned for the cream to rise to the top. Having your band on the right showcase and delivering a kickass performance can expose you to a new audience, while being on the wrong showcase, or doing a 1am set on the 3rd day, after six other shows, and looking exhausted on stage, can lead to crippling bad buzz.So highlights, right?
No, I’m not gratifying Kanye West’s exploitative “surprise” #Offline Festival performance with a review. Phoenix and Daft Punk mashing up “If I Ever Feel Better” with “Harder Better Faster Stronger” and “Around the World” blew Kanye’s “Stronger” out of the water, and was far and away the best CMJ moment ever. But that’s not really fair, because it wasn’t a regular CMJ show.
Four Tet, one of CMJ’s larger acts, was all over the place and had bands leaving my late night DJ set to go see them play a surprise Brooklyn show at around 2am after their East Village Radio performance at Webster Hall. Also rocking Webster Hall earlier in the week was Two Door Cinema Club, supported by Penguin Prison and Grouplove. All three of those bands were all over the place as well. Gold Panda opened for Four Tet and was dug.
Penguin Prison (who is just now getting noticed for his original music, but already has a following from his remixes as well as vocals on Holy Ghost!’s “Hold On,” more on them later) was one of the highlights from the Wednesday night Pop Justice showcase as well. Fenech Soler headlined with notable perfs coming from Natalia Kills, Samuel, and the lone unsigned act on the bill, Delilah. Another notable artist, Ivri Lider, opened the night.
Ivri hails from Israel, and along with a number of other Israeli artists also played at DROM for the Israel Unlimited showcase. Israeli artists on the showcase such as Onili and Izabo both played many showcases across the city, with their Israeli reps and labels collaborating with US publicists and management to start crossing those artists over. Last year, Terry Poison started this trend and these bands kept the momentum up.
Titus Andronicus and Local Natives aren’t lacking in critical praise, but they’re not quite main stage headliners yet, so the across-the-board positive word of mouth coming from their Spin Magazine showcase perhaps puts them rightfully so in the conversation for best up-and-coming bands. I personally consider Titus Andronicus and Phoenix as the best live shows in the world right now.
Glasser got the much sought after good review in Pitchfork after her Fader Fort, Apple Store and other shows. Fader Fort is another one of the houses set up during CMJ like Pure Volume. This one is run by Fader Magazine and Cornerstone Promotion, and always has the best bands and sponsors. The SXSW Fader Fort is now so large that it rivals the rest of SXSW, much like Pitchfork’s #Offline Festival.
Highlights from this year’s Fader Fort were Royal Bangs, Tanlines, Jamaica, Waka Flocka Flame and Off! (Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris’ new band). Fool’s Gold Records’ Nick Catchdubs and A-Trak did a DJ set and killed it as always.
Fader Fort and #Offline bring up a major controversy that is a topic of discussion at both CMJ and SXSW over the past few years. Neither of these have anything to do with CMJ technically. Specifically, you need to be on a guest list to get into Fader Fort, and #Offline is general public. Buying a CMJ badge does nothing there. Many get angry over them exploiting CMJ’s bringing all these music fans into town, and then just swooping the money out from under them, be it through either sponsors or ticket sales, both of which cost the public less than the CMJ badge. Simply, if there is so much good stuff going on that you do not need a badge for, people won’t buy badges, but then CMJ and SXSW make no money and shut down.
But the counterpoint is that these guys put together amazing shows, and it is all about the music, right? Anyway, that discussion is for another article.
Other highlights were the first ever shows from The Knocks, who opened up Bowery Ballroom for DFA Records’ Holy Ghost! That show was widely considered to be a highlight of the festival.
Wild Nothing kicked off the first night at Irving Plaza and backed up the buzz their new album has received.
Superhumanoids continue to build momentum.
NY born and raised sister act Zambri played three shows with another next week at Pianos that will most likely sell out after their strong CMJ perfs. Check out their new song with Bear in Heaven on Fader Blog.
Little known Australian import Philadelphia Grand Jury are one of the big secrets and best live shows out there, along with Light Asylum (my favorite unsigned band right now), who returned to Coco 66 after the lead singer toured with !!! for the Summer. Your Vegas played a few small gigs while they prepare their new record, which they tell me will be done next week.
Javelin are poised for a breakout, and their live show continues to improve. Additionally, I only heard secondhand, but Marnie Stern, DOM, Alex Winston and Pains of Being Pure at Heart rocked. I watched Good Natured conjure Siouxie Sioux in the basement of Santos to a crowd that did not mind the sound cutting in and out. I didn’t get to see them again this time around, but know Brahms always delivers and will start to get major buzz very soon.All in all, like I said, apart from the anomaly at the Garden, there was no big standout this year. It was a year where you could have real confidence that wherever you went you were likely to run into a really good show. I consider this much more exciting than knowing that a band or two (the xx) will break out and become mainstream.
We have a lot of good music to look forward to, and I trust that both the audience and the press were helped a whole lot by CMJ to figure out who to listen to in the next year. The interesting part will be looking back at this article next October and seeing where all of these bands are then. Yes, that means reread me over and over again for a year.
Pure Volume House
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