By: Jake Leech
For those of you unfamiliar, CMJ stands for College Music Journal, and is a site that “connects music fans and music industry professionals with the best in new music through interactive media and live events.” In other words, a music review site. Every year for five days in October, they host what is called the CMJ Music Marathon. Essentially, the SXSW of NYC, you can attend panels ranging from feminism in music to reissue culture to interviews with popular artists/record label owners. Along with that, there are a million (perhaps not hyperbole) different showcases of the next wave of young bands/artists that are trying to get in front of as many people as possible. The average artist will perform 3-5 times in the span of 5 days, some even more. As an audience member to these shows, you get a very full use of your metro pass.
Along with my friends and cohorts from KSLU at Saint Louis University, we stayed at a russian actor’s apartment in the heart of Williamsburg. Airbnb is a beautiful thing. We tried to attend as many things as possible, only being deterred once, from an unofficial showcase that had “already reached capacity.” (H8 you Sacred Bones showcase). So rather than a 5 paragraph essay about each day and what we did, I’m going to ‘adopt’ (read: steal) a certain popular music site’s method of covering CMJ by using small captions of the “best” things that happened all week (plz don’t tell Ryan Schreiber).
Best act to discreetly bring Owen Pallett on for the entirety of their set: Foxes In Fiction at Orchid Tapes Showcase.
Foxes In Fiction (aka Warren Hildebrand) not only runs Orchid Tapes with artist/photographer Brian Vu, he has Owen Pallett featured on his new album, Ontario Gothic, providing the gorgeous string parts you’ve come to expect from the Arcade Fire expat. FIF has been touring the US, and is set for the EU with Owen Pallett (as a touring member), as well as Emily Reo.
Best DJ set performed by someone you can see on TV everyday, but not very well in this darkly-lit bowling alley/concert venue: Questlove @ Brooklyn Bowl.
?uest played tracks all night celebrating 30 years of Def Jam records for his weekly DJ residency at Brooklyn Bowl called Bowltrain. The name is based on the hit 70’s TV show that I wish would come back – Soul Train – which was being projected across large screens all over the venue. Though, don’t try to take a picture of Q, a security guard will shine a flashlight at your camera and then wag his finger at you like you done did a no no. (I still got one though, albeit a terrible one, whatevs).
Best DJ set happening across the street from Questlove’s DJ set with 4 separate security checks to get in: Lil Silva @ Output.
ID checked, patted down, badge checked, and double checked all of the aforementioned once before going in, but to also get a green wrist band. It was worth it. Lil Silva did a great mix of the Night Slugs/Fade to Mind style sounds you’d expect mixed flawlessly with pop classics of the past two decades, notably Ludacris’ “What’s your Fantasy?” and more recent tracks like A$AP Ferg’s “Shabba.” Also played out some of his excellent recent tracks he made with BANKS and Sampha.
Best set that was the complete opposite of anything else I saw and possibly the best set of the whole week: Juan Wauters @ Baby’s All Right: Captured Tracks Day Showcase.
Showing up 30 minutes late to his set, Juan Wauters played through his whimsical, nylon string guitar pop with the dance moves of a drunk 5 year old. The Uruguayan artist performed a mix of upbeat rock songs and spanish language slow burners with excellent song titles like, “Lost in Soup,” to boot.
Best set with what looked like a pagan sacrifice ritual was being performed on stage: Ice Balloons @ Knitting Factory.
Although the nupsych band was sans-it’s most famous member, Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, the set wasn’t without it’s… whatever was happening. Two women stood in the middle of the stage, donning upside down cross pasties made of black tape and very little else, facing each other very closely. They joined hands and stood in different poses for the duration of each song. The lead singer sported a giant bug helmet on so, yeah.
Best band to perform after Ice Balloons and still manage to weird you out: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard @ Knitting Factory
If Thee Oh Sees had a baby with The Polyphonic Spree and the child fled the cult group when they were 15 to live in San Francisco, I think you might get something close to this band. But add more drugs and stuff. And they’re from Australia. So never mind.
Best 90’s Japanese pop rock band to play “Blitzkrieg Bop” better than The Ramones in front of a NYC audience: Shonen Knife @ Knitting Factory
With the synchronized rock moves that Dewey Finn could use as perfect examples for his “school of rock”, and song titles like “Ramen Rock” with lyrics about… noodles, there is very little one can do not to smile and totally RTFO the entire time with the cultloved women rockers. (Rock the F out, if you’re wondering)
Best list of bands that you should listen to right now even though nothing funny happened at their set: J Fernandez, Tei Shi, Lydia Ainsworth, Nicholas Nicholas, Heathered Pearls.
Best Overall Showcase: Portals/Stadiums & Shrines showcase in the basement of the Lutheran Church of the Messiah in Brooklyn. With free beer, a gender neutral bathroom and no hip dad bros trying to sell you something, this showcase felt incredibly inclusive, safe and strictly a collective group of persons enjoying the music. It felt very different from the “sponsored by,” “looks like Urban Outfitters and Free People exploded all over this crowd” vibe of most other showcases. Candles were lit and everyone sat and enjoyed each set from scattered pews around the room.
Jake’s CMJ playlist:
Now for the best nonshow (mostly food) NYC fun stuff:
Best random cameos of famous people at shows because they all live in New York whose privacy I respected by not asking for a picture, but I swear I saw them, f yr “pic or it didn’t happen” bs: Har Mar Superstar, Grace Dunham (Lena Dunham’s sister), Meredith Graves of Perfect Pussy and MAC freaking DEMARCO.
Best blatant ad for an album that no one minded because it’s amazing/beautiful: Caribou’s Our Love cover painted on the side of a building near Ear Wax Records in Brooklyn.
Best Polish food place who’s name I can’t pronounce: Lomzynianka Fine Polish Cuisine in Greenpoint. Pierogies for days.
Best Vegan Pizza: Vinnie’s in Williamsburg. I had stir fry on a pizza. WTF amazing.
Best Indian food restaurant with so many chili lights and mirrors you have to duck as you walk in it, accompanied by a picture of our waiter with Ryan Gosling on the wall: Panna II in Manhattan. 4 small course Indian meal for $6 plus tip. Who ever said you can’t eat cheap in NYC probably thinks fresh pressed juice is a daily commodity. (just ask for water, ya drungos).
Make sure to check and follow the KCOU instagram, @KCOU881 for live show pictures from throughout CMJ, as well as my personal account, @leechleechleech for additional pics of all of the above.
Jake Leech is a Junior at MU studying Sociology. He’s a musician from STL and firmly believes that he rules (is it obvious he wrote this?)