As the summer season slowly grinds to a halt and we enter autumn, New York City is given one last hurrah, in the festival sense at least. While it may not necessarily fit the typical vision of a music festival, which are usually confined to one site; the CMJ Music Marathon offers an even wider selection of bands as well as the opportunity to explore many venues; both familiar and new, over the course of 5 full days. This endurance test is about discovery; finding bands in intimate settings before they burst out onto the scene. Just 10 years ago this week, some smaller acts such as My Morning Jacket, Iron & Wine, Sigur Ros, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, James Murphy, Jason Mraz, and Explosions in the Sky played all over New York City. 8 years ago you would have had the chance to see Arcade Fire perform in the 250 person capacity Mercury Lounge. The following year you could have seen Feist, Grizzly Bear or Hot Chip in other intimate settings. While it may be impossible to predict who will break out in the future; the CMJ Music Marathon gives you that chance to say “I was there.” And what music fan doesn’t cherish those memories?!
As if over 1,300 performances in over 80 nightclubs wasn’t enough; there is also a wide array of other events coinciding with the CMJ Music Marathon. Sponsored parties, music showcases, open bars, and free tattoos are just some of the other things that you can find in New York City throughout the week. With this many musicians in town, notable guest drop ins aren’t uncommon either. Two years ago, at the newly opened Brooklyn Bowl, Kanye West made an appearance around 2 am playing unreleased tracks from his forthcoming album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ such as “Power,” “Monster,” and “Runaway.” Gza and Chromeo also made appearances afterwards that night at that same venue. From the bowling alley that I had reserved adjacent to the stage; you could probably argue that this would’ve been one of the greatest nights of my life; alas, I had left the venue around 12:30 am, not privy to any of the rumors circulating about what was about to transpire. From that night, I learned two very important lessons – 1) the importance of following blogs and social media; and 2) the power of a smart phone. The night was also a reminder that anything can happen at any place and the only way to avoid missing out on it, is to be there.
The 2012 edition of the CMJ Music Marathon took place from October 16th to the 20th in venues all throughout Manhattan as well as Brooklyn. As good of an opportunity this is to familiarize yourself with bands both new and old, CMJ also provides you with an amazing opportunity to explore the wide selection of venues and nightclubs that can be found throughout New York City. Given all of the choices available; everyone leaves the week with their own CMJ experience, one that differs from the other attendees. Below; you can read about this author’s personal experience.
Perhaps anxious to capture a bit of that CMJ magic that I missed out on from 2 years ago, my marathon started off Wednesday at Brooklyn Bowl for the first day of Hype Machine’s two day showcase. While it was unlikely that Kanye would show up this time around; I still got there early in anticipation of swelling crowds that can sometimes be associated with some of the larger venues included. Of all of the venues in the city, there is probably no place better to hang out before a show than Brooklyn Bowl. With a menu from Blue Ribbon and beer flowing from the Brooklyn Brewery next door there’s little not to like. Add to that an entire bowling alley directly alongside the dance floor with views overlooking the stage and you have the ingredients for one amazing venue.
JJAMZ were the first band to grace the stage. I was not at all familiar with this group before the evening but by the time there was set over; I couldn’t wait to hear more. The band name is an acronym for it’s 5 members – James Valentine (guitarist from Maroon 5), Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley drummer), Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet frontman), Michael Runion, and Z Berg (The Like songstress). Their songs contain a lot of pop sensibility that could be expected with this kind of make-up. Catchy hooks. Z Berg provides the band with a great amount of warmth and commands total attention on stage. The Los Angeles based band evokes a very summery mood and it’s not hard not to feel good while listening to them.
Later in the evening, Unknown Mortal Orchestra delivered a spectacular set. Their grungy psychadelic sounds swirled throughout Brooklyn Bowl, captivating everybody in the audience. Funky bass lines and a danceable rhythm provide the backbone for Ruban Nielson’s vocals; while listening to their studio recordings it may sound as if you are hearing them through a scratchy vintage radio, seeing them live makes you feel as if you are inside of that radio hearing them completely unfiltered. “Ffunny Ffrends” had everybody bouncing in unison and really took on a new life live.
As I mentioned earlier, the week of the CMJ Music Marathon always seems to bring about spectacular sponsored parties and that was certainly the case for Thursday evening. SPIN set the bar high with some help from AraabMuzik as well as DJ sets from Chromeo and MNDR. The fact that this was sponsored by CABO Wabo tequila, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Red Diamond Wine along with loudspeakers and audio equipment from JBL made Friday morning particularly damning for those who were able to make it on to this RSVP list. This event took place at the DCTV Firehouse in Chinatown, just across the street from Santos Party House. Memories of being shut out of a similar party with the Rapture, Crystal Castles, and A-Trak from last year’s marathons made me somewhat leery of how crowded this may become if I were to get in at all, but much to my surprise, this was one of the more spacious venues of the week. The woman greeting you with red wine upon entry also added a nice touch.
I arrived at the beginning of Chromeo’s DJ set; and before even stepping in for that red wine, you could tell that this evening would be loud. Two massive speaker towers capped off the stage and that floor was bouncing the entire time. All of this of course only added to the party atmosphere that Chromeo provides. Dave 1 seemed to be in control of the tunes for most of the evening with the shorter P-Thugg just bouncing around enjoying the atmosphere the whole time. An eclectic mix of funk, hip-hop and electronic music played continuously and the set came to a close while ushering in a few of Chromeo’s own tracks off of ‘Business Casual’.
AraabMuzik, who has had quite the year for himself since headlining some of last year’s showcases, closed out the night. He has produced beats for some of the biggest names in hip-hop and his Electronic Dream showcases some of his abilities behind an MPC. Simply put, you need to see what this guy does to appreciate it fully. The speed that he is able to churn out these beats on a drum machine is beyond impressive. If paired with the right person, the potential for greatness is there.
With the weekend upon us, there seemed to be a tremendous uptick in offerings throughout NYC’s venues. My first destination of the evening was at the Bowery Ballroom to check out a band that had been garnering much attention in the previous days, Foxygen. Seemingly attached to every showcase, this California band had a very busy week in New York. It’s hard not to hear all the different traces of rock and roll history in their sound. Closing your eye’s for a few seconds, you’d think you’re hearing Mick Jagger 40 years younger. Seeing them live is just pure fun; each song takes a different twist and turn and results in you liking them more. With a new album set to come out in January 2013, there’s a lot to look forward to with Foxygen; do yourself a favor and look into them now.
Next up on the marathon for me was a band that I had last seen playing fraternity parties (shout out to Tulane University & A.E.PI.!) and small clubs in New Orleans; The Soul Rebels. This brass band is made up of 8 people and they sure do bring the party with them. They incorporate all different styles of hip-hop, funk, soul, and rock in their set and keep the crowd on their feet all throughout. To have seen them translate their sound to the stage of the Highline Ballroom was an impressive feat. The show kicked off at 12:30 a.m. and was easily the most crowded show I attended all week long. It also helped that they had a few funky guests on the stage alongside them in Maceo Parker and Billy Martin. The entire evening/morning had the feel of a New Orleans party; albeit one with much more expensive drinks.
Entering the home stretch of the marathon is typically no easy task, but fortunately there were some enticing acts to keep you motivated on Saturday. Brooklyn Vegan’s annual day parties at Brooklyn’s Public Assembly was just one of the fine offerings of the day. Miguel was the special guest announced for showcase and packed in quite the crowd in the dark and dingy Public Assembly. After a delayed start to his set, the Los Angeles based singer took to the stage for a quick set. While there may have been some glitches in the sound, his mic was still coming through perfectly and the crowd was clearly swept away by the wide range in his singing abilities. His dance moves weren’t too far behind his vocal talents either. Much of the set focused on ‘All I Want is You’ although he did perform some off of his recently released ‘Kaleidoscope Dream’ as well. To see him in such a small setting was certainly a nice afternoon treat; fans who attended this showcase were even able to get a free tattoo courtesy of Sailor Jerry rum if they so desired.
Following this show, I hopped back across the East River to catch one of the acts who I was looking forward to most in Theophilus London. He headlined a showcase at the Gramercy Theatre that also featured sets from King Chip (or the artists formerly known as Chip tha Rippa), and Phony Ppl. Phony Ppl were the first of these acts to perform and this Brooklyn conglomerate and they were another great CMJ surprise. The presence of a live band for a hip-hop group draws to mind comparisons to The Roots; the rappers don’t tend to dominate the instruments at all and a very playful vibe exists between all of the artists on stage. They were followed by the newly crowned King Chip, who you may know from his appearances with Kid Cudi. The Cleveland rapper played a festive set which also coincided with his birthday.
When Theophilus London took to the stage the place went crazy. It was clear that most in the audience were familiar with him; and it’s difficult not to like what you hear from him. He completely bends genres; funk, hip-hop, electronic, and R&B are all mixed together and at times songs completely switch styles. The Brooklyn native released his debut LP, ‘Timez Are Weird These Days’ just over a year ago, but it seems like he’s been around the New York scene for much longer. A few month ago the entire album was remixed into ‘Timez Are Weird These Nights’ which laced over many of the originals with club floor beats and it turns out all of them are able to work both ways. His live show takes it one step further; combining all of his styles, pretty much all at once. “Last Name London” was made over as a complete dance anthem and proved to be the perfect way to start the set. Hits like “I Stand Alone” started out with a dub-step tones and would end up as pure rock songs. His set also featured several tracks off of Lovers Holiday which compared to the rest of the night were much more subdued and at times, such as “Flying Overseas,” hypnotic. He had also mentioned a new album in the works so we have a lot to be excited for from Theophilus London; his versatility should keep him around for some time.
There was almost a great amount of relief by the time Sunday morning came about. While your body feels a great deal of exhaustion from this overload of music and running around between venues, there is also a great deal of satisfaction that comes with it. In the days since the CMJ Music Marathon has ended I’ve found myself going back now and listening to some of the albums from bands that I may not have been familiar with over a week ago. Additionally, there is a renewed appreciation for some of the artists that I’ve known for a while now. The craziest part of this week is that no matter how hard you try you can only realistically catch a small percentage of the acts that played. Many of the acts this week were on some of the larger stages that they’ve ever been but only some will have the opportunity to move on to even larger stages.
Words and photos from Jesse Zryb
OurVinyl | Senior Writer