The 2011 CMJ Music Marathon took place last week throughout New York City from October 18th through the 22nd. The word marathon is pretty appropriate for this festival; after 5 days and nights of music, films, and a ton of other events one could only imagine that your body feels as if it had just ran for well over 26 miles. Here are some figures to give you a sense of what you have to choose from: over 1,300 artists perform in over 80 venues throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn to over 120,000 fans as well as a whole slew of music industry professionals, press, bloggers, and of course musicians alike.
Most venues from large to small hold their own showcases in correlation with a label, publication, or even countries of band origins. The main purpose of the CMJ Marathon is to expose you to up and coming bands that you may not have a chance to see otherwise. The sheer numbers alone can make this festival a tad bit overwhelming.
In addition to taking a toll on your body (and livers), 5 days of music can also do some damage to your wallets. That’s where corporate sponsored events come in. Big conglomerate sponsors; once demonized in the earlier years of music festivals, now actually seem to be the gift that keeps on giving. This doesn’t only apply to the confines of festivals or music marathons, corporate-sponsored events occur with more and more frequency trying to outdo competitors or their own previous events. This is not only accomplished by the quality of the music acts that they deliver, but also by the free booze that is usually supplied by a partnering liquor or beer sponsor or other spectacles/attractions that may be promised. While this doesn’t necessarily help out with the damage inflicted on your bodies; it does make the decision making process much easier.
With that being said; this writer started his CMJ experience on Wednesday, Oct. 19th, at the Cantora Labs Smartlounge at the Thompson Hotel in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This hotel takeover, which was in association with SmartWater, was billed as a “2-day music + tech concert experience like no other” with performances from Dum Dum Girls, Dom, AraabMusik, The Stepkids and more as well as DJ sets from individual members of Passion Pit, LCD Soundsystem, and the Smiths. It also didn’t hurt that this event also had several hours of open bars throughout these two days with plenty of Jameson and Absolut to go around. The crowds did swell at times making the live bands a little difficult to fully appreciate but the DJ sets featured some real neat interfaces with that allowed the audience to be active participants while hearing the playlists of some of their favorite artists.
The following evening offered a very anti-CMJ dilemma. On one hand there were several CMJ showcases to choose from in addition to other events such as the aforementioned SmartLounge. There was also a lot of hype being generated for an event put on by Nike’s Jordan Brand called “Melo Powers Through the Hudson,” which promised several notable celebrities and athletes, hip-hop DJ’s, and a “special performance from one of NYC’s legendary MC’s,” with several initial rumors of that being Jay-Z. While it always great to diversify and check out some new emerging music, this writer had to follow his gut and see what Nike had in store; after all some of the surprise appearances I had seen in the previous year’s marathon included Daft Punk coming out during Phoenix’s set at Madison Square Garden and Kanye West coming out late night at Brooklyn Bowl. Besides, this could have been the only chance to see Carmelo Anthony in blue and orange all year.
As one could have ventured from the events name; the location was indeed on the Hudson River, at Pier 54 (14th St. along the West Side). Upon entering it was revealed that Hov would not be the guest MC, but you couldn’t be too disappointed in learning that Nas would be taking over the mic. Also as you could speculate from the event’s title Carmelo Anthony was there in promotion of his new M8 kicks, along with fellow NBA superstar Chris Paul, whom Melo also expressed immense interest in playing alongside in the future. After some Hot 97 DJ’s Nas took to the stage performing a medley of his hits including “One Mic” and “Street Dreams” in front of a crowd of 2,500. Moving around was rather easy on this massive pier, and getting up close to hip-hop royalty is always a great experience.
As Friday evening came around; one event in particular that appealed to this writer was Hyundai’s Re:Mix Lab, described as a “five city art/music/video games/fashion/film/culture pop-up festival” featuring a live show from Eclectic Method and visuals from Paris. Located in a vacant split-level space adjacent to the Chelsea Market on West 16th Street, this event did not disappoint. The Re:Mix Lab was more like an adult playground, guests were encouraged to wander the back space through interactive video installations, tricked out cars with XBox Kinnects in the trunks, massive 3D televisions, green screen photo booths, plenty of giveaways. and of course an open bar provided by 42 Below vodka. Eclectic Method came on after a set by MinusBaby. For those not familiar with Eclectic Method, they are an audio-visual remix act out of London, that not only splices together samples from a vast collection of music, but also mashes-up videos with references all across pop culture to go along with the tunes; basically the perfect party act. Attention in the early aughts from the likes of U2 and Fatboy Slim helped their rise to popularity, as well as bringing attention to the art of mash-up and artists such as Girl Talk.
Saturday of course was the culmination of the CMJ Marathon; that last leg where most people come limping in but glad to still be standing. There was no shortage of events to choose from. One of the more attractive line-ups of the night came courtesy of Spin Magazine and Ray-Ban who were hosting A-Trak, Crystal Castles, and the Rapture in a Chinatown venue. After obtaining early passes for this; one could only be a little let down to see the massive crowds formed early on around this venue and people being let in on a first come first serve basis. Oh well, with it being CMJ and all all you would have to do is walk across the street to Santos Party House for the Converse True Till Def showcase, featuring a number of up and coming hip-hop acts such as araabMusik, Action Bronson, Youth of Today, and Trash Talk. AraabMusik, who closed off the showcase was definitely one of the highlights of the entire festival. He possesses a tremendous talent in creating original beats and watching him do so live on his MPC drum machine was quite the treat; keep an eye on this one.
From Santos Party House, this writer migrated back to the Hyundai Re:Mix Lab in Chelsea to witness the emerging phenomenon known as the Underground Rebel Bingo Club. After seeing it live, one still would be at odds for how to describe it, but there is lots of really danceable music being played, numbers being yelled, and markers that seem to be used more on people than Bingo cards. Oh yea, and it only goes to say that the closing event for CMJ included an open bar. Good times.
So what can we conclude about the CMJ Music Marathon? Everybody’s personal experience is likely to vary greatly but most should include the following: lots of music, lots of amazing events, little sleep. Trying to plan your nights in advance is near impossible and weeks such as these it’s as important as ever to keep your ear to the ground.
Words and photos from Jesse Zryb