For last year’s CMJ Music Marathon, we sent our New York-based writer Simone Jung into the smoke, the music, and the experience that is the four day event. Here is what she brought back from the four nights we sent her out. Check back over the next few days as we’ll be bringing you a new part each update day.
October 13th: Sonic Youth
New York City’s largest population of underground/indie rock music puts on a series of shows for four days. Although there were also a series of lectures and guest speakers throughout the days, it was the nightlife that intrigued me the most. Instead of jumping from one show to another to listen to one band, I decided to stay at Irving Plaza for the CMJ opening party featuring a few DJs, experimental bands and of course, Sonic Youth. For those special badge holders who slaved for months to have enough money to buy one, the advantages are not the same as those who pay twenty bucks to go to the one show. No special backstage pass, no special guest pass, not even a chance to get into the show earlier than the rest of the crowd. It pretty much was an expensive badge that gets you into shows for free (free of course, for the press).
When I started my journey downtown to Union Square, I was expecting a long line of people in front of the door; this was Sonic Youth. Turned out that it didn’t matter as much- when I arrived at Irving Plaza, I was greeted by the gushing wind and rolling tumbleweed across the front door. It was a ghost town. A line of maybe ten people crowed more than lined-up in front of the venue. A disappointing turnout for half an hour before the doors opened. Surprised and upset, I stood outside for the half hour in the early Fall cold and entered the club after undergoing a vigorous bag and body search.
The bands played. One by one, they entered the stage, played their set and cleaned up their equipment. Small groups of mid-50’s men and women stood in the middle of the shameful crowd like misplaced pieces of a glass menagerie. But what upset me most from the whole night was the crowd’s rude appreciation for the other bands playing that night. So what if Moving Units were the strangest group of men or that Saul Williams rhymes a little crazy, it is no excuse to completely discourage the band on stage. Besides Moving Units and Saul Williams, another strange yet entrancing band of the night were Brooklyn-based Gang Gang Dance. With the use of a guitar, drums, drum machine, and distorted vocals, Gang Gang Dance evolves and grows out from the lies of Bjork and Sigur Ros. None of their songs had any lyrics (at least that is what I choose to believe), but lead singer Liz Bougatsos grabs the attention of every man with her siren-like voice. As I turned my attention away from the stage and toward the crowd, the expression of every man’s face was priceless. They stood with eyes and mouths wide open, hands in pockets, and a glare so far away. If I were to tap one of them, I would have had some man drop dead in front of me.
Soon after Gang Gang Dance cleared the stage and the room nearly at full capacity, the time consuming slide show stopped and the screen rose to reveal a new set of musical instruments on the stage. Next, a short old man wearing a cardigan appeared on stage and picked up the guitar. By the sound of the crowd’s raging emotions, it seemed that the waiting was over and Sonic Youth had entered the stage. I was impressed by them. As their first song came to a close, the silent smell of marijuana filled my lungs. I stopped thinking about the music and started looking for the source of this timely drug.
October 14th: Sondre Lerche / Hot Rod Circuit
Another day, another show, another part of town. The day was perfect and the weather was a reminder that there are still beautiful fall days in New York City. I had my heart set on Sondre Lerche at the Bowery Ballroom on the lower, lower, lower East side, but after a change of heart, I dashed over to the west side to a small bar called SOB where the music was loud and the aroma of calamari from the restaurant next door was intoxicating. This was a night for change. It was a change of pace and a change of tastes. Instead of listening to the warming tunes of Lerche, I decided for some good ol’ Hot Rod Circuit and Alabama-based Northstar instead.
I arrived an hour late, but it was good travel time for three subway changes and moving East to West. As the expected bag and ticket check completed, I entered the bar with good intentions. No matter how good my intentions war, there was no way of escaping the amount of girls over boys. For an eighteen and older show, there was a lot of fourteen year old looking girls. It was as if the bands playing had a sign for free sex. The main attraction at this show was Saves the Day, but the larger outcome of Hot Rod Circuit fans baffled me as the band entered the stage. Like any band before them, they played their songs, but this band had someone special in the crowd. Just a few feet away from the stage was a tall young boy. He sang and danced along to every song Hot Rod Circuit threw out at him. Unfortunately, his dancing looked like convulsions and I was afraid he was going to throw himself on stage and submit his body for a more holy purpose.
In the end, the mixture of upbeat guitars and sad lyrics made my eyes roll into the back of my head- drool, snore. What would you do if you listened to emo music all night?
October 15th: The Faint / The Good Life
The time was 4.30pm, the place was Webster Hall. It was a rainy Friday afternoon in Union Square as I waited for the doors to open. Once again, the crowd outside the venue was miniscule and the rain didn’t help anyone. Once they opened, I walked up the steps into the main stage of Webster Hall and the bass from the large speakers rang in the ears of every person waiting for the first band to arrive. It was bad enough the music will be loud, but to curse the crowd with heavy bass and techno before is torturous. By the time the first band Broken Spindles entered the stage my heart was beating twice as fast. And my eyes opened at the sight of the elaborate on-stage presence; as if they did not want to be seen, Broken Spindlesdisplayed video that corresponded perfectly with the set list provided. I looked behind me to see the myriad of faces staring blankly into the void of a white screen. No movements on the faces and no uttered gasps of breath from the direction of the crowd as images of the church are emerged onto the screen. Barely audible words rose from the voice of lead singer Joel Petersen as he played. He is out of the ordinary with his lyrical skew of words and his mystical multiple instrument understanding. There is no underestimating the future success of Broken Spindles.
Soon after the bustling of the stage Son, Ambulance arrived. Sporting a bright green Sgt. Pepper shirt, Joe Knapp began his not-so-melodic interlude. As he exclaimed to the crowd “this is our release party,” screams of “play Katie” and “play Brown Park” were heard from the little voices in the crowd. Unfortunately, there were no little emo songs tonight. Instead, Son, Ambulance raveled into the songs from their newest album Key. Already established as a great songwriter on the same level as Bright Eyes, Knapp dominates the stage with hard-hitting solos and mass amounts of spit. Way to go.
Once the stage is mopped, Beep Beep made their way on the stage with singers Eric Bemberger and Chris Hughes (donning old skool marching band pants and glasses attached to faces with elastic bands). This is no ordinary geek band. They do not take on the same likings as Devo, but display unheard of experimental craziness. On the likes of Q And Not U and Moving Units, Beep Beep did not cease to amaze.
The stage parts and The Good Life entered. The crowd is not enthused and walked silently towards the bar in the back. With disregard for the feelings of the band, they chattered louder than Tim Kasher could sing. Without the knowledge of objective journalism in my mind, I believe The Good Life performed a perfect set with glowing neon lights. Their enthusiasm and stage performance cannot describe the passion inside Kasher’s voice and lyrics. They were the highlight of the show … until The Faint arrived.
Twenty minutes after The Good Life appeared, the Faint arrived on stage. The room went dark, the crowd was squished towards the front and the stench of drunken fat men gave aroma to the air. “FAINT! FAINT!” came screaming from one as he swayed the crowd. With every other word being “sex,” the Faint has accumulated a large crowd of dancing fiends from punk rockers to rap rockers. The stage is yet again set with large screens corresponding with the songs they played in their set list. The crowd sang along and danced with every effort to avoid the fat man pushing everyone out of his way. It was the end to a perfect evening.
October 16, 2004: Underoath / Further Seems Forever
Just one more day of music to go before the CMJ season ends for another year. I had packed away all my needs: notebook, pen, metro card, and headed towards the Knitting Factory in downtown New York. Almost shy, I entered the dark night club to a bombardment of black clothing. Not a single person (besides myself) wore a shirt any lighter than black. I thought I might have entered the wrong club or the wrong room, but I was right. It was just the mood of the night.
I stationed myself by a pole in the far right hand side of the club. I assumed if I stood here I wouldn’t get badly bruised or hurt by the later coming rush. The bands, Project 86, Me Without You, and Underoath, seemed to bring the crowd into terrible rants. They sang, they kicked and they punched each other’s lights out. I had never seen so many little hoodie-clad Asian boys kicking and screaming.
Mae and Further Seems Forever were huge disappointments. It was upsetting for Mae to be on the stage with such acts as Underoath, and the crowd didn’t show much interest in their set. Finally, Further Seems Forever entered the stage. In an unfortunate event that the band would be able to sing, Further Seems Forever attracted the smallest of crowds. A group of maybe fifty people surrounded the stage as the remaining members of a band Chris Carrabba left mustered up their courage to play new songs and old favorites. Not a very lovely sight to watch a band fall from its crowning presence as good underground hardcore to second rate pop.In the end, CMJ Music Marathon was an event that I would never forget; the people, the bands, and most importantly, the music that left a permanent scar in my brain. It was like going to see the Seven Wonders of the World; a moment you will never forget. Not only was this experience fun and exciting for me, but equally so for the bands and the fans. From subway rides to constant groping by security guards, I think that CMJ does something good for the community. It gives back a piece of life not many people have come to appreciate.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.