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Friday, October 19, 2007

Badgeless at CMJ, Part One

posted by on October 19 at 12:20 PM

CMJ—It’s kind of a big deal. You might have heard of some of the bands. I mean, there are over a thousand or whatever.

I’m in New York right now, only loosely because of the Music Marathon, and unfortunately, somewhat unprepared. Yeah, I do college radio and should have pressed the student body to give me a badge and a plane ticket free of charge. Some of the panels do sound interesting, and the networking that happens at CMJ is phenomenal. But my school didn’t want to pay for it, and I don’t have $500 sitting around, so I am badgeless.

I bought a plane ticket anyway, because I used to intern for The Bowery Presents, (a venue group that includes the Bowery Ballroom, Mercury Lounge, Webster Hall, Terminal 5, and Music Hall of Williamsburg) and figured my get-into-any-show-free card might still be valid. My school’s “fall break” also conveniently fell during the same week, so if nothing else I could visit the old stomping grounds, eat some bagels and challah french toast, and hopefully see some good shows.

I am still forming my opinion about CMJ as a festival; it’s totally crazy and goes all day and all night, and as I type this I’m probably missing 20 super-hyped “next big things,” or secret appearances by secret side projects that were never announced, or announced secret guests that don’t actually show up. For example, as of an hour ago Deerhunter is apparently playing Cake Shop, where I am writing this, at 6pm. Later, MSTRKRFT is playing a set starting at 2am.

Only at CMJ. More (and pictures) as the weekend progresses and I find a cheaper place than Duane Reade to develop film.

Wednesday night my plane got in too late and I missed No Age, Dan Deacon, and Deerhunter at Bowery, and the Fool’s Gold tour at Hiro Ballroom (CoolKids, A-Trak, Kavinsky). I’d expected as much. Thursday night I headed over to Webster Hall for UNKLE, Holy Fuck, and Walter Meego. Apparently I wasn’t on the list, but luckily my connections with Bowery people seem solid enough that I get hugs and “oh my god how are you”s, and they handed me a VIP pass and a drink ticket anyway.

Webster Hall has the most bizarre ambience of any venue possibly in the entire world, no exaggeration. Its walls are covered in a potpurri of random objects, like those tacky novelty restaurants but with a more sinister thematic leaning. We’re talking creepy clown dolls hanging from the ceilings, paintings of ladies in red, some zombie b-movie posters. The ballroom has behemoth gold paper-mache sculptures stuck to the wall in the shapes of zodiac signs, the Buddha, Greek Gods, and again, creepy clowns. It’s also huge, and any time I’ve ever been to a Bowery Presents show in the main hall, there was at least one other event being hosted by the club—roller discos or “Awesome 80’s Prom”s. The two lines to the different entrances are a contrast of hipster audiophiles smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and scantily clad dance-club-types getting frisked. Lots of frisking. There’s a bathroom attendant with the full spread of mints, chocolate, and various cosmetics.

I’d never heard of Walter Meego, but was pleasantly surprised. If Ratatat and CSS and YACHT had a rebellious, sort of slutty teenage son, this band would probably be it. Musically, they do a good job of making live laptop-electronica actually fun to watch, with lots of keyboard slamming and pouncing from synth to synth. The only gripe I had about the performance were the vocals; while I got what they were going for, I felt the singing was superfluous. It was the sort of electronica that could stand alone, consistently exciting and infectious. Also, they shouldn’t have been playing this show. Walter Meego seems much better suited for the small clubs and dance nights. Like possibly Club Pop. Someone get on that.

Holy Fuck was holy fucking awesome. I saw them play with Cornelius (actually, this show was at Webster Hall) a year ago, and remembered being impressed by how tight their sound was, but last night they were more energetic, more present. The band is comprised of live drums, live bass, and two guys manning these ridiculous tables covered in keyboards, synthesizers, drum machines, and effects pedals. Their set was a blur of hook-free explosions of rhythm and ever-building loops, and the crowd was into it in a yelling-because-that-actually-blew-my-mind, not-just-because-it’s-polite way.

And I left 20 seconds into UNKLE, because, I’m sorry—it was like prog-rock electro with a really cheesy light show. And by then the crowd and mutated into this stuffy mess of industry types; the kids left for better shows elsewhere. Me, badgeless, sat in a subway station for an hour waiting for the L train to take me to the couch I’m surfing.

RSS icon Comments


CMJ today is like the Gavin Report last decade.

SXSW is today what CMJ was last decade.

Is CMJ still doing the pay-to-play thing with their college charts?

Posted by matthew fisher wilder | October 19, 2007 1:35 PM

I didn't make it to the music marathon this year, but if previous years are any indication badges aren't as helpful as you might imagine. most showcases are ticketed and only a limited number of badges are admitted, often depending on how nice of a relationship you develop with the doorman.

it's definitely worthy your while to troll the mp3blogs for dayparty listings -- usually free, plenty of room, and the occasional free drink can be had. Most of my favorite CMJ shows from last year turned out to happen before 6 pm.

Posted by josh | October 19, 2007 2:51 PM

Right on with the Holy Fuck and UNKLE assessments.

Holy Fuck might be the best live band in N. America at the moment.

James LaVelle, on the other hand, has gone from hero to zero with me.

Posted by segal | October 19, 2007 7:41 PM

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