CMJ 2009: My First Community Trip

Being very much involved in the Rock Band Network and its outreach, I was happy to attend this year’s CMJ Music Marathon in New York City. For those of you asking, “what is this CMJ?” …CMJ stands for College Music Journal. The CMJ Network holds a yearly music festival in New York City featuring lots of indie bands and new artists. The shows are in venues all around the city, all day, every day, all week long. It’s sort of the SXSW of the north.

Day 1
After a small trip from HMX HQ to New York City, we crossed paths with Tokio Hotel while picking up Rock Band equipment at the MTV offices. No time to chat though as we were off to Carnegie Hall for GAME ON! The Video Game and Music Revolution, a multimedia panel discussion about music and games. The panelists included Harmonix CEO Alex Rigopulos, Grandmaster Flash, Melissa Auf der Maur, Christopher Tin, Meghan Asha, and Pete Wentz as moderator. I spent the evening setting up The Beatles: Rock Band and hanging out back stage. After the panel we were absolutely starving from running around the whole day and not eating. The doorman at our hotel pointed us to a little restaurant called Pepolino. He said to us as we were leaving, “You tell Mateo that Angel sent you.” Ominous words perhaps but they ended up being the best advice received all day! Mateo was awesome and gave us some delicious free dessert!

Day 2
The first day of CMJ has arrived! During the week of CMJ we had Rock Band 2 set up in the artist lounge. I spent the week playing Rock Band with real bands and talking to them about the Rock Band Network. There was one major hitch the first day though. We didn’t have a TV. My sad face died when the TV showed up right before I headed out to shows that night. The first band I saw was the Brooklyn-based group Screens. The guitarist is a good friend of mine from college. Their sound is sort of a mix between Bloc Party and Interpol. If their live show is any indication, their debut album is going to be amazing. The second show of the night was Julianna Barwick. Julianna performs with her voice, looping and layering it to create lush ambient songs that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Sigur Rós album.

These United States

Day 3
In the morning I went down to the front desk of my hotel and asked for a goldfish. More on that later. The first show of attendance on day 3 was the Boston band Bodega Girls. An all-around awesome electro-funk-soul-party time! I had to turn the party up a notch with New Zealand’s Bang Bang Eche, a band that completely surprised and blew me away at CMJ. These kids (and I do mean kids as they’re all around 15 to 17) took the stage and knew how to rock it. I can only describe them as if early Rapture were as experimental as Add N to (X). Seriously check them out. Next up was the band These United States. I had been listening to this band prior to CMJ and was excited to see them live. Their live show was drenched in Americana complete with a lap steel guitar. They should really tour with Calexico. My sad face returned when I tried to see Saul Williams only to find out that he changed venues to the other side of Manhattan last minute. Luckily my night ended on a high with the best live show of the week. The Boston-based band Math the Band were outstanding. Chip-tune videogame hyper music set to punk yells and shout-out chants. You really can’t go wrong. I danced in front the entire set. I got back to my hotel room and there was a goldfish waiting for me. I declared the goldfish’s name Sir Baloney!

Math The Band

Day 4
Thursday was a busy day at the Rock Band setup in the CMJ Artist lounge. I got to chat and play Rock Band with the Montreal electro pop / garage rock band, Les Handclaps. Sadly I missed their show the prior night. They’re super excited about Rock Band Network though! The night was to be a pretty structured lineup of shows which quickly turned into the “Night of the Unexpected.” I made my way to see Alec Ounsworth, only to arrive at the venue more than an hour early. Luck would have it that I was able to catch the band prior to Alec, Patrick Watson & The Wooden Arms. Their sound managed to combine piano driven chamber pop and a voice that’s akin to Coldplay or M Ward with the experimental ambience and sound structure of Grizzly Bear. Highly recommended chamber alt rock on its own, their live show brought the music to another level. On the stage of the small New York club, Patrick rocked a grand piano. The drummer madly played xylophones and small percussive instruments between flawless complicated rhythms. On the last song, Patrick Watson took an acoustic guitar and strapped this homemade apparatus to his back that included a bunch of loud speakers towering over his body. Each loud speaker had a small blue light at the end. He walked out into the middle of the audience, a stranger exploring an alien world. He sang through the dusty speakers while the drummer played the saw on stage. Alec Ounsworth took the stage shortly after the grand piano left. You may also know Alec as the lead singer of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! It was hard for the rest of night to top Patrick Watson’s performance. I enjoyed Alec’s set but all his songs sounded like mediocre renditions of “The Perfect Crime #2” by The Decemberists. The last show of the night was Warpaint. The band consists of three very talented ladies who all sing like Cat Power. I remember listening to their song “Billie Holiday” a while back and was expecting some quiet indie folk. I was awesomely mistaken when they busted out a set of dark brooding rock that even Radiohead would be proud of. I knew my night was at a close when a bunch of people dressed as panda bears, got on stage and danced awkwardly. Indeed.

Patrick Watson & The Wooden Arms

Day 5
It was another busy day at the Rock Band setup in the CMJ Artist lounge. We hung out with a couple of people from Sub-Pop and played an upcoming RBN song from the label. That night, I hung out with HMXsean and hit up the QN5 indie hip hop showcase. I had a chance to catch Smashproof, a hip hop trio from New Zealand and Fat Tony, hailing from Houston, Texas. Great stuff. After Fat Tony, I had to bolt from the hip hop showcase in order to catch one of my favorite New York bands, The Inlets. Instead of their full chamber pop ensemble, lead singer Sebastian Krueger played quiet solo versions of Inlets songs on guitar. I briefly chatted with Sebastian after his set and he informed me of his liking of Rock Band and of a secret full-band Inlets show later that night. Before I knew it, I was off to Brooklyn to see one of our great indie rock bands from Harmonix, Choo Choo La Rouge. Fueled by cappuccino and a great Choo Choo La Rouge set, I decided to go on adventure to find the secret party in Brooklyn where a full-band Inlets show was being housed. Mind you it was raining hard and I hadn’t an umbrella. I traversed around Brooklyn with a map and the address, found the street but couldn’t find the house. I decided to inquire directions from this nice hipster dude locking up his bike. He was going to the show as well! The artsy house show was in this old warehouse that had been converted into crazy loft apartments. The Inlets full band show was amazing. There were two guitarists, a bassist, drummer, trombone, trumpet and harmonies abound on every song. It turns out that the show was put on by the fantastic indie music blog The Brooklyn Vegan. Moral of the day: always trust a hipster when trying to find a show.

Day 6
The last day was full of packing and boring stuff. I was planning on going to shows that night. Due to a combination of horrible weather and missed connections, I ordered pizza, french fries and watched Nacho Libre on TBS. END.