Doing CMJ the right way

Maria Sherman

Slug Guts

Photo by Nicki Ishmael

I once had an editor describe CMJ (College Music Journal’s annual fest, for those unfamiliar) to me as “like South by Southwest but smaller, rainy, without tacos and margaritas.” A bleak interpretation but not an inaccurate one—the five day autumnal occurrence brings bands, local or international and largely of the buzzy persuasion to New York, placing them in showcases throughout the city in venues ranging from massive clubs to illegal basement spaces. Many of the events are free and open to the public.

The quickest way to cynicism is through spoiling, the quickest way to spoiling, receiving too much of a good thing. For CMJ, after years of navigating the festival circuit, cries of “ANOTHER cmj?!” are all too common. Perhaps the fact that a part-fest part- conference predicated on ideas of music discovery seems all too formulaic for an industry that’s recommendation engine is the Internet. CMJ is fun, but it’s exhausting and at some point loses its shine.

So when a family emergency brought my CMJ to a close three days early, I wasn’t disappointed—in fact, the NYC absence made me value the fest I had taken for granted years prior. In the end, the best way to do CMJ was to do it in small doses**.

Day One: Tuesday, Oct. 16

Picking up a badge a cool half hour before the first day of registration closed (also a half hour before the OFF! Show was scheduled to begin at Irving Plaza a few blocks away on 14th Street,) and heading to a nearby bar for a beer or two (if you’ve ever been to Irving Plaza, you know they specialize in spotty cell service and even spottier beer prices ranging from $7-$12 for canned beer? No thank you,) I entered the venue around 8:10pm, minutes before opening act Double Negative took the stage.

Double Negative have a rich history—a supergroup of sorts (perhaps what attracted OFF!, subsequently asking the band to join their fall tour with the Spits,)—or reflexive of the incestuous nature of localized scenes, the band took the stage in front of a mostly empty vacuous hall and delivered the best they could. In a little over 20-25 minutes, one of current hardcore’s most familiar names managed to find new fans in an older generation. After seeing the band tear shit apart during Chaos in Tejas, this set felt much more subdued, perhaps appropriate, as if -/- were ever to invite their parents to one of their shows, this was the appropriate setting.

Double Negative exist in this duality. From the literal meaning of their name: Double Negative, the superficial ferocity that resides within most good punk names to its actual literary meaning—two negatives make a positive—the ability to contort live performance into something that never feels ingenuine is extraordinary. Few bands ever reach self- actualization.

Though I left before OFF! took the stage, I did discover that I am taller than Keith Morris. You probably are too.

Day Two: Wednesday, Oct. 17

After spending the day attempting to reschedule a live set on my radio show with Sacred Bones act Slug Guts and missing all of what were improbably incredible day shows, I finally managed to meet a friend for a few drinks before moseying over to Lower East Side bar Home Sweet Home for Wierd Night, the weekly event that usually consists of one band taking the stage a little after midnight, strangled in the most powerful fog machine this side of the Atlantic. Last week, thanks in large to Sacred Bones and Wierd Records, the lineup was massive—Rosenkopf preceded by Slug Guts, closing with Cult of Youth.

(Ed's Note: See full photo coverage of the Sacred Bones showcase here.)

In retrospect, the event was not CMJ-sponsored per se, but the fest did bring Slug Guts to our fair city and the lineup was impossible to miss—especially for the Wednesday evening. (Funny, as the band—scheduled to play a handful of showcases each day asked me what CMJ” stood for. It’s an industry fest after all.) To return to the SXSW comparison, these unofficial events are usually the most memorable, Wierd night as no exception.

Rosenkopf’s set (missing 2/3 of the project, loving dubbed “Sorenkopf” by some of the show’s attendees, after frontman Soren Roi) was sort, timely, and professional. It felt less like a set and more like a man dedicated to facilitating an environment welcoming to dance and conversation, the kind of act you’d want to open a long, after-hours event.

Next was Slug Guts, behaving in opposition to the suffocating smoke, ran through their songs with speed, with frontman Jimi performing what felt like half of the set with his back turned. SG are showmen, clad in black leather vests, sunglasses in the impossibly dark room and never once wavering from their stage personas, the Australian act managed to operate in the middle gray between frightening and sexy.

Last was Cult of Youth, fronted by Sean Ragon and backed by an ever-changing lineup, the set wasn’t his first time on the Wierd stage and most certainly won’t be his last. The violent romanticism behind 2012’s Love Will Prevail wasn’t lost inside the smoke- y environment, only highlighted upon, as if a the lack of vision opened up sight in other regards, the struggle of love detailed in the physical world.

Even though I could count the number of acts I saw this CMJ week on one hand, they were all quality, quite possibly some of my favorites of the year. Isn’t that the point?

**Even though I missed Merchandise

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