They weren’t kidding around when they named the now 32nd-annual College Music Journal-organized affair a music marathon. It’s exactly that—a scattered, choose-your-own-adventure taking place in various venues and neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn for five non-stop days and nights. For those living in New York, CMJ is just another week in an already bustling, event-saturated city, but for those participating in CMJ on any scale—from performer to panelist to ambitious attendee—it’s an opportunity to be both willingly and constantly exposed to new, independent music.
Last weekend, from October 16-20, more than 80 venues hosted over 1,300 artist performances for a fast-paced week of discovery. CMJ set up camp at New York University’s Greenwich Village campus to host over 80 panels focusing on all aspects of modern music culture, ranging in topics from online music marketing to creating music for videogames.
Given the widespread geographic nature of the festival ranging throughout the city, it was easy to feel committed to a certain neighborhood—and consequently miss out on what other areas were hosting the same evening. Galleries Are Venues Too! The Future of Hybrid Audio Visual Culture was my first taste of this year’s event, with panelists Joe Ahearn (Showpaper), Oliver “Power” Grant (Wu-Tang Productions), Keith Shocklee, and NewVillager, as moderated by Miz Metro. The panelists discussed various elements of how galleries are doubling as music venues and presenting an experience to the audience that cannot be recreated in their own homes. The relationship between galleries and the music industry is changing; they’re working to fulfill new audience expectations for attending events, with the infusion of art and music adding a new dimension to performance. For one example of galleries rethinking their traditional business models as formerly catering to a small percentage of privileged clientele and now expanding beyond realms of exclusivity, Miz Metro believes that we’ll begin to see galleries releasing music in the next five years.
The panels provided an intimate occasion for people to hear from those who work firsthand in all branches of the music industry, with all being open to audience participation leaving room for commentary and questions alike. Not taking advantage of the panels offered and only being in it for music performances and the occasional open bar is one way to attend CMJ, but one that also would be a missed opportunity. CMJ’ers could break up attending panels with day showcases from various labels and organizations, or by hanging out in a private lounge area with plenty of free product samples and tables of CMJ event flyers available to consume and peruse.
In A Day in the Life of a Successful Career DJ, it was very clear that the panelists not only enjoy their jobs but also enjoy educating others about their day-to-day experiences. This panel featured Rob Principe (Scratch Music Group’s Scratch DJ Academy) and DJs Jamieson Hill, Mia Moretti, and William Tramontozzi (Rock Steady Crew), as moderated by Roi Hernandez of A&M/Octone Records. It was unanimous that regardless of your personal take on social media networks, it is just as crucial to have a presence online as it is to be physically out there. As Tramontozzi put it, “You have to be the crazy guy who’s there non-stop, 24/7. Everything I ever got was from showing up and from not sleeping. I haven’t slept since ’94.” A lot of ground was covered in this panel discussion, including the DJs’ take on “button pushers,” DJs turning down different gigs to stay true to themselves, and the listening process DJs undergo as both filters and educated tastemakers.
Once the panel sessions concluded each day, the vibe of CMJ quickly shifted into energetic night-out-on-the-town mode. Kicking off the evening showcases on Tuesday, one could find everything from indie folk to noise rock to electronic fusion outfits to artists (typically DJs or not) doing DJ sets. At the BEAM showcase, From Bristol to Brooklyn, at the Knitting Factory, some artists made their US debut, alongside welcoming natives. Brooklyn-based trio Archie Pelago was a clear highlight from this showcase, who displayed their humbled talents fusing live cello and sax instrumentation, while also utilizing their distinctive approach to create their own breed of hybrid sounds in Ableton/Serato Bridge and simultaneously captivate the dance-hungry crowd.
Wednesday’s day showcase at Cake Shop hosted by Terrorbird Media was a good taste of what CMJ is all about, and hosted a variety of bands, producers, and DJs with Impose, Wild International, WIN WIN, Michna, Flume, Jerome LOL, Mykki Blanco, Prince Rama, and Pictureplane in the mix. Wednesday night at DROM in Manhattan had me thinking it was a Friday, with a buzzing dancefloor in full effect at the AM Only showcase, which featured Samo Sound Boy, Nick Catchdubs, Codes, JWLS, Jim E. Stack, Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire, Kilo Kish, and Baauer. Kilo Kish, clearly an artist on the rise, whose debut EP was produced by members of Odd Future, performed with support from another female, Kitty Cash, and won me over quickly with her quirky stage presence, honest lyricism, and unique vocal control. The AM Only showcase had a clear trap-and-rap-forward lean, rinsing familiar crowd favorites from Biggie, 2 Chainz, and Flosstradamus, while acts like Jim-E Stack and Codes broke up the night by dipping into the crates of contemporary house music.
Thursday found me at the RWD.FM-curated showcase, which highlighted the importance of underground radio, another perfect fit for CMJ. RWD.FM, as a station, has a strong line-up of US-based DJs while also featuring international talent, and their free CMJ showcase teamed up with Le Poisson Rouge’s monthly forward-thinking bass party, On.The.Sly, to host NYC-based producer, DJ, and label owner, Liondub alongside Nadus, Ezrakh, DJ Reck of the Brick Bandits, Time Wharp, Fens, and more. The night had a friendly, open-minded feel to it with countless genres throughout electronic music represented—a nice metaphor for the festival’s goings-on in general.
Photo by Adanne Osefoh