Live Review: CMJ 2010

New York City // October 19-23, 2010

After this year’s College Music Journal Music Marathon I’m confident I know what the old adage ‘New York minute’ really means. Though the marathon ran for five solid days and I was on the scene for three and a half the event came and went so fast and furious that the whole marathon almost seems like a blur.

Coming from Austin the proverbial “live music capital of the world” I found it difficult not to compare and contrast CMJ with Austin’s multi-media leviathan known as South by Southwest. I had never been to New York City before so I took comfort in a few South by Southwest staples including Pure Volume House that was located at the former punk rock hole-in-the-wall CBGB and Levi’s Fader Fort – no badges necessary for either.

It was apparent early on that New York City is serious about their indie music scene. There was a multitude of bands, bloggers, and publicists on hand at CMJ with no shortage of things to check out and people to talk to about what is trending in the industry. CMJ presents a superb networking opportunity for the up-and-coming artist to market their material, and learn a thing or two about distribution, production, promotion, and booking. I felt like the panels were more geared towards educating artists than South by Southwest’s. One obvious tip for a band is to keep a blog on your website–especially if you are in the studio or on tour. If you don’t feel like you can write to save your life try a video blog to keep fans engaged and connected to you not just your music. Personality counts for so much – on stage and off.

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Where SXSW is an all-encompassing multimedia schmorgasboard, CMJ is still focused primarily on music – digital media plays an integral role in who may or may not play either festival. CMJ greeted me with The Hype Machine’s “I Love NY” party at The Annex. It was free with an RSVP online and featured some of the conference’s most buzzed about artists, including one of my own web favorite’s, neo-disco, dance-pop duo Kisses.

While at The Annex I stumbled upon a happening hip-hop sister out of Baltimore called Rye Rye. Her show was full of energy and her short set was salted with a little M.I.A. meets Santigold feel. While I was at The Annex I learned one very valuable lesson about CMJ events, which I should have also carried with me from South by Southwests past – once you’re in a hot spot you don’t want to so much as cross the threshold of the front door. A smoke break is not worth waiting another hour or more in line in what might turn into a futile effort to see a highly desired show. “One in one out” means just that, and some of these venues push fire codes to the breaking point as it is. If you are “in” where you want to be, stay there.

Friday’s standout showcase seemed to be happening at Webster Hall where electronic music’s indie “it” boys were bringing their beats. The front of the ballroom was filled with artistic types foaming at the mouth for Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet, from the UK. I got there early and missed the line that was snaking around the block even as I exited during the final song of Four Tet’s encore. Hebden is well known for his intelligent electronic mixes with spacey effects and ambient beats. I was confident that the gentleman sharing the bill at Webster Hall would be just as interesting and danceable. Four Tet was indeed preceded by two equally eloquent electronic musicians. Gold Panda started the evening off with hits from his recent release Lucky Shiner. Jon Hopkins took my top nod since he brought a little of the grit this Southern girl craves with some heavier, dubbier bass than the other two. Jon Hopkins is dub-step done down tempo–think Pretty Lights with a smidgen of Bassnectar. All three artists put on a great show and eventually the place was literally shaking with dancing bodies.

Saturday I learned another rule to CMJ to – pick a borough, stay there and plan your day accordingly. I managed to hop boroughs and fit in plenty of music on Saturday but not without missing two bands I had most eagerly anticipated seeing. I ended up in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon at Brooklyn Vegan’s day party at Public Assembly in Williamsburg. My favorite of all the featured artists there was the funky soul singing Jamie Lidell who followed another great band, Morning Teleportation. Much to my chagrin I was stuck underground during most of Sippy Cup Everything’s showcase and missed The Big Big Bucks play that afternoon.

Holy Ghost Tent Revival was also at the top of my list of bands to see but I was a long train ride away from them as DeVotchKa and Angus and Julia Stone finished playing at the legendary Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center. Holy Ghost Tent Revival packs a gypsy-folk punch that sounds like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros married Mumford and Sons. I shed a tear over missing that one. At least there were circus performers and a Theremin in it for me at Big Apple Circus and also a surprise bluegrass band crooning to the guests in the rotunda – Spirit Family Reunion.

It will be interesting to see if the lineup recently leaked by South by Southwest features any of this year’s CMJ alums. In the indie music industry “first” means bragging rights. Though I saw many artists for the first time at CMJ, the lineup reads like a who’s who of South by Southwest past. Who claims the bragging rights? Austin or New York?  I think you know my answer to that.

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