CMJ Music Marathon | 10.21-25.08

fest_cmj.jpgCMJ is a place to see and be seen—by new fans, maybe an industry bigwig or two.




New York/Brooklyn, N.Y.

Just as every spring means South by Southwest, so every fall means CMJ Music Marathon. It’s a tradition, a rite of passage for us music folk. No longer a place where acts get signed, offered chunks of change, CMJ is more a place to see and be seen—by new fans, maybe an industry bigwig or two. It’s a resume builder, something to tack on to your pedigree.

Every year, I wear two hats at CMJ: one as journalist, and one as promoter. For three years now, I’ve been hosting a Bigfatcat artist showcase at a fabulous Lower East Side club called Banjo Jim’s. Every year, we pack the place (granted, it’s tiny, probably a capacity of 60), partaking in the un-New York-like hospitality and cheap beer.

And so began my 2008 CMJ experience, at a showcase of my own making. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say it was, without a doubt, the finest night of music I saw at this year’s CMJ. That’s not a knock against the rest of the fest (though being able to actually get in to my showcase elevated it heads and tails above many of the other sold-out venues); it just means the night held a lot of talent.

BFC clients One Lone Car, Cameron Matthews, Skidmore Fountain and Dan Craig all put on awe-inspiring sets. With sounds ranging from indie pop to experimental to roots-rock to outright folk, there was something for everyone. Dan Craig kicked off the night with his singer-songwriter-folk extraordinaire and endearing patter. Next up was Brooklyn’s Skidmore Fountain, previewing material from their forthcoming CD. A four-piece indie outfit which utilizes a five-string cello in lieu of bass, the band and its intricate instrumentation proved to be the night’s favorite to many. With a makeshift band, St. Louis songwriter Cameron Matthews was a little rough, but soon smoothed out the edges to show why he is one of our town’s most talented troubadours. Closing out the night, One Lone Car once again impressed with their upbeat pop music and passionate performance.

After that, my days and nights were jagged, uneven. As mentioned, we were unable to get into a great number of shows. If a band was big or buzzy, I generally yet begrudgingly stayed away—hence I missed such notables as Broken Social Scene, Deerhoof, Gang Gang Dance, Friendly Fires and Crystal Castles. Sadly, even a reformed Ambulance Ltd. proved too hot for me; I was looking forward to seeing what Marcus Congleton had been up to.

A couple of the more notable acts I caught included the always worth it Semi Precious Weapons and A Place to Bury Strangers. With their debut album We Love You just released on Razor and Tie Records, SPW were ever captivating, playing both a Deli Magazine party and the Perez Hilton bash the same night. As incendiary as ever, frontman Justin Tranter (described by his manager as "a six-foot blonde tranny"—though, to be precise, he’s more of an almost-tranny) took every opportunity to insult and incite…lovingly, of course. Naturally, the crowd—led by his super supportive mother—loved it.

A Place to Bury Strangers was new to me, yet they became a fast favorite. Playing bathed only in the glow of patterns projected onto them and the screens behind them, they produced a sound best described as heavy shoegaze.

Another band worth mentioning—yet, in my opinion, worth never seeing again—was the insane trio Monotonix. Basically a crazy as batshit frontman plus shirtless drummer and wild man guitarist. I suppose their act was interesting enough; they never once took the stage, preferring instead to set up shop (i.e., move the drum kit) at various places throughout the crowd. The singer, meanwhile, spit or spewed any liquid he could get his hands on while sing/talking inane lyrics (but really, who cared what he was saying?). A one-trick pony to be sure…and one this reviewer wasn’t buying.

Once again, CMJ provided a wealth of industry knowledge and network via four days of panels. Highlights included such topics as The Basics of an Effective Online Ad Campaign, The DIY Route/The Indie Label Route, Artist Managers: The New Labels? and more, plus special appearances by George Clinton (I swear, that man is always at CMJ), Duncan Shiek, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels and members of 2 Live Crew.

Always something for everyone—as long as you can get in the door, that is—at the CMJ Music Marathon. Who’s ready for 2009? | Laura Hamlett

With additional reporting by Cameron Matthews.

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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