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Tom Hawking's CMJ Diary: Part One

18 October 2012 | 3:59 pm | Live From CMJ

If it's October in New York, it must be time for the CMJ Music Marathon. The five-day festival of running around NYC like a lunatic is back for another year, and our intrepid New York correspondent TOM HAWKING is keeping a diary for us this year. Here's how he fared on day one!

Judson Memorial Church, Washington Square

OK, step one: badge pickup. Your correspondent is running late, of course, and so it's a headlong dash from here to the CMJ Press Mixer™, which is where you're supposed to mingle with your fellow international press types and forge long-standing transcontinental friendships over free vodka. First, though: this year's free shit! Freelancing and freeloading go together like the proverbial horse and carriage (although which is which remains debatable), so this is VERY IMPORTANT. Along with the badge, this year I score a discount on Zipcar membership, a pair of earbuds, several magazines and a bag. I need a bag. Result.

CMJ Lounge, Union Square

The difference between writers and journalists is that journalists are actually required to speak to people every so often. Judging by the amount of mixing going on at the annual CMJ Press Mixer™, the ratio of writers to journalists here is about 10:1, because everyone is standing in the same awkward little gaggles you see at high school parties. I fail dismally to mix with anyone except the professionally worried looking CMJ organiser type who directs me to the bathroom after I try to enter what's apparently the kitchen. Ye gods. I'm not even drunk yet.

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But hey, the drinks are free!


And strong!


And plentiful!


…and they've run out. Curses. A large bouncer ushers us toward the exit. It's time to head to…

New Zealand Showcase, Le Poisson Rouge, Bleecker St

For the last few years the New Zealand showcase at Le Poisson Rouge, a 10-minute walk from the badge pickup-y place on Washington Square, has been the first stop on the CMJ circuit. This is because the Kiwis have their shit locked down. Whatever New Zealand government body is responsible for spending money on CMJ clearly has plenty of cash to throw around — a couple of years back they even managed to advertise their annual showcase on the lanyard you get with your badge. They're clever enough to always schedule said showcase on the first night of CMJ — when no-one's exhausted and jaded etc — and also to stage it at the one venue that's a ten-minute walk from where everyone has to pick up their badges. The result: it's always packed.


This year there's no Kiwi branding on the lanyard, but the show's as well patronised as ever. I'm useless at estimating crowds, but LPR is about the size of the bandroom at the Corner, maybe a little larger, and it's full. All this despite this year's Kiwi contingent being pretty lacklustre: the band playing when we arrive are called Ghost Wave, and disappointingly they defy my highly scientific band name analysis techniques — they're neither ghost-y or wave-y. Curses. Instead they're bog standard utilitarian indie rock. It's not terrible, but…


The thing is, though: we were promised free pies. There are no free pies. Curses.


Actually, no, wait — there's spy one forlorn discarded mini Dub pie sitting sadly under our table. I'm hungry enough to briefly contemplate eating it.


Die! Die! Die! do the "let's wake this crowd up" thing, with singer Andrew Wilson descending into the (fairly nonplussed) crowd and shouting a lot. For the first time tonight, I curse myself for forgetting earplugs. It will not be the last. I'm generally all for Die! Die! Die!, and they're on a hiding to nothing playing at this time of night, but still: this is kinda hard to stomach before dinner.


"Are you ready for this shit?" ask Six60. On the evidence of ten minutes of their sub-Jack Johnson coastal reggae'n'blues-y schtick, the answer is: no, I am not ready for this shit and most likely never will be.


Dinner! And a walk to the L train!

Pinches Tacos, Lafayette Street

Eveything you've ever heard about American serving sizes? It's 100% true. The burrito I'm served will happily obviate the need to eat for the rest of the night and probably most of tomorrow as well. It takes me the best part of half an hour to finish the damn thing.


"Hey mister, do you drink?"
"Um… sure."
"Do you like margaritas?"
"Drink this. I made extra and I don't want to throw it away."

Brooklyn-bound L Train

Overheard on the L Train #1: "Yelp is a vat of urine, man. If your business gets a good review on Yelp, kill yourself. Most people in this city don't know shit."


Overheard on the L Train #2: "No, man, Bedford Avenue. That's where all the hipsters are."
Why, yes. Yes it is. It's also where I have to get off, god help me.

Oh My Rockness Showcase, Cameo Gallery, N 6 St

Also clued-in on the scheduling-your-CMJ-show-early-in-the-week front are local listings website Oh My Rockness, whose party is the first must-attend event of this year's festival. The site also put on a CMJ kick-off show last night, to which I sadly didn't make it due to the need for, y'know, sleep. Amongst other things, that show featured most excellent Melbourne ex-pats Scott & Charlene's Wedding, of whom the site have been big supporters. I have a quick chat with the lovely Patrick McNamara, who runs Oh My Rockness, about certain important matters, specifically Melbourne bands and basketball.


Meanwhile, if any proof was ever needed of the great truism about music moving in 20ish-year cycles, tonight's bill should provide ample evidence. Apart from the headliners (of whom more later), it's wall-to-wall neo-grunge action, so much so that the whole thing starts to feel like everyone is role-playing Seattle circa 1990. First up are Baltimore band Roomrunner, who will be playing the part of Bleach-era Nirvana. They're loud, angry and have a very nasty distortion pedal. They're not bad, but good god, are they ever derivative.


Panic! The dude next to me has lost his phone. "I don't understand it, man. I was holding it underneath my tablet, and I dropped it, and it just disappeared."


Seriously, it's kinda awesome to see half a room crawling around on its knees looking for a telephone while a band plays at ear-bleeding volumes about five metres away. There's lots of improvised sign language going on. Someone's totally stolen the phone in question, though, because it's absolutely nowhere to be found. Sigh. People.


My ears are starting to hurt, and a friend has texted me to say she's across the road at the endearingly grimy Public Assembly. This means that it's time for gig #3 of the evening.

Greenpointers x Permanent Wave x Campers Rule CMJ Showcase, Public Assembly, N 6 St

This unwieldily-titled showcase pools the resources of a record label (Campers' Rule), a feminist collective (Permanent Wave) and a neighbourhood-centric blog (Greenpointers). It makes for the sort of weirdly diverse bill for which CMJ are famous.


Despite a name that makes them sound like a kinda terrible sub-Gorilla Vs Bear chillwave crew, Florida band Beach Day are rather charming, a terrifyingly young three-piece who play '50s girl group influenced pop. It's also pretty derivative, but hey, at least it's actually fun, too. John Waters would love them. So would Joey Ramone.


Leda are essentially the Permanent Wave house band, featuring former Titus Andronicus member Amy Klein on guitar and vocals. They're pretty great, too, although the sound tonight does them no favours at all. I stick around for three songs, but then I realize…


Every year there's one buzzband that you've never really heard of before but whose name you suddenly start seeing on every bill around town, making you think that maybe you should be checking them out at some point. This year that band is Sub Pop-signed neo-grunge types Metz, and it's about now that I remember that one of their manifold gigs is back across the road at the Oh My Rockness showcase. Cue mad post-feminist dash across N 6 St, brief argument with the Cameo door staff ("We were here before! We have stamps!") and lots of elbows being thrown in the process of getting back into a venue that's suddenly packed.






LIKE REALLY… OK, I'll abandon the all-caps, but you get the idea. Like Roomrunner before them, their music owes a pretty substantial debt to Seattle luminaries of the past (which means the Sub Pop connection makes perfect sense), but where Roomrunner are relatively punk-influenced, Metz are clearly inspired by flat-out noise rock — listening to them is roughly approximated by standing behind a jet engine while someone shouts in your ear. They're compelling in a dick-waving, drumkit-trashing kinda way.


Metz's buzzband status is assured — half the people here leave the instant the band finish playing.


There is a guy sitting here typing away on his laptop. Oh, Williamsburg.

Waiting for the toilet at Cameo

A guy who looks like Owen Ashworth from Casiotone for the Painfully Alone is last out of a toilet from which three other people have already emerged. He is dancing in a mildly embarrassing manner. After attempting to hug the two girls waiting patiently for the ladies' cubicle (there's just the one), he shuffles over to me and proclaims that he's only trying to have fun, and for the love of god, that has to be worth something? I point out that he spat in my eye while making this heartfelt declaration. He stares wordlessly at me for a moment and then cavorts back toward the dancefloor. The dancefloor empties fairly rapidly.


In other news, I hear that MDMA is making a comeback!


Headliners Chrome Canyon are due on now. There's no sign of them.


There's a theremin on stage, though!


And the award for most copious fucking about goes to…


After a good half hour setting up, all in a thoroughly unhurried manner, the band finally start playing. They're worth the wait, though, because they're definitely the belated highlight of Day One. There's some sort of Seattle connection, in that singer Morgan Z looks kinda like a sci-fi Eric Erlandson — he's wearing leggings and a silver lamé shirt, for Chrissakes) — but there's nothing grunge-y about them at all. Instead they sound like Com Truise scoring some sort of gloriously retro '80s BBC sci-fi show. Apart from Mr Z, who handles theremin, keys and vocals, there's a drummer and a bassist, and the combination of a live rhythm section with Z's digital wizardry makes for a pretty compelling combination. 


New supergroup idea: Morgan Z, Miles Brown from Night Terrors and the bassist from Ariel Pink's band. They could call themselves the Psychedelic Digiwizards or something. Has any band ever had two theremins?!


I dash from Public Assembly to a DIY venue on N 9 St to catch the end of a set by Melbourne locals Dancing Heals. I'm running late due to Chrome Canyon's tardiness, but hey, shows at these sorts of events always run late, eh?

Muchmore's, N 9 St

Aw, shit, what do you mean the show ran on time?! This, my friends, is an outrage.

And so CMJ day one draws to a close. Your correspondent heads home to watch a replay of Barack Obama beating Mitt Romney around the head in the second Presidential debate and to get some sleep before tomorrow. Only four days to go, right?