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Tom Hawking's CMJ Diary: Part Four

21 October 2012 | 1:49 pm | Live From CMJ

Two girls in hippified Fever Ray facepaint (panda eyes and copious glitter, basically) and psychedelic leotards push past me toward the front of the room, followed by skinny men in thick-rimmed spectacles. I don't want to use the "h" word — the one that isn't "hippie" — but…



Right, so, today involves trying out a radical new strategy: eating a proper dinner, then going to one show and staying there. The show in question is the showcase at Todd P enclave a converted warehouse down on the East River. On the bill: Solar Year (who are on early and thus fall victim to the eating-a-proper-dinner idea), Maria Minerva, Prince Rama, Le1f, Kitty Pryde and Mykki Blanco.


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A little explanation — there are two types of shows at CMJ. "Official" showcases get listed in the CMJ guide, let you in with a badge (space permitting, of course) and are often weirdly mixed bags of wildly divergent bands thrown together to satisfy CMJ's pledge to place each of its bands on at least one show. "Unofficial" showcases piggyback off the whole CMJ brand, charge you to get in and usually have better line-ups. The fact that the majority of the week's best showcases are unofficial rather undermines the utility of an access-all-shows badge, which is something I'd be looking at if I was CMJ and trying to sell such badges for several hundred dollars a pop —  but anyway, this line-up is ace and I'm going.



There's a low mist over Brooklyn tonight, and the air's so clammy that you're wet all over from the moment you step out the door — even if you're not already hot and sweaty from cycling frantically across town to get to the venue in time to catch the second act, having already missed the first.



285 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg

So, here we are.



"No, man, we don't accept badges. Maybe when we can afford wooden floors for the venue." Or, y'know, more than two indescribably vile toilets.



One of the reasons I decided on this show tonight was the presence of affiliated Estonian lo-fi disco princess Maria Minerva, whose recorded work is many kinds of excellent and who I've been wanting to see live for ages.



As she drily notes on her SoundCloud page, "Maria Minerva has not heard of HQ recording. Maria Minerva has not heard that postmodernism is passe."



Maria Minerva also once got asked in an interview, "How would you describe your relationship with post-structuralist feminism?"



She's struggling with the sound a bit here, though. Specifically, tweaking something on her mixer causes a squeal of feedback that she clearly finds just as disconcerting as anyone standing right next to the speakers (ie. me).



Post-structuralist feminism presumably doesn't involve dealing with a bodgy PA, then.



Still, sound problems or no, I'm glad I made it here in time for this. Minerva's a charming performer, and her music translates well to a live setting. It's not often your correspondent is dancing so soon after dinner, put it that way.



"This is my first time in New York, and I'm happy that there's so many open-minded people here. I'm sorry I keep fucking up." Aw, come on, Maria Minerva. It's not your fault.



Two girls in hippified Fever Ray facepaint (panda eyes and copious glitter, basically) and psychedelic leotards push past me toward the front of the room, followed by skinny men in thick-rimmed spectacles. I don't want to use the "h" word — the one that isn't "hippie" — but…



Actually, I should have known: they're Prince Rama's dancers! The duo climb onto chairs at either side of the stage. And then the band themselves — psychedelic sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson, plus long-haired and somewhat less psychedelic bassist Christopher Burke — take the stage, resplendent in gold face paint, glitter, beads and other suitably subcontinental accoutrements. The lights go down...



..and come up again to reveal Taraka Larson standing at the front of the stage, completely covered by a long silk veil. The aforementioned dancers are holding its trail like tripped-out bridesmaids. Larson starts singing and descends into the crowd — the dancers hold onto the veil for a bit, and are eventually required to let go as Larson heads toward the back of the room. They stand looking nonplussed for a moment, then start with a sort of interpretive dance.



Honestly, this band gets more gloriously ridiculous every time I see them. Their whole stage show is so outlandish — with dramatic yoga poses, interpretive dancing and etc — that it can't help but be somehow endearing. If nothing else, it's great to see a band who actually make an effort to put on a show.



But seriously, they must have acid on their Weetbix. Bless.



Their fans are hilarious, too. There's one girl who clearly has a particularly well-supplied dealer whose number everyone else wants — she's wearing boots with precipitously high heels, a teddy bear backpack and . She's having a very, very  happy time, and she's also decided she's part of the band, because she's up on stage and dancing, much to the amusement of the psychedelic sisters.



The band play recent single "So Destroyed", which goes down a storm, and then finish with a track that sounds like the sort of thing they'd play at a spin class in a hippie commune. A dude behind me who's clearly here to see the hip hop-centric end of the bill says to his friend, "I've never been to a show like this before. It's so… different!"



Bathroom queue. Sigh.



Spotted: Kitty Pryde, who's performing later this evening, hanging at the side of the stage. If this Controversial 19-Year-Old Rap Sensation™ is 19 years old, I'm a monkey's uncle.



Backpack girl is now dancing on a table that appears ready to collapse. I'm not entirely sure how I'd feel if it did, to be honest.



Anyway, it seems there's something about CMJ and gender-bending rappers — it was here three years ago that I discovered the azz-shaking joys of Big Freedia, and tonight there's not one but two flamboyant queer hip hop types on the bill. First up is Le1f, who purveys suitably booty-shaking naughtiness that's just the ticket to get the crowd moving. There's also the fact that he has purple dreadlocks, a basketball jersey adorned with what looks like a gold lamé Inca cat, and two dancers — one male, one female — in shorty-shorts and face masks. Excellent.



This is ace.



One of Le1f's dancers is trying to light a joint of hilariously epic proportions. It's so big that it makes the a Camberwell Carrot look like a modest one-skinner. The half-size cigarette lighter she's trying to use is clearly not going to cut the proverbial mustard here, though, because she's having no luck getting it alight.



She reaches the same conclusion and hands the Megaspliff off to a dude at the side of the stage. A collaborative effort to get the thing burning ensues, with lots of finger pointing and deliberation and burning of thumbs with overheated lighters. A blowtorch is probably what's required here.



The Megaspliff is so massive, in fact, that it seems to be held together with twine — which is perhaps why it smells like one of those barkies that the delinquent element of class used to smoke on school camps. Did this happen at anyone else's school?






A shirt comes flying onto the stage. Le1f picks it up and looks into the crowd with an expression that's more quizzical than coquettish, as if to say, "For me?" Whoever threw it apparently answers in the positive, because Le1f smiles and tosses the shirt to the Megaspliff crew, who seem to have given up on getting their trophy alight.



And now Le1f's hat comes flying in my direction. It lands on the stage just in front of me.



Le1f's finished up, and once he's packed all his gear, he walks over to the side of the stage where I'm standing. He appears to be looking for something. I ask him what he's after. "My hat, man." Oh, yeah, it was right th… Oh. Someone's stolen it. Sigh. People suck.



So everyone's on stage now — both the Prince Rama psychedelic sisters, the hype men, Kitty Pryde's DJ/boyfriend (who's definitely not a Controversial 19-Year-Old DJ Sensation™), backpack girl and a troupe of suitably refreshed looking fans. All in all, there's about 30 people up there, and the stage is noticeably sagging.



So, then: Kitty Pryde, Controversial 19-Year-Old Rap Sensation, subverter of hip hop paradigms and author of hideously trite Buffy rap anthem Okay Cupid. Is she for real? Is she a postmodern satire on hip hop machodom, a subversion of gender roles in the 21st century? Is she the voice of today's post-millenial internet generation? Is she, whisper it quietly, ironic?



The thing is, while there are all sorts of cultural treatises to be written about the subversive politics of a white girl rapping — rapping! — about quotidian white girl concerns, but they all ignore one fundamental point: this shit is terrible.






Actually, the more I think about it, there's something deeply patronizing about this whole "Oh look at me, I'm a teenager" schtick. People still in their teens  have been responsible for some wonderful art, from Arthur Rimbaud to Willy Mason, from "Teenage Kicks" to "Motorcycle Emptiness". This, though… it feels like the musical equivalent of a focus group designed to sell made-in-China products to tweens. Endless discussions about the perfect shade of pink. Even her name sounds like a clothing line.



She's acquired a hypeman from somewhere, too, which only adds to the surreal nature of proceedings, especially as he has gold teeth, a silly hat, pants that are constantly threatening to descend to his ankles and a half-size guitar that he keeps waving at the audience.






Mercifully, Kitty Pryde hands off the mic to a girl who apparently goes by the name of… um, Chickie Non-Stop? (Disclaimer: I may have misheard this.) Anyway, whatever her name is, she's about five feet tall, wearing a hat that's several sizes too big for her, and the most unlikely rapper you've ever ever seen. She's also way better than Kitty, mainly because she eschews arched-eyebrow meta self-consciousness for just rocking the mic. The crowd loves her.



Hilarious moment of the evening: one of the Prince Rama psychedelic sisters fixes her eyes on  the hype man and reaches dramatically toward him like God reaching out to Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. She may well be seeing him as a technicolor kaleidoscopic bodhisattva by this stage of the evening. He gives her a cursory high five, shakes his head with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment, and goes back to dancing.



Oops! I fear he caught me giggling at the whole scene, too.



Oh, he totally did, because he climbs down off the stage, throws his arm around my neck and shouts something in my ear. I have no idea what he says, sadly.



The bathroom queue. Sigh.



The lights go down. A tall, imposing, dreadlocked figure clad in a torn Notorious BIG t-shirt and a pair of y-fronts takes the stage. It's Mykki Blanco time!



According to Mykki herself, she is a mixture of riot grrrl and ghetto fabulousness. That seems as good a description for what's ensuing on stage as any — she spits foul-mouthed ryhmes that reference everything from The Simpsons to Marcel Duchamp.



Shirt comes off! Mykki wraps it around her waist, making her look like some sort of 21st century hip hop drag gladiator. What an age we live in.



"If you smoke weed, I need you to smoke weed right now." Whither the Megaspliff?



Mykki pulls it up for an acapella rap in which she tees off on "bitch niggas", "haters" and various other undesirables, promising that much righteous hip hop justice shall be meted upon all such types. This sort of bravado is perhaps faintly ridiculous from a someone in a skimpy pair of underpants, but still.



Line of the evening: "Smithers, get my slippers while I massacre these niggas!"



Pictureplane — clad in what looks like a Nascar driver's outfit — appears behind the stage. He's waving a guitar for no apparent reason. If you're a Williamsburg-based drug dealer and you're not at 285 Kent tonight, you have serious fucking problems.



Mykki invites us to "join my militia", then strikes a dramatic Blair Witch style pose with a red light as her DJ drops one final beat. The lights come on. I debate staying for Pictureplane's conceptual DJ set, which will be kicking off from 2am, then decide to conserve energy for one final assault on CMJ tomorrow. Tonight was fun! It's so much easier to manage your night when you stay in one place. Who knew?