Sunday, November 09, 2008

CMJ: In This Year's Fest, Esoteric Acts Ruled

From Washington Square News' CMJ Roundup.

Last Friday I found myself in a strange part of town for a CMJ show: Chelsea. I was there in hopes of seeing the Irish singer Roisin Murphy, a European import who sings like Kylie Minogue. She was playing at Mansion, on 28th Street and 11th Avenue, and my hopes of getting in were fading as I came across a staggering mass of people.

“Hey, is this the line for Roisin Murphy?” I asked no one in particular.

A woman scoffed, “Uh, yeah. Who else would it be for?”

I navigated past the line but on the other side of the entrance were only a handful of press and industry people. They were letting in CMJ Music Marathon badge holders, but only those who were 21. My underage self was straight out of luck.

CMJ doesn’t change the rules of New York City’s concerts so much as it magnifies attention. Spanning last Tuesday to Saturday, it featured over a thousand bands playing in dozens of venues, some clumped in the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, others scattered in obscure locations, like Mansion.

For music fanatics, the week is part-marathon, part-juggling act. You can either camp out at one place all night, as I did on Wednesday night at the Bowery Ballroom, or sprint from one venue to another, trying to catch a variety of acts.

For more casual music fans, this year’s CMJ was a head-scratcher, devoid of big names, with only Broken Social Scene and Coheed and Cambria registering more than a blip of mainstream recognition — definitely less buzz than last year’s marquee performers, Spoon, Justice and M.I.A.

This year, it was a week of esoteric thrills, including some New York debuts. On Thursday, London’s Lucky Soul played its first stateside show. I also witnessed the U.S. debut of Chilean DJ Luciano (check out the “Fabric 41” mix), who played a mellow set at Irving Plaza.

School of Seven Bells played a mesmerizing set at Le Poisson Rouge in the last hours of CMJ, where it meshed shoe-gaze blasts and heavenly vocals. Ghostly International labelmate Matthew Dear closed out the night, strutting around with a mic stand when he wasn’t manipulating his laptop.

Sure, these two artists, and many of the other performers, play in New York all the time. But when it comes to seizing exposure, CMJ is special.


Full coverage coming!
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