That one time @ CMJ

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Once upon a time there was a pink-haired Soviet American princess who spent a week pretending she wasn't a full-time student and went to the College Music Journal Festival instead. This is her story.

Fresh-faced with a badge in hand and a backpack full of free Red Bull, I was ready for anything planned, unplanned, official, and unofficial that was to come. CMJ 2011 was my first year attending with a badge, and I was particularly interested in seeing some of the panels I hadn't been able to see before.

Wednesday morning offered a panel focusing on the government's support of the music industry, which did nothing more than perpetuate the sad status of our economy and reinforce my ideas about the continuous growth 1%'s involvement with industries other than financial. Moderated by Richard Bengloff of the American Association of Independent Music and joined by Millie Millgate of Sounds Australia, V. Marc Fort of the Texas Office of Music, Ken Hyatt of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Stuart Johnson of the Canadian Independent Music Association, the panel cemented the fact, in my mind, that we're royally fucked and Canada rules.

© Liz Pelly

The fiscal realities of the United States music industry in comparison to that of Canada's were made clear when Johnson recited such facts as:

  • A marriage that exists between the Canadian government and broadcasters has produced the CCD (Canadian Content Development) funds. These funds nurture musicians and label suppliers in effect to promote and sustain artists and labels that otherwise have difficulty doing so.

  • There is more than $30 million in this fund.

  • A myriad of national programs exist that divide the funds across the country; the Canada Music Fund alone has $26 million dollars to dole out.

  • CanCon is a set of requirements specified by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that employs a quota requiring radio stations to play a certain percentage of music from Canada to further nurture the Canadian culture and benefit their artists.

Despite Bengloff's opening statement wishing for the audience to leave “feeling more hopeful about the future of our music industry,” the dismal facts and the dreary day left me feeling only disillusioned.

Shortly thereafter, I was comforted by FMLY members Emily Reo and Philip Seymour Hoffman (né Noah Klein) with open arms and vegetable curry. The intimate gathering brought together something like 20 people in a basement, with a projector flashing Mario Kart and later the independently-made Bridgetown Records documentary.

Noah Klein sips the heavenly brew in preparation for the Bridgetown Records viewing.

The event was joined by Cloud Nothings, who with two keyboards and two guitars, successfully recreated “Didn't You”, “Even If It Worked Out”, “Morgan”, and “Can't Stay Awake” in instrumental form. Their renditions were jovially reminiscent of the MIDI ringtones that existed on now-prehistoric mobile devices. The triple threat of dinner-party-show was the perfect appetizer for the night of loud, abrasive, and hectic that was to come.

The night began with a stop to Bruar Falls for the Forest Family Records Showcase, where Cole Furlow of Mississippi's Dead Gaze was getting going with a guitar in hand and a drummer by his side. Dead Gaze unleashed brazen guitar and drums that were far from the more electronic feel of his recordings. Embedded in the set was an aura of Americana, but it was sometimes unnoticable under the crunchy guitar and heavy reverb. The combination induced both head-nodding and dancing in the audience.

Just a few blocks down at the Knitting Factory, Barreracudas – who the audience seemed to love, but I just didn't get – were wrapping up their set in preparation for Davila 666. The boisterous sextet took the stage, immediately diving into track after track from their 2011 In the Red release Tan Bajo. Despite the language difference, the band banged out “Tan Bajo”, “Obsesionao”, and “Robacuna” and more than a handful of the audience sang along. My view from right under the toes and tequilas of the band assurred me that the haunting element of the recorded vocals was recreated. Every song was sang by every member at all times. Each band member was enthusiastically energetic, enough to stand out individually and create a fantastic show as a group, just like Captain Planet.

Following their set, I ended up across the bridge at Drom nightclub to see araabMUZIK. I knew vibes would be weird, but not nearly as weird as I'd have expected. The crowd was composed of slow-sipping babes, hyfy ravers, flannel-wielding white guys, and dudes in fitteds, and they bumped and slithered to the base jams. At the conclusion of the always awesome “I'm On One,” araabMUZIK tilted the brim of his fitted hat down and started murdering his MPC relentlessly. The set modulated between ethereal downtempo and grimey club beats, including “Streetz Tonight”, “Make It Happen”, and others from the killer trance-dance album of the year Electronic Dreams (Duke Productions). Throughout the set, he remained quiet – merely entering the stage to kill it – while random interjections were provided by what was either his hype man or some random that got ahold of too much drank. I would rather have Busta.

The end of the night brought me back to Brooklyn, where I arrived at Glasslands for the True Panther Showcase to see the band I'd been waiting for most: Trash Talk. Despite the stacked line-up of label-mates King Krule, Tanlines, Little Red, and Teengirl Fantasy, vibes were weird. Weird enough for lead singer Lee Spielman to acknowledge and apologize for subjecting the majority of the showgoers, innocent bystanders that they were, for what they were about to experience. Infused with adrenaline (or perhaps liquid confidence) I entered the pit assured that my Doc Martens would garner enough protection from the punches that I would inevitably endure.

It is easy to automatically lump and label Trash Talk as one particular type of hardcore band, but it is even easier to recognize them for the elements of their live performance: abrasive, violent, fast, and loud. In no more than half an hour, they pounded through their recently released Awake EP (True Panther Sounds) as well as old gems like “Sacramento is Dead” while managing to simultaneously incite absolute chaos within the pit and above it.

After being forcefully ejected from the pit by two manimals asserting their masculinity (i.e. headbutting me from both sides), I couldn't help but feel overwhelmingly excluded. The poor representation of female presence in the pit followed them to the Life or Death PR Showcase that Trash Talk played the next night, perhaps asserting the popular notion that the pit is for angry boys only. Let me briefly digress. MEN: I don't need to be apologized or babied when I'm in the pit, but do not purposefully attack me to bolster your own confidence. I don't need any proof of how “hard” or “tough” you are, I'm just trying to enjoy the show as much as you. Jeez. Thought this argument was settled in the early '90s.

Everything was mollified as Spielman's hand appeared on my shoulder to hoist himself up the banister and onto the balcony for an impromptu show above ground. Leaving destruction in their wake, Trash Talk concluded the set around 3 A.M. and I was left with a greater admiration for the band than ever before. Can't say I admired the pit dudes, though.

As the week went on, I started feeling less overwhelmed by the entire CMJ experience. Finding myself generally disillusioned by the panels, I decided to stick to shows (although I can't say I'm pleased that I missed the Tribe Called Quest documentary). Some highlights:

DIVE, the 3-piece krautrock offshoot from members of Beach Fossils and Smith Westerns, played 285 Kent in what felt like an unofficial Captured Tracks showcase. It was the first time I saw anyone get seriously groovy at 285 Kent.

DIVE – Sometime from DIVE on Vimeo.

• After being so excited to see Amen Dunes perform their newest, Through Donkey Jaw (Sacred Bones), I somehow managed to miss their microscopically short set at 285 Kent that spanned the duration of a cigarette and a half.

• Thanks to Jenn Pelly & Luke McCormick for introducing me to Cities Aviv. Digital Lows (Fat Sandwich Records) can be found here and has been my most repeated album since I've been back. Somehow the Depeche Mode sample in “Die Young” has me feeling okay that I missed Amen Dunes, since I was learning about this band in the duration.

• Is it embarrassing to sing along to every word of Widowspeak's set, y'all? Because I did.

• Despite the blatant sexism, I saw Trash Talk 3 times throughout the week.

• Speaking of which, thanks to the 5 beat producers I met over the week that complimented my assets in attempt to lure me into playing their beats on my radio show.

• Where in the WORLD can I find the leather harem pants and matching ensemble Shannon Funchess of Light Asylum was wearing at the Fader Fort by Fiat party?

King Krule (i.e. ZooKid) killed it in his first few American performances, but I couldn't help but spen the entire time wondering when M.I.A and her batallion of redhead assasins were going to appear from backstage and murk poor Archy Marshal.

In the wake of CMJ 2011, my brain hurts, my cellphone is gone, my contact lenses are somewhere outside the Cake Shop, and my bank statement has too many instances of late-night falafel, but I had fun. The experience of having a badge was extremely exciting and sometimes extravagan. It allowed me to experience music that I would otherwise have felt stingy about paying to see. But being badged up quickly made me realize that I believe in DIY culture a lot more than any of that corporate crap. With the demise of the economy, we need to support it from tanking while we still can. We must work together as musicians, artists, writers, publicists, funders, stage hands, tour managers, and whomever else, to bolster our relevance in daily society, equalize our scene for everyone participating, and promote artists that are viable to break free from their days in this underground subculture; such talent is better left shared than unheard. If our society refuses to do so federally, the least we can do is create equality and democracy sonically.