For those who haven’t been, the CMJ Music Marathon is like a slightly more shy and more sensible cousin of the beast that is South by Southwest. In theory, it is five nights of complete and unadulterated music mayhem, with over 1000 bands playing their hearts out to nearly 100,000 music fans, all crammed into 100 different venues spread out between Manhattan & Brooklyn.
In reality CMJ 2008 was a slightly less grandiose affair this year, with most of the highlights taking place in small, sweaty basement venues, with relatively unknown acts all scrambling for your attention.
Now don’t get me wrong, CMJ has the potential to surpass the better known SXSW and when they get it right, they really get it right. For example, Arcade Fire playing the relatively tiny Mercury Lounge (about the size of Whelan’s) in 2004, that’s a highlight. The Knife performing their jaw-droppingly amazing American debut in 2006, even better!
This year however, was a slightly less glamorous affair, with no immediate must-see headliners grabbing your complete and utter attention. Instead, music fans were treated to a fine selection of smaller upcoming acts hailing from across the States and beyond, and all with something to say.
First off, we had the one that was on everyone’s lips – Passion Pit. From Boston, the unassuming Michael Angelakos has been swooning audiences with live material from his recently released Chunk of Change EP. A combination of catchy, electronic-infused pop and old fashioned feel-good lyrics, Passion Pit are being tipped as this year’s MGMT-definitely ones to watch.
Stumbling into one of the excellent (and free) day time parties, I was pleasantly surprised to catch Project Jenny Project Jan, leaping about onstage with the same uninhibited enthusiasm they displayed the last time they were in Dublin, with Fujiya & Miyagi. Ridiculously fun and over the top, their debut XOXOXOXO cites everything from cheap Bollywood soundtracks to dingy 1930’s swing music as inspiration, and is definitely well worth checking out.
A lot of people we met were raving on about Marnie Stern, who despite playing and performing for over 10 years, is only now being labelled as rock’s next big thing. Squeezing myself into the tiny basement of the Cake Shop in Manhattan, I managed to catch the second half of her set. I was treated to some serious finger tapping guitar playing, with a sound reminiscent of Deerhoof.
Not to be outdone, the Irish music scene was well represented with Giveamanakick, Hooray for Humans, Heathers, The Blizzards, and Derry boys Fighting with Wire, all gracing the stage at the annual Irish showcase. Organised by Angela Dorgan and Music from Ireland, this annual event continues to impress with the sheer volume and quality of music fans attending.
One awestruck spectator had driven for two hours just to catch Heathers’ performance, which, as always managed to totally captivate a spellbound audience. While not quite managing to reach the heights of previous years, CMJ 2008 was still an amazing music-filled few days and managed to whet the appetite for the other aforementioned music beast, SXSW 2009’¦roll on Austin.
For much more of an idea of what CMJ is what CMJ is and including interviews & tunes with Passion Pit, Marnie Stern, Beachhouse Project Jenny Project Jan, Heathers, Giveamanakick, The Blizzards and Hooray for Humans, check out the two-part CMJ special podcast, which should be airing sometime soon, courtesy of your CMJ friend, State.ie
Passion Pit – Music Hall of Williamsburg
Heathers – Bowery Poetry Club
Giveamanakick – Bowery Poetry Club
Hooray for Humans – Bowery Poetry Club
Crystal Antlers – The Cake Shop, Manhattan