Archive for October, 2008

CMJ ’08? I didn’t have a badge!

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Long ago, I was a KWUR DJ. And got to go to CMJ, with a badge and everything. In those days, banks actually had money. This year, I didn’t have a badge. And look at the banks now…Being in New York, however, I had the opportunity to go to some of the events. The actual DJs have already covered all the bands that I saw, but I did get a nice little recap from some other attendees. There were lots of complaints about this year’s festival, but there were a few stand-outs. So, here are some bands that people were talking about at the after party/various other parties:

Wye Oak
-Apparently, it’s mind-blowing that they’re only two people.

The Mae Shi
-Long story short (or short story shorter, rather), Kenny’s right

Passion Pit
Lots of people wanted to see them, but no one I talked to actually did. Most people were waiting until Saturday’s planned rooftop show to see them, but the show got rained out.

Kirsten Ketsjer
-Okay, no one actually said anything about them. But we saw on Friday night in what was essentially some dude’s bedroom. By Sunday, their picture was in the Times. ‘Nuff said.

So Many Dynamos
-Granted, this is from people who already knew the Dynamos very well. But, apparently, the new album is awesome. And doesn’t come out until February. Smarmy bastards.

-Everybody I spoke to saw them. Suprisingly, everyone came out alive.

Sea Em Jay Blog: "My face still hurts from getting a trashcan thrown at it"

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Hey folks,

Sorry I took my sweet time getting this post up, but by the time we got back last night, it was 4 in the morning, and I decided that I should at least try to get 5 hours of sleep. So, let’s go back to Saturday, a simpler, wackier time.

Because of CMJ, I actually happened to be in town for the unreal vinyl collector wet dream that is the WFMU Record Fair, and I cajoled my fellow attendees (primarily sleepy Kenny) to wake up early so that we could go for just a little bit. WFMU is a thousand watt non-commercial freeform radio station based out of Jersey City, and basically, my personal idea of what KWUR should aspire to. Every year, they invite every obsessive record dealer in America to hock their wares in the city. The selection made me go cross-eyed: everything from old country shellac to impossible to find punk records to 100 dollar Northern Soul 45s to a whole big box of song poem 45s. Additionally, WFMU was broadcasting live from the air. A DJ was spinning 45s, and while we were there, a DJ actually got married on the air. Anyone want to step up to get married during KWUR’s Hustle Week? I had to be torn out of the record fair, but I came out with a few groovy soul 45s, which I intend to play on my show, so, ahem, tune in, Sundays at 7.

After that, we headed to Music Hall of Williamsburg to catch the AAM party. Last time I went to Music Hall of Williamsburg, it was called NorthSix, and had a charming shithole quality to it. I remember distinctly that the toilets in NorthSix were not even in bathrooms, but merely had tall plywood boards erected around them for, uh, privacy of some sort. Alas, the folks from the Bowery Ballroom bought the venue and prettied it up. We caught the last couple of songs by Crystal Antlers, which didn’t really make much of an impression on me. Next up were the Ruby Suns, a New Zealand band with an electronic, exotic, upbeat, happy New Order kind of sound. Can’t say exactly why, but it just didn’t grab me at all. After that, we watched A Place To Bury Strangers put on the kind of noise show that makes your lip curl up and your feet stomp through the floor. Their drummer is tight and their guitars squeal, fuzz and yelp like broken robot animals. I enjoyed the show, but I also couldn’t tell you what makes them any better than any other eighties/early nineties noise rock band. I was going to leave at this point to try and catch Passion Pit, per DJ Alex Esche’s request, but I found out that the show was canceled (boo!), so, having no other plans, I stuck around to watch Monotonix again. Once again, they tore it up most veritably, although because of the time, the larger venue, and the audience of mostly industry professionals, they did not do it to the extent they did in the Knitting Factory. It was really neat, however, to see them get the industry stiffs going, and to have the lead singer instruct us to go “fucking wild” at the count of four. This is the kind of rock and roll I really like, the kind that grabs you by the collared shirt and shakes the groove out of you.

We got some grub in Chinatown, and then DB and I headed over to the Bowery Ballroom to catch Marnie Stern, Vivian Girls et al. First up, noise rockers All The Saints. Most of what we saw at CMJ, especially on Saturday, were these noisy, amp fuzz bands. I enjoyed and appreciated most of those shows, but also thought that the music was generally indistinct, and yearned for those good old fashioned harmonies and the good old build-up and release of pop. All The Saints was a good example. I thought the show was alright, especially the drummer, who was a freakin’ nut, but I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what makes them special, or why you should keep an eye out for them. After them, Marnie Stern. I was disappointed by this show, no lie. I had high hopes for it, and while Marnie Stern’s combination of weird, child-like yelped lyrics and Malmsteen-like fingertapping was certainly interesting, I yearned for just one goddamn distinct song. It all kind of blended together. After Marnie Stern, my favorite show of the night, The Vivian Girls. See, this is the kind of thing I like, a three girl trio specializing in Ramones-style surf/girl group informed punk with fuzzy guitars and lovely vocal harmonies. Y’know, it’s nice sometimes to have two minute songs with harmonies and vocal hooks. I say, check these folks out, pretty good. I ended the day as I began it: Crystal Antlers. The blogs are championing these guys. I dunno, it was a high-energy, engaging show, but again, I don’t know what distinguishes them from all the other noisy bands, and I certainly don’t remember any one song. But hey, maybe I was just tired.

So that was CMJ, as colloquial and badly written as I can get it. I’ll get pictures up for you folks ASAP. Fare thee well.

CMJ Day 2: I probably should have invested in earplugs (Kenny)

Monday, October 27th, 2008

It has occurred to me that perhaps not all of you readers know exactly what CMJ is, so I’ll direct you here for all the pertinent background info.

In any case, we began Day 2 with a quick(ish) visit to the WFMU Record Fair. Afterward, we headed over to Music Hall of Williamsburg to catch the AAM showcase. Here’s the breakdown:

The Ruby Suns

Only caught the end of this show. The band is a multi-instrument duo from New Zealand who (on record) sound like they’re channeling The Go! Team through a psychedelic filter. Unfortunately, I didn’t find them to be as impressive on stage, but from what I caught, it certainly wasn’t a bad way to start the day.

A Place To Bury Strangers

There was no shortage of noise rock at CMJ, but A Place To Bury Strangers was, in my opinion, by far the best of the pack. They took the stage wordlessly but not silently, blasting their dark take on shoegaze with the volume set to 11. I’d heard that these guys put on a hell of (a loud) show, and I was not disappointed. There were industrial undertones playing throughout the show, with strong tension between the solid, churning bass and the wild, almost chaotic guitar line. The visual show (rare among other acts ) was impressive as well. I stood close to the stage (which, unsurprisingly, was pretty empty) to get a few good shots of the band, and as a result was partially deaf (hence the title) afterward.

Near the end of the show, Oliver Ackermann, the guitarist, forcibly removed the strings from his guitar:

Crystal Antlers

I was in and out for this show, but I caught a full set later in the evening at the Bowery Ballroom. They, too, made a hell of a lot of chaotic noise, but only one song really stood out for me – a kinda funky, swinging melody backed by primal, forceful drumming (aided by dual percussionists). They, like many bands at CMJ, played well but not particularly memorably.


What can I say – we noticed that these guys were finishing off the AAM show and, with no other plans, we stuck around to see what they could do to this venue (I heard, but did not witness, that they had been forcefully removed from the VICE afterparty after setting up shop on the bar). The show was crazy (though not as outright insane as last night’s) but knowing what to expect, I actually took some time to listen to the music they were making amidst the chaos. Pitchfork’s photographer bitched about the quality of their music, but you know what, I thought it was pretty damn good garage rock ala Zep – and based on the reactions of those around me, I think other people felt the same way.

After the showcase ended, we grabbed a bite to eat and wandered around the city for awhile in the rain. Shainks and I decided to head back to the Knitting Factory to try to get into Dieselboy, but the show wasn’t accessible with a CMJ badge and cost 20 bucks. We trekked to the Bowery, met up with Dan and Dylan, and saw…

Vivian Girls

This Brooklyn trio has been hyped by a lot of blogs – and in this case, they absolutely deserve it. They play loud, messy, lo-fi punk/garage rock (like, sounds like you’re hearing it in a garage – not a bad thing), but deconstruction of the noise reveals awesome vocal harmony, jangly guitar and drumming that’ll get yr foot a’tappin. This was their last show of the week (they had played 2 shows a day almost every day), and they looked a little worn down, but they sounded great. At one point, they started a song off-beat and had to begin again, and at another, Cassie forgot some lyrics. In the end, though, none of that mattered – they rolled with the punches and played one hell of a show.

We caught up with the band after the show and got a quick interview, check back here for it a little later.

That more or less sums up the shows we saw – nothing quite as nutso-crazy-awesome as yesterday, but good performances nonetheless.

Monotonix Eentarveeeww

Monday, October 27th, 2008

I had a quick chance to speak with Yonatan Gat, guitarist of Monotonix, after their show at Music Hall of Williamsburg (before security kicked us out). It was barely a minute (audio coming soon!). Here is a text preview:

Me: How would you want people to remember you in 30 years?
Yonatan: Rich and bald.

CMJ Day 1: Descent Into Madness (Kenny)

Saturday, October 25th, 2008



9:30 – Wake up on the floor, get up, take a shower, have breakfast. I do not remember much – I am not a morning person.

11:00 – Just picked up badges at a church near NYU’s campus. There is a Voltaire quote on the church’s bulletin board – a sign?

12:30 – We all attend an actual conference event – “Little Stations, Big Obstacles.” It appears that other people are going through the same things we are, which is somewhat encouraging. My favorite panelist is Jorge doCouto – he is involved with East Village Radio, which is a wonderful concept executed in the much the same way KWUR is, but on a more professional level (they try to make money).

1:46 – Panel over, we head off in separate directions. I make my way to the Knitting Factory with the fine Mr. David Schainker.

2:15 – We arrive at the Knitting Factory in time to catch our first show of the festival, Carcrashlander. They make a lot of noise for three guys (drums, bass and synth) and certainly aren’t bad, but the fact that I don’t remember much of the show suggests perhaps that they were not great. Good, most definitely not great.

2:45 – Shainks departs, I get lunch in Chinatown (mmm McDonalds – an authentic, culturally stimulating meal) and head back to the Knitting Factory to catch Starfucker.

3:40 – Starfucker puts on a good show, but they seem, to me, to replicate the sound that MGMT made popular (that is to say, glitch-synth pop). The hipsters dig it.

4:00 – After a few songs, I make my way to Arlene’s Kitchen to catch part of the Team Clermont showcase.

5:00 – I’m now at the Team Clermont showcase, and I catch all of The Broken West’s set. They’ve certainly got a lot of energy, but their style of melding folksy rock and poppy hooks doesn’t do a whole lot for me. I need music that’s rough around the edges… but, I still enjoyed the show.

6:00-7:45ish – We get dinner with some KSLU folks, meander, etc, and eventually head over to the Bowery Ballroom for the next round of bands.

8:00 – Sweet Water is supposed to play first, but for whatever reason, The Muslims come on instead. It’s more than a fair trade – The Muslims kick ass. They play angry, stripped down garage punk rock with every bit of their energy focused on their instruments. One of the guitarists, face contorted, looks as if he’s trying to physically punish his guitar. It’s catchy as hell – not obnoxious but plenty loud, perhaps in the vein of Ted Leo but even more intense. My only complaint is that the show is too short, clocking in at just over 20 minutes.

9:10 – Japanese Motors is up next. I had specifically picked this band to see because we’d received a single from Vice, their label, a few days prior to our leaving and I’d liked its laid-back, surf rock/Beach Boys sound. Their live show captured that sound, and I still like that particular song, but the rest of their material is lackluster. The lead singer is a dead ringer for Iggy Pop, in looks and attitude, which wouldn’t have been a problem except: A. the music didn’t really back the attitude (punk evolved, in a way, from surf rock, but these guys just didn’t get it) and B. the lead singer made up for his overabundance of style with a severe lack of substance. Spitting beer on the crowd, really only okay if it’s a no-holds-barred, all-hell-has-broken-loose-and-the-5-0-are-on-their-way kind of show, and believe me, it wasn’t. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

9:40 – More meandering, grab some coffee in Chinatown and head to the Knitting Factory for our last round of shows of the day.

10:40 – We arrive at the Knitting Factory in time to catch the end of Akimbo’s set. I’ve got a big ol’ soft spot in my heart for stoner metal, and this hits it dead-on. Granted, the genre itself is predictable and the show followed the paradigm – loud, heavy, freak-out guitars hooks and pounding drums transition to psychedelic, spacey noodling and back again – but they hit every note with unparalleled energy. Very much in the vein of Kyuss. A good start.

11:00 – Dan Burton and I catch the end of Yip Yip’s set. He doesn’t care for them, but I like it – it’s like listening to a live, chaotic version of the Megaman soundtrack and the audience was going batshit insane. Also, I want one of those guys’ headgear.

11:10 – Akimbo mentioned that they’d be heading down to see DMBQ, so DB and I figured we’d do the same, kill time until The Mae Shi. DMBQ plays Japanese prog-rock, which I neither liked nor disliked right away. I’d categorize it as a faster and weirder cross between Black Sabbath and The Doors – garage rock on speedballs. After 10 minutes or so, the hooks and beats have been sufficiently pounded into my head, and although it’s been fun, I’m looking at my watch and considering going upstairs to wait for The Mae Shi.

And then this happens, and my night and life are changed forever:

First the lead singer dons his crazy gas-mask-mic, the bass and guitar lines meld into a high pitch whine, and then this:

And I lose it. That was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, period. The drummer is playing ON TOP OF THE CROWD, the lead vocalist is screaming and hanging from the sprinkler system, and the people who run the venue are going nuts. My ears and mind are sufficiently blown.

11:45 – Outside, taking a smoke break and waiting for The Mae Shi to go on, I mention to DB that we should just go home now because nothing will ever top what we just saw. So wrong.

12:00 – The Mae Shi take the stage with almost religious fervor. They’re just so damn happy to be there, and it makes you happy too. Their music, played live, fluctuates between experimental electronica and hardcore. At one point they introduce a large parachute-tent sheet into the crowd:

The crowd is very much into the music, which is at once catchy and bizarre, a rare musical mix of avant-garde and pop sensibilities.

12:40 – The Mae Shi have left, and we are considering doing the same to catch Gang Gang Dance. Shainks, who has been at other venues up until this point (catch up with his antics in his account of day one, somewhere on this blog), informs the three of us that Santo’s is at capacity and that there’s no way we’ll get in. Monotonix is up next at the Knitting Factory, and we nearly leave to go home, but in the end decide to stay for it.

1:10 – Monotonix take the stage, at this point all I can offer you is pictures.

Quick rundown of things that flew through the air during the show: beer cans, cups, a pair of crutches, a garbage can, a drum kit, human bodies, blood, sweat, tears of joy.
Injuries: No idea, probably more than a few, saw a musician from another band bust his head open on a bass drum. He seemed unphased.

Every single band that had played that night was on stage during the show, while Monotonix themselves played in the pit. At one point they picked everything up and moved it to within two feet of where we were standing. The lead singer scaled a giant pillar and hung from the balcony, singing and tossing the VIP attendees’ alcoholic beverages on us. Security and techies looked on with stony faces.

The show ended in total convergence of musician and audience. The lead singer declared “ALL DRUMS UP IN AIR” – this was the tipping point, there was no going back from here. DMBQ joined them in the crowd, and together we all hoisted 4 drum kits and 4 drummers above our heads. We used whatever we could – fists, cans, discarded drumsticks – to collectively beat the hell out of the drum nearest to us. Complete, ecstatic, beautiful chaos. The show ended with security declaring to the audience that the cops had been called, and that we all needed to leave. Instead, Monotonix organized a group stage-dive – and every musician on stage, on the count of four, fell into the arms (and heads, and necks, and torsos) of the audience. I leave knowing that I have seen, for perhaps the first time in my life, an honest-to-god rock and fucking roll performance. My eyes are opened.

Thus day one ends, as I stare through a thick film of alcohol and sweat on my glasses. Stay tuned tomorrow, God knows where we’ll all end up next.