As we complain about the stress of having three midterms in one week, hundreds of musical artists flooding Manhattan and Brooklyn this week face the stress of performing three shows in one day. These artists are drawn to the city this week by the CMJ Music Marathon, a five-day festival that features over 1,300 performances in more than 80 of New York’s music venues. (Listen to a sampling of several of the bands here.)
CMJ offers music artists not only the time and space to perform multiple shows—one-man band Golden Bloom, participating in the festival for his fourth year, said he performed four times between Friday and Saturday—but also the opportunity to network with prominent leaders in the music business, from bloggers to industry professionals to other musicians and everyone in between. In addition, musicians and attendees are offered access to workshops, Q-and-A panels, meet-and-greets, and an array of other events on top of the hundreds of performances they can catch between Tuesday and Saturday.
Singer-songwriter Gina Cimmelli, of Brooklyn indie pop band Gina’s Picture Show, cites the networking opportunities as one of the best parts of the festival. “It brings together industry people, performers, and bands, so you can have this heightened experience of networking and community,” Cimmelli said. The festival not only offers artists the opportunity to make professional connections, but also to work with other up-and-coming artists at special events. “For CMJ we’re doing some singer-songwriter circles that I’m participating in, where I’m basically meeting people for the first time and within that hour, writing a song and performing it,” Cimmelli said.
And the term “up-and-coming” is not used lightly: Performers at CMJ have gone on to become big names. Do the names MGMT, The xx, or Arcade Fire ring a bell? All have performed at CMJ within the last 10 years. This year, well-known indie artists Kimbra, Sea Wolf, and The Mountain Goats grace the festival stages. Because of the success that past performers at CMJ have achieved, those who come to perform hope to reach out to potential fans and move toward recognition on a larger scale. “We’ve been lucky because we’ve had some national radio play, so we’ve been able to get a taste of that already, but I think this festival will contribute to making it grow even bigger,” Cimmelli said of her band’s hopes for the festival.
Though performers in the festival hail from all parts, many come from close to home, and some hail straight out of the university community. Ishmael Osekre, GS ‘09, is performing in the festival with his band Osekre and the Lucky Bastards. Their “Afro-indie” style—perhaps reminiscent of another successful band of Columbia grads—works “to create a bridge between the world music vibe and the indie vibe,” according to Osekre. Osekre and the Lucky Bastards is performing shows every day this week, and Osekre has been happy to see some familiar faces from Columbia at their shows. “It’s really nice to know that there’s a community that supports what we’re doing even though we’ve been gone for a while,” said Osekre.
Unlike festivals like Austin’s South by Southwest, CMJ offers its attendees the opportunity to truly saturate their experience with as many shows as possible, largely due to the dozens of available venues between Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as the ease of transport from show to show. “New York is set up to do this kind of thing best. We’ve been to some other festivals in other places that are really well-run, but bands are playing in the corner of a bar with no stage or sound system,” said Golden Bloom’s Shawn Fogel. “When CMJ comes in, you have all these New York venues filled with new stuff.”
New York also draws an advantage from the strong music scene surrounding it, especially in indie artist haven Brooklyn, as well as from its ability to reach out to music fans in the other areas. “I think we’re definitely part of that new wave of Brooklyn indie artists crossing towards mainstream, which is really nice for us,” said Cimmelli. “It’s really great to have a bigger presence in the city and to have people outside of the metropolitan area come see our shows.”
Fogel also commented on the unique music scene the city offers. “Playing shows in New York City is always exciting. There’s always a million different shows going on between Manhattan and Brooklyn, but there’s something particular about CMJ week where everyone’s out and people seem more excited about going out and seeing live music than they normally do,” he said.
For performers, producers, press, and people who love music, CMJ is a must-attend. In few other places will you be able to see singer-songwriters, aspiring R&B pop stars, cheeky female rappers, and solo electronic performers all in one weekend, just a few subway stops away from one another. And unlike Coachella or Lollapalooza, you can enjoy the shows free from the rays of 100-degree sun in the comfort of your home city.
Music editor Charlotte Murtishaw gives you a selection of some of the top musicians performing at CMJ this weekend.
Tall Tall Trees
Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 9 to 9:45 p.m.
Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 (196 Allen St.)
Lest anyone die of an indie rock-pop overdose, bluegrass group Tall Tall Trees is here to provide respite from the smattering of typical Brooklyn bands that CMJ inevitably serves up.
Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 12 to 3:00 p.m.
Cake Shop (152 Ludlow St.)
Ukulele-wielding Dent May just released his new album, “Do Things,” an electronically-inflected progression from his kitschy first offering, “The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele.”
Ghostface Killah hosted by the Alchemist
Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 8 to 10 p.m.
Gramercy Theater (127 E. 23rd St.)
Legendary Ghostface Killah takes the stage a night after fellow Wu-Tang member GZA performs album “Liquid Swords” in its entirety. Let no one say CMJ only brings in small names.
Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 8 p.m.
Webster Hall (125 E. 11th St.)
Yeah yeah, Kimbra is somebody that we used to know, and so on, but that’s so last semester. The Kiwi songstress has ridden the Gotye boom, drawing a considerable following. Now she’s at CMJ, dispensing her own sharp brand of jazz-tinged pop.
Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 1:40 a.m. to 2:25 a.m.
Pianos (158 Ludlow St.)
Atmospheric electronic outlet Hundred Waters isn’t afraid to toot their flute—literally. The elegantly arranged songs feature their ethereal vocals and smatterings of IRL instruments, like the flute and xylophone.
Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 11 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey St.)
Dream pop act Wild Nothing floats through layers of gauzy nostalgia and catchy refrains that summon up visions of summer sun. It’s alright, feel happy: Wild Nothing’s on tonight.