WSBU’s Programming Director, Matthew Hoey tells us about his experience at CMJ Music Marathon.
Brooklyn is a promised land, of sorts, for young adults who don’t personally have any money, but get bailed out by their well-endowed parents on a regular basis. “I’m working on my music,” they gawk while rolling another joint, ignoring the fact that they don’t have a job. I knew it was hipster central, but I didn’t know the degree of the situation.
CMJ’s flip the beast—the indie genre— on its backside. They give New York City a clear view, no matter how ugly it is, at its bare belly. The scene has become so saturated with first-world angst that any schmuck who can fingerpick a guitar and is a tad bit emotional can gather an audience. This was so apparent during the trip.
The first day of music, seeing shows starting at noon and going until two in the morning, we saw three good bands—Car Seat Headrest, Protomartyr and Neon Indian. Everything else seemed like a waste of time. This shaped the way we mapped out our route for the rest of our days in NYC because really, most of the acts were unheard of. It was kind of a close your eyes and pick a venue sort of thing.
For the undiscovered artists, CMJ’s provide a chance. They may only get one, so even though there were less than ten people at certain shows, the bands still played. That made for some awkward encounters.
The lead singer of a two-piece band that released their album on the day of their show explained, “Yeah, I’ve had a pretty shitty day, for releasing an album.” Good God. The worst part about it was the fact that they were abysmal. I had to feel sorry for him because his day was probably not going to get any better. This sort of angst was prominent in many of the acts during the day at the smaller venues. I don’t know if there’s something in the water in Brooklyn, but every struggling artist acts like all of their rich-kid problems are the least bit significant. It got tiring after awhile.
But, “they say it changes when the sun goes down.” That it does, Alex Turner, and that it did at CMJ’s. As day turned to night, I felt as if we were seeing actual artists perform, and not just talent shows filled with wannabe Brooklynites. People who put in the time to perfect their craft. Better venues. Better sound systems. Acts like Wet, Titus Andronicus and Tobias Jesso Jr. had their audiences eating out of the palm of their hand. That’s the difference between the headlining acts and the struggling artists: control.
New York City is big. I realized that as we were struggling through traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. Artists try to go to NYC to make it. Some do. A lot don’t. We saw a lot of people perform who won’t make it in the industry that week. It’s harsh, I know, but I’m willing to put money on it. Too much happened during the marathon for me to accurately recount our travels. We were on the move from borough to borough at all hours of the day until we passed out on the floor of our friend’s Brooklyn loft each night. That creaky wooden floor couldn’t have been more inviting. I built a strong relationship with that floor over those five nights. I couldn’t have gotten through the week without that floor.