From October 13 through October 17, 2015, College Music Journal celebrated the 35th anniversary of its CMJ Music Marathon. Bringing together artists and music industry professionals from around the world, the festival is five days of non-stop showcases and panel discussions detailing what is new and noteworthy in the industry.
Among the many changes to this year’s festival was the emphasis put on innovation. A day devoted to technology was added on October 13 to showcase how technology could be used to bring bands closer to fans and change how music is made.
The showcases, which flooded various parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn with music and music fans, still reflected an eclectic array of genres with a little something for everyone. Even if you don’t catch the “headlining” artists, there is always something new to discover in every venue and bar.
Given that there is way too much going on for one person to see everything, here is a brief breakdown of my 2015 CMJ Music Marathon experience:
With the expectation that I was going to keep the first night quiet and short, I decided to take in two bands at the Highline Ballroom. Avec Sans took the stage as I walked in the door, providing electro indie-pop with no traditional instruments to speak of. The duo did have these flashing light boards, which were fantastically timed with each other, mixing all the beats and electronic instrument sounds. Night Beds didn’t impress me as much. Two brothers backed by a computer track, they had solid voices, but the performance was too uncoordinated for me.
Night two I ventured out to the Lower East Side, where I would pretty much settle myself for the rest of the festival. Searching for somewhere to start my night before hitting my intended destination, I finally settled on Cake Shop, where I caught the delightful surf-rock sound of Expert Alterations.
Scurrying out before the next band took the stage, I made my way to Fat Baby for a night of Israeli bands, sponsored by Tune In Tel Aviv. The showcase started off with Snir Yamin, whose acoustic flair was enjoyable amid his seeming uneasiness. A proposed sing-along was met with virtually no response from those there. Up next was LFNT, whose appeal lay in their 70’s era suits and folk melodies. Their lyrical content was unexpected and the lead singer’s personality was engaging. He got the majority of the crowd behind him. I was really impressed with Ninet, who, along with her band, rocked the roof off the venue. Ninet’s confidence and presence were strong. Their cover of “Crazy”was exceptional and unique. Tetish (fetish with a “t”) were a good follow-up, more low-key indie, but commanding nonetheless. The last artist I caught, Noa Bentor, announcing that she hadn’t played in New York in 10 years, played acoustic folk.
Venturing even further into the reaches of the Lower East Side for night three, The Delancey was showcasing the latest artist out of Texas for the Texas Takeover showcase. Even though I caught only two bands, they were two of the best I had seen at the festival so far. Mobley’s R&B-tinged indie-rock was on point. He got the crowd involved by placing a snare in the middle of the floor, handing out drum sticks and telling everyone to bang on it. From that point on, there was no other choice than to be 100 percent invested in the rest of the set. LEV took the stage next and really knew how to work it. Their singer oozed sexuality, but was restrained enough to not go overboard.
Friday night, (October 16, night four), I made my way back to Cake Shop. I walked into the noise-punk sounds of Spray Paint, which didn’t do much for me, but seemed to get the crowd going. There was even someone dancing to it, which is the mark of a good punk band. Tweens brought more of that energy, but with a softer edge. Thier female singer was the only actual member of the band, as she announced that she had only met her fellow bandmates only hours before. I found it more enjoyable, and the rest of the crowd was also digging it. Turn To Crime were a bit goofy, but turned out to be my favorite band of the night. Part electronic, part garage rock, they had this geeky charm. Eaters had this nu wave, Depeche Mode thing going for them. They had the venue turn the lights down for their light show, spreading lamps all over their stage and coordinating them with their songs.
For the final night, I made my way to Arlene’s Grocery for the Big Picture Media showcase. The showcase started with Jocelyn and Chris Arndt, a sister and brother duo with a soulful sound drenched in 70s rock guitar. Jocelyn has great control over her voice for her age, and the way she works her mouth around the notes is impressive. A Love Like Pi was a bit nerdy, but they made it work for them. Their lyrical content was very smart and went well with their pop-rock melodies. Malia Grace has this pretty, soulful voice and entertaining stage presence, quipping with the audience every chance she got. However, I feel like her performance would have had more impact if she was backed up by more than just her keyboard. The Gills’ garage-rock set rocked hard with its raw power and distorted, chugging guitars. I was really impressed with HIGHS’ set of indie-rock.Their songs soared with airy melodies and tight beats. Just as impressive was Los Angelics, whose stage presence was infectious. Watching them play their brand of high-energy indie-pop makes you want to dance along with them.
The 2015 CMJ Music Marathon provided just a small glimpse into the immense amount of talent the music industry has to offer. Moving into the future, the festival continues to uphold its 35-year history of innovation in the music industry.