KCSU at CMJ 2014: The Best and Most Memorable
This last week was CMJ week in New York City, and KCSU’s own Cheyenne McCoy and Zach Johnson got the chance to go out to the Big Apple to experience the five-day event. For those unaware, CMJ sees over 1,300 (mostly up-and-coming) bands and countless industry folk descend on Brooklyn and Manhattan; it’s like South by Southwest’s younger sibling. It was a ton of fun, and to reminisce, we want to give away ten titles to ten bands that stood out amongst the crowd. Write-ups by Zach Johnson and Cheyenne McCoy.
Son Little – Best Way to Shut Up an Inattentive Crowd
One of the only flaws of seeing sets at CMJ is that the audience is usually more focused on mingling with old and new friends than actually watching the groups performing. Despite playing really solid soulsy jams, Philadelphia’s Son Little were having trouble getting their low-key tracks to capture an especially talkative group. Band leader Aaron Livingston nipped that in the bud by setting down his guitar in the last song and slowly meandering through the crowd, letting loose an a capella blues verse that shut every mouth in the Fontana’s basement. It was beautiful and personal and elevated a good set to a great one.
PAWS – Most Energetic 2PM Performance
The generic name and the 2-in-the-afternoon time slot were enough for me to almost immediately discount Glasgow three-piece PAWS, but from the first song, they took my opinion and kicked it straight down my throat. They play noisy garage pop and there’s no lack of bands playing that style at the moment, but these guys bring the passion. The drummer took the light-speed route and was drenched in sweat by the second song, and the other two members were no slouches either. The early-afternoon slot prevented a mosh from breaking out, but the set made me want to punch someone in the face in the best way possible.
The Wytches – Most Angsty British Band With The Most Hair
The Wytches’ debut Annabel Dream Reader is a frontrunner for best rookie release of the year, and their live show does not disappoint either. They gave the loudest performance I saw all week and their powerful, psych-y riffs made headbanging an inevitability. Their music is gloomy and mysterious and their live aesthetic gives off the same idea; the young Brits shied away from stage banter entirely and rarely even let their faces be seen through their thick, dark mug of hair. If you haven’t started listening to the Wytches yet, start.
Yonatan Gat – Most WTF-Worthy Performance of the Week
While I saw a bunch of good performances over the course of CMJ, I didn’t really see many experimental ones until I caught Yonatan Gat the last day. I thought the name was just nonsensical, but it turns out Gat is the name of an Israeli guitar virtuoso whose solo work consists of 10+ minute psychedelic world tunes. The drummer was one of the best I’ve ever seen, Gat played with endless energy, and the band opted to play on the floor of the venue (even scooting closer to the crowd halfway through the set) instead of the stage. Catching this on a complete whim led to a slightly head-scratching but ultimately awesome live show experience.
Dune Rats – Most Juvenile, Childish and Subsequently Hilariously Awesome Set
To give you some context about Dune Rats, their last EP’s cover art was a bunk-bed orgy and one of their music videos is the band doing a bong-hit marathon. Their live show is in the same vein; it’s obvious the band is just three dudes from Australia here to have a good time and hopefully get you to do the same. Well, it worked for me. They brought one of the most energetic performances of the week, threw condoms at each other and bantered on stage about their genitalia. It was childish and I’d have to assume somebody in the crowd found it dumb, but the rest of us were having too much fun to care. I had a smile plastered on my face, as did the band and everyone around me. Rock on, Dune Rats.
Celestial Shore – Hardest Band to Dance To
I walked into this show expecting an average and forgettable indie rock band that I could listen to and rhythmically sway my body to until their set was over and I could sit down again. Instead, I found myself face to face with some excellent math rock, which threw me off guard and made me try to find a way to move to their music. These bespectacled Brooklynites blew me away with their experimental and indecisive rock, and I could tell that everyone in the crowd was just as intrigued with Celestial Shore as I was.
Girlpool – Most Likely To Make Your Eardrums Bleed
This is one of the bands that I was most looking forward to seeing at CMJ, and my expectations for their performance were totally exceeded. The two girl guitar duo has so much energy and charisma that I quickly became obsessed with them and could feel the rest of the crowd falling in love with them as well. Girlpool rocked so hard that one of their guitar strings broke during their first song of the set and they had to ask the audience if anyone had a spare guitar they could borrow. During the chorus of their song “Jane,” Harmony blindsided the crowd by screaming directly into the microphone—not just shouting, but high pitched blood curdling screams that made the entire audience jump each time the chorus came around. I appreciated the duo’s ability to keep us on our feet, and I know that it won’t be long until the rest of the world falls in love with them too.
Tweens – Most Outfit Changes
I always appreciate musicians who have killer dance moves even while they’re singing and playing an instrument. Tweens singer Bridget Battle shredded on the guitar, head banged, and even had time for an outfit change (okay so she just took off her sweater, but it basically transformed it into an entirely new outfit). This Cincinnati trash pop band played to a packed room full of people who just wanted to dance, and no one left disappointed. Tweens are a must-hear for anyone who likes fun and angsty girl punk music.
Green Gerry – Most Surprisingly Good Band With A Surprisingly Bad Name
The best part of CMJ is how you can wander from venue to venue and catch really amazing performances from bands you’ve never heard of. At first sight, it was hard for me to expect much from this mismatched band of weirdos, but I was won over by lead singer Gerry Green’s style of speak-singing and the dark and hazy daydreamy music that the band played. They played an extremely unpredictable set that had moments of intensely hard rock, soft a capella poetry, and even declarations of love to a random man in the crowd. Their band name didn’t instantly draw me in, but the energy and spontaneity of their performance completely won me over.
Wampire – Coolest Pretzel Shirt
Their set was great and everything that you would have expected from a set by Wampire at CMJ, but what was even more impressive was band member Eric Phipp’s pretzel shirt. Everyone in the crowd was talking about it, and I would go so far as to say that his pretzel shirt was the real breakout star of CMJ.