B-RAD's CMJ Adventure
Every year in mid-October, music directors and other staff from around the country flock to New York City for the CMJ Music Marathon and Radio Conference. I fortunately got the chance to fly out to the Big Apple as the music director for KCSU, to experience the hype of CMJ. This was my first time going to New York City, so I knew I was in for an awesome time.
College Media Journal (CMJ) is the website each college radio station is subscribed to, and each station adds new albums each week to a Top 200 list that helps CMJ track what college stations are listening to the most. The list is updated each week with the overall top albums from all the stations.
CMJ Music Marathon is a week-long music festival with bands and artists playing at various music venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Bands and artists such as Panda Bear, Neon Indian, Ex Hex, Tobias Jesso Jr., Kamasi Washington and Titus Andronicus were at the top of the lineup, as well as hundreds of others playing throughout the week. This year’s marathon was held October 13-17, but my co-director Jackson and I arrived at La Guardia Airport on October 11, to get an extra day to explore the city.
We stayed at my friend from high school’s apartment in the Bronx, and instantly were seeing live music at their unofficial CMJ pre-party. It was nice to get right into the live music scene there and start the week off right with various Fordham University bands playing for us late into the evening. Local band, Ghost King drew in the biggest crowd and had the basement up for grabs with their fast playing and alternative sound.
On Monday, Jackson and I decided to partake in more of the touristy things to do in New York City since I had never been there before. We walked around Central Park and stumbled on an Italian Columbus Day parade and watched the floats for a while before heading over to Strawberry Fields and the John Lennon Memorial. Everyone surrounded the “Imagine” mosaic on the ground and “Let It Be” could be heard by a street performer nearby. It was cool to see a huge turnout for the great John Lennon.
Next, we ventured into the heart of Manhattan passing all of the various Halal food stands, before entering the craziness of Times Square. This was the part of the trip where I was so overwhelmed with the people around me that I knew I would never want to live in that part of the city, or even go through it. It was cool to see all of the big advertisements surrounding me and the New Year’s Eve ball, but that was enough for me since I could barely walk down the street without bumping into someone else.
We went and checked out the Rockefeller Center and took a subway from Grand Central Station to a Chicago Cubs bar in lower-Manhattan. Since I am from Chicago, this was one of the highlights of the trip for me because of how rowdy it got in there and made me feel like I was watching the game at home. After the win, we walked across the street to an official CMJ pre-party with the band Yvette, which was at Elvis Guesthouse, one of the CMJ Music Marathon venues. The music was painfully loud but cool because of the band’s use of looping pedals and the fact they only were a guitarist and drummer.
The 13th came and officially marked the start of CMJ. Jackson and I went to the Dream Hotel – the CMJ headquarters for the week – and picked up our badges to get us in to all of the concerts and promoter parties. We briefly stayed for a panel talking about the new light and sound show Microsoft was doing for one of the CMJ artists, Neon Indian. They explained how they used Kinects and different types of fabric materials surrounding the DJ to alter the sound by pushing and pulling the fabric around them. They would later talk about the new Neon Indian live performance, which uses the same Kinects but projects crazy visuals on the screen behind the band.
We got on a subway towards Brooklyn to go to a music director mixer at the venue, Baby’s All Right. Here we made a bunch of connections with other music directors and promoters, talking about what we did at KCSU and just hanging out. It was nice to hear how other music directors handle their department at different stations and see how KCSU compared. It was also great to meet a bunch of new people who we were going to see at shows and parties throughout the week.
Our Tuesday night consisted of a Co-Sign rooftop party with music from Dilly Dally and the huge New York City skyline behind them. We took an Uber back to the venue from the night before, Elvis Guesthouse, and saw Coke Weed, and Michigan band, Heaters. Heaters was one of my favorites of the week with their psychedelic garage rock sounds and heavy reverb on the guitar. They put on a great hour-long show that resulted in a two song encore following that. Elvis Guesthouse was a really intimate venue in which you could not see the band if it was really crowded.
After Heaters, I went to Fontana’s for my favorite act of the week, Space Bacon. This band was way more up my alley compared to the other CMJ bands because of their heavy use of improvising and jamming. The only jam band on the bill, Space Bacon took the crowd to uncharted places with spacy electronic jams and a quick guitar on top. They encored with a cover of “Rock Candy” by one of my favorite bands The Disco Biscuits, and that was the icing on the cake for a great first night of the CMJ Music Marathon.
Wednesday was College Radio Day, and Jackson and I got an even better look at how other college stations run across the country. There was a Music Director panel, which was really insightful because we learned how other music directors handle their music department. We got the idea that KCSU has it great because of how many volunteers we have helping us with album reviews and putting them in our music rotation. Some of the music directors were the only ones in their staff and had to do all of the work that we get help with. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip to talk to these music directors and compare our stations and how we run. It really showed me that KCSU is one of the best stations out there, and I love what I do.
That night we headed over to Santos Party House in Manhattan and saw some heavier alternative music that I could not help but bang my head to. Hooton Tennis Club, an English band started off the night in which we also saw Protomartyr and Perfect Pussy, two of the bigger bands on the lineup. Jackson and I were in the second row and I was making eye contact with Protomartyr’s singer, Joe Casey, the entire set. His monotone vocals on top of heavy-hitting music behind him lead to a solid performance that seemed to go by so quick. Perfect Pussy came on next and took it a notch higher with the guitarist breaking a string within the first minute of playing.
I had to leave New York City on Friday so on Thursday Jackson and I went to check out the new World Trade Center before the music later that night. The World Trade Center is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and has two pools of water the size and location where the original towers were. This was truly a surreal site looking down at these pools where the old towers used to be and then looking up at this massive new building in front of us.
Thursday night had us getting to Bowery Ballroom early for the act that topped the lineup, Panda Bear. Panda Bear took us on a trip through hell and space with his really psychedelic music and crazy visuals behind him. It was cool to go to one of the iconic New York venues, and see one of my favorite artists perform for an hour and a half playing most of his new album and classics from past albums. His voice is so tantalizing and with the addition of echo effects and reverb on his voice made me feel like I was in a dream; especially with the trippy visuals behind him. Sometimes you could see the grim reaper motioning for you to come with him, it was wild.
Overall I had an awesome time at CMJ and New York, and learned a lot about music and radio. I definitely want to make a trip back to New York City in the future, and I will miss the food the most. When you can go into a deli or pizza place at any time of the day and get amazing food, it’s hard to leave.