This — along with our showcase schedule — will be the only post for today, as we prepare to leave our desks, bring our laptops on the road and begin the experience that is CMJ. Tucked somewhere between musical exuberation and clinical torture, this experience is both an exercise in endurance and keeping my cynicism in check. So before I begin, let me take a moment to get it out of my system.
Like most things in music, CMJ’s popularity and “fun-ness” comes in waves. Depending on who you ask, its always the “best CMJ I’ve ever seen” or “its just not the same as it used to be.” I’ve found that this is more a poll of how long a person has been coming to the city for this marathon than anything else. For instance, if you can say things like “I remember when Nirvana and R.E.M. played,” chances are you could care less how many times The Muslims or Vivian Girls are playing in 2008. Conversely, if this is your first CMJ, it will inevitably be etched in your memory as a classic long after the hype of this year’s “it” band has died (which, based on many professional surveys is about 6 months).
The reality for this cynical editor is that I fit in between the two. My “classic” shows are shelved within the last seven years, so they have yet to hit legendary status, but they are indelibly embedded in my brain therefore making any experience I can have pale in comparison. What makes me even more cynical is that my experiences and enjoyments of the CMJ Music Marathon closely follow the patterns of the industry. Let me explain.
The music industry is actually a very predictable wave that ebbs and flows with the cultural and economical patterns of our society. Much like my personal experiences at CMJ, about 3 years ago marked a peak for the independent artist. An unsigned band in Clap Your Hands Say Yeah was the one everyone was talking about and my favorite CMJ experience of all time took place one Friday late-night when Les Savy Fav played a basement show at Cake Shop. In reality, I never cared much for Clap Your Hands, but their rise did signal a very powerful shift in the music industry; the independent artist was king of CMJ again.
If three years ago was the peak of the wave, the few years before also saw great things; like being able to catch TV On The Radio, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes in small venues (and they all still lived in NY). As well as the few years since, like seeing Dan Deacon play an unofficial CMJ show at Silent Barn last year — a show that was so packed, Mr. Deacon got sick from heat exhaustion and had to cut his set short. In case you can’t read between the lines, I like small, intimate shows where I feel like I’m one of the few enjoying these experiences so I can brag about them later. Some call me a hater; I call it being a lover of the finer things in life. Most people eat McDonalds, I prefer Filet Mignon.
So where does this year’s events fit on the flow chart? Well, I think we are still witnessing a very productive time for the independent artist, but they are moving into bigger venues and playing more and more shows. There are also more and more sponsors to accommodate the price of these bigger shows and making sure that we all know who are the popular bands helping to pump their brand. In other words, the indie darlings are moving away from Filet Mignon and slowly becoming a Big Mac.
But with every cynical diatribe, there must be a silver lining. When all of the important bands are playing tons of shows or at big venues, the best finds will be even harder to… well… find. And that is where the excitement of every CMJ comes from. As we post re-caps of our experiences from the 2008 installment of the CMJ Music Marathon, there will be standout moments from all of our reporters. For me personally, I would like to think those experiences will come from bands that I (or you) have never heard of. That’s not to say I won’t be blown away by someone I already knew existed. Don’t let me fool you. I’m a sucker for the hype like everyone else; just give it to me served with a red wine and shallot sauce.