Every October, CMJ Music Marathon takes over venues throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, showcasing the best up and coming bands from all over the country. And music marathon, we did. To cover as much ground as possible over the five days of bandsplosion, we divided and conquered through the dozens of showcases. Latino musicians weren’t too highly represented this year, so we took the only logical approach: pick the weirdest sounding band names and hope for the best. What follows is a recap of the surprising gems (and misses) we found in the back rooms of poorly ventilated venues.
Day One: Empress Of, Kelela, Glasser, The Underachievers, Pro Era, Perfect Pussy, Total Slacker & Sizu
After two weeks of emails blowing up my inbox, the night had arrived to fetch our press passes and embark on the spiritual journey we call CMJ. Pass in hand (not around my neck ’cause i’m not about that life), Daniela and I headed to what was supposed to be the swanky Press Party at the Penthouse of Rivington Hotel. JK! They were at capacity. Luckily, we were a mere walk away from the secret venue where Boiler Room NYC parties are thrown and despite not being on the list, we wiggled our way in with all the cool kids. The bill included CJ Fly from ProEra, Isaiah Rashad who just got signed to Top Dawg Entertainment (SchoolboyQ, Kendrick Lamar), Michael Christmas (who rapped about Micheal Cera) and Brooklyn’s own Beast Coasters (personal favorites) The Underachievers. First, there were 40z and blunts, then there were crazy waves of tension (too much testosterone in one room) when I swore fights were about engulf the space. Finally, there were mosh-pits. After a few shoves and crazy looks from some deranged hyperactive fans, I decided to move my delicate-ass to side of the stage where I danced on my own. Beeeeaaaast Cooooaaaast. – Stefa Alarcon
The Boiler Room
After my quick rendezvous at The Boiler Room with Stefa, I hopped on the L to head over to Music Hall of Williamsburg for the Terrible Records Showcase. I have been slightly (ok, very) obsessed with Empress Of for some months now so I was a giddy little girl to be standing up front and center. Empress Of (who we learned was Honduran, whoop whoop!) played an ethereal set, with her signature Cocteau Twins-inspired falsetto vocals soaring throughout the venue. I was suppressing my fangirl urge to sing along to every song since i’ve played from her EP Systems an embarrassing amount of times, but I was surprised to hear that about 75% of the set was new material which will be featured on her first full length album (which we heard will also be bilingual).
After Empress Of, the Terrible Records showcase continued with one of my favorite new finds this CMJ, Kelela, whose incredible mixtape Cut 4 Me is a dreamy, other worldly, r&b project with some of the best underground producers out now, including Girl Unit, Nguzunguzu, Kingdom, Jam City and more. If you’re into 90s Brandy and Aaliyah mixed with a little production a la Little Dragon, you need to check her out now! Bonus points: Spotted one of my favorite producers Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) in all his 90s-dad-outfit glory whilst getting a drink. I didn’t say hi. – Daniela Cabrera
So, when our Editor told us to go hit the gigs that featured the craziest band names we hadn’t heard before, I decided to go for Perfect Pussy and it was amazing. You’d think that a band with a name like that could either be girly or just some blunt hip hop group being douchebags, but no, Perfect Pussy makes really angsty noise punk rock and plays it live like the giants. I actually feel retarded for not knowing them before, but give me some credit, at least I found them thanks to Sizu—the real reason I went to that show in the first place—who also played with Total Slacker that night at The Flat. – Eric Gamboa
Day Two: ASTR, The Griswalds, Prism House, Coke Weed, Prince Rupert’s Drops & Marijuana Deathsquads
There’s no better anti-stress medicine than alcohol and good music, and dang I was in need of good dose of it. Due to the small amount of Latin bands at CMJ, we resorted to checking out bands that “NO COMPRENDOW ESPAÑOL, MY FRIEND.” My must-see list had Canada’s Bear Mountain at Arlene’s Grocery and local duo ASTR (pronounced Aster, to avoid confusion with Astro) at Pianos, but of course I was tempted to alter my agenda on the go. After my first stop at Arlene’s Grocery, I made way down to Tammany Hall, to find a really awkward performance by Brooklyn’s Prism House.
I had enough of the twitching and headed to Pianos a bit earlier than what I had in mind to find a good spot but crap that place was packed like a can of sardines. Even with the best spot in the house I was feeling the Aussies (The Griswolds) up in the stage (we’ll revisit them at a later post). Finally it was time to check out ASTR, and I must say that home girl has a really awkward pre-performance ritual but because I ended up liking it, I’m not going to say what it is. From her live repertoire I highly recommend “Operate” and “Razor.” – Joel Moya
For the next day, I followed my stoner hunches and tried to catch Coke Weed, but I missed the Maine band. Fortunately, I stayed there for a couple of beers and had the amazing opportunity to discover another band with a weird name called Prince Rupert’s Drops. Not only did I fall in love with their noisey psych-dreampop, I sort of became their groupie. I’m not going to lie, that’s probably because of their cute and gifted vocalist, Leslie Stein, who also happens to be a rabbit enthusiast and a cartoonist for VICE.
Later on that night, still obsessed with the idea of catching a band with a name related to THC somehow, I decided to try Marijuana Deathsquads at the Knitting Factory. And trust me, they do play as weird as their name, if not weirder and more awkward. It was like listening to three angry smurfs rap over hardcore beats made by two drummers during a bad trip of LSD or Special K. I’m not sure I enjoyed it, but it sure was a unique experience I will hardly forget. – Eric Gamboa
Stay tuned for our Part Two Recap featuring Fader Fort, Severus Snape, waiting in lines, Puff Daddy, and lots of free booze. Whoops.