Tonight, the 35th annual
Hunger Games CMJ Music Marathon takes over most clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the start of an eardrum overload that brings hundreds of national and international bands to join our city’s already overstuffed music scene for five days of untamable excess. Though its been a consistent point of focus for decades, there’s been a perception that the festival has been in recent trouble. College radio’s primacy has been challenged by online streaming services, like Spotify or now Apple Music, not to mention searchable treasure troves like YouTube. The 2013 festival made as many headlines for a financing lawsuit as it did for breaking bands. As Adam Klein, president and CEO of new CMJ owners Abaculi Media Inc., enters his second year helming the festival, he thinks those old struggles are behind them.
Klein, an experienced media executive and adjunct professor at Columbia University, knows his shifting audience well. “The reality of the life of an 18-22 year old is if you can’t get it on your mobile device, then it doesn’t really matter anymore,” he says. Most stations in CMJ’s network have adapted to provide live streaming links of their programming, allowing a worldwide window into some of the last definitively non-commercial, freeform outlets music fans have left. Moving forward, Klein sees the festival shifting its focus to capitalize on its large network of affiliated campuses, and get out of the New York City in the festival’s off-season. “A couple of things are very clear,” says Klein. “The first is we have to be much more year-round. We can’t be so much built around a five-day event. That plus a combination of our fantastic college radio footprint across the country, we’ve got a whole program that will take us year-round to different parts of the country. We’re just building, building, building from here.”
Whether or not Klein’s confidence in the festival’s rejuvenation ultimately bears true, the insane sprawl of his festival has never really stopped bringing intriguing new bands to fans willing to cover some ground. Here are 10 acts, playing a typically confusing blend of official and non-official CMJ events, that you should go out of your way to see this week.
Kero Kero Bonito
A delightful UK pop act making their NYC debut. Tonight’s show sold-out far enough in advance to require the addition of a second non-CMJ show last night, that also sold out. KKB’s subject matter tends towards the twee and absurd—cats and dogs, video games, selfies. But unlike their pals in PC Music, their stuff works as actual pop songs and not deconstructions/pranks/performance art about pop songs.
Palisades, Tuesday, 11 PM
This Hudson Valley quartet is making a valiant effort to revive math rock, an ungainly but occasionally thrilling style derived from the excesses of seventies prog, made less silly through the filter of 1980s college radio. Live, Palm are magnetic rather than studious, but their sound is still further out than most any other hip young rock band of the moment.
Palisades, Friday, 7:45 PM
Splitting the difference between Palm and KKB should be nearly impossible, but this Kyoto power-trio just about manage. Fast, complicated riffs and rhythms dominate, but singer Ikkyu Nakajimi has an airy voice that lightens them up and lets their songs flirt with pop catchiness.
Cake Shop, Thursday, 10:30 PM
Cakes Da Killa
An ascendant New York City rapper who’s produced a super-solid full-length mix-tape and a series of killer singles since. Lyrically dextrous and unapologetically raunchy, Cakes has lately been bristling against the reductive “queer rap” labels that his impressive skills should rightly let him transcend.
Cameo, Saturday, late night
A Providence, Rhode Island band whose sax and bash sound gives an uplifting urgency to politically outraged lyrics that tackle myriad social ills. Live, singer Victoria Ruiz (also of the great dance-punk project Malportado Kids) is a raging hurricane of infectious energy, righteous anger, and total defiance.
Santos Party House, Wednesday, midnight
AdHoc Car Wash, Hand & Detail Wash Center, Saturday, 4 PM (non-CMJ show)
This brutal, clever post-punk band from Detroit has been steadily gaining steam for the last few years. Their new record, The Agent Intellect, is their most fearsome yet. The prototypical “band on the cusp, playing all the shows in hopes of a consensus breakout” for this year’s CMJ.
Santos Party House, Wednesday, 11:15 PM
Knitting Factory, Thursday, 12:10 AM
Rough Trade, Friday, 7:30 PM (door time)
AdHoc Car Wash, Hand & Detail Wash Center, Saturday, 1:45 PM (non-CMJ show)
The perpetually ski-masked NYC rapper is maybe better known in the UK, though she wouldn’t get recognized on the street there, either. Big, weird singles like last year’s “Two Times a Charm” have made her a consistent soundtrack for Fashion Week runways, and have earned her Diplo and Skrillex co-signs that count as a legitimate big deal in 2015.
Rough Trade, Tuesday, 8 PM
Baby’s All Right, Thursday, late night
A lightly trippy Liverpool indie-pop group who paints their tightly constructed hooks in strange psychedelic hues. Their second record, Not Real, is hard to pin down but easy to like. They’ve never played New York City before, but look to make up for that with a busy weeklong schedule.
Living Room, Tuesday, 8:00 PM
Niagra, Friday, 10:50 PM
Rough Trade, Saturday, 6 PM
Knitting Factory, Saturday, 10 PM
A pop singer of some great note in her native Greece, now signed to NYC’s Other Music Recording Co. and looking to make inroads to the US market. Monika works in polished, eclectic styles that crossover into soulful disco. Her debut record is filled with sharp work from studio pros at Brooklyn’s Daptone Records.
Output (roof), Tuesday, 6 PM
Living Room, Thursday, 10 PM
Berlin, Friday, 8:10 PM
Saturday, Cameo, 10:40 PM
Getting in to see the Los Angeles saxophonist’s four summer sets at the Village jazz institution The Blue Note was not easy. Tables filled early, and lines filing down the block were ultimately turned away. The fequent Kendrick Lamar and Lauryn Hill collaborator, at his highest level of personal visibilty following the release of this year’s appropriately titled triple album The Epic, should still pack larger rooms.
BRIC House, Thursday, 10:45 PM
Le Poisson Rouge, Friday, 8:30 PM