CMJ 2009 Wrap Up: The City And The Sea Of Sound

Standing in stark contrast to the breezy, sun-soaked afropop of Fool’s Gold was the mildly, depressing psychedelic folk pop from Choir Of Young Believers. Hailing from Denamark, the group, lead by guitarist/songwriter Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, delivered powerfully arranged folk ballads. With war-like marching drums, soaring cello, and lush, vocal harmonies (all of which was soaked in reverb), the group flowed from breezy folk into raucous onstage jams. Punctuated by wailing, cavernous guitar and throbbing bass, the group found an eerily magical niche of sound to occupy, one that allowed the group’s grandiose arrangements to flourish while keeping just the right amount of aggression to keep the crowd awake and alert before letting them slip back into another state of pure bliss as a lone tranquil cello growled its way into the back of our minds.

While most people probably came and left this festival with exclusively bands in mind, I wanted to check out another musical outlet that now dominates several sectors of the music industry—the all powerful DJ. Even though, we’ve had DJ’s for decades now, recent technological advancements (i.e. the Internet) have made DJ’ing one of the most common and affordable entertainment tools on the market. But that’s not to say that it’s good just because it’s affordable. With the advent of the file-sharing and free downloads, music is more available now than ever before, which also means it’s way easier to sample, remix, and mash-up than ever before. YouTube is overflowing with remixes and mash-ups that sometimes actually outstrip their source material in terms of musical creativity and innovation, and it’s all happening right in our back yard. You, me, and everyone we know has the power to remix right now.

The site for my CMJ foray into the digital world was the Market Hotel in Bushwick, a seedy neighborhood of Brooklyn that’s home to mainly Latin-American immigrants and hipsters. The party did not start until nearly 1 a.m. since many of the DJ’s playing that night happened to be in bands themselves and would be busy gigging until late hours anyway.

My friends and I arrived just as the first DJ was finishing powering up the sound system with a brutal onslaught of old school hip-hop remixed with remarkable funk and dynamic effects, but it could have just been the sound system playing tricks on my ears.

The sound system at the Market Hotel is unbelievable, by the way. The place is just your average sized loft sitting atop a Korean Grocery Store, but the stacks and stacks of speakers and sub-woofers crowding the stage and the floor around the DJ blew my mind inside out.

In addition to the skull-crushing force of that sound system, the overall atmosphere of the venue is pretty fascinating (and kind of essential to creating such an awesome environment for a party whose sole purpose really is to let people hang out and listen to new music). What appeared to be hand drawn murals shared the majority of the wall space with psychedelic light and film art. The floor was laden with cigarette butts and old liquor bottles, and the beer was dirt-cheap. It only cost a small donation to enter (and, again, it’s a donation so you don’t even have to pay to come in—but the donation did come with a free poster!).

The place wasn’t packed, but it wasn’t empty, and it never seemed to go up or down in volume over the course of the night. The crowd stayed at a comfortable size all night as tired eyes roamed the after-hours party, some looking to dance, some looking to just chill, but all looking to hear something exciting and new.

The thing I enjoy the most about electronic music is that it always sounds fresh and exciting, even when the beats are almost 20 years old. Jamie Smith of The XX took over the turntables shortly after I arrived and fed our ears and imaginations with quirky dubstep and glitchy electronica. Heavy on the bass, but never too hard on the eardrums, the wobbling frequencies he let off could make your head nod and, interestingly, when placed in the right environment, let your mind drift elsewhere as well. Whether seated or on the dance floor, I constantly found myself flashing in and out of reality, diving into my thoughts until, “bang!” a snare shot coated in delay would force me out of my head and right back on the dance floor.

An hour or so later, Neon Indian, one of Pitchfork’s latest favorites, took the stage to show off his fascination with everything we thought pop music left in the ‘80s. Ring mods, analog synths, kitschy electric drums, and campy disco octave bass lines found their way onto his turntables and into the audience’s heart. True, the place was a party, but Neon Indian’s charismatic stage presence and often unpredictable mixing made him a crowd favorite that night (though, honestly, who cares when you’re dancing?).

Lemonade, a San Francisco-based dance group, also sent a rep to help the audience party deep into the night, but unfortunately after several hours of heavy use, the sound system started to fade out. Although his song selection was pretty eclectic (‘80s house, disco, and Ace Of Base all within a half-hour), the sound system wasn’t having it and began to malfunction. The mix was good, but the sound quality kind of sucked. Too bad.

I left the venue at nearly 5:30 that morning. My ears were ringing, and I was having a hard time staying awake, drifting into an uneasy sleep on the uncomfortable subway benches only to be awakened by the next stop. Finally, at around 6:15 a.m., I crawled into bed with the flashing lights and alarm sirens still going off in my head. As I lay there drifting off into much needed sleep, the last thing I thought to myself was, “Shit, I have a lot of music to buy.”