CMJ Music Marathon 2014: Taking It All In For The First Time

Still running strong for the last 34 years, College Music Journal’s (CMJ) annual Music Marathon brings together thousands of aspiring musicians, fans, press and industry figures alike to the greater Manhattan and Brooklyn area in October for a weeklong run of extravagant festivities—including a variety of stimulating panels and eccentric live musical shows that were uniquely scattered throughout the city.

Considering that this year marked my first time venturing off into New York City for CMJ Music Marathon, it was an experience that I honestly did not know what to expect beforehand. From championing the art of navigating my way up-and-down Manhattan through the use of public transportation to articulately planning out my schedule throughout the week based on the timing of each panel and showcase, there was definitely a lot to take in during my time here for CMJ.

Not too far from Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, there were many panels that took place at NYU’s Rosenthal Pavilion throughout the day that incited stimulating debates and conversations on prospectively unique topics, while others centered their focus on the importance of college radio.

One quality that I thoroughly enjoyed about these panels was the fact that CMJ staff encouraged attendees to engage in personal one-on-one sessions with panelists throughout the week in “Breakout Rooms,” which provided individuals with opportunities to enthusiastically ask questions that were not addressed in prior sessions, and even network with the panelists as well.

While there were many unique sessions to attend throughout the week, I found myself drawn to the panels that were targeted more toward my musical interests. For instance, with a title like, “All Through Life: Emo’s Revival,” this was a panel that immediately grabbed my attention from the very beginning. Led by Tom Mullen—founder of the podcast series, WashedUpEmo—Topshelf Records co-owner Kevin Duquette, No Sleep Records Label Manager Sean Moran and Syndicate Director of Business Development, Brian Pacris, this session introduced attendees to a stimulating and exciting conversation about the oral history of the emo genre, as well as the events that led up to the public’s infatuation with branding artists like Into It. Over It. and The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die as sincere torchbearers for the “emo revival.”

To this day, I still cannot believe that I was sitting across from Texas Is The Reason guitarist, Norman Brannon, who also shared his perspectives of emo from the standpoint of the genre’s underground roots throughout the panel.

Another panel that piqued my interest was the “Merge 25” panel that was held in celebration of Merge Records’ 25th anniversary. Curated by Spin Editor-In-Chief, Steve Kandell, this session brought to life an in-depth conversation with the label’s founders, Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan (who are also praised for being members of the iconic Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based group, Superchunk) on the humble beginnings of Merge Records, along with its crucial influence on shaping indie rock from a musical and record label standpoint. Ironically enough, I had conversations with many CMJ attendees after this specific panel who constantly raised the question: “Why weren’t there more people here at this panel?”

One thing I learned the most from attending CMJ—especially from planning out my schedule throughout my time here—was the importance of keeping your travels as simple as possible. Considering the fact that there were so many things going on all at once, it was pretty evident that some of my plans that week were going to fall through the cracks and I was not going to able to see every single showcase. Regardless, that did not deter my spirits from seeing the bands that I was dying to see throughout the week. From word of mouth and curious research alone, I spent a majority of the week hovering around the Lower Manhattan area checking out several showcases being held at Pianos and the Cake Shop on Ludlow Street in the afternoon, while I ventured off to see some of the highlighted shows in the evening.

Reflecting back on the long list of bands I’ve seen throughout CMJ, most of my favorite performances truly came from the spontaneity of seeing bands that I’ve never heard of prior to the week. Ultimately, that is the one sense of satisfaction one would gain from attending an event to this larger scale.

One performance in particular that I constantly bring up in conversation on a weekly basis since CMJ was Ballet School’s performance at the Bella Union Showcase that took place at (le) Poisson Rouge in Manhattan. Hearing nothing but incredible things about this venue in the past, I was pretty eager to check out Marissa Nadler’s performance later on that night as well. As the doors opened for showgoers and CMJ badge-holders, I was taken aback by the captivatingly dimmed lighting of the venue, which blissfully centered its focus on a circular stage that was set up on the middle of the concert floor. By the time Ballet School took the stage, their spectacular and elegant synthpop-influenced stylings left me speechless.

Another standalone performance that caught my attention during the week came from an afternoon set at the Planetary Group Showcase featuring the Brisbane, Australia-based trio, Dune Rats. Belting out a highly energetic surf punk sound that was reminiscent of groups like Wavves and Byrds Of Paradise, Dune Rats’ explosive punk rock persona and ridiculously comedic on stage antics truly made it a show to remember.

From the perspective of an eager individual who finally was graced with the opportunity to breathe in the excitement that comes our way every fateful October, there was no doubt that this year’s CMJ Music Marathon exceeded all of my expectations. With an eventful week full of panels, shows, networking and extensive adventuring through unfamiliar waters, CMJ truly reignited my infatuation with New York City’s thriving musical community.