Backwash

Internet interest at CMJ Music Marathon 2000

These days, the bohemian types who live on the Lower East Side of New York are more likely to be addicted to hypertext than to heroin. Savvy bands understand bandwidth, and a "live performance" might mean a real-time broadcast uploaded from a Bowery bunker. At this year's CMJ Music Marathon 2000 -- a four-day festival in NYC that included in-person live performances by about 1,000 artists, as well as panels devoted to issues facing individual artists, record labels and the music industry as a whole -- a preoccupation with the Internet and all of its implications was an obsession shared by many. A large percentage of the panels (kicked off by a keynote speech from Chuck D, one of the more interesting pundits in the digital debate) were devoted not only to figuring out what the Web might mean to the industry in the coming years, but how one might become rich, famous or at least slightly less invisible with its use. Most discussions began with a shared acknowledgement that while dot-com music doesn't mean the end of the traditional music business, it can pay off, both for the industry and for artists who prefer to operate outside of it. (A sampling of the Music Marathon's activities -- including many of the panel discussions -- can be streamed via cmj.com; written transcripts of the panels are also available through the site.)

Still, the real draw for most CMJ-goers was the music itself. Which makes sense, considering that the festival is designed to showcase some of the more promising offerings in the world of college music -- whatever that is. Over the years, the event has happily broadened to include hip-hop (DJ Hurricane, People Under the Stairs and the Anti-Pop Consortium were among the notable shows this year, as was yet another Chuck D/Professor Griff reunion in Confrontation Camp, hosted at legendary punk bastion CBGB), dance and electronica (the Om Records party, which featured Ming & FS, Afro-Mystik and Soma regular Mark Farina, was a particularly hot ticket), and alternative country (the Bloodshot Records showcase, which featured Kelly Hogan and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts and the Blacks, was a fine demonstration of the genre's staying power) alongside the guitar-rock and pop bands that for years have dominated the pages -- and the charts -- of CMJ's companion publication, the New Music Monthly. CMJ, then, is a chance for both hipsters and hitmakers to hold up a mirror to the mouth of college rock and see if the old beast still has any life left in it.

That is, if they can get in to see any of it.

In a city with a daytime population of 21 million (and at least 20 million of those folks were more than a little agitated by some kind of baseballthing), cramming 1,000 bands and 30,000 attendees into sixty venues was a logistical headache and an exercise in the theory of entropy, or chaos in a closed system. It would have helped to have superhuman powers that somehow allowed you to stand in more than one line at a time, thus ensuring that you could actually set foot in some of New York's hep, hallowed halls. Trying to see even a portion of the CMJ festivities was like trying to attend every single show that's come to the Bluebird, the Ogden, the Lion's Lair and the 15th Street Tavern over the course of the past two years -- in four days. Unlike its music-fest counterparts (the CMJ Network's newish ChangeMusic Fests in San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle; SXSW in Austin and NXNW in Portland), where the bulk of musical activity is limited to one part of the city, the New York marathon was spread across Manhattan (and Brooklyn, and Hoboken) as randomly as a clap epidemic. After you arrived at one of the venues, it was often clear by as early as 8:30 p.m. that unless your CMJ badge was plated in gold -- or you were sleeping with David Geffen, or on a guest list reserved for those with Grecian good looks -- you might as well head for the Jersey Shore. (Or do as Backwash did: lie. Be prepared at all times to somehow become very, very important. Though Westword is, without question, a publication of world renown, I was only begrudgingly granted entry to see At the Drive In and the amazing, hilarious Tenacious D after convincing the gatekeeper at Irving Plaza that I was, indeed, a staff writer for Details.)

All of this meant that some less interesting bands had huge crowds, as audiences, too smart to risk another line at another venue, simply parked it and opened up bar tabs, while other, more interesting bands toiled unappreciated at far-flung locales. Major acts such as PJ Harvey (who performed twice during the marathon), Moby and the aforementioned At the Drive In (whose members had the good fortune of landing their Afro-headed mugs on the cover of the Village Voice during festival week, and, incidentally, are expected to show up at the Ogden on Saturday, November 11, although they've canceled three Denver dates this year) drew major numbers, while lesser known, unaffiliated artists -- Denver's Cherry Bomb Club and Fort Collins's Knee Jerk Reaction among them -- predictably got stuck in out-of-the-way places no one has ever heard of. Though the Club's set was a fine, grooving representation of our fair city (and the electronic lusciousness of its self-titled CD), the band played in a venue that wasn't even indicated on the map most CMJ-ers were using to plan their evenings and direct their cabbies. Knee Jerk, meanwhile, was slotted at 2 a.m., a time when many festival watchers were either too tired or too drunk to pay attention or persist.

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