October 31, 2012

CMJ Music Marathon: The Search for the Next Arcade Fire

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Alice Wang ’15 spent Oct. 16-20 in New York City, listening to dozens of acts great and awful at the 31st annual CMJ Music Marathon. She lists the six hot acts set to make it big real soon.

Properly bushed from New York City’s 31st annual CMJ Music Marathon, I’ve settled back in stormy Ithaca with an iTunes full of promising talent and potential chart-toppers from my week of catching 50 or so live sets. Spanning 80 venues in both Manhattan and Brooklyn from Oct. 16-20, CMJ’s deluge of 1300 acts is the perfect breeding ground for the newest up-and-comers to make it big. It’s where the ravenous press flock to stake a claim on the next greatest discovery. It’s where all the reps from the music biz sign the (mostly) secondary line-ups for the summer festival circuit. It’s where the grassroots music crowd (read: hipsters) sees all the unsigned bands that provide the pretentious fodder for their I-saw-them-before-they-were-famous braggadocio. All in all, CMJ was 60 percent bad music, 10 percent good music and 30 percent of just riding back and forth on the L-train (ew). But through the haze of Aztec-print cardigans, $12 beers and questionable facial hair, there lies waiting the next Arcade Fire or the next xx (both discovered at CMJ), and so I soldiered on the L into Williamsburg for that last 2 a.m. set. Here are the bands that are sure to be buzzed about:

Icona Pop

This DJ and electropop duo is comprised of two tough Swedes, Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt, full of popular house, punk and indie rock influences that would make them fit right in on the next HBO Girls’ soundtrack. After receiving reasonable notoriety in 2011 for its feature in Chiddy Bang’s “Mind Your Manners” single, the band has yet to explode. Icona Pop has skillfully evaded the stale predictability that accompanies so much of European-style pop today to provide the chorus-driven and bass-heavy grooves off its seriously feel-good Iconic EP. The massively anthemic chorus on its debut single, “I Love It,” should be firmly placed in the too-catchy-to-be-ignored category — and after it undoubtedly blows up, ignoring Icona Pop may not be an option.

Sky Ferreira

Like Icona Pop, Sky has dabbled in electropop, but her many disparate reincarnations have defied any genre. My favorite version of the too-beautiful, too-versatile Sky is her whisper-grunge self, as in her singles “Red Lips” and “Sad Dream.” She has also dabbled in polished alt-country and even Katy Perry-esque pop with her radio-friendly “Obession” — she has since openly derided this era in her life. At her Santo’s Party House set on Oct. 19, Sky (looking like she belonged on the cover of Nylon Magazine) was decidedly rock-and-roll, a happy medium between her many transformations, a welcome iteration of her evolving forms.

Ava Luna

One of the buzziest bands at CMJ was Ava Luna (bonus points for being named after my favorite Isabel Allende novel). Ava Luna delivered with its splayed-out harmonies (think Dirty Projectors) and surreal free-form funk. Add in some loose jazz and throaty vocals to create one of the coolest rock and soul performances ever — all coming from the dude dressed in his office attire of chinos, specs and button-downs. Big things come in nerdy packages, apparently.

Angel Haze

Trapped in Gramercy Theater, I waited hours for Ghostface Killah to come on, sitting through some truly pitiful hip hop sets (in which Bodega Bamz got so angry at the unenthused crowd that he started throwing water to wake us) and listening to the emcee quote lines from past rap battles to pass time between sets (“Harriet Tubman was more of a man than your father!”). Out of nowhere, Angel Haze came on to rock the unsuspecting crowd with her ridiculously filthy and impossibly long breathless verses. Just five feet tall, Angel Haze commandeered the stage like someone of much greater stature or status. She’s got the attitude of Azaelia Banks, the lung capacity of Nicki Minaj (minus the weird Gaga-ish style) and the appearance of Aaliyah. And, so far, she’s dropped some of the nastiest beats this year. Check this tiny package out in all her untainted glory before she blows up and collabs with like, Big Sean, or something.


By far, the most buzzed about band was the British post-punk outfit, Savages. Its shows, no matter what time of day, drew a packed house, and its pedal-less, (mostly) synth-less tunes were refreshingly minimalist in its blisteringly intense live shows. Though the group wasn’t totally my style, it didn’t matter — its truly transporting performances still rendered me speechless. It had every member of the press asking each other how many sets of the Savages they got to catch.


It’s a pretty common practice at CMJ to only publish the schedule of main acts with inaccurate times in order to draw crowds and trap them with hours of sets from unpopular and usually unrelated sets before the main show. See Angel Haze above. This also occurred at the Glasslands Gallery in Brooklyn. After frantically running from the Bedford station to make the 8 p.m. Generationals show (30 person cap), I got there to find that the Generationals wouldn’t come on until 12:30 a.m. What’s a girl to do, stranded in BK? I killed time going to any nearby set, landing me randomly at the Foxygen’s. It was a happy accident as Foxygen proved to be a winning combination of cleverness and retro quirk. The group’s sound is hard to identify — there are hints of old psychedelic rock and bits eerily like Talking Heads, but otherwise, the sound is wholly intangible and altogether intricate. Plus, Foxygen has charisma in spades, making the band one of the most easily watchable acts all week, with all its Mick Jagger swagger. The on-stage magnetism of Foxygen was second only to that of Julian Hamilton (vocals for The Presets), whose adorable dance moves comprised approximately 70 percent of the set’s allure.

Original Author: Alice Wang