Curious about what else goes on at CMJ? Here’s a description of a more cynical and less glamorous part of CMJ.
What do Bo Burnham, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Reggie Watts, and Nada Surf, have in common? Well, for one, they all played Monday night at Rebel NYC at a free show to unofficially christen this year’s CMJ Music Marathon in NYC (a week of music, networking, and a lot of talk about the next big thing.) Somehow the show’s lineup—two musically-oriented comedians (who are otherwise almost perfect foils), a veteran indie band, and what might be the next big buzz band—actually felt alright. Despite being sardonically dubbed “Conflict of Interest,” it actually worked well. Though descriptively diverse, the identities of these performers actually have something in common that allowed for a cohesive showcase: every identity was a deliberate piece of their performance and never easy to read fully or take seriously. These four acts (I missed the first two—Oh Land and Kitten) were all very conscious of their stage personas…and I don’t mean that in a bad way…
Part 1 – Bo, yo
Bo Burnham is that awkward flamey teenage white theater kid on youtube who wears a tie-dye t-shirt while rapping and singing to his keyboard or guitar in his tiny bedroom. (Remember “I’m Bo yo!”?) But where can you really go from some funny youtube videos? I mean, no one’s going to take him seriously as a rapper with lines like “I’m a gay sea otter/I blow other dudes outta the water,” although you can’t say that a line like “Fucked a girl in an apple orchard and came in cider” wouldn’t be considered dope, if spat by a rapper with legit street cred. His comedian-ness apparently compels him to release CDs but his kind of comedy is very visual. In one of the more creative songs/routines that he did Monday night, he stood in front of the stage and silently reacted as critics, fake friends, and a potential agent spoke to him (in his voice, from a backup track) before pretending to remix the sound clips by tapping and punching the air to create new phrases and backup music. After adding Satan and Jesus to the mix (by pointing down and then up respectively—bestowing Jesus with an exaggeratedly gay accent) he settled on a loop that repeated “you think” “you know” “me” “you think” “you know” “me.” Even though his image was conceivably carefully calculated, effortlessly offensive (he made jokes about everything from the Eucharist to rape, and from slavery to Michael Jackson—all funny), and superficially sarcastic, there were moments like this (“you think” “you know” “me”) where he used his set to make blatant, if not explicitly articulated, indictments of his critics. This especially stood out during a set otherwise filled with rapid fire rapped jokes shot so fast that many flew by while my focus was still on the joke that had just passed. His comedy was mostly musical but carefully calculated and very visual. That was the theme of the night—mostly musical but carefully calculated and very visual.
So, Bo, a tall skinny white kid looking about 19, walked on stage to start his set in tight jeans and a tight faded purple shirt that said “Joker” on it (ironically ironic), and awkwardly sat down at the keys, hitting his audience with a quick jab: “So my girlfriend has this weird fetish where she likes to dress up like herself and act like a fucking bitch.” He got an easy and quick but hearty and deserved laugh with that accessible old-school zinger, as if to set the record straight that he was a real comedian and not just that kid on youtube. But, at the same time, he did his best to maintain that almost cute ignorant, awkward, whiteboy, image. Despite his persistence, though, there were one or two moments where his confidence got the best of him and I thought I saw a charismatic and bright 20something carefully masked by his awkwardly flamboyant comedic persona. Either way, the “real” Bo was elusive on stage and his act kept me guessing—while I was skeptical, I was more intrigued than distracted. His nuanced puns reflected the layers of irony he wore as his ostensibly honest but skillfully sculpted self. The one certain identity that he definitely deserves but will never be considered: dope emcee.
Part 2 – Jr. Jr.
Every year at CMJ there’s a band or two that emerges with a lot of indie cred as the next big thing (like cymbals eat guitars or black kids.) The problem is that the bands that do end up getting a lot of hype tend to be the ones that get a lot of hype because of the hype. People are so eager to anoint the next big thing–they know that if they don’t someone else will–that the musical skill or industry potential of the band is less important than the hype itself. These guys might be a good example of that. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t good.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.—a name that somehow seems more legit (but equally cute and ironic) attached to a band from Detroit Michigan—took the stage abruptly, doing the crowd a merciful favor by cutting off the extremely annoying MC (a girl in a belly shirt who apparently has a TV show on fuse.) The first thing that you noticed about these guys is that they were wearing full NASCAR bodysuits. (Well, at the least the two front men. The drummer was dressed unremarkably, soon to be matched by his drumming.) As soon as they dove into their set, it was obvious that the two lead singers had an MGMT-esque songwriting partnership. The exuberant not-quite-chubby one with curly hair and glasses mainly played guitar, while the other, who looked like Adrock after getting his wisdom teeth out, switched between guitar, keys, and sampler. But what did they sooound like? Well, they seemed to subscribe to the same set of influences as a band like Dinosaur Feathers. They (both) appear to listen to and draw subtly from Animal Collective but find more direct musical inspiration from the Beach Boys, the Beatles and Paul Simon/Vampire Weekend. Jr. Jr., though, were admirably not afraid to shock with a rocked-out-sample-ridden-climax or a pretty harmony, at any time. Their live show suggested that they’re one of those bands not scared of mincing identities and tossing them just as quickly. By dressing up so ridiculously, you can only really judge them by their music which is what you have to take seriously (rather than themselves.) A solid, though maybe accidental, strategy. The un-NASCARed-out drummer was an afterthought. Although his beats were quieter than the drum loops, he did add something to the band. Compared to a band like Dinosaur Feathers, these guys just sounded fuller. Dinosaur Feathers did figure out that a bass is important though. And Jr. Jr. appear to acknowledge that too—after a mostly bass-less set, one of them played bass on each of the last two songs which was necessary (and effective) for them to go out with a bang.
Part 3 – Watts/Left
The first thing you notice about Reggie Watts is his huuge afro. Seriously. It’s massive. He looks like a cross-between ?uestlove and Adam Duritz. His set was funny at times but it was more musical and impressive than strictly comedic. Like Bo (and the bands for that matter) his set revolved around songs. And his songs revolved around his brilliant ability to beat box, tightness with a loop station and taste with effects pedals. Unlike Bo, Watts created all of his sounds live, making extensive and effective use of panning. The dude can sing too. (Using a chorus effect, he sounded like the singer of TV on the Radio at times.)
After the first song, he spoke a little. His English accent suggested that, at one time, he might have actually pronounced CMJ as “smidge” or Biggie as “Bidgy” (as he did for laughs.) I spent the ensuing song searching desperately for traces of his accent in his vocals. I wasn’t sure if I found it. After that song, he spoke with a flamey Southern accent and I realized the prior English accent was a bloody sham! Someone who could easily be pigeonholed by his visual identity as an afroed-beat-boxing-black-dude, turned out to be a comedic chameleon with epic command. It was great. His last song that mocked hip-hop (“leave you hands by your sides!”) and included a tribute to Eyedea (who passed away earlier this week). As Reggie’s set closed and he rushed (seamlessly) through accents and personalities, it became more and more obvious that I wasn’t going to pinpoint this dudes “real” identity either. He appeared to break character a few times but as soon as I believed him, he would break character again, revealing the previous identity as façade.
Nada Surf closed the set. They went on about an hour late but it wasn’t their fault, the whole show had been behind schedule and, since it was free, I could understand them delaying acts to sell drinks and push promo shit. Nada Surf took the stage looking confidently like the indie rock vets that they are: the skinny drummer had curly hair, a nice shirt, and a tie; the guitarists also had button up shirts and deliberate hair. The bassist, on the other hand, had huge dreads (died partly blonde), his shirt slightly open to reveal a douchey necklace, a glow-in-the-dark bass that he wore super low and played super loud, and a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I found myself once again thinking ‘Is this guy for real?’ The two main dudes (a blonde guitarist/singer and the aforementioned bassist—the other guitarist was revealed to hail from Guided by Voices) looked like Lenny Kravitz circa 1993 playing with Justin Beiber circa 2021. Their music? Solid but bland. I left early.
All in all, great show. The mixed format (indie and comedy) really worked, probably because the comedians performed songs (and each band came off as a joke, in one form or another. Both bands parodied indie rock, whether they knew it or not.) The fluid identities worked especially well for the CMJ (or “smidge”) crowd. Hipsters have a hard time finding their own identity floating in a sea of like-minded, well, floaters. CMJ is a characteristically superficial festival (it’s about bands, labels, writers, distros, etc, networking more than about music) and thus a perfect place to exhibit your insincere self. It was a great show. Should be a great week. Maybe I’ll find myself. Better yet: maybe I’ll be there to anoint the next big thing. Here’s my guess: the rise of the explicit subterranean identity crisis. (See: Das Racist. But don’t actually waste your time seeing them.)
This weeks artist spotlight features that represents two places close to my heart the boogie down Bronx and Jamaica. Check her out and let us know what you think.
Patwa (Formerly known as Trinity) was born on September 8, 1988 in the Bronx, New York, to Jamaican parents of Irish, Indian, and African-American descent. When Patwa was five, her parents divorced, and she was raised by her mother in the northern area of the Bronx. Patwa has also lived in Lawrenceville, Georgia where she attended high school and later college at Georgia State University.
Patwa always had a love for music. As a young girl, she recorded herself over tape decks, and studied the rhymes of TLC, Mase, and Biggie. Due to a love for basketball and spending a lot of time chasing athletic dreams, Patwa was unaware of her ability to rhyme seriously until she reached high school. In high school, Patwa spent many nights engaged in the process of making music at her cousin’s studio nearby. It was there that Patwa discovered her love for Hip-Hop. In 2006 Patwa gave up her dreams of being in the WNBA, and decided to pursue music.
Upon first embarking on her growth in rap, Patwa joined two rap groups but eventually left due to pressure that left her uneasy. Most people saw Patwa only as a pretty face and not as the artist she wanted to be. As a “female MC” she found that people wanted her to rap about getting guys for their money, sexual exploits or about being a gangster. Becoming disinterested and impatient with her success in music, Patwa instead focused on her studies at Georgia State University. Eventually she started drifting away from music thinking that she would instead pursue a career in law. In 2009, Patwa graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Political Science from Georgia State University and started studying to enter law school in the fall of 2010.
However, like her dreams with basketball diminished, her law dreams quickly began to diminish as well. After college, Patwa began working as an assistant for a law firm where she realized for once and for all that her real interests were in music. While keeping her day job at the firm, Patwa teamed up with her Manager Tru Ferguson of Higher Heights Entertainment in her hometown of the Bronx as well as producer and label mate, Danny Atoms, to put together her first solo project.
While recording her first album “Audition for Life,” Patwa stumbled upon her sound. She generally received a lot of positive feedback, but started to notice that more people gravitated towards her fusion of Hip-Hop and Reggae. She did a few more songs fusing the two worlds and realized she had found a sound in which she felt completely comfortable and confident. After recording a plethora of music in 2009 and early 2010, Patwa released her first official music video on September 20, 2010. World Star Hip Hop caught eye of Patwa’s video and quickly debuted Patwa as their Female Artist of the Week. Shortly after, Patwa garnished a lot of attention via online blogs and websites. The word about Patwa spread quickly with comparisons between her and Def Jam’s recording artist Shyne.
Patwa’s music speaks for itself. She brings intellect, wit, honesty and wordplay that other females as well as male contemporaries are all too willingly ready to compromise in pursuit of rap riches and fame. Her aim is to produce a reggae sound that Americans and others without a Caribbean heritage will be able to understand and appreciate, as well as a rap/hip-hop sound that Jamaicans and other Caribbean audiences will understand. Currently Patwa is working on a mixtape that is scheduled to be released at the end of October.
I used to have to listen to Mike Campana pop a woody about how awesome
Jeff Buckley is all the time, now I have to listen to him on a fucking CD
too? This is bullshit; is there any justice in the world? Apparently not.
All semi-kidding WCDB-related hatred aside, the new EP by Secret Release
is a great start to another band with roots that trace back to everyone’s
favorite radio station.
Let me point one thing out really fast. The band is called Secret Release,
which to me, screams ejaculation joke. Also, they titled this EP Coitus
Interuptus, which you don’t have to be a Greek language scholar to figure
out the meaning of. Awwww yeah, this is baby makin’ music.
It starts off with “Voorhessville” (more like “Boorhessville”! Amiright?
I’m sure Dan Maddelone is telling me to shut the fuck up right now).
Anyway, the song uses an interesting interplay of the bass and guitar
switching off with one-another within the mix, which is certainly an
attention grabber. The next track “Middle Aged” has a country-tinged
guitar pattern that is very befitting to Campana’s vocals. I find this
song to be way less irritating than I find half the members of this band
in person—which really says a lot.
“Atlit Yam” (which for all intents and purposes to me is some sort of baby
makin’ code), appears to be the EP’s soft and cuddly track. Campana croons
softly over the music—which is something he probably ripped off from Conor
Oberst. This band is horrendously musically tight and they really sync
well with one another. For some strange reason the rhythms in this song
remind me of “Timothy Hay” by MeWithoutYou.
“Sleeper” is the next big radio hit on WCDB. Easily the song with the
most “power” (for lack of a better word) on the EP, that includes
distorted vocals and jaunty guitar parts, hipsters are going to eat this
shit up. Dan Maddelone’s drumming shines through on this track like his
bright red hair on a sunny day.
“Claire” is the obligatory acoustic track on the new indie band’s EP.
Included is the cracking of a beer, whistling and thoughtful finger
plucking of strings over softly sung vocals. The song gradually gets
louder and—this is not me bullshiting and being a dick like in the rest of
this review—does remind me of Bright Eyes for whatever reason.
Secret Release is bound to be the next big Albany basement band that
everyone loves getting drunk and singing along to, and with good reason.
Despite being questionable people and really annoying as a whole, their
actual music is good and fun and makes me warm and fuzzy inside. Except
the drums. FUCK YOU, DAN!
The next big thing out of Toronto? I might be late on this one but f***k it, this s*!T is dope.
Dynamic Adam Tune on the drums, World Champion turntablist Jr‐Flo on turntables, and the eversoulful
Matisse on the keys are doing nothing short of “re‐inventing the remix.”
Like nothing you’ve ever seen before, Keys N Krates combine live instrumentation, turntablism and live
sampling to remix existing pop music and samples from MGMT to Jay‐Z right before your eyes. Pushing
the envelope beyond the ideals of laptop‐centric remix culture, this unique trio changes the game by
bringing an explosive live analog presence to their sought‐after sound and performance.
The live re‐mix trio was featured in Urb Magazine’s “Next 100” issue and continue to receive countless
co‐signed features by Urb Magazine, Vapors Magazine, Spinner.com (AOL’s premiere music site), Beyond
Race Magazine, Evil Monito, Hip Hop Official, Format Magazine, Discobelle and more.
Sharing stages with Kid Cudi, Steve Aoki, Questlove and Timbaland, KNK maintain a non‐stop tour
schedule throughout all of North America. The trio has recently taken their live re‐mix sound to the
studio crafting live compositions into signature recordings, slated to release new music mid 2010.