Fear and Loathing in Bushwick: CMJ 2014 and My Week Long Odyssey in Brooklyn

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Buying my ticket for CMJ this summer was in itself an intoxicating experience. Some homies involved in college radio at other schools, in addition to my friends in the leadership at WRGW, had hyped the shit out of this event; to my understanding, it would be a boozed-up, drug-laden odyssey through Brooklyn and Manhattan for five days without worry of class or social obligations back in DC.

As my sickly, washed-up, hollow body rode the Bolt Bus back to DC, however, I realized I will likely not be attending CMJ 2015.

There are a couple of reasons why I reached this conclusion about this five day festival that boasts showcasing the next big artists in music. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a handful of solid shows and experiences that I benefitted from as a result of my CMJ pass. I swear I’ve been talking about the Courtney Barnett / San Fermin double header since I walked out of Webster Hall. Additionally, my limited engagement in the Brooklyn DIY scene was a nice break from the District’s own, where it seems even the most rudimentary of venues need to struggle to keep their heads above the water.

That being said, here are my top three qualms with CMJ 2014, and the aspects of the Music Marathon that will deter me from heading back to Brooklyn this time next year.

1. Official showcases vs. Unofficial Showcases: This is the biggest thing CMJ has to fix / find a workaround for in 2015. Look, I understand if your record label doesn’t want to buy into / deal with the politics of performing at an official CMJ showcase, but labeling yourself as such and then expecting a cover at the door is absurd. As I’ll iterate later, I’m a fucking college student and already dropped roughly $100 on this fucking useless piece of laminated cardboard, I really can’t afford to drop another ten bucks per venue, man. I know the venue needs to make money to sustain itself and keep bands coming back, but that’s not an excuse for bad advertising.. Don’t dick me like that, guys.

2. Ghost Events / God Awful App: When there is a disclaimer of the CMJ website claiming that events can change at the last moment without notice, it suggests a lack of cohesion or order to the event being run. It’s understandable that, with CMJ having to deal with an enormous amount of concertgoers in addition to coordinating with numerous artists across venues in two boroughs, that mistakes will happen. But for fuck’s sake, would you give us a little bit of head’s up? You know how disheartening it is to get pumped up for a show and to arrive at the venue to find out that said band played an hour before you go there, despite no indication of this in the schedule? Additionally, my CMJ pass quickly turned into an arbitrarily useless necklace as time went on, with numerous venues that were on the showcase either telling me either a) they were no longer accepting CMJ passes, or b) accepting my pass but not accepting a friend’s pass literally five minutes later.

Plus your app is horrendous, aesthetically and functionally (didn’t include all the bands and is extremely clunky to use).

And finally, 3. Number of 21+ shows: CMJ is an event that, historically and currently, curtails itself to college students. The acronym itself used to stand for “College Music Journalism,” despite currently just being an online music newswire known by three letters. Between the numerous panels that stress important ways to improve your college radio station, as well as opportunities to network with individuals involved with big labels / music journalism, it seemed like CMJ would be one of the few big city festivals that was all-inclusive regardless of age. Imagine my dismay (as well as the disappointment of my underage friends) when I had to walk around Manhattan with my dick in my hand trying to find fucking anything I could get into, let alone bands I actually wanted to see. Thursday night was especially heinous; I thank Based God for my flask of tequila giving me the energy to keep going through the Village, otherwise I’d likely still be in an NYU gutter with a pizza slice in one hand and the last remaining shreds of my dignity in the other.

But the festival itself is only a small component of the experience that is CMJ, at least for kids from out of town. While I’ve got your attention, allow me to complain / praise New York for some of the following aspects.

1. 40s: Holy mother of God I see why these have been banned in DC. They’re so fucking convenient! It’s like, you start drinking them, and then the bottle challenges you to finish that shit. Oh you’re halfway through? Have a piss and finish this bottle, or top it off with orange juice and make a brass monkey (I left half of a Colt 45 in the fridge and did this for breakfast the next day; I have no regrets). Plus the price point! Good God I’ve got a convenient bender of a night for 10 bucks! What a steal! If you complain about rent in New York, understand your price point on malt liquor is fucking absurd / beautiful / terrifying at the same time.

2. NYU Kids: God I hate to speak in clichés here but these kids are the fucking worst. You’re not allowed to roll your eyes at me for my pass and label me as a tourist. What are you, a sophomore? I understand that your cloistered, cocaine-addled Greenwich Village life has espoused the idea that you’re a real rough and tumbling New Yorker, but you’re a goddamn tourist in your own city! Educate yourself! Get over your own fucking pretension!

3. The Subway: I hate to complain / praise this because it makes me seem like a real out of towner. Like I came from the midwest all rosy-cheeked exclaiming things like “golly gee mister!” in response to the homeless schizophrenic gentlemen talking about his dick outside of the Aberdeen Station. Anyway, yeah DC doesn’t have fucking shit on the New York Subway: no frills, no bullshit, no exploration. Super good at getting you from point A to point B. Want to know the problem with riding the subway at CMJ? The 2 am L train that takes thirty minutes to get to your stop, and the shit you see on it on your way back to Bushwick. I shit you not, for twenty minutes of my subway ride a guy was playing Bejeweled Blitz at full volume. If I have to hear the goddamn sound of three jewels lining up again in my entire life, I will curb stomp every last iPhone in a ten mile radius and throw myself onto the Red Line track. I’m not joking.

Finally, 4. Manhattan / Brooklyn: Why do people live in this city? What’s the fucking appeal? Don’t get me wrong, I understand if people cannot move out due to economic reasons, and that sucks a big one. But never in my life would I actively seek to live in New York. It’s grungy without any real appeal, and expensive without any satisfaction. I used to think my choice to go to school in DC was a consequence of not being able to feasibly live in Manhattan, but good God am I glad I live here. All the dollar pizza and city-water bagels could not persuade me to give up the comfortability and smaller-city vibe of DC for a place where I could get hit by a taxi and no one would bat an eyelash.

Maybe in a few years when I’m older and have more money I might make another mass exodus with a few friends for the CMJ Music Marathon once more, but for the time being the festival is wa overrated. Honorable mentions of the week, including but not limited to my friend Elliot’s possibly broken foot, a cheap Airbnb, and malt liquor, do not outweigh the bullshit I had to deal with. I encourage anyone considering going to CMJ next year to carefully weigh the costs and benefits; consider that the festival you’re going to might not necessarily have “the next big thing in music,” but is undoubtedly going to exploit your niche taste for money. Don’t let them win, man.

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