Lower East Side venues are hanging up their energy drink-branded vinyl banners, the streets are filling with bright-eyed college students slathered in one-inch badge pins and laminates … it’s beginning to look a lot like CMJ week in NYC. At last! For all the annual hand-wringing about the purpose of industry festivals like these in the internet era, this week remains one of the city’s best ways to visit lots of venues in little time in order to jump on the same buzz bands as everyone else and indulge endless talks with complete strangers about how the music industry is completely fucked. Haha, that’s just a joke obviously we are all going to live forever! But aside from a first row seat to the music biz death march, CMJ really is one of the best times to be a live music fan in NYC: There will be a lot of exceptional bands in town, and they will play often, and if you know how to spend your time, energy, and money, you won’t drain your resources seeing them. And so this year, we aim to help you allocate those resources, and be efficient with your time, energy, and money — no matter the day, night, or neighborhood, so that you can log some solid stories to tell your grandkids about what it was all like before it all burned down. Let’s celebrate!
What follows is the Stereogum Guide to CMJ’s best bands and bets, yes. But it’s also your hard-earned Stereogum guide to the best places to refuel, recover, and romance on a budget (or a company card), all while traipsing around day parties in the LES, or prowling around Williamsburg by night, or exploring Bushwick by sunrise. It’s CMJ 2012, it’s now, let’s go:
Relief Map. You get it. CMJ is many days and many nights, and you cannot subsist on music alone. You also need booze, and a quiet place to drink it. Or maybe business, and a quiet place to transact it. Or a lover and a quiet place to impress it. And, occasionally, food also. Let us help. Given the dense concentration of venues spawning off the Ludlow/Stanton and Bedford/Grand nexuses, we’re focusing on cheap eats and quieter escapes in these central LES and Williamsburg areas. If you care less for words and want the coordinates of our selections, here are the Google Maps: 1) Lower East Side. 2) Williamsburg. Now the rationale.
For starters, there is the Punjab Grocery & Deli, where you can get two sabjis (vegetables) over rice for like $4, and it’s just like mom makes. This spot is across the street from Mercury Lounge and you can eat there all the time and be happy, haldi, and rich (don’t drop on your white tee though because haldi stains are a bitch). Another healthy destination is Earth Matters on Ludlow below Houston, which has a fresh juice bar, tons of daily-prepared veggies and salads, and sundry pre-packaged health-food fare. Here you can sit, catch some free WiFi, and feel like a person again between free PBRs at Pianos. More on the cheap, and on the go, is Bereket, home of the LES’s best falafel. Best spot for a date? Take your pick-up for pasta at Lavagna, which is nestled on 5th St. between Ave. A & B and will make you look like the consummate gourmand of tucked-away NYC secrets. You can detox your entire system with a macrobiotic meal at Souen on E. 6th between 1st and 2nd, or have a good sit-down meal with friends at The Meatball Shop on Stanton. And when you need an escape from the grime of indie rock, have a glass of wine (or beer) at Marshall Stack on Allen.
Now to Williamsburg, where you will likely spend days and nights at Cameo on N. 6th, or the dueling twins of 285 Kent or Glasslands (and particularly Glasslands on Wednesday night, but more on that later). The one place you should eat at as much as possible, as often as possible, is La Superior, a Felipe Mendez & Iris Avelar joint, home of NYC’s best and most authentic Mexico City-styled tacos. That is the only place you need to know! Though it does turn out that there are other worthwhile eating and drinking places in this neighborhood. For all your coffee needs, visit Black Brick on Bedford just below Grand; they do Stumptown beans better than anyone in the city, and their cortado is king-making. Participate in the hood’s ascendant dumpling culture via either the relatively new Vanessa’s Dumpling House outpost on Bedford, or (much) better yet, M. Shanghai on Grand St between Roebling and Driggs. You’ll have to walk a few blocks east to get to Shanghai, as they say, and you’ll have to sit-down at a waited-table like an actual human being, but they are the best dumplings so get all the varieties. For non-musical drinking hangs, there’s the big lot behind Crown Victoria on S. 2nd at Wythe, or there is The Woods on S. 4th, most prolific home of the vaunted pickleback shot (don’t ask just do), and most likely place you’ll wind up for extended afterhours hangs. If you’re feeling datey, sit at the bar at 1 Or 8, a fancy sushi place on S. 2nd (next to Crown Vic) which slings delectable, freshly-flown fish for company-card prices, and if you’re needing pizza, walk up to Greenpoint and get the Greenpointer from Paulie Gee’s.
Now that you know how to get fed on a budget and/or a bankroll, let’s talk about some bands. — Amrit
Sifting through the CMJ lineup would be so much easier if only we had recently picked out, I don’t know, 40 or so new bands that were worth looking out for … Wait, we did that? Oh, right. Here’s when they are playing! — Corban
There no shortage of shows coming to NYC for CMJ. But that’s not that big a deal, really — there’s never any shortage of shows in NYC. What makes CMJ an event worth attending are the free daytime parties that pop up, which present opportunities to network, see sets, and drink between the hours of noon and 6PM. Of course, just like everything else at CMJ, there are way too many things going on to actually do all of them, so we’ve sorted through the invites and culled some of coolest.
On Tuesday, you can pretty much kill your entire afternoon at Pianos, which features a couple freebies in its respective rooms. In the Showroom, they’ve got the Portals Showcase starting at noon, which includes Levek, Young Magic, and lots more. Upstairs, the What Blog? CMJ Party kicks off at 1 p.m. with a set from Cultfever, and finishes with a 6:15 set from Dinowalrus, with six bands in between.
On Wednesday, the Terrorbird Media party is a must (and probably a must-arrive-early) It kicks off at 12:15 with an Impose DJ set, followed by performances from Wild International, WIN WIN, Michna, Flume, Jerome LOL, Mykki Blanco, Prince Rama, and Pictureplane. At Pianos, the Tell All Your Friends showcase gets going at 12:30, occupying both rooms with a dozen bands, including Braids, Wooden Indian Burial Ground, Team Spirit, and Triple Hex.
Things start getting crowded on Thursday. If you’re planning to spend the afternoon in Brooklyn, you can hit up the Bust Magazine Launch Party at Spike Hill, with Lightning Love, Agent Ribbons, and DJ Roller Girl. Or you can make your way to Public Assembly for the My Social List + Domino Street party, with the Intelligence, Roomrunner, Wild Yaks, and Royal Baths. If you’re in Manhattan, the NYCTaper party at Cake Shop looks pretty stacked: Lightning Love, Port St. Willow, Mount Moriah, Jo Schornikow, Hans Chew, Heliotropes, and Hurray For The Riff Raff. And the Floating Fest (presented by I Guess I’m Floating) taking over both floors at Pianos is gonna be a rager: a dozen bands including Murals, Levek, Hundred Waters, Unicorn Kid, Chad Valley, and Francisco The Man.
Lots going down on Friday, but I think the Kanine Records/Etnies/Brooklyn Brewery bash at Cameo in Williamsburg tops the list of priorities: It’s got performances from Valleys, Beach Day, Bleeding Rainbow, Eternal Summers, Zambri, Moon King, and Suburban Living, plus DJ sets from Patrick of Chairlift, Thomas of Surfer Blood, and OJ of Xray Eyeballs. Also in Brooklyn, at Knitting Factory, the Distiller Promo Showcase looks like a good time, featuring a screening of the Charles Bradley doc Soul Of America, a listening party for Diamond Rings’ new album Free Dimensional, plus performances from Gold Fields, Slowdance, and Delicate Steve. And if you’re still in Williamsburg, our pals at Brooklyn Vegan are taking over both rooms at Public Assembly with a pretty terrific slate of acts including Savages, METZ, MS MR, Foxygen, IO Echo, Sky Ferreira, Doldrums, and lots more. In Manhattan, the KXLU/KXSC-curated bash at Cake Shop looks like a good time, featuring eight bands including Bleeding Rainbow (again), Turbo Fruits, and the Shrine. And both floors of Pianos are being taken over by the Planetary Group party from noon to 6PM, featuring Twerps, Rah Rah, San Cisco, Hot Panda, more. Finally, and maybe most impressively, the Fader Fort at 130 Hope Street in Brooklyn has a loaded day party featuring Kitty Pryde, DIIV, and lots more.
Saturday offers the most packed slate of daytime events. The We Listen For You showcase at Rockwood Music Hall is a definite highlight, featuring ARMS (playing acoustic) and Port St. Willow, among others. I’d also try to make my way into the 2PM party at Cake Shop, presented by the Village Voice, Panache, and Cape Shok, featuring Vockah Redu, Daytona, Dent May, Delicate Steve, and Heavenly Beat. The Bowery Presents Showcase at Pianos looks excellent, too, featuring a dozen bands including Murals, San Cisco, Sky Ferriera, San Cisco, and more. If you’re spending the day in Brooklyn, there are worthy events going down at Spike Hill (featuring ARMS, Magmana, Reptile Youth, and more) and Cameo (the Pop Montreal showcase with Valleys, C T Z N S H P, Goose Hut, Mozart’s Sister, and others). And for the second day in a row, Brooklyn Vegan is bashing at Public Assembly. Like Friday, lineup is TBA, but don’t let that be a deterrent — those dudes don’t throw bad parties. And again, you can’t go wrong with the Fader Fort at 130 Hope Street in Brooklyn; they’ve got Supreme Cuts, Mr. Dream, the Crystal Ark Party Machine, Hunters, Kilo Kosh, and more.
Again, all these events are free, but some do require RSVPs, so plan accordingly. And please, party responsibly. You still have the whole night ahead of you. — Michael
If you’re paying attention at all — it’s totally cool if you’re not — you’ve probably heard that the artist/musician colony of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood has been gradually moving east in search of lower rents into the industrial Bushwick. Now that this movement has produced a thriving population and local scene, new music venues like Delinquency (which hosts tonight’s cool-sounding Godmode showcase), The Well have sprouted up on top of previously established venues like the Archeron (Stereogum40 artist Nude Beach plays an unofficial show there on Thursday). So, if you find yourself in the hood, be sure to hit up gourmand faves like Roberta’s and Momo Sushi Shack, dance party hub Tandem and the cavernous coffee spot KAVE if you gotta knock on some work before you get to the business of drinkin’. Oh, also, Mexican food is pretty can’t miss here, though Tony Bourdain would recommend Tortilleria Mexicano Los Hermanos. RIP (?) Market Hotel. — Corban
UPDATE: The Godmode thing is now at XPO 929, all the info here. Still Bushwick/East Williamsburg area! Still good!
So here’s where we get into the meat of the matter, the truly official, nighttime CMJ hang. Diving in: Tuesday night’s best bet might be the most obvious: The Mountain Goats, touring behind the gorgeous new Transcendental Youth, playing the Bowery Ballroom with horn arranger and singer-songwriter Matthew E. White in tow. But that’s just two acts, and you’ll get plenty more chances to see the hard-touring John Darnielle. You might also consider the Oh My Rockness showcase, which brings a take-no-prisoners post-hardcore to Williamsburg’s Cameo Gallery; that bill includes Metz, Roomrunner, Chrome Canyon, Mood Rings, and Heavenly Beat. And for a more psychedelic night, consider the MySocialList showcase at Webster Hall’s Marlin Room; that one’s got Delicate Steve, Teen Daze, Bleeding Rainbow, Dent May, Mac DeMarco, and others.
Wednesday night’s choice should be obvious: The Stereogum/Popgun showcase! Seriously, duh. If, for whatever reason, you find yourself locked out of that one, Noisey has an intriguing cross-genre showcase with Flatbush Zombies, Children Of The Night, Skaters, Moon King, Haleek Maul, and others; that’s upstairs at Santos. Downstairs, there’s more Vice/Noisey, with Team Spirit, Skaters, the Orwells, and more. And the Frenchkiss Label Group showcase at Pianos Upstairs has a bunch of intriguing younger bands, including Sleepies, Starred, and Bad Cop.
Thursday is where things start to get really packed. The Cinematic/XXL showcase at S.O.B.’s is absolutely stacked with exciting young rappers: Big K.R.I.T., Fat Trel, Smoke DZA, Joey Bada$$ with his Pro Era crew. Elsewhere in Manhattan, CAA has MDNR, IO Echo, MS MR, Sky Ferreira, and others at the Bowery Ballroom. Over in Brooklyn Sub Pop has a feisty, tough bill at the Knitting Factory; Daughn Gibson, Pissed Jeans, Metz, King Tuff, and others will play. And at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Captured Tracks has a lineup full of fresh-faced fuzz-pop travelers: DIIV, Mac DeMarco, Thieves Like Us, and Dignan Porch. And if you get sick of scrappy and untested new bands, there’s always the sure-bet Walkmen/Dum Dum Girls bill at Terminal 5.
On Friday, the Flower Booking showcase at the Knitting Factory has a varied bill with Cities Aviv, Talk Normal and plenty of others. And at the nearby Brooklyn Bowl, their peers at Windish have Free Energy, Icona Pop, Born Ruffians, Chad Valley, and others. If you like indie-pop, the all-day/all-night Deli Mag bill at Pianos might make you want to just set up shop there, at least until things get way, way too crowded; it’s got Hundred Waters, Young Magic, Foxygen, the Luyas, Ava Luna, and the suddenly-all-over-the-place Mac DeMarco. And Mass Appeal has an enviable cross-generational rap bill at the Gramercy Theater. That’s far enough away from downtown and Williamsburg that it might as well be Mars, but Ghostface Killah, Roc Marciano, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Boldy James, and Angel Haze might make it worth the train ride.
Maybe it’s not a shock, but Saturday’s best top-to-bottom bill is the Tumblr-sponsored one at the Knitting Factory; it’s got (deep breath) Doldrums, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Troy Ave., Mykki Blanco, Prince Rama, and the So So Glos. Elsewhere in Brooklyn, St. Vitus has the kickass Brooklyn Vegan metal bill that includes Yakuza, Fight Amp, and Sannhet. Mostly, though, Saturday is the night when things wind down. If you end up passing out face-down on your friend’s couch, don’t feel bad. — Tom
[Photo by Ryan Muir]