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Across The Pond - New York's CMJ Festival: The Final Part

It was the final stretch, just a couple more days to go and then Alexander Keblish's 2014 music marathon would be completed.  With much training and many months of preparation having been undertaken Alexander dug deep and headed for the finishing line.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday night I headed to the Knitting Factory, a little after midnight and caught the Australian band SAFIA, an up-and-coming band that produces oft-times danceable electro pop.  They apparently opened for Lorde earlier this year on the Australian leg of her tour.

But the draw for me that night was the electronic group Kate Boy, who eventually went on at 1:15 AM.  Vocalist Kate Akhurst hails from Australia and the two male members who provide the electronic beats and other instrumentation are from Sweden, where the group is currently based.

The group’s dark synth-laden sound was bolstered by Akhurst’s commanding voice.  She could go from throaty growl one minute to an unexpected explosive burst, all while the music would crescendo to match her vocals. The group all wore matching black baseball caps, which seemed like an attempt to keep the focus on the collective dynamic of the group… however, there’s no denying Akhurst’s natural stage presence.

Listening to their electronic grooves, I couldn’t help but think they’d make a great opening act for Lady Gaga.  While Ms. Gaga is all about the bombast and excess in her stage shows and performances, Kate Boy’s minimalist approach emphasizes the music being performed.  I not a Lady Gaga fan, but such a contrast might be welcomed at a Lady Gaga show.

Kate Boy’s track “Self Control” offers a driving, percussive riff (which reminded me a bit of the bass line to the ‘80’s song “Heart and Soul” by T’Pau) and was by far their best song (do yourself a favor, stop reading and just go to YouTube and listen to it).  The infectiously catchy song was also one of the best songs I heard all week at CMJ.

I will confess that as much as I enjoyed Kate Boy, some of their songs tend to sound a tad too similar to one another.  Still, there’s no denying that this is a band to watch.

My Key Tracks: “Self Control,” “Open Fire”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The last day of CMJ! I spent the afternoon in the Lower East Side scoping out smaller venues and seeing a few acts here and there…

In the evening, I caught a set by Australian rapper Tkay Maidza, who at only 18 years old was making her CMJ debut and generating quite a bit of buzz with several sets at CMJ.  I found my way into a packed Australian BBQ party at the Lower East Side bar The Delancey, featuring (not surprisingly) basically all of the Australian acts that had made the journey to New York City for the music marathon.

Despite her young age, Ms. Maidza looked like she was having the most fun out of anyone in the room. She spat out break-neck rhymes effortlessly while gyrating on stage with her near-waist-length hair flowing behind her to beats supplied by her DJ that M.I.A. would likely approve of.

Although I dug her brief 30 minute set I didn’t appreciate the poor sound quality of The Delancey on their main floor and could hardly make out a lot of her lyrics.  Still, it was nice to hear an Australian rapper who actually rapped with an Australian accent, instead of sounding like she was born and raised on the streets of New York City (*cough*, *cough*, Iggy Azalea).

My Key Tracks:  “U-Huh”, “Brontosaurus”

After that, I decided to end the night and my 2014 CMJ experience by checking out the British band Fenech-Soler.  When I read that this British band was discovered by Daft Punk collaborator Alan Braxe, I figured these guys would be worth checking out – and they certainly didn’t disappoint.  Although they only played two sets at CMJ, I headed north from the Lower East Side which offered a high density of bands and made my way to the Cutting Room, perhaps the least likely venue for any CMJ performance, located in the Flatiron District (and not close to any other venues).

The Cutting Room, aside from being in a random spot for a music venue in general, has a back room area that has a large stage and tables to sit and drink or eat dinner – it’s more of a cabaret set up.  Again, as is the norm for CMJ, although Fenech-Soler was supposed to go on at 11:15 PM, they didn’t go on until well past midnight and the band found themselves playing to a small but appreciative crowd.

It soon became apparent that they would have been much better suited to a space like the Bowery Ballroom or even Glasslands Gallery.

The band’s synth-pop is easily comparable to Phoenix or Friendly Fires, two bands which I admire (Fenech-Soler would do well to open for either of these two more established bands).  When I heard their song “Last Forever”, which sounds similar to Phoenix’s “Lisztomania”, I knew I would dig them. They continued their high energy set, even with a somewhat subdued crowd and played a fantastic cover of Prince’s “I Wanna Be  Your Lover.”  (Note:  The studio version of this cover on YouTube does not do any justice to their live version – so just do yourself a favor and check them out live the next time they're in town).

My Key Tracks:  “Last Forever,” “In Our Blood,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (Prince cover)

Exhausted, I called it a night and went home around 1 AM!

I heard well over twenty bands in the five days I covered the festival, a small fraction of the hundreds?!?, thousands?!? of bands who played the CMJ.

Surprisingly, as I get older I find that I’m not terribly interested in going to larger venues to see well-established bands perform.  Sure, I’ll suck it up to see U2 and I may one of these days finally see the Rolling Stones live.  One would think as I continue in my 30’s, I’d rather head to the larger venues for the larger acts and avoid the smaller venues where you’re elbow-to-elbow with a smaller crowd crammed into a room to see a band who may never “make it.”  But there’s that earnestness that’s there in these acts that I admire.  That a band may not ever become the next Strokes or Arcade Fire, but they’re still there for the passion, even though the fortune and glory may never be known to them.

Yes, we’re a long way from the Beatles at the Cavern Club, but so long as there are humans to make music and perform it and humans who enjoy hearing music live, there will likely be that communal experience of these two sides coming together.

And hopefully CMJ will continue to make this happen, year after year, for many more years to come…

Alex’s 2014 CMJ Music Marathon Playlist: 1)      Aroused – Tom Vek 2)      Beach Holiday – Fort Lean 3)      Breathing – Faded Paper Figures 4)      Ramen Rock/ Green Tea – Shonen Knife 5)      Hot Coals – Cold War Kids 6)      A Lovers’ Spat – Gossling 7)      I Found a New Way – Twin Peaks 8)      Self Control – Kate Boy 9)      U-Huh - Tkay Maidza 10)   Last Forever – Fenech-Soler Word & pics by Alexander Keblish