CMJ Day Two: From Indie Pop to Hip Hop

Posted October 20, 2011 in

Radiation City
Day two of CMJ started as mellow as possible. It was fitting for my hangover from the night before and the overcast rainy weather that had infiltrated the city.

The Paste Party at The Living Room was my first stop of the day to catch Radiation City, one of the groups that I was determined to see during CMJ. This Portland-based five-piece play shimmery, minimalistic indie pop and alternate between male and female vocalists. I dug their album, The Hands that Take You, but on-stage, the group was a bit too stiff and at times it felt like they were trying to hide behind their instruments. The music was just as beautiful in person as it was recorded, but the group’s weak stage presence made things a little awkward. Luckily, by their final song, it appeared that Radiation City had warmed up and were actually comfortable on stage.

I actually didn’t intend to watch The Lonely Forest, but when I wandered into the back area of The Living Room, the band’s lead singer, John Van Deusen, immediately caught my attention. Although I don’t typically like this type of music, Van Deusen’s energy on stage made for a captivating and interesting performance. Between the indie ballads, Van Deusen joked with the crowd, mentioning how he hoped for our sake that they didn’t sound like The Goo Goo Dolls"they did not. Ultimately, the charm of this Washington-based band made me stay for the music.

Next I popped over to The Cake Shop to check out the tail end of the Terrorbird Day Party. Teen Daze, the Vancouver-based laptop DJ who looks like local Salt Lake musician Will Sartain, was setting up. Before beginning, he informed the crowd that he would playing a new set of songs and encouraged them to dance and get friendly with one another. For the next half hour Teen Daze blanketed the crowd with his lo-fi, dreamy electronic sounds. The set felt less upbeat than what he played when I saw him in Austin last year, but the more mellow chillwave set was refreshing and Teen Daze remained energetic, head banging over his laptop as he played.

Then it was back to Brooklyn for the Domino Records and Stereogum unofficial showcase. In this case, the venue"located in an unnamed building in Brooklyn near a wastewater treatment plant"was as interesting as the music. Four Tet played an intimate DJ set for the first hour. It was exciting to see such a prolific electronic artist in such a small, unpretentious space. The evening felt more like an amazing coincidental house party than a carefully organized and coordinated showcase, which I think is exactly what they were going for. It was exciting to be close enough to Four Tet to actually watch him dig through his record bins and select what he’d be spinning next.

The final stop of the night was at The Knitting Factory to check out Davila 666, the rock n’ roll outfit from Puerto Rico. One of the exciting things about festivals like CMJ is that it gives you the chance to see so many international artists. This six-piece commanded the stage the second they began playing with an energy similar to Black Lips. The classic rock n’ roll jolt was much needed after my morning of indie and lo-fi electro. The majority of songs seemed to be sung in Spanish, and despite not being able to understand what they were saying, the songs were infectious and instantly catchy.

Initially I intended to leave after Davila 666, but at the last moment realized that the entire Doomtree crew was scheduled to perform at midnight. It is a rare treat for the Doomtree collective to perform all together, and last year when they toured through Salt Lake City I was stupid enough to miss the show. After their performance in Brooklyn, I won’t make that mistake again. The producers behind the group, Lazerbeak and DJ Paper Tiger, held things down at the back of the stage, while Dessa, Mike Mictlan, P.O.S., Sims and Cecil Otter all took turns on the mic, sometimes spitting beats in unison. Watching the members of Doomtree play off each other’s energy on stage was incredible. When one mic began to go out the members passed the good one back and fourth. At one point Dessa used two mics at once to make sure the lyrics would be heard. The way they took turns on the mic made it impossible to grow tired of what was happening on stage. The individuals of Doomtree are all talented, but when they come together they form a hip hop super group that can’t be fucked with. Admittedly though, I got most excited when Dessa or Mike Mictlan took center stage.

Although my Wednesday was somewhat schizophrenic, in terms of musical genre and the number of venues I hit, it couldn’t have panned out better.
Radiation City The Lonely Forest. Photo: Christopher Nelson Teen Daze. Photo: Four Tet. Photo: Davila 666. Photo: Victor Pagan Doomtree. Photo: Kelly Loverud