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Tabi Bonney performs at Fat Baby last night in New York City.
The thing about CMJ is, not all of it’s CMJ. There are the unoffocial day parties—free, sometimes invite-only events sponsored by record labels, PR firms, and media. There are the more exclusive parties at night. And there are the shows that, although not nominally part of the five-day conference and music festival, go on anyway, right in the middle of it all.
Take Casper Bangs‘ show last night at Pianos, which was sponsored by the weekly concert series Cross-Polination and was not part of the official CMJ roster. Nevertheless, the band—the project of Rob Pierangeli, who used to play in the Hard Tomorrows—played to a nearly full room.
Pierangeli paid $45 when he applied to play at this year’s CMJ, but his band was turned down. “Sorry to be frank, but I don’t see if the music has that much to do with who gets in,” he told me today. “So if you want to play, you have to know someone. Everyone knows that though. That’s not new information.”
The problem, he said, is that bands have to apply to CMJ through a service called Sonicbids, which was conceived as a digital middle man between bands and show promoters. The CMJ application comes with a fee but is free for Sonicbids members, who pay around $70 a year.
Pierangeli doesn’t like that arrangement, and he’s not the only one (here‘s Sonicbids’ response to the controversy over its submissions method and pricing). “Maybe a lot of artists are out there getting gigs and finding Sonicbids is a strong tool to advance their careers,” Pierangeli said. “But not me. I’m just one experience, but it seems kind of like bullshit to me.”
He said he doesn’t want blow money an event whose impact seems to have diminished. Because of how technology and the economy have changed the recording industry, “perhaps there’s less incentive for the industry to really to come in [for CMJ],” Pierangeli said. “West Coast people don’t come out. They’re probably like, ‘we’ll wait for South by Southwest or something. We’ll go to that instead.’ So what the fuck are we doing coming up here? People just play it so they can say that they played it.”
Still, he does see advantages to the festival. “I think the value is just connecting with new people and connecting with old people. In terms of maybe what CMJ what it once was, and bands getting signed and discovered, it’s not like that anymore.”
Which is why, following the release of a 7-inch and an EP next month (you can hear the latter here), Casper Bangs will begin releasing singles frequently and for free. Pierangeli said he hopes to begin that project in December. Not that he doesn’t love albums or lacks enough material to fill one. But, he said, “people just want songs right now. They don’t want to commit.”
Some shots of other District artists who performed last night during CMJ:
Deleted Scenes at Cameo Gallery:
True Womanhood (full disclosure: I’m friends with the band) at Cameo Gallery:
Tabi Bonney at Fat Baby. Niki Jean, from Bonney’s pop group the Crybabies, joined him for a song:
Surf City, from New Zealand, at Cake Shop: