Though we’ve established that there’s no shortage of must-see sights at the 32nd CMJ Music Marathon—coming to a venue near you in just a few short hours—there’s a lingering consensus among the indie-music nerds that care about this sort of thing (hi!) that, with each passing year, the festival is becoming a lower-stakes game for the industry.
There seems to be an increasingly lesser need for labels and agents to bring out their big guns in terms of star power. As such, there aren’t many Jack Whites or Jesus and Mary Chains scheduled to play within the next five days, unlike this spring at SXSW. Tonight and tomorrow’s sold-out Fiona Apple shows at Terminal 5 aren’t part of the festival. Neither are New Order’s shows at Roseland Ballroom or Divine Fits at Webster Hall later this week. The buzz surrounding Trash Talk and King Krule may have been amplified after they made the CMJ rounds last year, but they’ve by no means been catapulted into the larger consciousness over the last 12 months. That would be weird, actually.
Whether we point fingers at the warped speed of hype-and-dismiss, the growing spotlight on SXSW, the groupthink tenacity of music press determined to cover the same handful of bands, or a myriad of other reasons as to why this is, it still doesn’t mean we should count this year out. If there’s anything that the music industry has taught us over the last decade, it’s that funny things can happen. That’s the only reasonable explanation as to why the Black Keys are a huge deal. (And if nothing else, seeing the next Real Estate in the basement of Santos Party House doesn’t seem completely improbable.)
Before we delve into the chaos, let’s take a look at a few of CMJ’s iconic moments from just a few short years ago: a happy reminder of the what could happen in the next five days.