DJ Tesla’s Reflection on CMJ Music Marathon 2015


By Taylor Jones (DJ Tesla), Music Director at KWVA 88.1

In a town in southernmost Sicily
Lived a family too proud to be poor
In the year that fever took father away
They hastened for American shores
Now a mother and her son are standing in line
It’s a cold day on Ellis Isle
And they look to the Statue of Liberty
For the boy we have American Life

  • Les Claypool, “American Life” (1991)

The College Music Journal has invited music enthusiasts from around the world to meet in New York City for the CMJ Music Marathon every autumn since 1980. Throughout history, people have sought success and the American dream in New York City. The CMJ Music Marathon is a microcosm of this ideal. One week in the city presents endless opportunities for those who participate in the festival. Bands want their big break, college kids want their next job, and industry professionals are searching for the next great artist. At its core, the CMJ Music Marathon revolves around relationships. People say “it’s about who you know,” and the music industry is no exception. The real opportunity, for attendees, for industry professionals and for artists, lies in being present and making themselves known. When everyone gathers in the cultural hub that is New York City, it’s go time. The day is filled with presentations, panel discussions and professional development workshops at a central location. From late afternoon through the night, the event coordinates a minimum of 30 showcases across Manhattan and Brooklyn. These shows are presented by talent agencies, concert promoters, record labels and a range of venues. In a nutshell, it’s an exhausting week, but exciting and worthwhile.

The marathon focuses on up-and-coming artists, many of which have little recorded music to speak of. Artists featured at South by Southwest and similar festivals have often gained recognition by playing CMJ. Again, here’s where the “American Life” allusion comes in. The bands travel to NYC seeking opportunity in the music industry. What’s the big deal about landing a showcase? The whole idea here is playing for a specific audience. You’re playing for opinion leaders and tastemakers. You’re playing for radio DJs, record producers, and concert promoters. You’re playing for the industry, not for the general audience. Therefore, these showcases can heavily influence a band’s reputation. Playing a handful of shows during CMJ could be more advantageous and definitely more cost-effective than struggling through an entire U.S. tour when nobody knows your band or what you represent. Bands have to make sure the audience walks away with an impression. The best of them pour their heart and soul into the performance and show people they are worth the time of day. Deradoorian, DRINKS and Methyl Ethel are some artists I was unfamiliar with who took the stage and stole the show. It’s no time to mess around because ultimately the industry is so fast-paced and cyclical that artists are lost in the abyss if they don’t make an impact.

Deradoorian @ Cake Shop

Deradoorian @ Cake Shop

Let’s say your band is playing CMJ. The ideal outcome is to play a handful of showcases to gather support from radio DJs, record labels, agencies, and other groups. When these individuals go back to whence they came– voilà – your band suddenly has spokespeople around the U.S. and beyond. Hopefully they will admire your music and spread the word. As your fan base grows, so does your ability to tour. Now I can play Creepoid (Philadelphia), Sun Beam Sound Machine (Melbourne), Ezra Furman (Evanston) and more on my radio show, KWVA can host them for live sessions and perhaps even in concert. CMJ artists have created these opportunities with stations all across the country.

Ezra Furman @ Knitting Factory

Ezra Furman @ Knitting Factory

What’s in it for the college radio people? Well, networking is the heart and soul of this festival. If you attend, have your business cards at the ready because you’re going to tell everyone who you are, what you do, and why you’re great. Everyone has their own way of giving their spiel. People hungry for work in the record industry are professional self-promoters, but sometimes the “give me a job” agenda can overpower the pleasure of meeting someone. The fight for attention can feel like eager college students climbing over each other to try and schmooze with industry professionals. C’mon, people, aren’t we here to enjoy the music and get to know each other? Sometimes people are more focused on being hip than watching the show. You’re supposed to meet a lot of people, connect with record promoters and catch the shows together. That’s what it’s about, right? Don’t expect everyone to have a job waiting for you. You have the opportunity to learn how other stations operate and how your station fits into the bigger picture of college radio. Ultimately, students can enhance their relationships with record promotion companies and represent their station in the radio world.

The attendee is guaranteed a 100 percent unique experience. It is physically impossible to attend even a fraction of all the showcases. You can catch two, three, maybe four, showcases in a day. I’ve included my itinerary below and I’ll bet you every single attendee had a different schedule. CMJ could have encouraged attendees to engage with the festival and somehow publish their schedules, posing the simple question “how did you experience CMJ?” Alas, maybe there is beauty in the unknown. The point is you have the power to curate the festival for yourself. Pick a showcase here, a showcase there, hit all the venues you can and try to see a variety of artists.

CMJ Music Marathon 2015 presented a range of international acts, collaborating with organizations such as Sounds Australia, Music From Ireland, Tune in Tel Aviv, South Africa Presents, Canadian Blast, Nordic Night, Swiss Live Talents, M for Montreal and more. If I could go back in time I would catch more of these presentations. One of the most enthralling live performances I attended was Le Galaxie, a group from Dublin. Music From Ireland partially sponsored their artists to travel to CMJ. After that show, I stopped by the all day Aussie BBQ at The Delancey. They were throwing goods on the barbie and serving up some great bands, including Sun Beam Sound Machine, Good Morning, The Babe Rainbow, and Methyl Ethel. International artists were featured in their national showcases, but also played various shows throughout the week. This is one aspect of the festival that I feel was widely overlooked. Many of the international presenters have government support to fund their artists travel expenses. Additionally, countries including Australia and Sweden issue grants and other forms of monetary support for independent artists to start bands, hire musicians, rent gear, and pay for travel. U.S. endowments seem to fall behind in their support of independent recording artists as cultural export. The next generation of music industry professionals can set an initiative to help these U.S. artists share their craft with international markets.

Thursday focused on International Day programming

Thursday focused on International Day programming

I could talk in length about the artists I really liked and others that I did not enjoy. You should listen to the music and it will tell you more than I could. But of course I’m happy to talk with you and discuss music, CMJ and the arts in general. The festival sparks discussions about the future of the music industry, the sustainable artist, college radio and more. How do technology, economics and politics affect the value of art? How do they affect the production, distribution and sale of art? Daytime programming at CMJ addressed these topics through a broad scope and engaged panelists with a range of perspectives.

Let’s wrap-up and put a bow on this piece. CMJ Music Marathon takes place every autumn in New York City. The festival promises to foster new relationships and support existing ones. Bands meet bands. Bands meet agents. Agents meet promoters. College kids get giddy and record promoters get hyped. Everyone and everything feels electric and one realizes the opportunities to be had in NYC. People travel to this cultural capital with the hope of attaining greatness. Perhaps that greatness only lasts for a week in the city, but it has the potential to resonate long after. They arrive in New York City, they look to the Statue of Liberty and they might achieve their own version of the American dream.


Stopped by Rough Trade, Brooklyn.

Taylor has good time @ CMJ

DJ Tesla enjoying CMJ

shannon and the clams

Shannon and The Clams playing a sold-out show at Music Hall of Williamsburg


Mothers @ Rough Trade

Dungen @ Baby’s All Right

Dream Downtown (Conference Center)

Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn, where I basically lived for the week.

Beach Baby @ The Output

Car Seat Headrest @ Rough Trade


DJ Tesla’s CMJ 2015 Schedule and Band Awards:


The Output ­­ Best rooftop view of Manhattan

Co-Sign Rooftop Bash

Beach Baby (London)
Oscar (London)
MONIKA (Athens, Greece) – Best Greek disco party

Baby’s All Right

Bayonet Records & Couples Skate Present

Mega Bog (Seattle) – Best natural-high-inducing band

Frankie Cosmos (NYC)



Baby’s All Right

BrooklynVegan & Collect Records Present

Creepoid (Philadelphia)

Wax Idols (Oakland/LA)

No Devotion (UK)

Knitting Factory

Panache Presents

Juan Wauters (NYC) – Most charming

Ezra Furman (Evanston, IL) – Most promising and biggest surprise




Atypical Beasts Presents

Michael Rault (Edmonton, AB) – Most shredding rock’n’roll guitar licks

Methyl Ethel (Perth) – Most chill and chorused-out Aussies


Baby’s All Right

Quilt (Boston) – Best old favorite

Dungen (Stockholm) – Most established and dialed-in sound


Cameo Gallery

Ghostly International Presents

Lord Raja (NYC)

Shigeto (Detroit) – Most hypnotic and best groove



Cake Shop

Terrorbird 10th Annual CMJ Day Party

Stealing Sheep (Liverpool) – Best surprise and delight

Deradoorian (LA) – Most intriguing live performance


Wythe Hotel

Cascine x Arbutus CMJ Happy Hour

Promise Keeper (London)


Rough Trade

Aquarium Drunkard Presents: No Jacket Required

Modern Vices (Chicago)

Car Seat Headrest (Seattle) – Most Ramone-looking bass player

Mothers (Athens, GA)

Yoko & The Oh No’s (Chicago) – Most charisma in songs

DRINKS (LA) – Coolest new band of Tim Preseley (White Fence)

Protomartyr (Detroit) – Most direct, raw, tell-it-like-it-is music


Music Hall of Williamsburg

Shannon and The Clams (Oakland) – Best crowd at sold out show




Music From Ireland and Irish Arts Center Present

Ham Sandwich (Kells, County Meath, Ireland)

Le Galaxie (Dublin, Ireland) – Best afternoon, small bar dance party


The Delancey

Aussie BBQ Presents

Sunbeam Sound Machine (Melbourne) – Most serene

Good Morning (Melbourne)

The Babe Rainbow (Byron Bay)

Methyl Ethel (Perth) – Busiest band of the week


The Shop

Dirty Frigs (Toronto) – Most aggressive surprise, but cool

Vomitface (Brooklyn, NY) – Most “about to release a great record” band


Union Pool

Joyful Noise & Team Clermont Present

Shana Falana (Kingston, NY) – Most witch-hunt soundtrack

Stolen Jars (Montclair, NJ)

KWVA Top 30 Week of October 28th, 2015


Top 5 New Albums of the Week!

1. Doug Hream Blunt – My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt – Luaka Bop
2. Fuzz II – In The Red
3. Apprentice Destroyer – Glass Ceiling Universe – Castle Face
4. Darkstar – Foam Island – Warp
5. Beat Connection – Product 3 – Anti