From In Conversation: Jon Cohen and Jem Aswad Photo by Ally Gonzalez

From In Conversation: Jon Cohen and Jem Aswad
Photo by Ally Gonzalez

KCSB had the honor of sending a record number of student representatives from the Executive Committee to the CMJ Music Marathon, an annual convention, music festival, and college radio wonderland, held this past October in New York.

Contributors: Kenny Oravetz, Sam Goff, Joaquin Peres, Matt Merritt, Ally Gonzalez

Dungen
Kenny Oravetz

Being one of the few twenty-one year olds in the KCSB CMJ contingent, and being the only one of that group that liked punk and psychedelic rock music, I ended up striking off on my own for multiple shows throughout the week. Sure, it was a bummer to leave my kin behind, but my solo pursuits allowed for new adventures and new types of gain. For one, I met many interesting people. There were two stonery DJs from Colorado, a drunk program director from Montreal who pulled me into a convenience store to buy cigarettes, and a fedora-clad Bob Boilen, for starters. But my favorite incident of meeting a fresh face was at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn. I trekked to the venue solo, again, since it was twenty one and over. I was there for a psych-folk rock band called Quilt, opening for a band I had never heard of called Dungen. Getting in was a bit of a hassle. The woman outside the venue told me that the show was “super sold out” and that they weren’t taking passes. I protested and told her I was only there for the opener and that I’d leave after. After we both yammered away for a few minutes she told me to go inside and talk to the cashier. I got carded and entered the bar area, saw the door between the bar area and the venue space swing open, and went for it, scooting inconspicuously onto the nearly empty floor behind a skinny bearded hipster dude.

I had shown up intentionally early because I did not want to miss Quilt for anything. Seeing them, a band I had played regularly on my radio show for years, was one thing, seeing them in their hometown of Brooklyn was another. And there I was, about to do both. With a half hour to kill I leaned on the rail of the stairway leading down to the floor, unable to browse my phone for fear that it would die and I would be stranded in the urban jungle of the city. Instead, I eavesdropped on the two men on the raised area behind me, chatting about various shows they were seeing that week. At one point I turned around and asked them if they were CMJ attendees. They weren’t. Ok.

Quilt started pretty much on time and had an excellent set, opening with a jammed out version of “Mary Mountain,” and interspersing their performance with new material. By the time they closed with “Penobska Oakwalk,” the place was packed, and I saw why the woman outside had been so strict. Whatever, though, I was in, and I had seen the band I wanted to see. I decided to get cup of water at the bar before heading out. As I sidled up to the bar, there next to me was one of the men I had eavesdropped on.

“Hey man,” I said.

“Hey! How’s it going?”

“Good, good! I was wondering about this next band coming up. I was mostly here for Quilt.”

His eyes went wide.

“Oh man, Dungen is awesome. They’re like a psychedelic post-rock band. From Sweden. Most of their stuff is instrumental, but when they sing, they sing in Swedish. Kind of like Tame Impala, Sigur Ros, stuff like that.”

“Oh shit. I might have to stick around then,” I replied.

“Yeah man, I love them. I’ve been wanting to see them for seven years, they never come to the US!”

“Damn!”

“Yeah. By the way, down if I buy you a drink? The tab here is a minimum twenty dollars.”

“Yeah I’m down for a drink! Thanks man. I’m Kenny by the way.”

“John. Nice to meet you man.”

John was a music aficionado. He had done college radio in Georgia, and was at the show with his friend Kyle, who I think was some sort of commercial DJ. He seemed as interested in the Mets game as in the show, a far cry from John, who was beyond all in on what was to come.

And boy, was John justified. As I joined him in his spot at the front of the raised level of the venue, Dungen came on stage and the crowd erupted. Starting with a slow building guitar-based scorcher of a track that came to a dramatic crescendo, the four-piece jammed their way through an extensive set of material, alternating heavier rock cuts with smooth flute and keyboard tracks and folksier songs sung in Swedish, all blending together in a gradually swelling and falling post rock sea. Their set seemed endlessly long, but in a way that I wished it would never end, and the crowd and band themselves seemed to feel the same. When it did end, I shook John’s hand, said farewell, and hustled over to the merch booth to buy an LP, one I would carefully guard that night as I traversed subway lines, cold city streets, and bumping nightclubs on my way back to meet up with the friends I had sadly had to leave behind. That solitude was worth it, in the end, and it turned into something more, a “single-serving friendship” of sorts, as Fight Club would have said.

Panda Bear at the Bowery Photo by Ally Gonzalez

Panda Bear at the Bowery
Photo by Ally Gonzalez

That friendship has the potential to go farther, however. That was one of my favorite things about CMJ, how whether you were by yourself or with a friend or two, you could easily reach out and meet people with the same interests and in the same industry as you, creating connections for later. There’s no place to meet promoters like at the showcase they’re putting on, or DJs at the radio panel they’re participating in, or artists like at the first show they’ve played in the States, and maybe ever for that matter. There’s a happiness in the air at CMJ, but also a rugged, New York-ian desire to hustle and prove yourself. The happiness and the hustle combine to create an excellent, extroverted collaborative environment. All of those single incidents, those “single-serving friendships,” now have the potential to grow into something more, whether for myself, or for the benefit of the station as a whole.

Jerry Paper
Sam Goff and Joaquin Peres

Sam:
The final day of CMJ was Saturday October 17, but we had another day in the City to catch some more music and eat our last $1 slices of pizza.  Matt, Joaquin, and I met up on W14th Street and 7th Ave to see Jerry Paper perform.  Jerry had quickly become a focal artist in our late-nite/early morning listening parties because of his subdued yet intriguing sound built around chintzy keyboards and a chopped-and-screwed-style baritone voice.  It worked out almost too well that he was playing on our last day in New York, and for a steal of $5 at that.

The three of us timed it so we would arrive at the venue, named Babycastle’s, with ample time before Jerry’s set.  After a bit of confusion where the venue was, our party came across an unassuming glass door with a piece of paper stuck onto it bearing the words: “Babycastles, up the stairs.”  A cramped closet space at the top of the stairs had been turned into a ticket office.  The picture was becoming clearer now; Babycastle’s was a converted apartment space, and normal residential features had been refashioned into pieces of the complex spatial puzzle required for a “concert hall.”

Stepping into the main space where other people had congregated, I gathered that we were in a living room.  Except the room before me had been transformed into a DIY performance area with an accompanying aesthetic that immediately impacted the vibe. First off, there was a man making some type of extremely pungent food, which I learned later was “Halal nachos.” Situated around the food stand were retro arcade games that were not operating.  This ante-area of the room was unofficially separated from the “dance” floor and tiny stage by an inflatable kiddie pool filled with scruffy foam sticks.  I had never seen a concert venue like this one before, it out DIY-ed all of the independent places where I had seen shows.  I had trouble making a coherent idea about what type of aesthetic Babycastle’s was pushing, and watching the bands enter and exit the stage through a plastic sheet with 8-bit bricks printed on it further confused me.  I shrugged and gave Joaquin and Matt a look of “WTF, but this is kind of cool, right?” and we suddenly were part of the Babycastle’s scene.

Joaquin:
As the last opening act, Show Me The Body, brought their banjo-driven blitzkrieg to a close, I, with one slice of margherita, one slice of pepperoni, and a bite of halal nacho in my gas tank, was fully girded for the interdisciplinary tour de force of Jerry Paper’s live set. The scent of the aforementioned nachos, with strange turmeric-coated-Rice-Krispie overtones, wafted slowly to the front, where Lucas Nathan prepared to merge with the interdimensional entity known as Jerry Paper. Donning a shimmering, purple-silk kimono, Jerry stepped through curtains of simulated brick and took the stage, clicking a pedal and cueing the opening strains of “Doesn’t Matter/ Take Me”.

What ensued was unlike anything Matt, Sam, or myself have encountered in my relatively short time on this earth, as Jerry Paper used a headset microphone and an impressive repertoire of facial expressions, body grooves, and gesticulations to bring a broad sampler of his absurdist, melancholic pop masterpieces to life. Eschewing his standard synthesizer-drum-machine wizardry, Jerry looped backing tracks of his own music while improvising interpretative dances in tandem with remarkably spot-on vocals, in between occasional water/nacho-hawking breaks. We followed the rollercoaster of his digital devotion along the peaks and troughs of almost every stage of his oeuvre, until at last we arrived at the searing conclusion of “Reprogram Ourselves.”

Surrounded by my gyrating comrades, suppressing a fledgling tear, I understood the rare wonder of Jerry Paper’s live presence, and surrendered myself to sheer joy at the knowledge of our induction into the 11th dimension of philoso-pop. The seemingly random juxtaposition of violent banjos and pensive synthesizers was all part of a master plan, and although the architect of this plan may not have been easily identifiable, the sheer beauty of the moment was all that truly mattered.

Kamasi Washington
Matt Merritt

Kamasi Washington at Le Poisson Rouge Photo by Yibing Guo

Kamasi Washington at Le Poisson Rouge
Photo by Ally Gonzalez

I walked twenty minutes to get here. I’ve ditched my friends. My phone is just about dead. And I got lost along the way.

“Right on Lafayette. Left on Ashford. Left on Fulton,” my best friend in the world Ally told me before she abandoned me to see Panda Bear for the second night in a row. We chanted it together for about two minutes. And yet, I missed Ashford. It’s okay though, because I’m here.

I’ve arrived at the BRIC House, and I am about to see the most promising, innovative jazz musician of the recent moons: Kamasi Washington.

I walk in like I’m Kevin fucking Spacey and flash my badge. “Hi, I’m with CMJ.”

“Hi, we are sold out. We only had thirty spots for CMJ badges,” the lovely assistants at the front desk tell me.

“Oh. For sure.”

I sink low. Really low, like David Schwimmer low.

I stand hopelessly by the front desk for twenty-nine minutes charging my phone with the attendant’s computer, occasionally glancing over as they count tickets from all of the lucky devils inside.

At the thirtieth minute, the front-desk ladies look up at me. “You know what, just take one,” she says, gingerly placing a used ticket in my hand.

“Wow, thanks!”

I feel the butterflies tingle in my nether-belly. I sprint to the doors, kung-fu gripping the cold steel handle of the door like I was the girl in that epic Sublime song, “Caress Me Down.”

I am greeted by the dankest jazz I’ve ever heard. Unprecentedly dank. Seven members align along the stage—a pianist, a singer, two drummers, an upright bassist, a trumpeter, and finally, tenor saxophonist extraordinaire Kamasi Washington. The band is used to operating with twelve players, but the shortage of participants does not diminish the scope of the sound one bit. Notes are firing on all cylinders.

It’s very crowded, but I shove my way in like the 25th crayon in a 24 pack. People are loving it, though, because I am doing jazz hands the whole time. Just as I’ve solidified my place among some new friends, Kamasi introduces his upright bassist, Miles Mosley, for a solo performance.

What followed was utterly jaw dropping.

Mosley starts out with slow, pulsating bow work, subtly tapping a wah pedal for a subtle mix of candor and psychedelia. Upon reaching a crescendo, he sets down the bow and starts the most layered sequence of plucking to have ever blessed my ears.

Kamasi then kicks it over to his drummers, Drummer #1 and #2, who engage in a heroically cacophonic battle. The thunderous cracks of sticks split my ears into pieces that I proceed to devour in hopes of digesting the insanity. I can’t though, on account of it is too insane. All in all, Drummer #1 won and everybody knows it.

It was then that the saxophone virtuoso reclaimed the spotlight, his long dashiki swaying from side to side as he fingerblasted the shit out of the room. His dad, jazzman Rickey Washington, then joined the band for a joyous twelve-minute collaboration.

I had only been there for thirty minutes, and yet I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth and a half. I’d been hearing a supreme amount of hype about Kamasi for months, but to have had first-hand proof was truly gratifying. His record label, Brainfeeder, is currently revolutionizing the jazz landscape, and Kamasi Washington is a massive weapon in its arsenal.

As I write this, I’m wearing a Kamasi Washington shirt, sitting beneath a Kamasi Washington poster, and starting my third consecutive listening experience of his triple LP debut, “The Epic.” The man is no joke, and neither am I.