CMJ 2012: Day Four

8.30pm
Right, so, today involves trying out a radical new strategy: eating a proper dinner, then going to one show and staying there. The show in question is the Ad Hoc showcase at Todd P enclave 285 Kent Ave, a converted warehouse down on the East River. On the bill: Solar Year (who are on early and thus fall victim to the eating-a-proper-dinner idea), Maria Minerva, Prince Rama, Le1f, Kitty Pryde and Mykki Blanco.

8.30pm-ish
A little explanation — there are two types of shows at CMJ. “Official” showcases get listed in the CMJ guide, let you in with a badge (space permitting, of course) and are often weirdly mixed bags of wildly divergent bands thrown together to satisfy CMJ’s pledge to place each of its bands on at least one show. “Unofficial” showcases piggyback off the whole CMJ brand, charge you to get in and usually have better line-ups. The fact that the majority of the week’s best showcases are unofficial rather undermines the utility of an access-all-shows badge, which is something I’d be looking at if I was CMJ and trying to sell such badges for several hundred dollars a pop — but anyway, this line-up is ace and I’m going.

8.59pm
There’s a low mist over Brooklyn tonight, and the air’s so clammy that you’re wet all over from the moment you step out the door — even if you’re not already hot and sweaty from cycling frantically across town to get to the venue in time to catch the second act, having already missed the first.

9.02pm
285 Kent Avenue, Williamsburg
So, here we are.

9.05pm
“No, man, we don’t accept badges. Maybe when we can afford wooden floors for the venue.” Or, y’know, more than two indescribably vile toilets.

9.18pm
One of the reasons I decided on this show tonight was the presence of Not Not Fun-affiliated Estonian lo-fi disco princess Maria Minerva, whose recorded work is many kinds of excellent and who I’ve been wanting to see live for ages.

9.20pm
As she drily notes on her SoundCloud page, “Maria Minerva has not heard of HQ recording. Maria Minerva has not heard that postmodernism is passe.”

9.24pm
Maria Minerva also once got asked in an interview, “How would you describe your relationship with post-structuralist feminism?”

9.30pm
She’s struggling with the sound a bit here, though. Specifically, tweaking something on her mixer causes a squeal of feedback that she clearly finds just as disconcerting as anyone standing right next to the speakers (ie. me).

9.32pm
Post-structuralist feminism presumably doesn’t involve dealing with a bodgy PA, then.

9.38pm
Still, sound problems or no, I’m glad I made it here in time for this. Minerva’s a charming performer, and her music translates well to a live setting. It’s not often your correspondent is dancing so soon after dinner, put it that way.

9.48pm
“This is my first time in New York, and I’m happy that there’s so many open-minded people here. I’m sorry I keep fucking up.” Aw, come on, Maria Minerva. It’s not your fault.

10.02pm
Two girls in hippified Fever Ray facepaint (panda eyes and copious glitter, basically) and psychedelic leotards push past me toward the front of the room, followed by skinny men in thick-rimmed spectacles. I don’t want to use the “h” word — the one that isn’t “hippie” — but…

10.15pm
Actually, I should have known: they’re Prince Rama‘s dancers! The duo climb onto chairs at either side of the stage. And then the band themselves — psychedelic sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson, plus long-haired and somewhat less psychedelic bassist Christopher Burke — take the stage, resplendent in gold face paint, glitter, beads and other suitably subcontinental accoutrements. The lights go down…

10.17pm
..and come up again to reveal Taraka Larson standing at the front of the stage, completely covered by a long silk veil. The aforementioned dancers are holding its trail like tripped-out bridesmaids. Larson starts singing and descends into the crowd — the dancers hold onto the veil for a bit, and are eventually required to let go as Larson heads toward the back of the room. They stand looking nonplussed for a moment, then start with a sort of interpretive dance.

10.20pm
Honestly, this band gets more gloriously ridiculous every time I see them. Their whole stage show is so outlandish — with dramatic yoga poses, interpretive dancing and etc — that it can’t help but be somehow endearing. If nothing else, it’s great to see a band who actually make an effort to put on a show.

10.21pm
But seriously, they must have acid on their Weetbix. Bless.

10.26pm
Their fans are hilarious, too. There’s one girl who clearly has a particularly well-supplied dealer whose number everyone else wants — she’s wearing boots with precipitously high heels and a backpack made from a teddy bear. She’s having a very, very happy time, and she’s also decided she’s part of the band, because she’s up on stage and dancing, much to the amusement of the psychedelic sisters.

10.30pm
The band play recent single “So Destroyed”, which goes down a storm, and then finish with a track that sounds like the sort of thing they’d play at a spin class in a hippie commune. A dude behind me who’s clearly here to see the hip hop-centric end of the bill says to his friend, “I’ve never been to a show like this before. It’s so… different!”

10.31pm-10.51pm
Bathroom queue. Sigh.

10.58pm
Spotted: Kitty Pryde, who’s performing later this evening, hanging at the side of the stage. If this Controversial 19-Year-Old Rap Sensation™ is 19 years old, I’m a monkey’s uncle.

11pm
Backpack girl is now dancing on a table that appears ready to collapse. I’m not entirely sure how I’d feel if it did, to be honest.

11.05pm
Anyway, it seems there’s something about CMJ and gender-bending rappers — it was here three years ago that I discovered the azz-shaking joys of Big Freedia, and tonight there’s not one but two flamboyant queer hip hop types on the bill. First up is Le1f, who purveys suitably booty-shaking naughtiness that’s just the ticket to get the crowd moving. There’s also the fact that he has purple dreadlocks, a basketball jersey adorned with what looks like a gold lamé Inca cat, and two dancers — one male, one female — in shorty-shorts and face masks. Excellent.

11.26pm
This is ace.

11.33pm
One of Le1f’s dancers is trying to light a joint of hilariously epic proportions. It’s so big that it makes the Camberwell Carrot look like a modest one-skinner. The half-size cigarette lighter she’s trying to use is clearly not going to cut the proverbial mustard here, though, because she’s having no luck getting it alight.

11.34pm
She reaches the same conclusion and hands the Megaspliff off to a dude at the side of the stage. A collaborative effort to get the thing burning ensues, with lots of finger pointing and deliberation and burning of thumbs with overheated lighters. A blowtorch is probably what’s required here.

11.35pm
The Megaspliff is so massive, in fact, that it seems to be held together with twine — which is perhaps why it smells like one of those barkies that the delinquent element of class used to smoke on school camps. Did this happen at anyone else’s school?

11.36pm
No?

11.37pm
A shirt comes flying onto the stage. Le1f picks it up and looks into the crowd with an expression that’s more quizzical than coquettish, as if to say, “For me?” Whoever threw it apparently answers in the positive, because Le1f smiles and tosses the shirt to the Megaspliff crew, who seem to have given up on getting their trophy alight.

11.38pm
And now Le1f’s hat comes flying in my direction. It lands on the stage just in front of me.

11.55pm
Le1f’s finished up, and once he’s packed all his gear, he walks over to the side of the stage where I’m standing. He appears to be looking for something. I ask him what he’s after. “My hat, man.” Oh, yeah, it was right th… Oh. Someone’s stolen it. Sigh. People suck.

12.00am
So everyone’s on stage now — both the Prince Rama psychedelic sisters, the hype men, Kitty Pryde’s DJ/boyfriend (who’s definitely not a Controversial 19-Year-Old DJ Sensation™), backpack girl and a troupe of suitably refreshed looking fans. All in all, there’s about 30 people up there, and the stage is noticeably sagging.

12.02am
So, then: Kitty Pryde, Controversial 19-Year-Old Rap Sensation, subverter of hip hop paradigms and author of hideously trite Buffy rap anthem “Okay Cupid”. Is she for real? Is she a postmodern satire on hip hop machodom, a subversion of gender roles in the 21st century? Is she the voice of today’s post-millenial internet generation? Is she, whisper it quietly, ironic?

12.03am
The thing is, while there are all sorts of cultural treatises to be written about the subversive politics of a white girl rapping — rapping! — about quotidian white girl concerns, but they all ignore one fundamental point: this shit is terrible.

12.04am
TERRIBLE.

12.08am
Actually, the more I think about it, there’s something deeply patronizing about this whole “Oh look at me, I’m a teenager” schtick. People still in their teens have been responsible for some wonderful art, from Arthur Rimbaud to Willy Mason, from “Teenage Kicks” to “Motorcycle Emptiness”. This, though… it feels like the musical equivalent of a focus group designed to sell made-in-China products to tweens. Endless discussions about the perfect shade of pink. Even her name sounds like a clothing line.

12.12am
She’s acquired a hypeman from somewhere, too, which only adds to the surreal nature of proceedings, especially as he has gold teeth, a silly hat, pants that are constantly threatening to descend to his ankles and a half-size guitar that he keeps waving at the audience.

12.20am
UGH.

12.24am
Mercifully, Kitty Pryde hands off the mic to a girl who apparently goes by the name of… um, Chickie Non-Stop? (Disclaimer: I may have misheard this.) Anyway, whatever her name is, she’s about five feet tall, wearing a hat that’s several sizes too big for her, and the most unlikely rapper you’ve ever ever seen. She’s also way better than Kitty, mainly because she eschews arched-eyebrow meta self-consciousness for just rocking the mic. The crowd loves her.

12.26am
Hilarious moment of the evening: one of the Prince Rama psychedelic sisters fixes her eyes on the hype man and reaches dramatically toward him like God reaching out to Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. She may well be seeing him as a technicolor kaleidoscopic bodhisattva by this stage of the evening. He gives her a cursory high five, shakes his head with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment, and goes back to dancing.

12.27am
Oops! I fear he caught me giggling at the whole scene, too.

12.31am
Oh, he totally did, because he climbs down off the stage, throws his arm around my neck and shouts something in my ear. I have no idea what he says, sadly.

12.36-12.56pm
The bathroom queue. Sigh.

1am
The lights go down. A tall, imposing, dreadlocked figure clad in a torn Notorious BIG t-shirt and a pair of y-fronts takes the stage. It’s Mykki Blanco time!

1.02am
According to Mykki herself, she is a mixture of riot grrrl and ghetto fabulousness. That seems as good a description for what’s ensuing on stage as any — she spits foul-mouthed ryhmes that reference everything from The Simpsons to Marcel Duchamp.

1.12am
Shirt comes off! Mykki wraps it around her waist, making her look like some sort of 21st century hip hop drag gladiator. What an age we live in.

1.20am
“If you smoke weed, I need you to smoke weed right now.” Whither the Megaspliff?

1.25am
Mykki pulls it up for an acapella rap in which she tees off on “bitch niggas”, “haters” and various other undesirables, promising that much righteous hip hop justice shall be meted upon all such types. This sort of bravado is perhaps faintly ridiculous from someone in a skimpy pair of underpants, but still.

1.36am
Line of the evening: “Smithers, get my slippers while I massacre these niggas!”

1.41am
Pictureplane — clad in what looks like a Nascar driver’s outfit — appears behind the stage. He’s waving a guitar for no apparent reason. If you’re a Williamsburg-based drug dealer and you’re not at 285 Kent tonight, you have serious fucking problems.

1.45am
Mykki invites us to “join my militia”, then strikes a dramatic Blair Witch style pose with a red light as her DJ drops one final beat. The lights come on. I debate staying for Pictureplane’s conceptual DJ set, which will be kicking off from 2am, then decide to conserve energy for one final assault on CMJ tomorrow. Tonight was fun! It’s so much easier to manage your night when you stay in one place. Who knew?

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