CMJ Day Five: Finishing the Week with the Fader


Lyor Cohen seemed to like her

A few entries back, I bitched a bit about the atmosphere at the Fader Sideshow, the CMJ daytime venue where most of the crowd was invariably too busy networking and cadging free shit to pay attention to anything happening onstage. But then maybe people really just need a place to drink and see friends during the day, especially when they’re deep in the midst of five days of constant show-going. It’s a fine line, after all, between networking and hanging out. Most of the bands playing the Fader spot had already been booked for like fifteen shows during the week anyway, and it doesn’t make much sense to get upset about an atmosphere that casual when the people onstage act just as casual. As I showed up to the venue, White Williams was onstage, and his music made more sense in the background than it did as an attention-center at the Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday. The Fader spot isn’t exactly engineered to allow for any transcendent moments, but then neither is CMJ itself. And the Fader spot allowed me the opportunity to stand about ten feet away from Lyor Cohen, who, judging by his erratic head-nodding, has absolutely no rhythm whatsoever, which is awesome. Also: free drinks!

Among the gallery-rap types who overran CMJ this year Chicago duo Cool Kids, next up onstage, sound the most like actual rap, which is to say their tempos never edge up into hi-NRG territory and they never rap over “Sweet Dreams.” Their retro-rap style is totally willfully anachronistic, full of negative space and sparse, clangy drum-machine sounds. But it’s ultimately pretty low-impact: an excuse to wear neon B-boy clothes and trot out outmoded rap-history signifiers. I like them. They can rap, which is a big plus, and they know how to control a stage. Yesterday at the Fader thing, they emerged from the crowd, did four or five songs, and then stepped back into the crowd and over to the bar, something they’d almost certainly been doing all week. I wish them well, but I don’t see Lyor Cohen turning them into the next T.I. or anything.

The one-drop reggae crooner I Wayne was the only guy I saw all week who wasn’t wearing his tie-dyed T-shirt ironically. “Can’t Satisfy Her,” I Wayne’s big hit from a couple of years back, was a stern, vaguely assholish rebuke against a prostitute, but he showed none of that standoffishness in person. Rather, he seemed thrilled to be standing in front of any crowd, even one less energetic and attentive than the ones he’s probably used to. His voice is a silky float, and his tracks are as self-consciously retro in their way as the Cool Kids’ but without the quotation marks. And even on the Fader room’s relatively dinky sound-system, the bass on those tracks had enough rumble to move.

Voice review: Baz Dreisinger on I Wayne’s “Can’t Satisfy Her”

The Brooklyn sing-rapper Santogold, who I’d tried and failed to see the night before, didn’t have anything like I Wayne’s bass sound. She didn’t have his voice either; hers is more chirp than coo. And most of her tracks had none of the facepunch immediacy of “Creator,” her utterly unstoppable new single. Still, she had a totally disarming stage-presence, she and her hype-woman awkwardly and enthusiastically flailing limbs in all directions, like 12-year-olds making up on-the-spot dance-routines while watching MTV. Santogold’s been racking up a pile of M.I.A. comparisons lately, and she works with a lot of the same producers and stirs up a lot of the same influences. But where M.I.A. is a cold, harsh performer, Santogold is dizzy and overjoyed. Her background is in ska-punk, not in hanging out with Elastica, and plenty of bubblegum alt-rock creeps its way into her tracks alongside dancehall and rap and techno and whatever else. From yesterday’s evidence, she’s still finding her stage-legs, but she doesn’t necessarily need them yet. She didn’t amaze, but she was fun, something I could say about any number of CMJ acts this year.