The College Music Journal festival, held each fall in New York City, has long abandoned college-aged fans as its sole qualifier for booking up-and-coming bands, but that’s not to say college-aged artists have stopped showing up to play.
This year, Ann Arbor is sending a handful of artists to CMJ, the majority of whom are students at U Of M. Among those booked are electronic artists Chrome Sparks, Subvader and Kohwi—all of whom are still fully enrolled at the U—and Gun Lake, a rustic folk-pop outfit that counts an undergraduate presence in its ranks. Using their social-networking savvy and knowledge of the music blogosphere, each was able to secure a showcase by riding waves of positive hype and good vibes they’ve spread across the Internet in recent months.
But regardless of whatever heavy lifting goes into online word-of-mouth publicity, Jeremy Malvin of Chrome Sparks maintains that large-scale showcases for new music, like CMJ, are still as relevant and necessary as ever for artists looking to make an impression.
“The importance of having a good show grows as the Internet does, because all these bands are popping up with just a track,” Malvin says. “These artists get huge and don’t really know how to put on a show. So I think it’s important to establish that you can play a show that’s exciting and gives the audience something to hold onto and visualize and associate with your music.”
Malvin, a junior at the U Of M music school, started tweaking samples and deconstructing beats as Chrome Sparks over the past year. That isn’t to say he’s sloughed off his other current projects, including drumming for Michigan dance-rockers Stepdad and DJing under the monikers Sean Broadway (for disco sets) and Professor Purple (more house-oriented sets). And that’s not even counting his percussion performances for class.
Given all of Malvin’s projects, industry types would be justified in finding it tough to zero in on any one project in particular. But in booking his Chrome Sparks showcases for CMJ (which include a Thursday-night set with Chelsea Wolfe and Wise Blood at the Cake Shop, a Friday-night PBR-sponsored event at the Living Room, and a Saturday set at the Bowery Electric), it seems more than a few of New York’s music cognoscenti were interested.
“I’m lucky in that they’ve all come to me,” says Malvin. “But I know it’s not always that easy. You have to dig around and ask a lot of people, which I’m doing now to fill out [the rest of the weekend]. Hopefully stuff works out. A lot of people are throwing parties and booking really nice venues from as early as noon, or maybe even earlier, on any given day of CMJ.”
“There are a lot of opportunities to play; you just have to press the right buttons,” he adds.
Malvin has already booked a small run of shows on the way to New York, including a kickoff show in town and stops in Oberlin, Ohio; Cleveland, and Pittsburgh—“house parties, mostly,” he contends—before heading to the coast. Joining him will be friends and co-CMJ-crashers Subvader and Kohwi, the latter of whom is just as eager to make the trip out East.
In his last trip out East just this past August, Cory Levinson—who makes lush, sample-based “music for headphones” as Kohwi—was offered a slot at the nascent Out In The Streets Festival in Brooklyn through Birddog, a local promo group. But the fest was canceled due to inclement weather.
“I was all set to get on this bill, and Hurricane Irene happened,” he says. “That day of the show was the day they shut down the entire city. It was in the middle of all that I made a more serious comment to [Birddog] about getting involved with CMJ.”
“Things just started working from there,” Levinson adds.
Barring any borough-wide shutdowns in the coming weeks, Levinson, along with Malvin, anticipates a productive weekend about town getting his music heard by the right ears.
“There’s really no concrete goal other than exposure, and just more people hearing about it,” Malvin says. “And not just more people, but also more management companies, more record labels—just everyone involved with music down there.”
Malvin has been looking forward to experimenting with his Chrome Sparks project in the context of a live band, extrapolating his bedroom concoction of Ableton alchemy and “de-tuned tape delay and plug-ins” toward a more visceral and immediate setting.
“I think we’re going to be taking two cars as a five-person band, which is pretty upsetting considering all the gas we’ll be using,” Malvin says. “We just don’t have a big enough car. Originally I wanted to take the Wurly and the Rhodes and the drum set and everything, but that might be a bit much.”