In 2004, Arcade Fire were the new buzzband everyone wanted to see at CMJ Music Marathon. In 2013, Arcade Fire were the bunch of Grammy-winning millionaires who ruined it. That’s really saying something, too, because in reality, no one actually cares about CMJ. For most people, attending a CMJ show typically inspires the same enthusiasm as getting a dental cleaning. It’s an increasingly irrelevant music tradition that, much like a new sitcom about two buddies who live together in the big city, still seems to come around every October, whether people want it or not.
But, in a weird way, CMJ does still serve a purpose to some. It’s a chance for publicists and managers to trot out their hot new bands to a half-empty room of music industry people who might later write about them, giving them exposure to an audience of music fans outside of New York, where people are too jaded to get excited about anything that’s not a new artisanal donut truck.
But last week, Arcade Fire swooped in and took a Canadian-sized shit all over this year’s CMJ. They totally ruined it.
In case you didn’t hear, while CMJ showcases were going on across various venues in New York, Arcade Fire played a pair of semi-secret shows on two consecutive nights at a Brooklyn warehouse, billing themselves as The Reflektors, a promotional gimmick for their new album. But of course you heard about it. It was shouted across every corner of the Internet all weekend, from The New York Times all the way down to whatever dickhead’s music Tumblr you frequent. It even got write-ups in publications that would otherwise never set a foot in Bushwick, like Entertainment Weekly and MTV. It was the single biggest story of the CMJ weekend this year.
Arcade Fire shouldn’t have been the biggest story of CMJ. They shouldn’t have been any kind of CMJ story. They should have stayed far away from New York while CMJ was going on. CMJ is meant for baby bands trying to break out and be the next big thing, or at least get someone to notice them. Arcade Fire playing shows during CMJ is like the Harlem Globetrotters showing up at an elementary school’s basketball game and slapping some poor kid’s layup into the stands.
If it wasn’t enough that Arcade Fire was dunking on people half their height, they also spiked the ball in their faces with the absurd selfishness of their shows. As a total middle finger to the spirit of CMJ, the band didn’t include a single opening act, instead hogging that coveted CMJ media exposure all for themselves. They could’ve easily invited a few of the eight million bands in New York that weekend to open for them. But instead of putting a couple of up-and-coming acts on stage in front of a few thousand people and, if nothing else, getting them mentioned as “that band that opened for Arcade Fire,” they only shared the spotlight with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, who introduced them. Congrats, Arcade Fire, you found the one musician less in need of media coverage than you. Was Jack White unavailable?
Arcade Fire then took a victory lap by charging $45 for tickets, which ended up going for hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars after scalpers got their hands on them. If you’re going to throw a secret show, go all the way and just do the damn thing for free. No need to rub it in everyone’s faces that you are rich. The white stretch limo you took through the shithole streets of Bushwick to get to the venue did that just fine.
Bands who came all the way to New York really got the shaft this year. It’s such an ironic slap in the face, too, because back in 2004, a month after Arcade Fire’s debut album, Funeral, was released, The New York Times devoted a huge write-up to praising the band’s CMJ show at the Mercury Lounge. This weekend, the Times ran almost the exact same story but threw in the word “secret” a few dozen times. Arcade Fire should have paid it forward, stepped aside, and let someone else have that page space.
But hey, at least Arcade Fire got some desperately needed buzz for their new album. How else would we possibly have heard about it except for their millionth Saturday Night Live appearance, their single’s constant play on satellite radio, their video getting shared a bajillion times on Facebook, billboards plastered everywhere, their likely Grammy nomination, and every music publication under the sun rolling out the red carpet and heaping all kinds of off-base praise on it? Rolling Stone reviewed Reflektor and likened it to albums by Radiohead, U2, and the Rolling Stones, which they meant as a compliment, but it’s actually a hilarious example of how Arcade Fire are now part of an elite circle of artists that have been getting a free ride for years as a result of an album they wrote a decade ago. Arcade Fire have sealed their spot as a band that could record themselves drowning rescue puppies, and Rolling Stone will call it a “monumental work,” give it five stars, and put them on the cover.
So instead of leaving this to be yet another article about CMJ that only really mentions Arcade Fire, here are a few bands that played this year that you should check out: Pity Sex, Greys, Ovlov, Desert Sharks, Josh Berwanger, Perfect Pussy, Eagulls, Stevie & The Lion, Speedy Ortiz, Hookworms, Deniro Farrar, Nothing, Verses Narrow.
Enjoy those bands now, before they come back in ten years to steal the show.
Dan Ozzi is a music writer who had no interest in attending the secret Arcade Fire shows. Follow him on Twitter: @danozzi.