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Other Observations: Panel, Film, and Random Bric-a-Brac -- Day 1: 31 October 2006

Dan Nishimoto and Megan Milks

CMJ 2006’s industry offerings hit the ground running on Tuesday, ringing in Halloween with the foul-mouthed Chuck D and Janeane Garofalo, a serious song analysis of "F*** Your Face," and the odd antics of Kazakhstani pseudo-son Borat. Who knew learning was so dirty?

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan @ Walter Reade Theater

Off to a bumpy start when the first event I go to has a list situation springing more leaks than Valerie Plaime. Fittingly, hilarity ensued:

PopMatters: Is this the line for everybody, including press?

CMJ Staff: I'm not sure.

PM: (looking at staff member's walkie talkie) Are you sure there isn't someone who would know?

CMJ: Um, I'm really not sure.

PM: Do you at least know the capacity of the theater?

CMJ: (laughs nervously) No -- but it's certainly not 400!

PM: Are you saying there are more than 400 people in line?

CMJ: Yup!

PM: And you're letting more people line up?

CMJ: (silence)

Karma's like clockwork, though. On my way out, I ran into Borat himself. He's shorter in real life. (DN)

MUSIC ACTIVISM 2006 PANEL @ Avery Fisher Hall

"Hold on to your own mind (and don't forget to wash your ass)." These were the nuggets of wisdom offered by Chuck D and Janeane Garofalo at the close of the Music Activism panel. Moderated by Garofalo, the panel spent much of the hour poking fun at mainstream narratives and the figures controlling them -- Garofalo got in jabs at Dick Cheney and Toby Keith ("is a douchebag"); Chuck D referred to '80s R&B as "Reagan & Bush", and Steve Earle (maybe a bit out of tune with contemporary pop) poked still more fun at Britney Spears. The hour was rife with impassioned leftist talk, though an actual discussion of activism was less present. One of the more interesting ideas proffered came from Stephen Greene of RockCorps, who made an almost apologetic argument for working with and not against corporations: "The reality is: Capitalism won." Suvasini Patel of Peter Gabriel's Witness also achieved moments of profundity, but, as could be expected, Garofalo and Chuck D tended to dominate. They dominated well, though, and while much of what they had to say seemed familiar and not especially revelatory (supermedia is dumb, for example), they said it exceptionally well: "Don't end up like one of Pavlov's dogs," said Chuck. And: "If you're looking for a great new recording artist, then be one." (MM)


Essentially, this panel was misnomered and misguided. Moderator Doug Brod, executive editor of Spin, did his best to get the ball rolling, but the panelists seemed uninterested in, not only "confessing", but saying anything the least bit controversial. The problem may have been the diversity of panelists: on stage were a music publisher, a label CEO, a legal representative, two major-label A&R execs, and two producers -- Hi-Tek and Lou Giordiano. A microcosm of the music industry, the panel had the potential to offer a number of different perspectives on all sorts of topics; instead, the discussion fell on its face and then promptly fell asleep.

Half of the panelists were focused on discussing how to "break" an artist -- in industryspeak, this means selling 100,000 albums and finding the level of popularity of, say, My Chemical Romance or Panic! at the Disco. The other half stayed fairly quiet, with Hi-Tek and Giordiano barely getting a word in. That is not to say that the discussion was lively; on the contrary, everyone agreed on everything and most panelists seemed bored, even with themselves. There was the obligatory discussion of MySpace and the Internet (what else is new, and, moreover, aren't we over that by now?). A question to the producers about fidelity (CD versus mp3 quality) drew an interesting response about how music is changing physically, but overall, this one was a yawnfest. (MM)

TELL ME WHY YOU'RE SO HOT @ Avery Fisher Hall

Taking a tip from American Idol, CMJ gave unsigned artists the opportunity to be heard and critiqued by a panel of music execs from a variety of labels (BMG, Capitol, Island, Ace Fu, ASCAP, and one independent A&R rep). The panel was moderated by Kenny Herzog, editor of CMJ New Music Monthly, who brought a level of comfort and generosity to which the panelists and audience quickly warmed. What could have been a tense experience for some musicians seemed relatively low-key, as the panelists were overall fairly positive, offering straightforward and incisive critiques. In other words, no Simon Cowells to be seen.

Herzog went at random through a pile of demo CDs and played one track from each until the hour was up. By the end, we'd heard six surprisingly diverse tracks of varying potential: an epic goth-rock song deemed "not compelling enough" and too structurally problematic; a dancehall-ish novelty song (wherein "novelty" really means "offensive") called "Fuck Your Face" that was judged too repetitive; a radio-friendly power-pop song from a band called Bridges and Powerlines that won praise and interest from several panelists; a piano ballad from a male singer/songwriter that also earned some interest; and a mandolin-driven, female-fronted rocker and an explosive hiphop track that both won excessive head-nodding and approval. As for what makes something hot, the panelists at times offered articulate analysis and at times went with responses like "I like it" and "it just gets you in the gut." Hooks and structure aside, seems like "hotness" and emotional response are still somewhat indefinable. (MM)

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