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CMJ 2014: The Australian Takeover

A week in New York with Courtney Barnett, DMA’s, The Delta Riggs, Little May, Dune Rats and more.

New York is not a sleepy city and CMJ is not a music festival. CMJ is a music marathon. 1300+ artists, including over 60 Australians acts, converged on the already maxed out New York City to play at 80 venues covering both Manhattan and Brooklyn.

With CMJ’s primary focus on showcasing breaking artists to the international music community, some events served as showcases where bands sometimes played as early as 9.30am to label heads, booking agents and the more serious non-dancing types. Other events were fully fledged, all night, parties.

Focusing on Australian artists, this is what 5 days of musical mayhem is like, in New York City.

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett had such a positive response at last years CMJ that she is currently touring the Earth and only had time for one, sold-out show at this year’s largest venue, Webster Hall.

Related: Photo Gallery – Where in the world is Courtney Barnett?

Having Dan Luscombe (The Drones) on guitar since August and being well into their tour by the time they made it to the Big Apple, comfort levels on stage could not have appeared higher as they tore through their incredibly well received set, spliced up with nice, thick accent-laden banter. Before you knew they had arrived, they were gone. The success of a previous CMJ showed in this performance.


Judging by the response they received this year, DMA’s will be another successful international unearthing.

Unable to gain entry into two of their shows due to overcrowding proved the fact that the word is out and people are paying attention to Sydney’s golden lads. Oasis and Stone Roses references were heard being made by the buzzing crowds that spilled out into the street after their show to congratulate them as they loaded their van before racing off to another venue.

Dr Craig Spencer

Most major festivals or events fail to go unscathed by incident. This year’s incident for CMJ happened to be from an external source that happened to cross paths with CMJ.

Dr. Craig Spencer had been working in Guinea, West Africa, for the organisation Doctors Without Borders, before returning home to New York. Upon his return he caught the L train to Brooklyn where he attended a CMJ venue, did a spot of bowling, and returned home. The following day Dr. Spencer fell ill before going to hospital where he was isolated after being diagnosed with the Ebola virus. Although authorities hastily played down any dangers to the general public, the venue he frequented was closed the following day, cancelling one event and leaving the L train with the nick name, the ‘Ebola Express’.

Dr. Spencer is in a stable condition.

The Delta Riggs

Staying in Brooklyn, and with 6 shows in 5 days, The Delta Riggs were commuting to Manhattan daily via the ‘Ebola Express’. Having played CMJ last year, this year saw the genre benders morph onto bigger stages with bigger crowds and a bigger buzz. Never one to hide from the spotlight, in their first show, frontman Elliott Hammond enthusiastically smashed the mic to his mouth mid-gyration, chipping one of his front teeth. Their sound may have evolved but they’re still punk.

Unleashing an arsenal of new and old tunes that encourage heads to nod but hips to thrust, The Riggs’ new found onstage cohesion between rock show and party vibe sat very tastefully for some, earning them the title of CMJ buzz band. A buzz that no doubt helped them lock in the support slot for the Foo Fighters on their Australian tour next March.


Bad//Dreems played their first shows outside of the country on this trip (not that you would have guessed it). taking to the stage in stubbies, footy jerseys and work boots, the 4 piece from Adelaide mask any inexperience they have with real confidence and great fucking songs. With a frantic schedule, that included 4 sets in 1 day, Bad//Dreems blasted out jams that had people trying to sing along without knowing the words yet. Surprisingly full-time guitarist, Alex, missed the trip. His work as a hand surgeon took priority, leaving their second hand-man to fill the void, without missing a beat. 

Wax Witches

Winning the award for least distance traveled to get to their show, it’s Wax Witches. Former Bleeding Knees Club frontman, Alex Wall, now spearheads this DIY, Lo-Fi garage pop punk band from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Having recently completed a run of shows back home in Australia and returning back to the US to release his new EP through Burger Records, Wax Witches blasted out their set while negotiating with the sound guys over volume disputes.

With neither party being satisfied the venue ended up booting everybody out but not before Alex could ramp up the volume and slam home his final song exercising military precision, and repetition… and style.

Little May

Sydney’s Little May arrived in New York from London where they’d just finished a string of similar showcase type gigs. Fronted by a trifecta of female talent weaving lush harmonies while playing an array or instruments, Little May managed to slow the pace, regain the concentration of the crowd and then deliver songs that shoot shivers down your spine and leave you wondering who they wrote that song about, contemplating if you’d have liked it to be about you or not. It’s not about you.

Related: Little May ‘Splendour In The Grass’ Photo Diary

Dune Rats

The opposite of Little May, Dune Rats!

A three-piece slap across the cheek of offensive banter, offensive behaviour and offensive stoner pop punk.

They swear, they sweat, and they spit on each other. At one of their major shows Brett, on bass, had lost a bet and was wearing a condom for the first few songs before he ripped it off and threw it at Danny, on guitar and vocals. With only his guitar to defend himself Danny beat it off with his Fender and it shot into the crowd. Everyone laughed, no one seemed to mind that it had just been hugging his sweaty, flaccid penis.

Their simple song structure and upbeat melodies are more than enough to satisfy when cranked though a massive PA while they play their whole set grnning at each other and the crowd through their nicely stoned faces. If you’re offended, they don’t want to know you. It’s fun-loving music for fun-loving people.

Regardless of whether you’re a band, a brand, a publicist, a punter or any other walk of life that takes you to CMJ, you’re going to have a full-on week of surprises, action and exhaustion. You’ll leave this city with a new favourite band. You’ll leave with some new memories and some lost memories. You’ll finish the week ready to leave New York but ready to come back to New York next year to find another favourite band. I did, and that band is… I’ve forgotten.

Special thanks to Neuw Denim for helping me to support local music.