2:20 pm Oct. 18, 2012
Each October for the past 32 years, the CMJ Music Marathon has barreled into New York City, forcing thousands of fans, musicians, journalists, music-industry types and college-radio hosts to stand in line.
They wait on the sidewalks of Manhattan and Brooklyn to get into what are often insanely overcrowded shows. Big lines are a given, and as much a part of CMJ as watching earnest, as-yet-undiscovered bands vie for record deals, audiences, critical accolades, The Big Shot.
This year, the marathon, which kicked off on Tuesday night and runs through Oct. 20, will feature 1,300 shows at more than 80 venues. One of those shows—sponsored by Vice’s music channel, Noisey—took place Wednesday night at Santos Party House.
As a rule, all CMJ shows are first-come first-served, but not all are open to the general public (some require badges, which range from $549 for an all-access pass to $149 for show passes). The show at Santos was open to the public (all anyone had to do was RSVP), and included performances by nine bands, like the Orwells, Team Spirit, and Flatbush Zombies. The line was huge. In fact, it was the biggest line I’d ever seen at CMJ.
Outside the club, bouncers were shouting at pedestrians to keep moving. A dozen policemen were standing in the street, eating deli sandwiches and laughing before suddenly turning silent when a woman in gold-lamé American Apparel leggings walked past.
At the door, an overburdened Vice publicist with a clipboard asked that members of the press join the V.I.P. line. This was confusing, as there seemed to be just one big line.
“There’s actually a V.I.P. line inside the RSVP line,” she explained. “Just push people out of the way.”
After squeezing into the line, the V.I.P. and RSVP lines were still tough to distinguish. But a hierarchy emerged in the form of those with CMJ badges and those without. The former seemed to resent having to stand in line with the latter, like people on expensive private health plans who fear Obamacare will force them to stand in line with the homeless and unemployed.
“These don’t do it for you, man,” said a pony-tailed guy, pointing to the CMJ badge on the lanyard around his neck. “They don’t even matter!” Like most people in line, he looked under 26 and therefore eligible to remain on his parents' health insurance.
People in line expressed frustration in different ways.
“Dude this fucking sucks!”
“I hear Flying Lotus is on Bleecker. We could always go there."
“I see no logistical reason why this club can’t hold another 100 people. There’s no logistical reason.”
A few photographers, also made to wait in line, were shooting pictures of the line with their telephoto lenses, as if the line had become the event.
Eavesdropping was unavoidable. A couple of guys nearby were discussing the reasoning behind "double hairlines."
“Why do people do double hairlines?”
“So your hairline doesn’t recede. With dreads, when you pull your hair back, your hairline recedes over time.”
To my right, a blonde guy in a varsity-style jacket pulled up his OKCupid profile on his iPhone, and held it out for his friends to see.
“Yo, peep this chick,” he said. “Peep this.”
The dating website had apparently recommended an overweight black woman for his consideration.
“OKCupid’s doing me right!” he said, laughing. “She looks like Carl Winslow’s fat twin.”
“Damn, you’re right!” his friend said.
Santos Party House, which was co-founded by the musician and 24-hour party person Andrew W.K., has experienced its share of strife over the years. In October of 2010, the police shut it down in advance of the highly lucrative Halloween weekend due to “criminal sale or possession of controlled substances.” In the summons, the police declared: “It cannot be denied that the subject premises is a serious public nuisance, and as such should not be allowed to remain open even one more day.”
W.K. reopened the club two days later. But the police’s sentiment endured among those in line.
“This is typical of Santos,” said Robert Gordon, 21, a writer for the website Elite Daily, subtitled “The Voice of Generation-Y.”
“It’s never a good time,” Gordon went on. “It’s like that one girl that you regrettably have sex with but you just keep going back. And you immediately regret it.”
How many times had he come to Santos Party House?
“I don’t like counting,” he said. “It makes me depressed.”
Time passed. After a half hour, no one had been let in the door, causing some to filter out of line. A small blonde girl took the opposite tack and tried to force her way to the front.
“What are they gonna do, hit me?” she said.
Suddenly, the publicist near the entrance asked that any Vice staff members in line come to the front. Heavy grumbling ensued. As a kind of consolation, the bouncer unlatched the velvet rope to let a few RSVPs through as well. The entire line surged dangerously forward.
“Don’t you ever try to rush this door with me!” the bouncer screamed at the line. “Matter of fact, take four steps back! Four steps back!”
The line shuffled back.
“This is his time to shine,” someone muttered.
At around 10:15 p.m., after more than an hour in line, the bouncer finally let me and a few others through. On the basement floor, the band Moon King had just begun their set.
There was almost no one there. This is what it looked like:
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