For decades, there have been two dominant names in the music-discovery festival game: SXSW in Austin and CMJ in NYC. While the typical festival books the biggest acts they can afford, these two deliberately focus on a plethora of new and obscure artists looking for their big break. Last year, though, one of those twin pillars collapsed with CMJ’s mysterious disappearance) amidst all manner of controversy and turmoil).
Brooklyn’s more recent Northside Festival was already positioning itself as a CMJ Jr. when we went last June, focusing on showcasing hundreds of up-and-comers on rather than a few big names. Well, there’s no “Jr.” any more. With CMJ gone, Northside became New York’s default replacement.
It’s ready to fill the role though, bringing a wide array of artists from across the country to Williamsburg for one weekend. As we did last year, we picked our five favorite discoveries we’ve never written about here before, with a cover from each.
Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi has covered Leonard Cohen and Björk. She’s even sung at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony after one of her tracks became an Arab Spring anthem. But while pretty, those older videos don’t entirely capture the power of her pummeling live show, the best I saw all weekend. Her version of oud player Marcel Khalife’s “B’ghalbetek” comes closer, blending her stunning Arabic vocals with swirling electronics and propulsive percussion. Play it loud and imagine a heavy metal drummer pounding effect pads and you’re getting closer to what her show looks like now.
In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek feature about Pitchfork, they used Bay Area musician Jay Som (aka Melina Duterte) to show the impact a prestigious “Best New Music” review can still have on a young artist’s career. No doubt it helped, but after seeing the crowd enthusiasm at her outdoor set, one has to think she would have been just fine regardless.
If Girlpool are under the radar, they won’t be much longer. Their just-released second album landed on the cover of the forward-thinking Fader, a good barometer that this band could shortly blow up. Since their debut, they’ve expanded from a duo of bass and guitar to a full-on rock band. The intimacy of the earlier recordings (as seen in the below cover) has been replaced by full-bore power, and judging by the screams of the rabid fans who packed a Greenpoint club, they’ll soon need the extra muscle to fill bigger rooms.
Holland, Michigan trio The Cringes landed a truly unenviable set time – 1:15pm in a tiny bar next to a park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. But they played like they were headlining the main stage, blending glam-rock with a psychedelic swirl. They’re still pretty new and their only cover, of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” doesn’t entirely do them justice. Check out their debut EP here instead (start with “Curly Hair”)
From most of the old covers on YouTube, Haltigan appears to be a quiet jazz-folkie. And she can operate in that mode well (she did a beautiful “Boots of Spanish Leather” on a Dylan comp some years back). But live, she blasts forth with a power and swagger that belies any acoustic roots. For proof, check out the raging “Purple Rain” over she worked into her own “Skeleton Key” last year. The cover starts around the 3:30 mark, but you should watch the whole video.
Top photo via Brooklyn Vegan.