An Independent Frame Of Mind

Perhaps owing a debt of gratitude to its massive college population, Boston has one of the nation’s most sprawling music scenes. With clubs like the Middle East, the Paradise, and the newly opened Brighton Music Hall, the city has played host to bands both huge and small in the past several years. That is why, I suppose, I find it so difficult to bemoan my absence from New York City during the week-long frenzy known as the College Music Journal Music Marathon (or just CMJ for short).

More than any other time of the year, late October becomes a nonstop hub of music and art installations. Singers and bands come from all over the world to the city just to perform for the masses. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton held a massive CMJ party last week that featured acts like DJ Pauly D, Little Boots, Karmin, and Mary J. Blige. Other showcases featured open bars, raucous crowds, and buzz-bands like Class Actress and Real Estate. For smaller groups, CMJ is the perfect opportunity to expose audiences to their music, while more well known artists use the celebration to try out their DJ skills or to play to more intimate audiences.

For me, however, the most attractive event that CMJ has to offer was last weekend’s iteration of the Creator’s Project. Sponsored by Vice and Intel, the event was the hottest ticket of the year, a free event that had the allure of acts like Justice and Florence and the Machine. According to the organization’s website, “the Creators Project is an ongoing global arts initiative dedicated to supporting musicians, artists, and filmmakers who are using technology to push the bounds of creative expression,” which doesn’t even begin to cover all of the wonders and marvels that made up the Project’s first event in the summer of 2010.

Held in Milk Studios in Chelsea, the first ever Creator’s Project featured floor after floor of mind-bending art exhibitions and performances, all for free. Artists like M.I.A., Die Antwoord, and Gang Gang Dance kept the partygoers dancing until the wee hours of the morning. It was an event unlike any other in that its exclusivity was randomized, a guest list determined only by a computer that randomly shot out RSVPs to anxious hands.

Though the event’s main stages were scattered throughout DUMBO warehouses, it took a little work to find one of the Project’s more unique and alluring showcases. In Brooklyn, Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O joined with Rent cast member Adam Rapp and fellow band member Nick Zinner in Stop the Virgens at St. Ann’s Warehouse.

The Creator’s Project is not just a one-time event, however. As an organization, it attempts to promote art and music on a regular basis all across the globe. Its founders were the masterminds behind Arcade Fire’s “Summer Into Dust” experiment that took place at this year’s Coachella Festival. If you have any free time, search on YouTube for it—it features thousands of battery powered LED-lit white beachballs that, once popped, contain devices that fans could register online to show the festival’s wide reach. It, along with the band’s jaw dropping “Wilderness Downtown” music video (which is now a part of New York’s MoMA), was described as “nostalgia made possible by the most advanced technology.”

More than that, however, it encourages creativity and freedom of artistic expression. Every member of society today fancies him or herself as a creator—bloggers and app developers and synthesizer performers. The documentary PressPausePlay describes our collective creativity perfectly, linking it to the digital revolution of the last decade and labeling it “democratized culture.”

But doubts still linger—does corporate sponsorship mean that artists participating in the Creator’s Project are “selling out,” and perhaps more importantly, does its popularity mean that consumers are more willing than ever to have culture dictated by the interests of big business? Florence and the Machine made a name for itself as a band as an undiscovered talent who leapt at the chance to record a surely time-defying debut album. It’s great to see her success in the industry, and it’s nice to have companies supporting good music for a change, but the fear of ownership remains. CMJ is the type of festival that allows concertgoers to take back control of the music industry and now more than ever, that control could mean much more than just the thrill from a concert.

October 26, 2011