CMJ Day Three: Maximum Balloon Deal With Dance-Music Bias At Pitchfork's #Offline Festival

maximum balloon.jpg
Electronic musicians are people too. Pic by Puja.
Maximum Balloon
Brooklyn Bowl
Thursday, October 21

Last night, Pitchfork kicked off their #Offline Festival -- a three-day, anti-CMJ stint at Brooklyn Bowl. For many, this is a neatly packaged delivery of the bigger buzz bands of 2010, featuring Wild Nothing, How to Dress Well, and Zola Jesus' "last show before hibernation" among 30 or so others, all for only $10 a day. For us, the DJs were just as important, with sets by Fool's Gold (half the roster, at least), Avey Tare, and Maximum Balloon closing out each night. But while we were stoked to catch the latter's official NYC club debut last night, we should have known better: CMJ is not for DJs, and #Offline isn't, either.

To be fair, 10 hours at the same venue is a very, very long time. It's part of the chaos of this entire week (official CMJ shows or otherwise): no re-entry into venues (whether there's a line outside or not) paired with confused patrons trying to explain their door-woes to equally confused bouncers. All this can lead to a mass, decisive exodus, and we were dismayed when, immediately after Surfer Blood ended their Brooklyn Bowl set, hundreds and hundreds of hip kids, pressed close to the stage for earlier acts like Wild Nothing and Small Black, flooded out of the venue. Did they know there was another act left? We had to wonder.

And so, a little after midnight, Maximum Balloon took the stage to a now-dwindled though still triumphant crowd of revelers. A side project of TV on the Radio member and Yeah Yeah Yeah's production savant David Sitek, the group's two-man live show consists of DJ Granwizerd on turntables and Sitek himself at the controls of a massively intricate soundboard full of samplers, drum pads, and an endless slate of knobs and keys (most of which are hidden behind a makeshift screen, his case cover). On record, the project is a series of one-offs bounded by Sitek's signature electronic sound and featuring contributions from Karen O, David Byrne, and Theopholis London, among others. It's a dance album, something that's made abundantly clear during their live show, even if you have no idea what's actually happening up onstage.

This isn't a show to watch, it's something you dance to -- unfortunately, tonight's crowd was either too beat or too unconcerned to participate. The set ranged from hip-hop to electronic fuzz to the familiar underlying breakbeats of Baltimore club (it's their hometown, after all), overlaid by dance-driven drum pads. By now, the lingering leftovers had creeped up to the stage to gawk over Sitek's knob-manipulation up close. "All I'm really doing up there is playing vocals," says Granwizerd. "All the beats, samples, loops, all of that, that's all him."

By 1 a.m., the live show had become more of a background performance: Brooklyn Bowl's looming TVs played rap videos mis-matched with the hip-hop booming over the PA while fans of Granwizerd lingered by the bar and the Pitchfork staff did some bowling. (In another weird moment, Stevie Wonder played over the speakers as a video from the National played on the TVs -- we're curious as to who curates those things.) As the crew took over the stage to pack up, we noticed one lone fan still adamantly clinging to the corner of the stage, desperately trying to get Sitek's attention. We watched the kid wave him down, shake his hand, and maybe even get a CD autographed. At least someone was paying attention.

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