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NMS New York Music Festival 2012 – Day 2

Welcome back to my recap of the 2012 New Music Seminar! Unfortunately, today I couldn’t make it to any of the daytime discussions or workshops (Boo office job!), but I was able to hit one great NMS New York Music Festival show. I trekked down to Santos Party House on the Lower East Side for the “Artist on the Verge” Finals, a showcase of three artists that NMS considers to be on the cusp of breaking into the national music market. One of the three artists will be crowned the winner and win over $150,000 in marketing and promotion. At the Opening Night Party, they played clips of the finalists, and I knew I had to see them live.

I had assumed the event would be packed, as “Artist on the Verge” is one of NMS’ biggest campaigns, but there were probably only about 100 people there. Not too shabby by any means, but also not bursting at the seams. The show got off to a late start waiting for 300 people to magically show up (they didn’t). I actually liked the venue being a bit emptier; it was easier to move around the stage and it made the artists work a little harder to amp up the crowd (they did).

First up was Maren Morris, a fiery singer-songwriter from Arlington, Texas. Morris has a classic bluesy, country voice that she strengthens not with banjoes and twangy guitar riffs, but with harder, indie rock instrumentation. It’s a refreshing mix that matches well with her vibrant personality. Morris may be only 22, but her stage presence is well established, engaging easily with the audience through what I found to be effortlessly ingenious song introductions like, “I wrote this about a douchebag. Maybe some of you can relate” and “This song is basically about being lied to, so I hope you guys like it.” Bubbly and bright Morris opened the showcase flawlessly, spiking my anticipation for the coming acts.

Now, there is a reason that I write for the Rock side of MVRemix and not the Urban side—I would be terrible at it. It’s not that I don’t like hip-hop and rap; it’s that I don’t really know enough about the histories of these genres and where they’re coming from to be able to accurately and intelligently review music based in these styles. Until now!

Black Cobain took the stage next with his band Black Alley. The rapper, best known for touring and collaborating with Wale, put on what I consider the most dynamic performance of the night, due in large part to his and Black Alley’s impressive musicality. They channeled soulful R&B with keyboard solos, what I believe were conga drums and Cobain’s sultry back up singer, Kacey, but also kept it simple with a hard-hitting, fast-paced a capella rap break. The best part is that they can do both—and probably everything in between—really well. Cobain is a natural performer; his raps never waiver, but he also knows how to draw in a crowd. From leading the audience in a chant of Drake’s “Hell yeah, fuckin’ right” to showcasing Kacey’s sultry vocals on a chorus of “Sweet Dreams,” Black Cobain didn’t just put on a performance. He put on a show. Cobain rapped his part from Wale’s “4 AM,” telling the audience, “Don’t compare me to rappers, I’m tryin’ to be like the Beatles.” I certainly think he’s on his way.

As the final “Artist on the Verge” act of the night, Ninjasonik didn’t disappoint. I’d heard the name before, heard good things, but if you asked me before last night what genre of music I thought they played, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. I’m still not sure I’d be able to tell you. The duo, comprised of Jah-Jah and Telli, didn’t stop moving or rapping for their entire set, dancing on stage, dancing in the audience. This is going to sound like a dating profile, but what I loved most about them was their sense of humor. It wasn’t overly cheesy or trying to be overly quirky, but I could tell that they really love music and performing. You know the band that begins their set with a song that incorporates both the opening melody from “The Lion King” and lasers and ends it by rapping over Matt & Kim’s “Daylight” isn’t taking themselves too seriously, but has the musical chops to be able to make all of these disparate components come together. Products of the skater scene, Telli and Jah-Jah often juxtapose their tongue-in-cheek lyrics—their rally cry of “Tight pants!” comes to mind—with hard, punk rock beats. The two work together well, feeding off each other’s energy, weaving together fast and slow flows and bringing their audience on a crazy roller coaster with them.

Inexplicably, there was one more act after the three “Artist on the Verge” finalists performed. Local indie rock band The Dig closed the night with a fairly subdued set, though that may have been a product of their delayed start time. Either way, it was an…odd ending to the night. The Dig have a cool sound. Their lead guitarist and bassist trade off vocals and their high-pitched harmonies are on point, but with a more laid-back vibe, they just couldn’t keep up the energy of the previous performances. And I’ll be honest…I left halfway through their set.

All of the artists in this show were awesome and ridiculously talented, and I can’t imagine any of them not making it big. Considering I only went to one NMS event yesterday, I think I picked a pretty good one.

By Natalie Howard

In a fit of teenage angst, Natalie Howard moved from Glendale, CA to New York City for college. She stuck around after graduation and currently eats and sleeps in the East Village.

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