Each year the music industry converges on Anaheim in January for NAMM. It’s the place where new music instruments are debuted and vendors showcase their wares. It’s all stuff you can read on a press release afterward. So we figured we’d send Los Angeles saxophone enthusiast and electronic music producer Anenon to report back. A self-professed non-gear head, he gives an unvarnished take on what NAMM is like from the outside looking in.
When RBMA asked me to cover the 2013 NAMM show in Anaheim, California, I was a bit nervous. I had never been before, but knew it as the epicenter of all things new in the gear and musical instruments world. Walking into NAMM, I thought, must be like walking into a doped-up version of Guitar Center. I saw myself getting stormed at every booth by eager employees asking me if I “needed help, bro.” I imagined the sheer volume of the place to be completely overwhelming – the worst type of place for my sensitive musician’s ears.
As my friends will be happy to tell you, I’m not exactly the world's biggest gear head. I’ve had relatively the same scale of a set-up since I began seriously making music in 2004 or so and really pride myself on this. Whether or not I’m stunting my musical growth by my lack of monthly studio expansion doesn’t really matter to me. I’m continually trying to strip down my production methods and approach music with a back-to-basics mentality. But I had an assignment. And, in the back of my mind, I thought that maybe something thrilling might happen at NAMM.
So amidst the backdrop of a traffic heavy and rainy Los Angeles morning, a friend and I made the journey to that other nearby county - that one just south of LA that contains the “Happiest Place On Earth.” (Or so I’m told.) After more traffic just trying to get into the parking lot and another line (this time on foot) in the dimly lit basement of the adjacent Hilton hotel, we picked up our badges and made it into the show. After deliberating what our plan of attack would be, we decided to scope out the world of new gear and the denizens that inhabited it… because what else is there to do at NAMM?
After stopping by the major “to-do” booths on our lists: Apogee, Korg, Moog and Teenage Engineering, we made our way to the outskirts of the hall. This is where the grittiness lies, we told ourselves. The real blue-collar heroes of NAMM. The ones providing onstage wireless headsets and dual XLR/power cables (which, by the way, is an excellent idea). The fringes provided us with a glimpse into what a silent band with in-ear monitoring looks like (very creepy), more cable vendors and an extremely dolled up mandolin player with the most minute body movements I’ve ever seen. Whether or not this person was actually a mannequin I’ll never know.
Eventually we headed towards the lights, fog and lasers dome in the back of the hall. The backpack storage CO2 gun was the true highlight here. Next was the basement, where things got even grittier: metronome salesmen yelling at each other in undecipherable languages, 303 bass emulators with nothing but knobs and gelled hair bass clinics around every corner. We had to get out.
From an outsider’s perspective, the best thing about NAMM is that it brings every single musician archetype into one place. Crust punks, hip hop heads, ravers, tiki-yukers, metal gods, music education suppliers and nostalgic jazz cats who told me that their favorite part of the show was “just seeing old friends.” They're all in Anaheim and they're all hustling.
I have to admire them, especially those fringe types doing everything they can to make sure the music doesn’t stop. (In some cases, the music probably should be stopped. But that’s another story.) Behind the corporate facades, outfits and haircuts that let one know exactly what faction of the 12-tone world each and every person belonged to, there are some serious music lovers at NAMM. It has to be respected, even if we don’t all see eye-to-eye on how to voice that ii-V-I change.
And now? On to some gear.
The OP-1 is still the coolest sounding and looking new synth out there and their new Cloud Speaker (as much as I would have thought I would have been opposed to this) looks amazing. A sleek minimalist cube based on Stig Carlsson’s original design with an even more minimal and customizable controller. I’ll take one of both, please.
People were freaking out about the new mini MS20. I wasn’t enamored with it right off the bat, but its size and functionality seem very intriguing and need more than a cursory NAMM demo to be fully appreciated.
I’m a proud Duet 2 user at the moment and am definitely salivating over that new Quartet.
The biggest NAMM rookie mistake ever was not bringing my mouthpiece to demo those $6000+ Selmer beauties!
Photo credit: Header - Yanmar; All others - Anenon