If you've noticed that the local record stores seem a little lonely this week, and the streets seem a little less, say, colorful without the hordes of young folks with brightly dyed hair, tattoos and facial piercings moping about--blame it on CMJ (short for College Music Journal), the annual New York City convention that focuses on all things alternative.

It's where Armani-suited label presidents mingle with college-radio programmers in T-shirts, all looking for the same things: the next bands or trends that will take the music world by storm. There are also panels, ranging from discussions on the state of the music industry to lively debates on how the Internet will affect record sales.

But you didn't need a panel to tell you that the Industry is in a slump. All you need is to check out the parties. With the exception of a lavish affair at the Chrysler Building for Janet Jackson's decidedly un-alternative new album, Velvet Rope, the events were more low-key, with pizza and beer subbing for the shrimp and champagne of better times.

Many hope that the music currently known as electronica, the heavily synthesized dance music, will help stimulate sales. With Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers making the charts, it just might. But the opening night party, featuring the Crystal Method and Daft Punk, was a disappointing affair. While the music might be making inroads on the charts, people are still unclear about how to present it onstage.

The highly anticipated keynote address Thursday night by Marilyn Manson, the controversial singer of Antichrist Superstar, though short, was more successful. Surprisingly smart and witty, the nattily dressed (black suit, red shirt, black tie) Manson mixed quips about the rumors that surround him ("How do you know I don't start them?" he asked) with the expected doom-laden pronouncements on self-loathing and evolution. ("It's only through self-contempt and inward dying that you can really become yourself," or, "Satanism is, in my view, a philosophy not unlike Nietzsche or Darwin.") He also discussed a possible collaboration with Snoop Doggy Dogg.

One other minor controversy has created a buzz at CMJ. Super-electronic music producer Moby--who bowed to external pressure and actually changed lyrics on his 1985 song "That's When I Reach for My Revolver"--ironically gave an impassioned speech on being "courageous" in one's music during his keynote address Thursday. In other remarks, Moby denounced the success of Jakob Dylan's Industry, MTV and radio darlings the Wallflowers (can anyone say nepotism?) to the loud cheers of the college-music set.

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