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New York Cool - Music

Cartel - The Band in a Bubble
Hudson River Park’s Pier 54
May 24 - June 12, 2007


Written by Julia Sirmons
Photographed by Amy Davidson

(Opposite Photo MRC MC
Susie Castillo)



The Bubble

A strange meeting of-old fashioned carnival barking and showmanship, 2001-inspired 60s space age design, and slick 21st century PR occurred at Pier 54 at Hudson River Park on May 24, when Atlanta-based band Cartel, sponsored with loud fanfare by Dr. Pepper and hyped vigilantly by MTV, entered a plastic bubble structure constructed on the pier for a 20-day recording session.

The plan, as outlined in a Dr. Pepper press release, was this: during their 20-day sojourn in the bubble (2,000 square foot structure fashioned out of fiber glass and steel by TPG architecture), Cartel would record their second album from start to finish. The band would emerge from the bubble on June 12, and the final product would be available in stores on July 24. MTV would cover the band’s entrance to and exit from the bubble live on their television station, as well as running 30-minute programs featuring highlights of Cartel’s bubble experience throughout the 20 days. MTV also issued the band an additional challenge: to record a single in the first 3 days of bubbbledom that would premiere, along with an accompanying video, on the cable music channel’s Spankin’ New Music week.

Cartel’s reasons for agreeing to this David Blaine-meets-Rolling Stones type of stunt seemed to be twofold. One, to offer their loyal fans a unique opportunity to see the recording process “up close and personal” look into the music-making process, and two, to give Cartel, a band on the cusp of major success, a major voltage jolt of publicity.

Susie Castillo and Fans
(Susie was the 2003 Miss USA)

The actual process of watching five young males, each styled in a manner designed to best please a well-studied section of the teen to twenty-something female demographic, walk into a bubble, does not actually take that much time. But MTV managed to turn it into an all-evening event, whipping fans into a frenzy for Cartel’s much-anticipated arrival in the obligatory big black car.

Observing the mass of people gathered at the pier – some of whom had stood there for hours before the event to snag a prime spot near the bubble, one could – permitting the use of reductive stereotypes – say that the Cartel fan base cuts a swath across a fairly wide cross-section of youth subcultures, from preppy frat-boy types to quasi-goth girls, who shed their habitual mysterious alienated silence to whoop and jump every time their favorite band member appeared on a flat-screen TV or when an MTV cameraman swooped nearby.



Prior to Cartel’s arrival on the scene, the audience was entertained by two MTV personalities, the comely Susie, who mingled amongst the huddled teenage masses on the prowl for the fans moth worthy of screen time, and the clean-cut Blair Hertner, who provided updates and insights from a dais with six of empty chairs, where he’d be interviewing Cartel post-arrival and pre—bubble immersion.

The crowd was kept entertained by pre-recorded interviews with band members broadcast on the flat-screens. Cartel’s collective thoughts about their upcoming experience were very much what one would expect from a young band entering a bubble for 20 days. There was excitement about the level of visibility and proximity it would provide for fans, anxiety about the pressure to complete an album in twenty days and a first single in three, self-consciousness about the 20 webcams that would be placed throughout the bubble – especially the one located in the shower – to document the experience for fans, who would be able to watch live streaming video from the bubble online.

At long last, the black car pulled up, and Cartel emerged, accompanied to the stools on the dais by a chorus of girlish squeals.

It should be noted that not all of these noises came from young females. One die-hard fanboy – who was given the chance by the eagle-eyed Susie to present his favorite band with the gift of a ribbon-wrapped toilet plunger – was very evidently and vocally experiencing the biological transitions of adolescence. Fanboy went into a screaming tizzy when his favorite member walked onto the dais, and his voice squeaked a bit as he explained his reason for the toilet plunger – “Five guys, one bathroom.”

During a brief interview with the band, a few other ready-for-primetime fans got to pose questions to Cartel. But the real plum was Fanboy’s friend, a girl named Amy, who had come down to the event on her birthday. Amy not only received birthday wishes from Cartel, she also got to proffer a present of her own: twenty pairs of sexy women’s panties – one for each day of bubble captivity – “for [Cartel drummer] Kevin [Sanders}.”

Then it was time for Cartel to walk the short red carpet from the dais to the bubble door. As soon as they hit the ground, some suspiciously well-placed young lovelies who looked like they came straight out of central casting for “Groupie #2” in the Def Leppard made-for-TV movie, jumped the quintet, and had to be removed by beefy security guards. A multitude of fans situated behind the guardrail threw fistfuls of boxers at the Cartel members. Apparently, sending your favorite band into a bubble is a lot like sending your first-born son to college. In both situations, one gets very worried about a dearth of clean underwear.

This is Michelle And She Loves Cartel

Cartel then stopped on the steps leading up to the bubble door to pose for a staggered wave to the crowd; it was sort of a mirror image of the iconic image of the Beatles emerging from their plane at Idelwild. At last, the inevitable could be hyped up or delayed no further, and Cartel opened the door and went into the bubble.

They wandered around aimlessly for a few minutes, cameramen documenting their disorientation over their shoulders. They examined their new domicile – a two-story structure whose décor can best be described as half-Ikea, half—Real World house – and finally settled in for the night.

Cartel Fans

Guitarist Joseph Pepper pressed his face against the side of the bubble, and gave the crowd a forlorn little smile and a wave. The crowd was then encouraged to dispersed, sent away with reminders to check out every moment of Cartel’s odyssey online and on MTV.

As the throng exited the pier, chatter tended toward discussions of the best way to get home before curfew and the next step in expressing their unwavering devotion to Cartel.

“Are you going to come see them every day?” a girl asked her friend.

“Yeah…well, maybe not every day,” she replied.

Cartel has left the bubble, but you can still catch up on their exploits at

For more on Cartel, visit their website, or checkout their MySpace page at

For more on Cartel and to hear their music, log onto:




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