Monday, May 21, 2012

Revenge Of The Nerds

First of all, a formal announcement will be made on this site, its future, and mine. But you'll have to wait until tomorrow for that. In the meantime, consider this a shot across the bow.

So I discovered that Substream Press changed their web layout shortly after they changed managing editors (which I knew about already). The result is that the piece below wound up homeless.

Hell with that. Not on my watch. There's
no way I could let this fade away and die. Not after I spent five months working on this damn thing.

So, here it is. Originally posted in January of 2011, it's back as we now look toward Nerdapalooza 2012. Grab some popcorn and enjoy. And thanks again.

“Revenge of the Nerds”By: Michael Melchor

“Maybe Luigi wants to fuck the Princess!”

A crowd of several hundred shouted a chorus detailing the possible lonely desires of Mario’s oft-neglected (both in storylines and in fandom) brother back at British rapper B-Type. The audience shares quite a bit in common with the forgotten Mario brother. Always an underdog and somewhat cast aside, no one thinks about Luigi’s desires. Hell, not many bother to pay attention to him, period. He can’t even be referred to without mentioning his more popular brother!

Those fans screaming for a Luigi victory could be heard from the nearby busy Orlando, FL highway where A Comic Shop stood. Many times, they could even be heard over the heavy traffic, letting their enthusiasm carry them away. Some of them drove from right down the road, some of them flew in from across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to be at an event that could be on the cusp of being one of the biggest events on the music calendar. All of them were at the Eisner-nominated nerd haven on a steamy July, 2010 evening to be among their own for Nerd Music’s biggest event of the year.

Nerd Music is a movement that has been around for quite some time, but has gained heavy momentum within the past five years. While its lineage could arguably be traced as far back as Rush and even The Who, it is heavily agreed upon that “Weird” Al Yankovic is the father of the modern movement of Nerd Music. This was aided and abetted by his appearance in the documentary Nerdcore Rising, a film about the technologically-savvy, grammatically-refined Godfather of Nerdcore rap, MC Frontalot. “Weird” Al has been acting, playing, and singing like a nerd for a few decades. In doing so, he has inadvertently led what might become a revolution.

Nerd music defines itself with its subject matter, but expresses itself with genre-breaking acts, a passion for both music and the state of being outcast from general society, and a passion for unabashedly showing their true selves. From the Mega Man-inspired epic arena rock of both the Protomen and The Megas to the quirky references of Nerdcore’s answer to the Wu-Tang Clan, Emergency Pizza Party to the catchy, punky comic-infused folk of Kirby Krackle, are all considered a part of the movement. Many different styles from all over the musical landscape are used in expressing the prides and passions of those who find joy in their fandom and alienation. More acts, like the Harry Potter-espousing electronica of Ministry of Magic to the 8-bit harmonies of Shael Riley to the dirty, funky, Guy Fawkes mask-clad Kabuto the Python, to even bigger acts, such as Barenaked Ladies and Weezer, are all considered part of the scene as well.

Calling Nerd Music a genre would actually be somewhat inaccurate because there are realy no bounds as far as style. Many influences from rock to rap to techno and even 8-bit old-school Nintendo-sounding Chiptunes are used to create the music, while the lyrics range in style from being about proud of being a dork to the finer points of The Legend of Zelda. All of this - and much more - falls under the umbrella of Nerd Music because it’s not as much about style as it is about subject matter. It’s a state of simply being more than it is any style of playing or singing. The one common thread among all the artists carrying the banner of Nerd Music is simply being an outcast from normal society since childhood and finding others that are like you that finally belong somewhere.

In that vein, Nerd Music is a fascinating scene that works, in many ways, the opposite way most trends and fads in music do. Most movements have artists that go out of their way to perpetuate and corporate labels go out of their way to force as the new cool of the moment to bring people in. Nerd Music, much like those that propagate that scene, know what they like and support those that sound like they feel. In most cases, fans follow a particular scene so they can be a part of it, but in the case of Nerd Music, most times the scene reaches out to the artists themselves and welcomes them in.

Such was the example of Schaffer The Darklord. Once a stand-up comedian (albeit simply to improve his performance skills) and metal drummer, Schaffer found his real calling with “The Rappist”. With straight-razor delivery and tongue planted firmly in cheek, Schaffer found his song - about he’s not a “rapper” in the truest sense, but since he parlays that talent, he could be considered a “rappist” - welcomed by what was thought an unlikely crowd. Since then, Schaffer has taken his place alongside giants like MC Frontalot and Random as one of Nerdcore rap’s biggest acts. His delivery and presence have helped him in his success, but so has being an explosive performer.

Schaffer (also a Burlesque emcee) explains how, at first, he was almost taken aback by the invitation. “Oh, no, man - they reached out to me,” he laughs. “I had no idea this scene was even out there, but apparently they found about me. They were really cool, too - like they invited me in, made me a drink and asked me to play some Mario Kart. They’ve been the greatest; once they like you and take you in, they’re so loyal to what you do.”

Schaffer earned their loyalty and his keep with his breakout performance at Nerdapalooza 2008. It is that event that B-Type had the unenviable task of kicking off this past July during the Pre-Party at A Comic Shop. It is also become the event on the Nerd Music calendar – a massive party amongst the socially unkempt. Baseball has the World Series, WWE has WrestleMania...Nerd Music has Nerdapalooza. The festival holds a few dozen acts each year over a July weekend each year in Orlando, FL, and has become the showcase of not just the best talent in Nerdcore rap, but all of Nerd Music. Aside from Schaffer the Darklord and perennial headliner MC Frontalot, many others in Nerd Music have seized their moment at that very show. 8-bit pop punk outfit I Fight Dragons were signed in February 2010 to Atlantic Records after a blistering set at Nerdapalooza 2009. This past year, Nerdcore luminaries ZeaLouS1 and Dr. Awkward joined forces along with a full backing band and blew the crowd to smithereens with the rap-metal fusion of attitude and video games known as the Bossfights.

Aside from being a music festival for a very specific crowd, the other difference between Nerdapalooza and a Bonnarroo or a Coachella is that here you can talk to, meet, and party right alongside the performers as they also take in the show and go out of their way to meet those that made a home for their craft. Each year, the performers go out of their way to give their best to those that have made them feel welcome and supported their careers by not only doing their damndest to decimate a stage, but to take the time to talk to, hang out with, and thank each of the fans that come to the event each year from far and wide.

Random, a Hip-Hop artist based out of Arizona, was also taken in by the Nerd Music fans right around the time of the very first (official) Nerdapalooza in 2007. It helps that his alter-ego is MegaRan, a character named after and based the Mega Man video game franchise. With unparalleled ability and a penchant for good, clean, video game fun, Random is another Nerdcore titan.

Random started out in Gospel very early on, but then moved in to Hip-Hop in 2006 with the release of The Call. However, it was after that he then found a different calling altogether. He explains, “Musically, I just wanted to take a new direction. I had no real intention or any sense of direction after that. I felt like I had said everything I wanted to say as a musician, I talked about everything that was bothering me and everything that was good with the world, and I felt like there was really nothing else to say. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a follow-up album and one thing I didn’t want to do was create the same album. I just sat music down for a while - didn’t make or play anything - and eventually I got back in to video games. I was playing a lot of retro stuff, especially the Mega Man series that I loved so much, and that made me want to do something with that. I wanted to do a Mega Man rap album. I searched around to see if anyone had done anything like that before, and no one had, so I said, ‘I’m gonna do it.”

Soon after, another door was opened – this time by the company that created his alter ego and means of becoming one of Nerd Music’s stalwarts. “The press release got out and it got out to a couple major gaming sites, and then I got a message on MySpace from Capcom. I was afraid of getting my MySpace shut down, but this wasn’t a cease-and-desist letter. They wanted to work with me. The head of the Capcom Community Division contacted me and wanted me to be a site moderator and invite me out to events and work with them. They invited me out to [the San Diego] ComiCon and I had a great time. I think a lot of game developers have a lot to learn with stuff like that. Capcom is way ahead of the curve there. They could have easily shut me down, but they realized it’s not hurting anybody and, really, all I’m doing is promoting their character. It’s been unbeliebveable since then; I can’t say it’s a dream come true, because I never even imagined something like this would happen.”

Random would seem, by the act of using such a noted game character as an avatar, to court the Nerd Music audience, but at that point they were almost too few to count. By the time they had grown, they found other musicians that had much in common with their way of thinking and invited them in to the fold. Such was also the case when the movement was brought to Orlando, FL’s Marc with a C. Marc, now a 12-year music veteran, started out with songs about an unhealthy love for That 70’s Show’s Laura Prepon and “Chicken Pox and Star Wars Guys” before growing both his subject matter and craft in to a loyal following, both regionally and worldwide thanks to a savvy use of the internet.

The invitation was extended to Marc in 2008 to be a part of Nerdapalooza - a move that both surprised and comforted him. “I was shocked at how a music scene I didn’t know was thriving was so open to embracing,” he explains. “I had played at so many smoky bars and sweaty clubs over the years and didn’t fit in with the Indie Rock scene, the bar bands, or the hipster set for that matter. It was comforting to see a weekend full of people from all over the United States that went, ‘you’re home. We like what you do and you’re now a part of this thing you didn’t even know was happening.’ As soon as I get on stage, there’s a kinship there that, I don’t have to explain what makes me nerdy. You can see it right off the bat. They get it. You can do a couple songs to establish some common ground, but they they’re just on your wavelength and excited to hear something a little different but with subject matter they can relate to.”

Another act seemingly born for Nerd Music is the Classic-Rock-and-Science-Fiction raised Sci-Fried. In-between their last album Geeks Unite and their newest effort set for release later this year, Future Tense, the fun-loving guys in Sci-Fried saw their star rise greatly thanks in large part to having their parodies of Indiana Jones and Battlestar Galactica out there. Soon, fans discovered that Sci-Fried was about more than just parodies. Geeks Unite featured all original songs all over the geek map from “Saturday Night on SyFy” to “Don’t Phase Me, Bro”. The humor was there, but as well was the inclination that Sci-Fried was as serious about their music as it was the love of geeks everywhere.

In-between albums, Sci-Fried made their first Nerdapalooza appearance last year and spent much of the weekend leading up to their set being stared at. In a world of social outcasts, Sci-Fried, looking like the Island of Misfit Musicians with their bar-band sound, were skeptically regarded among the established Nerd Music guard. However, three songs in to their set, Sci-Fried were being cheered as the crowd partied along. By the time they were done, they became only the second act of the festival at that point to earn a call for an encore - the first being the explosive Schaffer himself, who went on early while Sci-Fried did battle with technical difficulties and sound issues.

Geeks Unite, for the band, is as much a creed as it is an album title. The question Uma Thurman posed to John Travolta in Pulp Fiction about whether he was an Elvis person or a Beatles person - how one could like both but no one liked one more than the other and which one a person liked more - could just as easily fit the world of geekdom. Many fans like Star Wars and Star Trek, but there’s always a preference of one over the other, and which is preferred could reveal a lot about a fan. Sci-Fried realizes this, and uses it not to divide fans, but to unite them. Despite whether you like Star Wars, Star Trek, or even Stargate, all nerds are in the same boat, according to Sci-Fried, and should all get along equally and realize they have the power to change the world.

It is that philosophy that leads Sci-Fried’s lead singer Dr. Vern to believe that the nerds are well on their way to taking over the world - and that Nerd Music will soon be as well-known and well-loved as any other genre. “Every other form of entertainment is inundated with material aimed at the same fanbase,” he says. “Movies, comics, games - they’re all aimed at the same group of fans. It would stand to reason that, the more fans that are exposed to this music, the more fans could be generated from it. When you’re talking about a mainstream, break-through audience, I believe that could be the case. A lot of people don’t know because the music industry doesn’t know what to do with geeks. There are a lot of things that people nerd out over, and there are more people writing songs about it now. The music industry’s not promoting it, because they think it’s bad and not a lot of people are buying it. And I don’t believe that.”

Marc with a C concurs with Dr. Vern’s statement, albeit on a wider scale. “It’s an interesting time to be in Nerd Music. With Nerd Music, you have to remember that it’s not all just comic books and video games. It extends to Wizard Rock, it extends to basically anything you can get more than three songs out of,“ Marc laughs, “someone else is going to be really in to it as well.

“Everybody is geeky about one subject. See George Hrab, who I just saw [at Nerdapalooza 2010] for the first time. All of his songs are based on science and also being a general skeptic about the way religion and history are recorded. He went over like gangbusters! Then there are the commercial successes - things like Transformers, X-Men, all these Batman films. They always do gangbusters at the box office, and they’re not just #1 for a week. It won’t be long before those interests spill over in to popular music. If the fans are this enthusiastic and hardcore, right now, about all the things we are all nerdy about and shows no signs of slowing down, how can it become anything but the next big thing in music?”

Indeed, the genre is growing. Nerdapalooza tops its attendance record each year, and more and more artists have been connected with the festival as far as rumored performers. The Fat Boys campaigned on Twitter to be a part of the 2010 iteration and missed it by a literal matter of mere days (although they are apparently intent on being there this year. Another, Del the Funkee Homosapien, is surely open to the idea of performing at Nerdapalooza while in the midst of recording a long-awaited sequel to his side-project with Dan the Automator, Deltron 3030.

When citing some of his influences, Del explains that, “I’m kinda dig some sci-fi. I’m not an incredible fan; I’m not a Trekkie or anything like that, but I like those kinds of themes that are out there. I’m much more in to Anime and Manga than anything else. I like that stuff but I’m not way in to it. I was when I was younger. I’ve actually been wanting to get back in to comics for a bit because you can read them on the computer now, and I’m on the computer all the time. I wouldn’t mind playing Nerdapalooza.”

Others, like the Aquabats and even Weezer themselves, remain just rumors. For now. It’s a very good possibility that artists like these - and many more - could be a part of Nerdapalooza in the coming years. Many of them, whether they realize it or not, are already considered Nerd Music by its faithful fans and would love for them to come on in, kick up their feet, play some Mario Kart, and be a part of the community, too.

With the success of films such as Iron Man and Transformers - not to mention that two of the highest grossing box-office films in history feature elements of science fiction (Avatar) and comic books (The Dark Knight) - the nerd culture has slowly taken over the entertainment landscape. How long will it be before that seeps in to music as well? Nerd Music is making an impact in music in ways that have been subtle but are about to become much bigger. The underdogs outcast in school could go on to become the dominant entity in all of music. And maybe Luigi will get his shot with the princess after all.

Photo of Schaffer The Darklord courtesy of Wikipedia user Salty Boatr.

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