Thursday, March 01, 2007

For Reals

Dan Lamoureux tells a good tale; he spins a good yarn , as my grandmother would say. In his upcoming documentary Nerdcore For Life, Dan weaves the tale of a quiet, unassuming, geeky little corner of the hip-hop spectrum, and how this tiny sub-genre is, slowly but surely, making its mark on the overall consciousness of American popular culture.

For me, personally, Dan is the greatest nerdcore story ever told. He came into the scene an outsider, an observer, but he soon found out that the dorky denizens of the nerdcore community were, in fact, his kind of people. He has further translated this new-found passion for geeky rhymes into his already considerable cinematic effort.

I can relate.

Though I know some among the ranks may disagree with his philosophy, his formula, I see in Dan a kindred spirit. You don't have to pick up a mic to love nerdcore. You don't have to cut a record to support it. You just have to feed it a little of your talent, a serving of your ascribed skill, and it'll continue to grow.

Dan was nice enough to take some time away from cultivating his own project to support mine. While I'm sure I didn't answer all the questions you might have about the man behind the movie, I hope I at least afford you a glimpse into the mind of a talented filmmaker and nerdcore super-fan.

This is Dan Lamoureux. He's telling our story, so it only seemed fair for me to tell his.


Though you've recounted the tale time and time again, would you mind explaining the genesis of the Nerdcore For Life documentary? What sparked the idea, and, further, what made you actually decide to undertake the project?

Throw up your hands if you like this music.I first got the idea to do a film about Nerdcore after seeing an mc chris show. As soon as I got home I googled the phrase “Nerdcore documentary.” I couldn't believe there wasn't already one in the works. I spent a few months researching the genre but at some point I got it in my head that instead of making the film I should go to Japan and teach English. That became my new obsession for a while and I was almost positive I was going to go. I had an interview scheduled with an English school based here in Chicago and I started learning Japanese. But nerdcore was still on the back of my mind and I started to feel guilty about not making the film. I had two choices: 1. Go to Japan for a year, make some money and have some fun or 2. Add thousands of dollars worth of debt onto my already gigantic pile of credit card and student loan bills and maybe make a film that might have a shot at getting into the Boise Underground Film Festival. Then one day out of the blue, a friend of mine mentioned Nerdcore. To my surprise he not only knew of the genre but he told me that he and some other people he knew were into Ytcracker. The conversation made me feel like Nerdcore was just starting to creep out of the underground and that maybe the timing was perfect for a film about the genre. I was literally driving to my interview with the English school when I decided that if I wanted to be a filmmaker for-reals I had better suck it up, spend some money, stay in the US and make the most kick-ass rapping nerd documentary ever.

You've stated publicly that you came into the project as a casual observer, and it wasn't until later that you actually found yourself a fan of nerdcore. When did this change occur? Is there a specific moment or event that you can pinpoint?

In the middle of the Shark Club show I realized how much I was enjoying myself. It was a great show and I remember thinking, “I can't believe it, but this is my kind of music.”

But to be honest, not all nerdcore is my cup of tea. It seems to me that there are too many people are out there making Nerdcore for the sake of making nerdcore. Delivery and production values have taken a back seat to lyrical content. But having hyper-geeky rhymes isn't enough. The primary focus of any nerdcore artist should be to create the best hip-hop possible. There are a lot of haters out there and the only way Nerdcore is ever going to be respected by mainstream hip-hop fans is if Nerdcore artists step their game up. But growing pains aside, I would call myself a pretty big nerdcore fan.

For many months, the working title of the documentary was Project: Nerdcore. Where did the amended title come from and at what point did you decide to make the switch?

The original title of the doc was going to be Nerdcore: A Brief History of Geeksta Rap but I decided to ditch that one after some artists expressed their displeasure with the term “Geeksta.” Project: Nerdcore became the generic placeholder title. It just easily could have been Dan Lamoureux's Untitled Nerdcore Documentary Project .

Due to involvement with his own documentary Nerdcore Rising, nerdcore's de facto founder MC Frontalot was unable to appear in Nerdcore For Life . Did this disappoint you at all?

As a Frontalot fan it's disappointing that I wasn't able to interview him or feature him in the film. But there's still hope that MCF will be able to make some kind of cameo.

Do you feel that his omission would hurt your project artistically?

I hate to sound like a jerk but my grandma doesn't know who MC Frontalot is. Film festival programmers don't know who MC Frontalot is. Film distributors don't know who MC Frontalot is. Out of the 680,000+ people that watched the NC4L trailer on YouTube, only about 40 people left comments saying "How could you leave out MCF!?" For 99% of people who see the doc, the film will be their first exposure to the world of nerdcore. The omission of MC Frontalot would hurt the project's accuracy but it by no means lessens the impact of the overall film. It would just bug me personally. I mean, where the hell do I get off making a movie about Nerdcore that doesn't include MC Frontalot!? What am I, crazy?

Fortunately the world of Nerdcore beyond Frontalot is so awesomely unique and interesting that I think even his die-hard fans will be able to overlook his "omission." There's a slim chance that Frontalot may be able make some kind of appearance in Nerdcore For Life , but if legal circumstances require me to leave him out I don't think the average viewer would cry foul over his absence. Still, the film would never feel complete to me without him.

This, of course, brings me to the inevitable question; is the world ready for two nerdcore documentaries?

If you're a Netflixer, add these two movies to your queue: Starwoids and A Galaxy Far, Far Away. Both of them are documentaries about obsessive Star Wars fans. Both of them feature cameos by Star Wars Mix-Master The Sucklord. Both of them were shot at the same time in the same city. But most importantly the major focus of both films is the people who waited in line at Mann's Chinese theater to see the premiere of Episode I. They feature the exact same people doing the exact same thing in both films yet the two movies turned out very differently. You know, I've also seen two documentaries about the world of professional Scrabble players. The two films featured exactly the same group of players as they competed in different tournaments. If you watch the trailer it's pretty clear that the two nerdcore docs are going to be pretty different. I think there's room enough for both Nerdcore docs on Netflix.

Is the world ready for nerdcore hip-hop?

Nope. Mainstream hip-hop fans aren't going to accept Nerdcore and neither will most nerds. No matter how honest Nerdcore is traditional rap fans will see it as a joke or novelty. And most nerdy folks HATE rap music. Lyrical content doesn't matter. They'll never listen to it. The audience for Nerdcore is incredibly small. If you're like me and can appreciate rap that features witty lyrics and are a bit of a dork then nerdcore is for you. There aren't a lot of people out there like that though.

The landscape of nerdcore has changed drastically over the past year. Do you feel that Nerdcore For Life is at all responsible for such change?

You can't study something without influencing its behavior I guess. The cheapo little website I put together for the doc was the first site to be devoted solely to the genre of nerdcore. Besides the ever changing Wikipedia entry, my site was the first to offer up some kind of listing of different artists. I'm guessing a lot of people learned about rappers they had never heard of from the "artists" section of my site. Ytcracker suggested that I add some girl named MC Router to the film's roster even though she wasn't out there promoting herself as being nerdcore. Fans would have heard of her eventually since she's an unstoppable force, but I like to think that I helped introduce her to the community in a way. I also gave Router her first switchblade which I hear she carries with her at all times.

In the grander scheme I think the project and the website helped people realize that there was much more to nerdcore than just mc chris and MC Frontalot. I also hope that in some way the whole film has been a confidence boost for the people involved. Unfortunately, I've also been pretty sloppy at times and I think that the film has caused a lot of discord in the community. Hopefully those problems are in the past though.

Would you describe nerdcore in its current form as a community, a scene, a movement, or something entirely different?

Really, I don't even know at this point. What I do know is that Nerdcore is a small but legitimate musical genre. Unlike most genres though, in Nerdcore the line between musicians and fans is almost non-existent. So in that way it's very unique and gives the genre a communal feel. But I've come to think of Nerdcore as pastime, just like playing video games is a pastime. Some gamers go pro and play in tournaments but most of people play video games because it's fun and challenging. Maybe someday you'll be able to play “Nerdcore Hero” on your PS5 or buy audio production software that's specifically aimed at the Nerdcore market.

What, in your opinion, is the current state of nerdcore hip-hop?

The clock is running on Nerdcore. It's no longer an internet secret. If there aren't 200 new nerdcore rappers out there this time next year then that's a good sign that the genre is pretty much bound for musical extinction. If people continue to make nerdcore for fun and as a hobby, the genre will endure. If people start thinking that they're going to get famous because of nerdcore the game is over.

It's hypothetical question time. You've just received the Palme d'Or for Nerdcore For Life. (Don't laugh.) While accepting this most prestigious honor, whom do you thank first?

A ton of people have gone to great lengths to help me out with this project. If I had to pay for all the labor and equipment I've gotten for free the budget would be at least $25,000. But Honestly, I'd probably first have to thank the guy who's been getting me the equipment I need to shoot and edit the whole project. I don't have any money to buy or rent anything so a friend of mine sneaks gear out of work whenever I need something. We literally meet in an alleyway behind the building he works in and he slips the stuff into my car. For risking his job I once bought him a burrito. It was a good burrito but still I owe that guy big time.

There was a rush of interest when the trailer for Nerdcore For Life appeared on YouTube. Were you surprised by the response?

 You can't study something without influencing its behavior I guess.Man I was shocked. Some development guys that are interested in being involved in the film asked that I cut together a trailer really quick so they could show it to their boss. I had to get the thing cut right away so I was only able to put about 40 hours into it. I assumed that I would eventually go back and tighten up the trailer, adjust the sound mix and add some fancy graphics and stuff but since it was essentially done, I figured I might as well put it on YouTube so that the artists in the film could see what I've been up to. I sent the link out to about 25 people so I was shocked when I noticed that the trailer had been viewed over 150 times the first day! I was amazed by the reaction then and I've been amazed ever since. If I rattled off the list of film festivals, production companies and development teams that contacted me because they saw the trailer it would blow your mind. I try and keep most of that to myself since I don't want to get anybody's hopes up. I'll say this though; the number one film fest that I wanted to enter the doc into was South By Southwest. Their entry deadline was December 8th but after the trailer was posted two different people from the fest actually wrote me wanting to know the status of the film. They said they'd still consider accepting it if I submitted it to them right away. They'd even waive the admission fee. The film wouldn't be done in time for the fest in March but it was really an ego boost to hear from them.

You've spent the last year steeped in the musical side of nerd culture. Are there any favorite artists or personalities within the scene to which you feel particularly drawn?

Sure. I should be diplomatic, though, and refrain from naming names.

Was there a specific, defining moment during the filming that you realized that things had really started coming together, that the project really had legs?

The first performance I filmed was Monzy at Stanford. He gave the speech that you hear in the trailer and I couldn't believe how perfect it was. I couldn't have written something better than that if I tried and when I heard that monologue I knew that film could wind up being something people would actually want to you know, like, watch.

You recently said that you had “a pretty good idea of how the final film would be put together” before the recent shows at The Beauty Bar and CES. What happened in Las Vegas that so drastically changed your outlook on the final cut?

The plan for months had been to end the film with footage of The Shark Club show. It would have been perfect since it was basically the world's first all nerdcore concert. Well now I have footage of several all nerdcore concerts. If I use CES or Bocon footage in the middle of the film then the impact of Nerdcore Night is lost since viewers have already seen other all-nerdcore shows. Messing with the outline of the film at his point is kinda scary but I'm starting to get an idea of how to handle things.

Though Nerdcore For Life is still, doubtlessly, taking up the bulk of your creative energies, have you given any thought to a follow-up project? What sort of things can we expect from Dan Lamoureux in the future?

For a while I've been thinking of shooting a documentary about people who are obsessed with Halloween. The web is rife with websites related to Halloween and there are people out there that take their love of the holiday to unimaginable extremes. They spend every day of the year preparing for October 31st. So it'll either be called Dan Lamoureux's Untitled Halloween Enthusiast documentary or Halloween, 365 . If that doesn't work out, there's always porno. I bet there's a big market out there for nerd-themed porn. Maybe when MC Frontalot's exclusivity agreement expires I can get him to appear in a cinematic version of Yellow Laser Beams. It'd be nice to work with him eventually.

I've got some friends in the business. We'll talk. ;)

Tell the truth, Dan; are you a nerd?

To call me a nerd would be an offense to nerds. Nerds are smart and have marketable skills. I'm dumb as a bag of hammers. I also don't have many traditional-nerd hobbies. I don't play video games, I haven't bought an action figure since they stopped making the World of Springfield toys, I never read comic books, I'd rather have Karl Olson shoot heroin into my eye than watch anime, except for Rhyme Torrents I stay out of forums, and I couldn't build something mechanical to save my life. I've got some nerdy interests like cartoons, astronomy and documentaries about Scrabble, I guess, but I'm really more of a dork than a nerd. Dorks are socially awkward and shy oddballs and that's what I am. Plus my business cards announce to the world that I'm a professional A/V technician. I might as well wear a scarlet D on my chest.


I once watched a nature show in which a team of biologists hoisted a tiger shark from the briny deep, attached a satellite tag to its dorsal fin using what appeared to be a Stanley drill, and then chucked the poor critter back into the sea, content in the knowledge that this contravention would in no way interfere with their mission to gauge the beast's “natural patterns.” Dan takes a bit more of a realistic look concerning the impact that he and his film continue to have on the environment of nerdcore hip-hop.

More than that, Dan appreciates his influence over nerdcore's continued growth and development, he owns up to it. Shit, he gave Router a knife, which, while probably not the most lucid of decisions, certainly illustrates his kinship with the inhabitants of the realm known as nerdcore.

Nerdcore is that rare bird of a community, the one where should you attempt to insinuate yourself, even in the loosest capacity as spectator, chronicler, into its ranks, you generally find yourself welcomed with open arms. If you're nerdy, even in a relative sense, and if you're open-minded enough to dip your toe in, then you're probably the exact kind of person that the scene exists to attract.

Through the labor of love that is Nerdcore For Life , Dan Lamoureux is expanding upon this formula. The trailer alone has helped to spread the good word of geeky hip-hop to countless sympathetic individuals that may not have otherwise had the opportunity to discover that they too share our passion.

And that, my friends, is nerd love. For reals.


ChurchHatesTucker said...

He gave Router a knife?! I guess he is "dumb as a bag of hammers." ;)

Good interview. Nice to see a docu maker own up to the influence he has on his subjects (and vis versa.) Always nice to hear the Big Boys have the same problems wrestling with their footage. That stuff takes on a life of its own.

I think he's off on nerds 'hating rap.' Many do, but largely because of the prevailing subject matter. Show me a nerd who doesn't like "Obey the Moderator" and I'll show you a very old nerd.

Z. said...

Or a disenchanted moderator! ;)

Glad you enjoyed the piece, Church. I kinda thought this one might be right up your alley.

Amy said...

that there, is some excellent yarn sir!

ChurchHatesTucker said...

Amy, ditto.

OT: why does my link not show up anymore? (as if anyone but me cares...) It's probably related to the switch to the new blogger. I'm going to try killing the relevant cookies and see if that works.

(OK, there was really no need for me to post that, but sometimes I've got to let my geek flag fly! Booyah!)

Huh. I'm now understanding why some of my comments weren't showing up. Sometimes, if you fail the Turing test (and it's a bit distressing how often that happens to me) you don't get any kind of alert that that's what happened.

Antisocial said...

"I also gave Router her first switchblade which I hear she carries with her at all times."



oh wait... is he serious?

Antisocial said...

"Sometimes, if you fail the Turing test (and it's a bit distressing how often that happens to me) you don't get any kind of alert that that's what happened."

The truth comes out... you're really a robot.

Z. said...

That’s all Dan, Amy. So says my granny. ;)

Make sure you’re putting in a full link path, Church, including http://. This new Blogger version is temperamental. And yeah, the Turing test on this thing is unforgiving.

Actually, Soc, I have it on good authority that Church is actually a Barbeaubot. I’m just sayin’.

Anonymous said...

yep. i pack a switchblade wherever i go.
id like to see a hater approach me.

knife + throat

Z. said...

Router, I’d think the fact that you’re covered with ink would be enough to dissuade any would-be troublemakers from approaching you. ;)

Steve said...

Ay, i'm glad you're able to light up people that deserve it. holla.

Dan said...

Z, I can honestly say this is your best feature ever. Way to go! That Dan guy sounds like a he's got the mind of a genius, the heart of a poet and though I'm just guessing about this one, the body of a Greek God.

Luzid said...

Nice blog! Just started reading it, and will now devour the content at the sites you've linked.

As I'm relatively new to the nerdcore scene, I have to ask - why is the term "geeksta rap' disavowed by some in the community? For myself, I can't really call myself a nerdcore rapper, because I'm more of a geek than a nerd (as mentioned, nerds are smart).

ChurchHatesTucker said...

luzid, don't sweat it. The "nerd vs. geek" thing is overplayed. For every "a geek is this and a nerd is that" statement there's one the other way 'round.

Nerdcore is the consensus term, so you can't go wrong using that. Geeksta is usually used as a sub-sub-genre term (think MC Hawking in his "all my shootings be drive-bys" moments.)

Dan said...

The problem that people have with the term geeksta doesn’t stem from the “geek” part of the word. It’s the Gangster part that bothers people. I think the word was invented by a writer for Wired on-line. I’ve come to dislike it since it implies that Nerdcore is a mix of Nerd culture and gansta’ rap. That’s far from accurate. Nerdcore is a rejection of the ugly side of hip hop. (the glorification of violence, misogyny, greed.) So Nerdcore is really the opposite of gangster rap.

Luzid said...

Dan, you make some excellent points. Thank you for clarifying the issue.

I can definitely see why we wouldn't want to identify with the thuggery (both real and fronted) of so many mainstream rap "artists". I mean, I'm queer (pansexual), and I certainly do not want to even seem to support a culture that's so rampantly homophobic.

Z. said...

Thanks for the love, funk. I just figured that Dan was getting a lot of opportunities to talk about his project, but not so many to just talk about himself and his views on the scene. I figured that we (as a community) really owed him that.

All true, Dan, and I hear he can transmute base metals into gold! ;)

Glad to hear you’re enjoying the blog, Luzid. I appreciate your support. I think Chruch and Dan did an excellent job explaining the nerd vs. geek and nerdcore vs. geeksta thing. For me, nerd and geek are merely synonyms. Even a word like dork, despite its wang-centric connotation, is, in my mind, just another word for a nerd. I’ve always felt that the term Geeksta was simply too loaded with pretext. It implies that all nerdcore artists are directly influenced (whether it a stylistic manner or otherwise) by gangsta rap. That’s simply not true. At any rate, welcome to the scene. I hope you find it tolerant and supportive.