Friday, January 04, 2008

Nerd News in Brief

I’ve spent years writing about nerdy music and culture, and I’ve met with moderate success. My readership isn’t overly broad or anything, but I’ve got a solid collection of regulars who are passionate about music and perfectly comfortable within their own geeky skins. I’ve been involved in some projects that’ve gotten some decent press, I’ve interviewed some really interesting people, and I’ve been party to some truly great endeavors.

So who the hell would’ve known that the thing to push me into the lower echelons of Internet celebrity would be a ridiculous tattoo?!

The Web is truly a weird and wonderful place.

But my fifteen minutes seem to have come to an abrupt close, and now, as I breathe a sigh of relief that my tiny arms will no longer be the topic of discussion among the geek elite, I’d like to thank everyone who talked my D20 up with little or no snarkiness. I’d also like to thank Church for setting off my brief brush with geek-fame. But mostly I’d like to thank Emily Hulme from AMNY for acknowledging that this is actually a music blog. :)

And now, because a week without nerd news is like a week without sunshine: NNIB.
  • Like Highlander, but with music: The Crate Digger Death-match is set to kick off tomorrow, and we had no problem at all filling our dozen artist slots. Shit, we actually had to turn people away after a point, which was both unexpected and a bit of a downer. Still, this looks to be a competition for the ages, and I implore you all to keep your collective ear to the ground as musicians of all stripes beseech the thrift store gods to bestow upon them a bounty of workable sound sources.
  • Part of this nutritious breakfast: This round of the Crate Digger Death-match is sponsored in part by Rap Snacks, the only cheese puff made with real Yung Joc. No. Not really. I’m lying. About the sponsorship. I can, however, neither confirm nor deny that any Yung Jocs were harmed in the production of this snack food.
  • Nerdcore folk-rock?: Long ago when the earth was a simpler place, Doc Popular launched a campaign to not only get MySpace to include nerdcore as a selectable artist genre for musician and band accounts, but also to adopt the term as a catchall classification for nerdy music. Church discovered this recent Computer and Videogames interview with Jonathan Coulton that leads me to believe that Doc was ahead of the curve with this idea.
  • Gift-wrapped up in plastic: Myf is one of my favorite MCs. Here’s why: over my lengthy holiday break, the Metamystiks rhyme-smith dropped a new demo over at Rhyme Torrents. It's simply called “110 Bars,” and it was actually recorded in a single take. A full version of this track is set to appear on the forthcoming MMI album The Nanking Mixtape Vol. 1, but don’t act like you don’t feel it even in this raw form! EDIT: Snyder even made a YouTube fanvid for the track.
  • When tiny, Aussie B-girls attack!: In other YouTubery, The Ranger posted a clip of his daughters dancing to LogicOne’s “Give ‘Em More.” Kids love the Logic. They also love leaning with it and/or rocking with it.
  • To seek out new life and closer parking to the food court: Let’s counteract all that cuteness with some hardcore nerd tech. Church found this Star Trek air horn for use in your car, boat, or spacecraft. The price seems a bit excessive, but it’s still a real geek gem.
  • World of Nerdcraft: Apparently Dennis and Denika aren’t alone; nerdy crafting has officially become a thing. Toronto’s The Globe and Mail has a pretty interesting little piece up on the phenomenon that actually sums up the nerd mentality really well.
  • Most valuable scenester: Dan (of Nerdcore For Life fame) has put together his second annual Nerdcore MVP thread over at RT. Last year, High-C was a scene favorite, but who made the biggest impact in 2007? Head over to the forums and speak your piece.
  • Deals so good they’re INSANE!: Random’s label RAHM Nation has decided to give fans a break for the New Year. For a limited time, all 2007 RAHM releases (like the pivotal Mega Ran album) are only $3.99 and 2006 albums like Ran's The Call are only $2.99. But this is offer's only good for a bit longer, so get ‘em while you can.
  • “If we cannot be free, at least we can be cheap.”: So said Frank Zappa, and I’m not about to disagree. This quote could well be motto of computer music blog This Is Not A Label, the perfect place to go for reviews of free and inexpensive music and recording applications. It’s also got a ton of great music news, information on topics like fair-use, and other such crunchy goodness that’s both entertaining and informative.
  • The year in mash-ups: Now that’ you’ve finished reading all of the mandatory year-end blog wrap-ups, it’s time you turn your attention to the obligatory year-end mash-up compilations. The Best of Bootie 2007 CD continues the fine Bootie tradition of wrapping all of your favorite dance tracks up in one simple package. Mashup Town has also released it’s take on the year in bootlegs called, aptly enough, MashupTown Best of 2007. (Trust me; you want this one too.) And this year DJ Earworm decided to do a totally different take on the subject by mashing up the 25 most popular songs of the year into one meta masterpiece.
  • They tried to make me go to Wii-hab: Straight from the pages of Joystiq comes news of a CNN story about the Wii’s use as a physical therapy device in places like Ohio State University Medical Center. But mostly I just wanted to use that headline.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Nerdy Dozen

They say you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps. If this is true, then perhaps I’m a bit more relevant than I give myself credit for. You see, I’ve had the pleasure of helping Doctor Popular, TradeMark G., and Tanner put together an event for the ages: The Crate Digger Death-match!

The CDD challenges artists to create an album’s worth of music in a mere 12 hours using only $12 worth of materials purchased on the day in question from thrift stores. Compelling, no?

BOOM!The challenge is scheduled to take place Saturday, January 5th, and all submissions must be turned in to yours truly by 8:00 AM the following morning. The albums will then be judged by a panel of 4 experts – well, 3 experts and me – but a showcased single from each disc (picked by the artists themselves) will be posted publicly for online fan voting. On the following Saturday, the results of the judges scores and online voting will be tallied, and the first King of the Crate Digger Death-match will be crowned.

The event is capped at a maximum of 12 participants, and the good Doctor, T-Byte, and TradeMark have already been joined by the likes of nerdcore producer nYgel and beatsmith extraordinaire Bomarr. Suffice it to say this is going to be one to watch.

But why just watch when you can take part? The clock is winding down, but slots are still available. So if you’d be interested in challenging yourself to create something memorable from the most mundane of sources, take a gander at these handy rules and regulations and throw your hat in the ring. There can only be one King of the CDD, and it could very well be you.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Draw the line

It’s December 31st, ergo I am honor-bound to write a year-end wrap-up post.

I’m serious. It’s blogger law.

Last year around this time I enumerated our many triumphs as well as our missteps of 2006. Moreover, I challenged readers and artists not to focus too much on the uncertain future, but instead to concentrate on the now. I wrote – and it’s always odd when you have to quote yourself – "This is the golden age, and whether we rise or fall, we have this moment. Today we are all stars." I stand by that statement.

But we didn’t fizzle out in 2007. We grew bigger and brighter and we commanded just as much attention as the year prior. Nerdcore hip-hop (as well as many other delicious flavors of nerdy musical goodness) was seen on MTV, written about in Esquire, and even mentioned by the BBC.

mCRT put together the first successful nerdcore-centered festival with Nerdapalooza SE, Beefy became the first 2nd gen nerdcore artists to take the stage at PAX, and mc chris rejected, adopted, and then once again rejected the genre.

It was a big year, and, yes, once again we were stars. But that’s all. We were stars, but stars are very much islands in the sky.

While other nerdy scenes continued to coalesce into communities, nerdcore maintained its status quo as merely warring factions with fragile alliances.

A while back, I received the following communiqué from nerdcore artist Luzid outlining just that:
Yo, Z.

I wanted to ask your opinion on something that's been troubling me recently - the crumbling community that is nerdcore, versus the explosion of the wrock community.

Considering that the entirety of wrock could be absorbed into nerdcore due to its subject matter, it's odd that (at least in my view) the latter has a very thin fanbase and community, while the former seems to be growing in scope. It's particularly telling that wrock is not being held back by its limited vision (i.e. mostly being about Harry Potter), while nerdcore - for all its vast horizons (so many geeky topics) - doesn't feel like a cohesive community.

Your thoughts? Am I just seeing it differently due to not being into the wrock scene?

My (abridged) response was as follows:
Interestingly enough, this is exactly the kind of thing I've been discussing with my two chief conspirators Matt and Church for some time now. Why is it that something as conceptually thin as Wrock manages to flourish while the promise of nerdcore remains mostly unfulfilled? No one can know for sure, but, after weeks (Hell, months!) of deliberation, I think I'm beginning to get down to some glimmer of truth. And I reckon it's pretty simple, now that I spell it out.

In short, Wrockers - both fans and artists - seem to have a genuinely honest interest in community building.

Matt pointed this fact out really early on, but it wasn't until recently that I finally realized that this summation, as simple as it is, is what it all boils down to.

Unfortunately, that leads us to yet another question: why?

Why them and not us? Aren't we all just nerds expressing ourselves musically? Why do those of us on the nerdcore side seem to suffer from this odd disconnect that the Wrockers tend to be able to avoid?

This one's a lot deeper, but I think I have some ideas.

First and foremost, it seems to me that nerdcore fancies itself as being created in a vacuum. From the earliest, we've had artists creating in solitude. MC Frontalot, YTCracker, mc chris, MC Hawking: these cats got their start with very little outside input, with very little outside involvement. It wasn't until Rhyme Torrents (when High-C made a legitimate effort to build bridges) that anyone even considered pinning Front's ample label on all these obviously related artists.

Wrock, on the other hand, got its start with bands. Harry and the Potters, Draco and the Malfoys, et al are all natural artistic mini-communities in and of themselves. There was already this social aspect to what they were doing. By and large it wasn't one guy in front of a computer; it was a group of friends making music together.

But does that make them instantly more community-minded than nerdcore artists? Not necessarily.

So maybe it's the inherent personalities in question. mc chris is obviously more interested in mc chris as an individual than in mc chris as the de facto spokesperson of a musical community, and that's certainly understandable. Frontalot, though far more personable in this aspect than mc, is really more passive than one might anticipate with regard for nerdcore as a genre. He lets other folks use the term - gladly, I might add - but he has his own livelihood to worry about; this is also perfectly reasonable.

But do these examples speak to our root cause? Let's examine further.

On the other hand we have the bigger names in Wrock: the aforementioned HatP, The Remus Lupins, and The Whomping Willows, just to name a few.

These cats are really down there in the trenches. They seem to speak reverently of Wrock itself, like it's a force greater than the sum of the bands that everyone recognizes. For whatever magical (I made a funny!) reason, these guys see what they're doing as a community effort as opposed to a one-man, or one-act, show.

They are, in short, in it for the team. They - the big guys - are down for the movement.

But again we arrive at that dreaded word: why. What makes what they're doing so different?

Regarding this I also have a rough theory.

What we see from Wrock is, not to put too fine a point on it, an indie spirit. A punk rock spirit.

Maybe it simply has to do with what we do as much as who we are and how we do it. Rap is very often aggressive, confrontational. It thrives on beef and diss tracks. Rock, at least in regard to the truly independent kind, seems less absorbed with such trivialities. That's not to say there's not a fair measure of back-talk and animosity in independent rock circles, a fact to which Nursehella can surely attest, but maybe - just maybe - nerdcore simply inherited a megadose of the get-them-before-they-get-you spirit of hip-hop proper.

In the end, I think that each of these plays a part, but none truly answer the question at hand. Why nerdcore lacks the strength of community that's found in Wrock, or, for that matter, other rather nerdy styles like game rock, micromusic, or bastard pop, is a mystery, but it probably has roots in some combination of the personalities involved and maybe even the actual art created.

Or perhaps it's simpler still. Maybe Wrockers connect on the base level that is a love of the source material itself. Whereas nerdcore has DGs, CS gangstas, comic shop kings, hardcore gamers, and anime enthusiasts, Wrock simply has Wrockers: lovers of the preternatural world that JKR created.

Maybe what nerdcore lacks - or, more likely, simply tends to ignore – is true common ground.
So, while we are stars, we are not constellations. We are disparate yet related. We are similar yet disconnected. What we need, my friends, is lines.

And it wasn’t until I sat down to pin these words that I realized we had found them.

Back in October, news of artist T.Y.T.’s father’s illness began to make the rounds. T.Y.T. wasn’t looking for a handout; he was merely looking to use the skills and avenues he had at his disposal to raise some money to help his father get a liver. And the nerdcore community responded. Everyone from The Awful Show crew to a cavalcade of artists old and new stepped up. And when the topic of a benefit album was broached, no one was concerned about who was or was not nerdcore enough; folks just wanted to help.

On Christmas Eve, just days after receiving his transplant, T.Y.T.’s father passed. I don’t know much in the way of details, and even if I did I wouldn’t share them. A man’s grief is a very personal thing, and I’ll not pretend to understand what he is going through. But this event led to continued outpouring of emotion. Of support. A genuine sense of a community responding to the misfortune of one of its own.

T.Y.T.’s ordeal showed us unequivocally that we could be civil to one another, that we could be supportive and genuinely invested in our community both as artists and as individuals. The trick is remembering that lesson and applying it to our everyday interactions. That's not to say that we can't critique, that we can't, on occasion, clash; that's part of being a community too. It's just saying that maybe we should remember that we have an underlying commonality and use that as a basis for a little mutual respect.

2007 saw some amazing albums. It provided some fantastic gigs and birthed some phenomenal projects. But, in my mind, it will be remembered as the year we came together, if only for a minute and if only under the worst of circumstances.

So pick up a pen and draw some lines, people. They might not fix what’s wrong, but they may just see us through to another year.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

New ink and hard-boiled detectives

So inspired was I by today’s release of The Adventure’s of Beef Thompson: Private Dick – an album, coincidentally, that I helped name – that I celebrated the event by getting a tattoo.

Okay, that’s actually bullshit. I mean TAoBT:PD did drop today and I did get this snazzy D20 tat, but these events were linked by nothing more than the silver strings of coincidence.

Josh needs to put up some dishes!Still, many delightful occurrences did conspire to make this day a perfect storm of geeky goodness, and for that I must thank the many fine people who contributed.

Heartfelt thanks to my friend Denika for putting together the original flash for me.

Sincerest appreciation also goes to Hans, a gentleman that is, in my opinion, easily one of the finest and most talented tattoo artists in The Queen City. (He is also likely Charlotte’s tattoo artist that most resembles the cartoon incarnation of Ghostbuster Egon Spengler, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Much love goes out especially to my best friend Josh (A.K.A.: Seamonkey), for giving me the most kick-ass Christmas present ever.

And, of course, I gotta give a shout-out to my boy Beefy for providing the soundtrack to today’s festivities.

If you haven’t already, I’d suggest you download Beef’s latest release immediately. It’s a welcome addition to any collection.

I’d also suggest getting a bold, line-art tattoo that hearkens back to the golden age of tabletop roleplaying. But be forewarned: there is some mild discomfort involved.