Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nerdapalooza Wrap-up 3: A Journey into Sound

I’ve spent an entire week trying to figure out the best way to approach the subject of the performances at Nerdapalooza. Talking about each and every participant is out because it is both time-consuming and a little insincere; I did, admittedly, miss a number of sets and a far greater number of half-sets. Likewise, talking about the headliners seems a bit of a disservice to the other 28 artists on the roster that put their blood, sweat, and tears into making this event the often overwhelming spectacle that it truly was.

As you can see, my options have already worn thin.

What I am left with is less a description of concrete events, catalogs of lengthy set lists, and stage mechanics, and more an account of intangibles. Of feelings. Of energy. Brief snippets of pure geeky genius.

I truly felt that energy during my first full set of day 1: Random. Ran took the stage early, and managed to deliver with both nerdcore and non-nerdcore content. A personal highlight was Ran’s rendition of “City Boy,” a favorite track of mine that is surely no nerdier than any other hip-hop meditation on one’s youth and old neighborhood. The lead-in for the track was particularly interesting, as Ran led an entire room of geeks (and obviously perplexed Taste staffers) in a rousing rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” It was a wonder to behold.

Shortly after Ran left the stage, Wizard Rocker The House of Black favored us with a wholly different flavor of musical content, her style mixing sharp electronica with classic acoustic folk. All of which was, of course, Potter-related and wholly beautiful. That gave way to acts as disparate as lo-fi rocker (with no “w”) marc with a c, who punctuated his set with a rap number of his own; MC Gigahertz, who showed us the true meaning of Absurdcore; and an oddly patriotic pre-recorded set from chiptune maestro in absentia Pixelh8.

An underlying theme of the event, which could assuredly be felt in the offerings of the aforementioned, was a genuine sense of fun. Whether the crowd was packed-in or sparse – which I can’t imagine affected Pixelh8 either way – these artists gave it the proverbial 110%. Their music, their energy, was transmuted into pure enjoyment.

Audience reception was particularly strong for ZeaLouS1, who seemed at home on the stage even during an early onset of the dreaded technical difficulties; Sudden Death, who proved that funny musicians are nothing if not serious performer; and funky49, whose blistering set featured Colon:P, Redvoid, Sir-Up and MC Wreckshin, party poppers, 3D glasses, and anyone/anything else that happened to stray near the stage.

funky49 served as a perfect example of the very unique dynamism inherent in all of the local Floridian artists featured. And while the turnout for heavy-hitters like Captain Dan & the Scurvy Crew and Killer Robots! was high – and rightfully so – it was the contributions of comparatively smaller acts that continued to wow me over both days of the event. Rocket Propelled Geeks functioned seamlessly, almost as a single rhyming entity. (I’m attempting not to make a reference to an old Japanese cartoon involving robot lions here, but you get the idea.) Krondor Krew managed to make what could well have been off-putting stage attire compelling by proving that their lyrical chops are just as striking as their ninja garb and giant swords. Magitek, who played to an early and obviously heavily hung-over 2nd day crowd, functioned just as cohesively as RPG, albeit with an underlying feeling of family togetherness that made their set as emotionally appealing as any I’ve seen. And the center of the Orlando nerdcore community, Emergency Pizza Party, made up for their glaring lack of a Betty Rebel with ample on-stage dynamism and by reuniting with former EPPers Benjamin Bear and Jaylyn.

Suffice it to say that headliners MC Frontalot, Uncle Monsterface, Math the Band, and Harry and the Potters were also easily as epic as one would expect. Front played to a small (albeit packed) room as if it were a record-breaking PAX crowd, and welcomed to the stage a trio of special guests from the festival’s nerdcore ranks. An eager throng of fans seemed wholly unfazed by the fact that Uncle Monsterface vocalist Marty Allen sang their entire set in his lower register, the side-effect of a particularly rousing gig played earlier that day. Moreover, The Potters brought to the table a stage presence and musicality that I found genuinely polished when contrasted with their famed modesty as musicians/performers. The 3rd group of the Unlimited Enthusiasm Expo, Math the Band, put on a show that was so rich with vigor as to be literally staggering; I had to catch my breath afterwards to even begin to process the amazing power that emanated from their meager 3-piece stage setup.

In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine that so much happened during those two blissful days. Watching old-acquaintances-turned-new-friends like Myf, DJ Snyder, int eighty, YTCracker (Who did his entire set in black fuckin’ toesocks!), Whore Moans, and mCRT rock a pair of tiny stages in a manner that would make any rapper proud was inspiring. Equally inspiring was seeing acts running the gamut from Halifax’s superlative Wordburglar to Boca Raton’s unfathomable Zombies! Organize!! charm a heavily uninitiated audience into their own unique schools of musical thought.

While “energy” may be this missive’s buzzword for Nerdapalooza, it could just as easily be “change” because that is what each of us in attendance experienced. Just as the music changed from rap to rock to WRock to poppy electronica and back again, so did each of us change with it. And while there were certainly a few among us who were there for one band and one band alone, the vast of majority of faces in that sea of warm bodies and cold beer were familiar by the end of the 2nd day. Old favorites were supported and new favorites discovered. Preconceived notions about certain genres and acts were challenged and, hopefully, shattered. And just as we ebbed and flowed from one stage to the next, never quite knowing what to expect, so did the spirit of Nerdapalooza wash over us. We were baptized, baptized by music and nerdy brotherhood, and we emerged changed.

And though each artist, audience member, and bewildered passerby surely has his own opinion about the single defining moment of the festival, many of the attendees I’ve queried agree that it rests squarely on the shoulders of one man. That man walked into the venue early Friday as an unassuming chap named Mark Schaffer, but by nightfall he had transformed into the sinister, sexual Schaffer the Darklord. His metamorphosis mirrored the change, whether subtle or extreme, that occurred in all of us, and while we each remember different aspects of the events of Nerdaplooza ’08, I’ll wager everyone in attendance remembers STD’s set. It was a geeky work of art. A perfect aspect of nerdy beauty from a weekend that will not soon be forgotten in the annals of our tribe’s history.

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