Thursday, December 31, 2009

In Da Club

There was a time when I viewed my annual year-in-review post with a kind of disconnected irony. I did it slyly. Wryly. Because it was easy and expected. But, somewhere along the line, all that changed. And I blame YTCracker.

You see, last year I recognized YT for his creative output, his dedication to craft and his undeniable hustle, and it's hard to go back to casual yearly observances after crowning a "Nerd o' the Year" like that.

Thus, from the very earliest moments of 2009, I have been taking notes. I have, to turn a phrase, been making a list and checking it twice, so as to discern who's been nerdy and nice. And this year's seen a number of notable ups, as well as a few downs.

Early in January, that bastion of mystical geekery, the Wizrocklopedia, changed hands. Lizz stepped down to pursue other artistic avenues, leaving Dinah and Freya to captain the ship. Suffice it to say they have kept the old 'Pedia spirit alive, while summarily injecting their own unique energies. Likewise, my pal Anthony launched a staggering array of VGM projects from his own Game Music 4 All, before eventually re-launching the site itself as a bigger, better entity.

Heavy-hitters like YT and Random continued to spit fire with nerdy projects all their own throughout '09, while artists like Shael Riley, Schaffer the Darklord, Epic-1 and Dual Core released what can undeniably be termed the finest albums of their respective careers. And lest we forget the amazing showing from Wheelie Cyberman's first post-Optimus project Supercommuter.

Musically-speaking, 2009 was a banner year for nerds across the board! For the community itself, however, things were rocky at best.

While events like Nerdapalooza, Nerd Invasion and PAX sought to further strengthen nerd solidarity, we still managed to busy ourselves with petty in-fighting. Even as mc chris once again found himself warming to the nerdcore audience (if not the term itself), MC Lars proudly proclaimed that nerdcore was dead. And while we worked ourselves into a collective lather regarding the nature, future and overall health of nerdcore-proper, misfits at large similarly dissected the culture itself. Yes, my friends, 2009 will long be remembered by our kind as the year that many decided that geeks and nerds had become two wholly different animals.

As such, 2009 also came to be the year in which I finally realized the transient, fragile nature of our nomenclature. Rather than attempt to use nerd culture as a galvanizing force, an inspired outreach engineered to embrace our fellow dorks, we reduced it to a set of buzzwords and house rules. Nerdcore wasn't a style that one could apply at will to his music or even a catch-all reference employed to proudly display one's quirky intelligence; it was a genre that you either fully bought into for an easy aesthetic crutch, or avoided like the plague so as not to be associated with those deemed less talented than yourself. Nerd and geek, likewise, couldn’t suffice as equal self-identifiers for the champions of overzealous passion, and instead became a pair of ill-tempered camps: one a slave to the mainstream's pet "geek chic" and the other a casteless cadre of social inepts.

In short, while we moved forward with music, this year we took a step backward with regard to heavy-handed bullshit doctrine.

And while I could easily preach on the ills of nerd-on-nerd violence – including my own unfortunate contributions to the blight – for another thousand words, I will instead jump from my soapbox to extend a congratulatory hand to those who truly wowed me in 2009.

As I said, I've kept a mental tally of geeky highpoints over the past 12 months, and, though it surely belies my obsessive-compulsive nature, I have seen an odd pattern emerge from my findings. In fact, I found a distinct thread that runs through many of my favorite artists and releases of 2009.

Surely no one can deny that a banner year was had by UK chiptuner Superpowerless. Not only was he the winner of an illustrious MTV/Vodaphone contest in early March that afforded him the opportunity to have a single and a music video professionally produced, but Oliver also went on to expand his musical horizons further into the realm of geeky folk-rock. Still, somehow, amongst public touring and personal experimentation, Superpowerless managed to continually release a positively staggering array of new tunes. Truly he is one of the most prolific individuals in our midst!

The same can be said for the mysterious artist that we know as KABUTO THE PYTHON, who, much like YTCracker back in '08, supplemented his own phenomenal yearly output with a nigh ridiculous number of cameos. Under various guises – Beefy once famously referred to him as "the Hannah Montana of nerdcore" – KABUTO has been involved, on one level or another, with nearly every notable geeky hip-hop release of the year.

And while established acts like Superpowerless and KABUTO have continued to rip shit up, notable newcomer Dr. Awkward quickly proved himself more than capable of spitting fire on par with nerdcore's best and brightest. His Next Gen EP was, to put it bluntly, a thing of beauty, a release as literate and self-aware as it was fiercely powerful. As a result, the listener response was equally astounding, on par with the rapidly-developing ZeaLouS1 fandom of '06.

Though the more astute among you have already connected the dots, let me explicitly state that the common theme here is Scrub Club. Over the past year, Scrub Club Records has shown remarkable growth and foresight, along the way bringing each of the aforementioned trio into the fold as well as well as longtime favorites like The Ranger, Benjamin Bear and Z1 himself. But Scrub Club has done so much more.

By embracing Superpowerless, the net label's first distinctly non-hip-hop artist, MadHatter and company sent a message that the Club was open to trailblazers of all striped, regardless of established musical dogma. If it is tuneful and nerdy, Scrub Club welcomes it with open arms.

Most recently, Hatter brought on board Seattle's Southside – winner of my own coveted See-Motherfuckers-I-Told-You-They-Was-Dope Award (originally bestowed to the legendary Schaffer the Darklord) – via an online contest designed to help rappers hone their craft. This, it seems, further elevated the Scrub Club mission by using its already community-centered focus to foster give-and-take between new and existing artists. In essence, they abandoned the a who is best mindset still plaguing much of the musical community at large in favor of asking: how can we all benefit from each other's specialized strengths and experiences?

For years I have spoken about cross-pollination, about the power of true community, artistic outreach and shared ideas, and I am thrilled to say that these are the ideals I see reflected in Scrub Club. Though their methods may seem strange – the "no dough" motto seems to be particularly disconcerting to some outsiders – they have coalesced into a genuine musical family, and I anxiously anticipate what's to come lumbering from the cornfields in 2010.


DV said...

Preach on, preacher man!

The 2009 albums you mention solidified further the fact that nerdy music is not just a fad and is here to stay. With the awesome new beats from Schaffer, Dual Core, Shael, and Supercommuter, it is clear we have long-term heavy hitters who are only going to keep improving and raising the bar for everyone.

Thanks for calling out the heavy-handed bullshit doctrine. Hopefully starting this year we can put all of that behind us and care less about labels and more about quality.


Z. said...

Well said, Data. :)

Anonymous said...

Don't forget EMPULSE RECORDS who ripped it at Nerdapalooza!And epic's 1 lp

Z. said...

Oh, hells yeah! In fact, I think Epic's "Mary Jane" was probably my jam of the year. :)