Friday, July 10, 2009

Nerd News in Brief

So what're you doing this weekend?

Oh yeah! Orlando. Nerdapalooza. 48 hours of geeky bliss.

Well, take lots of pictures for me. And I mean lots of pictures. I wanna see the bands, the crowd, hell I wanna see what you eat!

You are my eyes and ears, friends, so please serve me well.
  • Help a Sister Out: Let me start things out on a serious note; Jonny Nero asked me to direct everyone's attention to a crafter donating her skills to help a friend in need. Medical bills and prostheses are expensive, and a cool pirate/steampunk-esque bracelet for 7 bucks seems more than fair.
  • Say No More: I've already said my piece concerning MC Lars's "Death of Nerdcore" post, and I imagine that even before I wrote my epistle many of you were already sick of the topic. Still, I think it'd be worth your time to check out a couple of posts over at Frontalot's BBS regarding the continued debate. Specifically those from Wheatus's Brendan Brown and Brandon Patton (AKA Blak Lotus). These cats drop some serious knowledge.
  • Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: Speaking of Front and Lars, both will be playing AfterCon (along with YTCracker) in San Diego on the Saturday night of Comic-Con week. Tickets are available, but I reckon they'll go fast!
  • Happy Anniversary!: John Anealio has just celebrated the one year anniversary of his Sci-Fi Songs blog. And he was even nice enough to categorize his musical offerings in one easy post. Head over there and download to your heart's content.
  • Baby Daddy: And congrats are also in order for my friends the Brilliant Gameologists. It appears as though they are expecting a new addition! Get the full scoop in their recent podcast, and then grab their newest offering for a glimpse at the show's mission statement.
  • Super Heroic: Thanks to a nod from a certain Dave the Knave, Hipster, please! got a mention on Comic Book Resources. This led to some nice traffic and an intro email from sci-fi rockers Americans UK. They record their adventures in song and comic book form, and both are fuckin' awesome. Check 'em out.
  • I Need You to Need Me: Church points out this post regarding Cheap Trick's recent 8-track release. Trust me; this will be far more relevant after Shael's Nerdapalooza appearance.
  • Road Trip!: And speaking of 'Palooza, I Fight Dragons are vlogging their epic drive from Chicago to Orlando. The results thus far have been quite amusing. Take a gander.
  • Wang Dang Doodle: Another Nerdapalooza alum, my pal mCRT, recently dropped his new album The Penis Monologues. Rob describes it as "a concept album, revolving around the art of the dick joke," and I'd say he hit it square on the head. Pun intended. Download all 18 tracks of its utter foulmouthery, including "The Aristocrats" (which got a nod from Penn Gillette), at mCRT's site.
  • Feel Good Hit of the Summer: And while this isn't at all nerdcore, I would highly suggest you cop Atmosphere's new freebie EP Leak at Will. Much love to Shael for shining the light on this one.
  • Big Chief Sauerkraut: Who knew that Germans love historical cosplay? Geek Studies' Jason, that's who.
  • Our Full Potential: Also from Church comes word that, apparently, we are destroying mainstream journalism. I have never been prouder.
  • Dumbledore is Gay, and That's OK: And if that one's just not inflammatory enough for your liking, witness Newsbusters picking a fight with the Harry Potter Alliance. Because, y'know, the last thing you want is for art to inspire young people. (Nod to the always helpful @pediagirl for the link.)
  • Experience Democracy: Producer extraordinaire Snake Eyes has a submission in the current Atom Films Star Wars fan movie challenge. Vote for "Bad Day for Vader" not just because it's made by one of our own, but because it is wicked awesome.
  • He is the Man: On the subject of our proud people, looks like geek metal icon Scott Ian will be writing a two-issue Lobo comic for DC. Even cooler, it'll be illustrated by Sam Keith!
  • Big Time: Did you notice that GameUniCon got a mention at USA Today's site? No? You should really pay more attention to shit like that.
  • He Won't Always be This Way: And our own Jonathon Coulton also scored a sweet appearance on a local NYC morning show last week. See him rock "The Future Soon" over at the YouTubes.
  • How Many Mr. Fantastics Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?: In other YouTubery, my old friend Brooks points us toward Dr. Victor Von Doom's comedy debut. I find it wholly unsurprising that this went down in Baltimore.
  • 8 Bits of Spunk: And taking us home on this Nerdapalooza weekend is an amazing Superpowerless remix of The Lonely Island's "Jizz in My Pants." I wasn't overly fond of the original, but this take is shit hot!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Radio Free Hipster: Special Edition

I promised a little value-added podcastery for this weekend's weary travelers, and I am not about to disappoint. Behold, not one but two supplementary RFH episodes!

Okay, they're a little on the short side, but I hope you enjoy them. With my compliments.

The first is the sampler-cast I put together for the Parsec Awards. I actually struggled with what to include, but in the end I chose a trio of lesser-known jewels. Longtime listeners likely won't hear anything new, but if you ever find yourself trying to explain Radio Free Hipster to a perplexed friend, this seven-minute monster may serve you well.

Download Radio Free Hipster: Parsec Award Sampler [hosting provided by Antisoc] Size: 6.38 MB Running Time: 6:57

Show Notes:

Intro: Baddd Spellah – "Radio Free Hipster Theme (feat. Beefy) "
It kinda hurt to have to talk over the theme song. :(

Track 1: Computerization - "1.14me"
As featured in episode 45 (May 2008)
"1.14me" blends electro, chiptunes and amazing harmonies into a whimsical love song about a personal computer and his user. It's probably not what you expected, but I think it's quite indicative of a lot of the more electronic-flavored music that I feature on the show.

Track 2: Sugar Fix - "Rule 34"
As featured in episode 48 (July 2008)
Another admitted curve ball! "Rule 34" is a delightful piece of G-rated musical slash-fic about a dragon with an affinity for automobiles. Really. It's also a fine introduction to the lighter side of geek rock. Sugar Fix is a damn genius!

Track 3: Optimus Rhyme - "Reboot"
As featured in episode 48 (July 2008)
What can I say? Ep. 48 was a solid effort! ;) This track is a typical (but often overlooked) piece of cybernetic storytelling from Seattle's late, great nerdcore combo. Knowing my love for Optimus, this one you probably saw coming. And to answer your question, yes, it really does end that abruptly.


And to follow that up, here's a little pet project I've been working on in my spare time.

I've long believed that Radio Free Hipster could do with a spot of class, and so I decided it might be fun to put together a little old school poetry-reading featuring some of my favorite nerdcore lyrics. With the (much appreciated) help of @nose_in_a_book and @talkie_tim, I was able to crank out what I like to call "An Impassioned Reading."

I reckon this one is more a proof-of-concept than anything, but I really enjoyed putting it together. Perhaps it will even become an (ir)regular feature.

First up is YTCracker's "Nerd Love."

Download Radio Free Hipster Presents: An Impassioned Reading Vol. 1 [hosting provided by Antisoc] Size: 2.03 MB Running Time: 2:13

Show Notes:

Background Music: Jean-Joseph Mouret – "Rondeau"
Yes, the theme from Masterpiece Theater. I said this shit was classy!

Introduction / Closing Dialog: @nose_in_a_book
And I couldn't have asked for a better narrator.

Featured Lyrics: YTCracker – "Nerd Love (feat. MC Router)"
And apparently even YT doesn't have these lyrics written down anywhere!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

1st Annual Nerdapalooza Hipster, please! Meet-and-Greet (Sans Me)

My only complaint about Nerdapalooza is that it's just too damn awesome. I mean, it's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of nerdy delights that can scarcely be contained within the span of a single weekend. Sadly, we don't yet have the technology to for Perpetual Nerdapalooza™, but our R&D department is, even now, working overtime.

An unfortunate side effect of the breakneck speed of the festival is that – for those of us who aren't on-stage, at least – it takes a while to connect names with faces. This means that by the time you know who all your fellow scenesters are the weekend is almost over. Imagine, if you will, attending summer camp with a blindfold on. A blindfold which is only removed moments before your parents come to pick you up.

It's sort of like that.

By the time you realize that this guy has that cool YouTube channel or that this gal writes that awesome blog, you may not have time to fully appreciate each other's company.

Thankfully, my buddy Matt has come up with a novel solution. Since a number of attendees will be staying at the venue site – the Holiday Inn on Orlando's I Drive – he's arranged a pre-show meet-up:

So, Friday is the start of Nerdapalooza 2009. If you aren’t up on this fest, give the link a read and if there’s any chance you can make it over to Orlando by Saturday, I recommend it.

So after hearing about all the fun that Z had last year, I’ve decided to make the trip south myself to get in on the action. My original plans had me hanging out with Z for the weekend, but sadly life has gotten in the way and Z had to bail. Now that my plans to follow Z around like a lost puppy and leach on his nerd fame have been scrubbed I figured my next best option was to organize a little gathering.

Actually, I threw the idea out on Twitter earlier today and got a couple of nibbles and some serious encouragement from @freakapotimus, so I figured what the hell, lets see if we can pull this one off.

So here’s the situation.

The meet will occur on Saturday from 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM in or near the pool side bar. If it is raining, then we’ll do it in or near the Coral Key Lounge (the bar inside). This will allow those who wish to swim the chance to do that, and the rest (i.e. me) to at least, hopefully, get our drink on. The time will hopefully give those who want to hit all the music a chance to meet before the show starts, while still giving the late risers a chance to take part before things get going.

Of course, while it might be fun to watch all of you try to find each other during the allotted time with no help, let’s make it easy for you. This is what you’re looking for… me.

I’m not an easy guy to miss. 6′2″, about 300 lb., short brown hair, glasses, and answer to the name Matt. I’ve had a couple of people look at me and automatically assume that I used to play linebacker in high school (I didn’t, but I kind of have that linebacker gone to pot thing going on). I’ll be wearing either blue jeans or cargo shorts. I’ll also be wearing a t-shirt that says “geek” on the front (see shirt here). I promise to be at the above spot by 11 and promise to stick around until at least 1. If its sunny, I’ll be at the pool, in the general area of where ever the liquor is. If it’s raining, then I’ll be inside, in the general area of where ever the liquor is.

If you think you’d be interested in joining in on this little meet and greet, leave a comment below letting me know that you’re up for it and may be an idea of what you look like so I can keep an eye open for you. You may also want to follow me on twitter. I’ll make sure I post any updates to that feed, including while I’m at the fest. While I’ll be posting though, unless you can DM me, I’m probably not going to see anything you send to me on Twitter. I have a normal phone, so I’m just getting texts.

OK, I think that’s it. If you have any questions, let me know. My plane doesn’t leave until Friday night, so I’ll check back at this site until at least 5 PM EST on Friday. If the hotel has free wi-fi, then I’ll see about checking on things in my room.

Since I will be conspicuously absent from this year's festival, Matt has agreed to act as my official emissary. He will be spreading the nerdy gospel of Hipster, please!, drinking extra heavy to bridge the booze deficit and collecting excellent event swag on my behalf. (Hint-hint!)

If you're gonna be around for Nerdapalooza, please stop by and hang out for a bit with your fellow geeky music fans. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

MC Lars, Nerdcore, Hip-Hop & You

I am, for lack of a better term, domesticated. Unlike the bulk of my fellow bloggers, freaks and fanboys, I am married with a couple of kids, and that in itself often defines what I do and when I do it. Because of this, the bulk of my writing and researching is done in the later evening hours, while the other members of the House of Z. slumber.

It's a quiet time during which I attempt to catch up on my Twitter and follow up on all those great links that came through my feed during the preceding day. So imagine my surprise when last night, around 10 o'clock EST, the entire world was engulfed in a column of flame!

Okay, perhaps I overstate.

So imagine my surprise when last night, around 10 o'clock EST, the nerdospehere exploded in a fiery rage!

Much better.

The source of this wailing and gnashing of teeth was, to say the least, a little unexpected. MC Lars had, in a blog post entitled "RIP NERDCORE (1998-2009)," seemingly decried not only the bulk of his fellow artists but nerdcore in general.


Now before I carry this missive further, I must pause to say that I know Lars. We aren't exactly on each other's Christmas card list or anything, but we've talked extensively both online and in person to a point that I feel like I am fairly familiar with him. Familiar enough, at least, to know that he isn't exactly the kind of cat to pick fights.

Armed with this knowledge, I took his musings – from the very incendiary point at which he states "Unless you are MC Frontalot, it's time to stop trying to make 'nerdcore hip-hop'" – to be something less than most. I refused to see it as attack, which is how it was apparently perceived by many of those who passed the link my way, but rather as Lars expressing dissatisfaction with his perception of what nerdcore is versus what hip-hop should be.

Lars illustrates this point by referencing a number of outstanding examples of from the greater nerdcore schema, including personal favorites like int eighty and Jesse Dangerously, unfortunately he also muddies the waters with arguments that, at times, come through as something far less than sound.

From early on, Lars equates Frontalot's success and the media attention attracted by the scene's twin documentaries with a moment at which "a cadre of mediocre rappers" actively sought to exploit these breakthroughs as their own personal marketing megaphone. I take issue with this statement on a couple of levels.

First, it's painful to admit, but Lars himself has been faced with similar accusations. I admire Lars as a businessman, a lyricist and a performer, but his style of "Post-Punk Laptop Rap" has likewise been decried by more traditional heads as being insincere and incongruent. We know that Lars is a genuine fan of hip-hop that has been doing his thing for far longer than the term "nerdcore" was a Google trend, but many of those outside our admittedly limited window do not. Whether or not Lars considered that before pinning that particular barb is something that only the man himself can answer, but it's a fact that makes the admonition seem a little catty.

Secondly, it seems to actively discount those outside of the nerdcore artist corral that felt as though the "movement," for lack of a better word, provided a soundtrack to their lives. It's easy to see nerdcore as a whole as a group of cannibalistic, ego-stroking artists simply making music for the sake of garnering the attention of their fellows, but there are actual fans. I know. I am one of them. And to those like me, the media micro-explosion that was nerdcore's moment in the sun was simply another minor victory for supporters of nerdom as a culture unto itself. It was a music that celebrated us, and while it certainly wasn't all as compelling as YTCracker, its brief ascension was a point of pride.

Alternately, Lars also parallels the stripped-down punk rock aesthetic of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols with the more refined and ultimately evolved brand of post-punk created by acts like Joy Division. It's a sound enough challenge to motivate artists to push themselves creatively, at least on the surface. In fact, normally this is the kind of sentiment I could get behind, but knowing that Lars and I both come from a similar punk background, I would be remiss if I didn't ask: What of The Clash? What of Blondie and Elvis Costello and Television? What of The New York Dolls and The Stooges and Velvet Underground? What of The Jam?

Each of these artists, rather rightly or wholly inaccurately, was at one time or another lumped under the punk rock label. Despite the various hues or flavors of their individual brands of musical revolution, they were pinned with that same tack. And yet they were all undeniably different. Moreover, each was party to a continually shifting paradigm. Each was an agent of slow and steady change: an evolutionary step.

This brings me to my two main points of criticism.

Labels, particularly genre labels, are inherently erroneous. Fort those truly involved in the scenes themselves they are at best limiting (as Lars points out) and a worst insulting. And yet they persist. As someone who actively uses these relatively inflexible pigeonholes in an attempt to broaden the nerdy music user base, I am the first to admit that there really is no proper cataloging method. When I play a Selfhelp or an I Fight Dragons track on Radio Free Hipster, I can do so with little pretense. Yet when I play the same on my podcast, I am beholden to state their proximity to arbitrary labels like nerdcore or geek rock or chiptunes. I don't do it as a disservice to the artists or because these "genre tags" magically make their music more relevant, but because man is a simple creature who needs an easy place to hang his hat. That doesn't make it right, but that does illustrate the concept's functionality.

Also, just as he omits acts that I know he knows in his punk rock allusion, Lars similarly glosses over a significant chunk of applicable MCs that I fear he perhaps doesn't in his treatise on nerdcore. Whore Moans, The Ranger, Grandmaster Pink, MadHatter, Navi and Super Dragon X are not new to hip-hop. These are cats who were making beats and recording rhymes (with varying levels of nerdy slant) without the insulation of a nerdcore "scene," but who used the loose affiliation that sprang up in the wake of Rhyme Torrents and Nerdcore For Life to find similar, like-minded artists. At times many of them have expressed their own dissatisfaction with the direction of the scene, but their collective antidote has been to make their own shit that much more dope.

Lars calls for something new, and I applaud that challenge. But I do so with the caveat that there is continually new hotness springing up, even from the nerdcore faithful. The drum that I so often beat (which I'll now remove from its protective sleeve and tighten properly) is that we need to stop thinking of nerdcore as a genre, or even a subgenre. That truly is Front's gig, and he plays it perfectly. It's his term that the rest of us are using by his good grace, so let's tread lightly.

For everyone else, nerdcore should be seen as a community or, better yet, a style.

As principle nerdcore artists, folks like my pal Beefy, further hone their skills we see the term nerdcore morph from a shield to a banner. For those who continue to ply their craft, nerdcore – which once protected them in their handsome little niche – can instead turn into a word of their own precise defining. There is always wiggle room. As more and more of those in the meta-community find their voices, nerdcore becomes less crutch than buzzword. Does that mean it will ever afford a totally accurate description of everyone from mCRT to KABUTO? No, but such is the price we pay for being habit-hardened creatures of limited language.

Even now, I find myself surprised to hear guys like Random, a true underground artist with hip-hop chops to spare, talk about his nerdcore project Mega Ran. Further, I was positively taken aback when Dr. Awkward (rightfully) proclaimed himself the next generation of nerdcore in his recent release. This just goes to show that, when used correctly, the term has legs. Even in the face of its apparent stylistic limitations.

In the end, I can't help but think that I agree with Lars's sentiment but not his verbiage. I know the rationale for this post wasn't to shock or offend, and I am not at all surprised that Lars has softened his stance. He's a great guy and a genuine talent who simply wants to encourage artistic experimentation and creative fulfillment. And there's really no loftier goal.

I do, however, think that he hastily glosses over one of his best points; if you want to be a rapper, listen to rap. I regularly hear "Yeah, nerdcore is the only rap I like" from artists and fans alike, and my response is always that this is a damn shame. Hip-hop is a rich and colorful culture that is not wholly defined by whatever may make its way into the mainstream.

In fact, my principle beef with the prevailing nerdcore mindset is that by rapping about the day-to-day of nerd life we are somehow the saving grace of hip-hop. That's just ridiculous! There's nothing wrong with the aforementioned concept – holler at P.Nis for more info – but the truth is rap doesn't need to be saved, and it surely couldn't be saved by a bunch of outsiders. Hip-hop, like any other culture (including our own), has been strip-mined for marketability, its adherence reduced to a handsome subset of demographic info on some spreadsheet. But hip-hop is more than bad radio edits and McDonald's commercials. It's a living, breathing, beautiful thing.

While we seek to cultivate the culture of nerd, we shouldn't be looking – as the mainstream does – for elements to hijack or assimilate, but for models upon which to base our own design. And if we are going to use hip-hop as a part of our musical shorthand, we should certainly delve further into its own history and development. Not only are we apt to find more music to our liking, but we'll also discover stabilizing elements like its traditional fundamentals and genuine sense of cultural stewardship. Hip-hop is, like all the finer things, a subject that requires study; why not turn some of our trademark studiousness to that end?

So I suppose the only item left to tackle is Lars's own principle point: the blight of bad music. Is there ever an excuse to make shitty music?

To tackle this we must first admit that our own unique opinions are not an indelible stamp of quality. I fight a daily struggle with this concept, as I am regularly reminded that just because I like something doesn't immediately make it good. But if we look at things objectively, we must realize that art exists, on some level, to be experienced, and it is the job of the artist to make that experience as compelling and creative as possible. There are many paths to quality, but what matters is that the end product amuses or, better yet, enlightens the listener.

So I'll simply hope (for my sake as much as anyone's) that shitty music or writing or podcasting or what-have-you is justifiable in the continued pursuit of artistic evolution. Because that is what it's all about. To quote the man himself, "Let's push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and flip the script by surprising each other with what we can do."

In the end, I suppose it comes down to a matter of audience. If we are producing art for the celebration of a limited community, we can always take the easy way out. We can toss together any old goddamn thing we like without regard for quality or relevant content and tell detractors that they simply don't understand where we're coming from. Or we can continue to work to better ourselves for the sake of our craft, and attempt to make the most compelling rap song/vector art/Bundt cake/web log that we possibly can. Sure, the first option is easier (not to mention relatively bullet-proof), but, whether your audience is 10 or 10,000, it's important to remember that excellence is often relative while mediocrity is nigh undisputed.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Flametongue Reawakens

I have admittedly been on a bit of a losing streak of late. Thankfully, you can't lose all the time – or, to put it in the local parlance, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and again.
Such is the case with some exciting news from my old pal Myf.

First and foremost, my old pal Myf is now my new pal Navi. This change puts his stage moniker significantly closer to his given name, which is an interesting turn, and it invariably calls up allusions to the spirited companion of a certain Champion of Hyrule. Likewise, it also serves as shorthand for his role as a sort of new school hip-hop prophet, which I find particularly appropriate.

Secondly, as he recently shared over at Rhyme Torrents, this new name also comes bundled with a new mixtape. The Grayscale Trailer is a collection of freestyles, older material, brand new demos and even a little related hotness from his crew Metamystiks Inc. It's a free download, and wise investment of your time and bandwidth.

And lastly, as indicated by the title, this mixtape is merely a precursor to a proper release due out September 1st. It's been a while since Navi has unleashed his full hip-hop fury (though he has still been working on the OCR front), but this preview proves that he's not only kept his old swagger intact, but has further progressed as both lyricist and storyteller.

This is exactly the kind of news that makes a fellow long for a quick end to the long, hot summer!