The Weekend That Was: Nerdapalooza

Geek Culture

Sorting through the accounts of last weekend’s Nerdapalooza festival in Orlando is a bit like watching Kurosawa‘s Rashomon; personal recollections vary greatly, and who, exactly, is telling the ultimate truth remains a mystery. In an event featuring some 32 acts performing roughly twenty-eight hours of music in the span of two days, I reckon that’s to be expected. Each memory varies because each experience was wholly unique. It almost had to be.

For me, the Nerdapalooza experience began late Thursday night when my traveling companion and I rolled into the parking lot of local sponsor A Comic Shop. Decked out in a t-shirt emblazoned with the now neglected Comics Code Authority logo, Canadian rap artist Wordburglar stalked the impromptu stage that was the storefront making sly allusions to the G.I. Joe Tomahawk and recalling his childhood job as a Halifax paperboy. A crowd of onlookers alternately bobbed their heads, talked amongst themselves, and greedily thumbed through their recent purchases. It was my first taste of a musical experience tailored specifically to nerds, and I couldn’t help but find it a little overwhelming.

Get your geek on after the jump.

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By the time my friend Random, a lifelong hip-hopper with a now famous love for all things Mega Man took the stage at the proper venue, Orlando’s Taste Restaurant, the following afternoon, I was beginning to get my bearings. Nerdapalooza was an event where artists refused to take offense if a number of bar patrons were too busy playing Nintendo DS to properly clap between songs. Further, it was the type of show where Ran’s spirited rendition of Journey’s "Don’t Stop Believin’" was met not with awkward glances or uncomfortable silence, but with fervent crowd participation. Likewise, when local lo-fi pop rocker marc with a c elected to punctuate his set with a rap number, no one stomped out indignantly. The theme of the festival may very well have translated into anything goes, because everything did.

That same day saw performances as varied as electronic-tinged Wizard Rock from the House of Black, the brilliant musical comedy stylings of Sudden Death, and a pre-recorded set by renowned UK chiptune artist Pixelh8. The audience looked on as nerdcore titan ZeaLouS1 ranted about Fergie, Rocket Propelled Geeks swapped verses like baseball cards, and funky49 gleefully handed out party poppers to mark Independence Day during his incredibly animated set. But the off-stage antics were just as unbelievable. Where else but Orlando can one have a street-side chat with Krondor Krew’s utterly inconspicuous Masurao, only to see him jump on stage a mere 10 minutes later dual-wielding plastic swords and touting the importance of the Declaration of Ninjapendence? Where else but Nerdapalooza can one watch the measured but deliberate transformation of the humble Mark Schaffer into the sinister but satisfying Schaffer the Darklord? Or perhaps the proper question is: how can a day of music concluding with the legendary MC Frontalot manage to keep an audience enthralled until such a time as the Godfather of Nerdcore takes the stage? Truthfully, it’s a mystery to me, but it happened all the same.

Day two of our musical journey through geekdom was just as intense, boasting early sets from the always congenial Magitek and game rockers Random Encounter, perhaps the only band in the history of music to be fronted by an accordion-playing Black Mage. As the day wore on, the more traditional hip-hop of Myf and Wordburglar – both ably backed by DJ Snyder – gave way to the rapping pirates of Captain Dan & the Scurvy Crew and the metallic might of Killer Robots! Interestingly, while the crowd was a bit less consistent that evening, shifting from the usual nerdcore enthusiasts to a pleasant group of local privateers to a robot-lovin’ mass of fans boasting the show’s youngest attendant, an android savvy infant, and back again, no one ever played to an empty house. Even when the lineup threw such curveballs as following the positive, techy rap of Dual Core’s int eighty with the glamorous, minimalist, infectious ( I made a Rage virus pun!) indie pop of Zombies! Organize!!, attendance never seemed to wane. And while the foul-mouthed hacker rhymes of YTCracker may have seemed like a counterintuitive lead-in to the night’s headliners from the family-friendly Unlimited Enthusiasm Expo – Uncle Monsterface, Math the Band, and Harry and the Potters, the collective energy of which may well be our only hope for a pollution-free fuel source – each act seemed to take this often peculiar pacing in stride.

In retrospect, Nerdapalooza was truly as much about the soft underbelly of nerd culture as it was its mottled musical carapace. The moments spent chatting with fellow listeners, featured artists, comic book guys, otaku, Browncoats, bloggers, hackers, horror aficionados, and tabletop fanatics were just as important in the overall scheme of the festival as the many excellent performances. In fact, the only genuine criticism I came away with is the same that one might level at any of Orlando’s myriad of monolithic theme parks: there was simply too much to do.

This weekend was composed of a million moments of nerdy bliss, each resplendent with significance and personal importance, and whether it was a killer act on stage 2, an unbelievable freestyle session on front sidewalk, a particularly spirited discussion about Battlestar Galactica, or an epic round of Tetris, everyone missed something interesting. Now all that we can do to rectify such oversights is sift through each other’s reminiscences and try to find that silver thread of relevance that runs through our collective experience. At an event dedicated to building and celebrating a meta-community, we must fittingly look to one another to get the whole story.

Photos by Denika Robbins of Joined at the Stitch

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