Dropped by Robert Miller
Photos by James Dechert and Lorraine Rosemary
Born from the mind of John “Hex” Carter, Nerdapalooza music festival devotes itself to everything nerdy, geeky, socially awkward and just plain unorthodox.
Long has the high-school jock and A.V. Club nerd been at odds with each other’s differing ways, opposing fashion statements and polar entertainment tastes, but this massive music-festival-meets-convention was brought straight into the dirty heart of Orlando’s downtown—the seedy underground of Central Florida where you can literally smell depravity in the air.
Having had its fair share of runs in places like Gainesville and even the U.K., Nerdapalooza has happily found a home base in Orlando where all elements of nerdom come under one singular roof in the name of . . . nerdcore? For those unfamiliar, nerdcore is just about any type of music with a geeky inspiration: nerd metal, nerd hip hop, chiptune, felk music (folk meets nerd), and more. Rarely have I seen such a diverse spectrum of musical tastes with a single purpose. And not only that, Nerdapalooza acted as a sort of side show for the convention-minded individual. There were plenty of artists and craftspeople lining their wares, illustrations and goodies for fest goers to buy, meet, greet, sign and nerd out over.
So, with glasses firmly in place, suspenders and pocket protectors (mostly) left at home, and a collective love for Mega Man rooted deeply in their hearts, geeks from all over the world happily came in droves to the Nerdocalypse of 2012.
On the first night—a Friday—I saw a never ending line of nerd stretch out from The Social’s front doors. Anticipating groups of people, clenching their video games (I mean, literally, people were taking pictures with their Nintendo DS rather than a smartphone) waited to gain entry into the packed venue. The Social was so full, in fact, that most people were waiting in line for over an hour and sadly missed some of the opening acts. Due to fire regulations, they had to grant access to each person based only on how many people would leave at a time.
Although we didn’t catch them, Team Rock-It performed first with a (you guessed it) Pokemon-themed set, and they were even joined onstage with local Orlando beat-maker GRANT.
Graciously, the 12-member dweeby a capella group, Geekapella, came outside to the long stretch of patient attendees and sang songs, since they weren’t able to see them inside for their set on stage. Armed with Weird Al Yankovic’s “Amish Paradise,” the Pokemon theme song and a couple others, their voices belted over the crowded line even as everyday downtown patrons awkwardly passed by in front of them. The line eagerly watched them, yearning for some entertainment along the boring stretch of Orange Avenue, and they laughed and cheered through Geekapella’s genial numbers.
Geekapella on stage at The Social for Nerdapalooza
Geekapella had specifically formed together for the sole purpose of performing at Nerdapalooza. They had only been “a collective” for about two months, but their shining show proved themselves as true chorus geeks with a gad of recreation theme songs at their disposal. Not sure if there will be more following the festival, but with their stage presence—and vocal chords—one could only hope.
Tribe One was up next as a rapper who does “the raps” like just about any other hip hop artist, but of course he had plenty of his nerdy comic-book love flair strung throughout every line. Adam WarRock joined him on stage to close out his set after Tribe had finished a particularly sped-up number about a stretch of super hero comic book events from 1996-2005.
Tribe One repping the Spider-Man shirt on stage at The Social
Armed with heavy metal’s finest nerd covers and inspirations and hailing from the great, desolate white tundra of Buffalo, New York, Armcannon brough the first bit of heaviness to the festival. Their metalic covers of Final Fantasy, Mega Man, Ghostbusters and more was a rivetingly fast and Symphony X-esque romp. With the slight detour of a soft Gary Jules’ “Mad World” cover, it was exactly the kind of nerdcore metal you would expect and love to see.
Armcannon brought the first metal edge to Nerdapalooza that weekend.
The OneUps were next in line for the “metal” side of the music, but I put metal in quotes for a reason; because while their music certainly hit hard at some points, it was much more rooted in progressive rock and even some jazzier numbers. Their music covers were much more retro-minded and a projector behind them even played clips of some of the retro video games they were emulating, such as Bomberman, Chrono Trigger and the finale, ToeJam & Earl. Sporting slick shades, smooth guitar solos and a great sense of unity, they brought the progressive “cool” that night.
The OneUps kept the heaviness with a jazzier edge.
With a cross-dressing leading man at their disposal, rap group Frogsuit attacked the stage with the backing help of DJ RoboRob (who frequented many of the performances over the weekend). Their old-school hip hop mentality was searing, funny and a nice break from the string of heavy that had just come our way.
Frogsuit’s Steffen Messinger
Nearby state neighbors, Athens, Georgia’s Bit Brigade, gave a particularly intriguiging set of nerd metal as they performed the entire score for Mega Man 2. Professional retro video gamer, Noah McCarthy, sat on stage with them and beat Mega Man 2 with sheer fluidty and ease as they played through the soundtrack in full. Mixed with the expertise of their progressive metal flair and the equally impressive speed of McCartney’s video game domination, it was something of a musical spectacle and left the audience yearning for round two.
Bit Brigade getting ready on stage at The Social
Noah McCarthy beats the Mega Man II’s final boss in an epic 30 seconds to an equally epic and metallic musical finish.
Bit Brigade was technically the last band of the night, but the party wasn’t over as a couple DJs and chiptune artists gave a dance rave to remember. Ben Briggs and DJ Cutman closed out the night and lead everyone straight out The Social’s doors, shaking their rumps to some club music melded with more classic video game tunes. Both DJ’s energy was high—restraint meant nothing to them—and we were all the better for it.
Ben Briggs was the first to bring the high-energy closer to the first night of Nerdapalooza.
And so the first (and wonderfully free) night came to a close. It was my first close-up experience of all things nerdcore. I knew that nerd culture and music have mixed before. Consider a few popular acts: indie’s favorite piano man, Ben Folds, or heavy metal aliens, Gwar. All of them seem to have a string of nerd in them from Fold’s spectacle-clad William Shatner-collaborating covers, to Gwar’s entire science fictional presence, even to Daft Punk’s sci-fi anime get-up. It’s definitely nothing new.
But this was my first real foray into the world affectionately known as “nerdcore.” One thing I found so enlightening was the diverse mix of audience. I saw high schoolers, college kids, people that could have been my parents, music nerds, game nerds, and even sports nerds. In reality, the lines had been blurred. No longer did we feel cut and pasted into pre-fabricated slots of categorization. One thing we had in common: a love for nerdom. Whether it was video games, comic books, superheroes, cartoons or just plain music, we all had something to cheer for. I mean, who doesn’t have at least a little bit of nerd them? Maybe some would be content to deny it, but for those who attended Nerdapalooza that weekend, they gave into the temptation, and wore their nerdy stitch patches on their heart, their sleeves, their shirt pockets, or . . . wherever they could reasonably fit it.
Check out some more photos from the first, free night of Orlando, Florida’s Nerdapalooza below:
Sun Aug 19