FESTIVAL RECAP: Favorite Nerdapalooza Moments 2013
By Josh Burnell on October 29, 2013
Nerdapalooza, an all nerd music festival, brought the sounds of video game remixes, chiptune hip-hop and RPG death metal to Orlando, Florida last weekend. Now in its sixth year, the festival is the homegrown project of John “Hex” Carter, which started as a one night event in a bar and graduated this year to three days at the Orange County Convention Center, complete with 42 performers on two stages, a vendor area, art show and Indie Video Game Showcase. This year also featured the festival’s highest profile headliner: They Might Be Giants.
With that many like-minded music fans in one place, it was one part dance party, one part house party and all parts fun. While many of the bands lacked the polish that comes from being able to quit your day job, they each took to the stage like they had something to prove and were met with an audience that was eager to let them.
Here’s a list of our favorite moments from the event:
The Protomen’s Anthems of the Apocalypse
They delivered the most memorable musical moment for me. From Nashville, the group performs an anthemic, fist-pumping rock, like if Jim Steinman teamed up with Ennio Morricone, playing original songs that tell a post-apocalyptic story of the characters from Mega Man. Jumping in middle of the crowd, while the band stormed through “Breaking Out” and “The Hounds,” it was like the soundtrack of the end of the world...if the world ended in 1985.
MC Lars and his Flow Like Poe
Outside nerd music circles, "nerdy hip-hop" is the stuff of Weird Al parody and MC Chris novelty, but Nerdapalooza presented a solid collection of artists that take it very seriously. And while MC Frontalot, the one who first christened the genre “Nerdcore” in 2000, delivered a solid set on Saturday, it was MC Lars’s songs referencing Edgar Allan Poe and Hamlet on Sunday (performed with a laptop and a live drummer) that really spun up the crowd.
Schaffer the Darklord’s Tortured Soul
And while Lars brought educated rhymes and big hooks, it was Schaffer the Darklord baring his soul that really knocked me out. Hailing from Queens, with fast, popping beats and a delivery like Jello Biafra, his set was dominated by tracks from his new album Sick Passenger a record that starts with mounting hedonism and culminates in an intervention and, finally, a track where he makes actual amends. It’s dark, challenging and courageous, like Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--if he actually wanted to address his issues, rather than just talk about them.
The Runaway Five’s Sci-Fi Robot Dance Party
I went into Nerdapalooza familiar with about 80% of the bands that were performing, but my biggest surprise were these two guys from Chicago. With a disco rock sound somewhere between Franz Ferdinand and Harvey Danger, they brought big drums and solid hooks while performing in bowties and lab coats. They also sold mixtapes that were actual cassettes, purchased from a second-hand store and recorded over with an exclusive song collection.
When the crowd needed a break from the music, they migrated to the vendor area, and smack dab at the front was a group promoting the Third Annual Southern Pinball Festival, coming to Orlando, November 22-24 with a killer AC/DC Pinball machine. Not a single attendee made it through the weekend without tilting that badboy at least once.
Nerd Tags' 3D Printer
The vendor area also featured everything from toy sellers to painters, nerdy wedding planners and a group campaigning for the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida, but the most captivating table was that of Nerd Tags. Brightly colored collectible dog tags featuring logos and images from the Avengers, MineCraft and Mythbusters, just to name a few. And they brought the 3D printer that actually makes them, running it at their booth. Nobody missed the opportunity to stop and watch that mechanical arm make something out of nothing.
DJ RoboRob’s Sunday Afternoon Dance Party
The last day of any event is always a tough one, particularly when the audience was blasted with twelve hours of music the day before. Which is why DJ RoboRob’s Sunday set was such an awesome surprise. Combining chiptune melodies, Harry Potter samples, dubstep basslines and revolving guest rappers, he brought more energy out of the Sunday crowd than I thought we had and did every performer that followed him a huge service.
Green Jellö’s Punk Rock Puppet Show
This New York based comedy rock band seemed like an odd addition to the festival when I first checked the line-up, and when the band, all in costume, plus about 10 people wearing giant masks, took the stage, I think the audience agreed. But the group’s frontman, Bill Manspeaker, in a succession of insane costumes, won everyone over with a bizarre set of covers and nursery rhymes that was one-part social satire and one-part punk rock kindergarten.
They Might Be Giants Take Us Home
In the headlining spot, They Might Be Giants brought their one-of-a-kind brand of pop, starting with a two-piece performance of “Constantinople” on guitar and accordion, then summoning the full band for an hour of new and old songs. Nerdapalooza assembled a lot of different sounds under its “nerd music” banner over three days, but Giants was like the cornerstone that linked everyone together. F