Last weekend, August 3-5, a bunch of nerds made Central Florida our b*tch. I'm talking about Nerdapalooza, an annual celebration of geek music spanning nerdcore, hard rock, chiptunes, and other genres. Think MAGFest, only smaller and with an almost exclusive focus on the music -- aside from a few merch tables and a couple TVs hooked up to consoles, there are no panels, tournaments, or other such distractions.
This was was my second Nerdapalooza. My first was last year, when it was held at the Orlando Airport Marriott. Accustomed to larger events, I was admittedly thrown off by the smaller scale, but I quickly came to appreciate the much more personal atmosphere. Plus, it's easier to bump into your favorite performers after their set and shoot the breeze for a few minutes.
Nerdapalooza 2012 went down at The Social & The Beacham, two adjacent music venues in the heart of downtown Orlando. Nerda was a lot darker and louder than last year's, but with acts like The Protomen, The Megas, and the return of the NESkimos, I would be lying if I said it wasn't absolutely incredible.
There was a bit of a cloud hanging over the proceedings, unfortunately. Two prominent members of the community lost their lives this past year, "Triforce" Mike Pandel and "MC Gigahertz" Joshua Montgomery. Mike was one of the key members of The Nerdy Show podcast, official host of Nerdapalooza, while MC Gigahertz was a nerdcore artist who had performed at the show in the past.
It was Mike's death that was especially felt throughout the weekend, considering how close he and Nerda founder John "hex" Carter were. On the upside, there was a huge outpouring of love from attendees and performers alike. It was very heartwarming, the perfect send-off for a fallen friend.
But enough about that! You wanna hear about the music, right? Let me break down the days.
Nerda proper runs from Saturday through Sunday with a free Friday evening portion open to all. I missed last year's Friday sets, so I made sure not to make the same mistake again.
Now, the problem with a free show is that everyone is trying to get inside. The Social & The Beacham's admittance crew was a little less than organized to handle the huge gathering. My brother and I waited outside for roughly an hour and a half, wondering what the holdup was. Apparently, some folks in the line were just trying to get in the building, while others were trying to pick up their weekend passes, yet the staff didn't have the sense to split the line in two. Go figure.
That means I missed out on Armcannon, a band I am destined never to see live. On three separate occasions, I've had an opportunity to see Armcannon perform, but the mighty hand of fate always blocks my progress. I also missed out on The OneUps, who I likewise never see for one reason or another.
I finally made it inside to catch Frogsuit, a three-man hip hop group with scratches by Dj RoboRob. One of the members is Duane Zuwala, formerly of The Adventures of Duane & BrandO and currently of Action Adventure World. So while Frogsuit doesn't actually perform VG-themed music, I wanted to check out their manic style and offer my support.
The big surprise of the night was Bit Brigade. I first heard about them earlier this year when I caught their MAGFest performance on YouTube, and since then I was antsy to watch them in person. In case you are unfamiliar, there is a guy, Noah McCarthy, who speedruns through an NES game live on stage while the band performs the game's soundtrack in sync with video. So not only is Noah blasting through balls-hard retro games, he's doing so while blistering rock and wild crowd assault his ears.
This weekend, Bit Brigade played two separate sets. On Friday, they toppled Mega Man 2, adding little musical flourishes from Mega Man 3 and 4 in place of several repeated tracks. Noah was able to blaze through with nary a single death and only minimal damage. What a champion.
Rounding out the evening was the live electronica mixing of Benjamin Briggs and Dj CUTMAN, both representing the net label GameChops. This was Ben's first live performance, and I've got to give him props for getting through as though he's done it a million times before. Good job, chief!
CUTMAN... this guy, let me tell you. He wears red chest armor, red vambraces, and either a helmet with a vinyl record sliced to look like the Rolling Cutter or a trucker cap with a custom airbrushed Cut Man on it. And he wore that for the entire weekend! Definitely the easiest mofo to spot in a crowd! He performed bits of the recently released The TRIFORCE of BASS, but what really made me go wild was his remix of Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy wit It." Now it's a party!
My brother and I took our sweet time arriving, so as a result, I missed a few more acts. I was able to show up in time for a supergroup "power hour" featuring Random Encounter and Descendants of Erdrick. Both performed separately but joined in the middle to play "Dancing Mad" from Final Fantasy VI. Random Encounter has an accordion player, while Descendants of Erdrick has a flutist. Add to that a bunch of electric guitars, and you can imagine how wild the stage became. The merger might have been too ambitious, though -- there were a few sour notes and a little missed timing during their joint.
On a sweet but slightly creepy note, Random Encounter played the theme to My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic in honor of Triforce Mike's card-carrying brony status. Like I said, a sweet gesture even if... well... you know... bronies.
I finally got to see rapper Adam WarRock in action after hearing resident fangirl Tara Long gush endlessly about the man. I just had to rub it in her face that I was there and she was not! Anyway, his set was pretty hot, drawing predominantly from comics and TV shows. His final song was about Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation! How hilarious is that!?
The Megas lit up the stage, playing through all of the Mega Man 3-themed History Repeating: Blue. This was also my first time catching them live, and I'm happy to say that their performance was nearly flawless. Well, except for the part where frontman Josh flubbed up ever so slightly and you could see his face contort in confusion. No matter! He shrugged it off and went right back to business, and the band killed if for the remainder of the set.
Metroid Metal is always a treat. It's sometimes hard to believe that Metroid music could rock so hard, but guitarist Stemage's brainchild has grown into one of the hardest VG music acts ever. People actually mosh to Nintendo jams! I don't think there was a single low point in this entire set. Pure awesome.
Of course, the night had to end with a spirited performance by The Protomen. They played a mash-up of Act I and II, re-energizing a tired crowd that had been on its feet all day. Free cups of NOS energy drink can only do so much to restore vitality, but an Orwellian rock opera loosely based on Mega Man? That'll perk anyone right up!
I don't think I'll ever get tired of listening to these guys. Their shows are just so raw and powerful. Great news for all, because this wasn't the last we'd see of The Protomen that weekend!
Bit Brigade returned to the stage to tackle Contra. Another incredible performance, sure, but players who can't conquer the game even with the Konami Code in effect may not be aware of just how brief Contra really is. Roughly 20 minutes was all it took before the boys packed it up. It was so short that I was kind of expecting a follow-up game. Super C perhaps?
Guitar virtuoso Danimal Cannon ensnared the room with his Game Boy chiptunes overlaid by sick guitar riffs, as heard on his latest album Roots. Danimal was by far the hardest-working man at Nerda, appearing in three separate sets: Armcannon, Metroid Metal, and his solo act. No wonder the man is bald! It fell out from all the stress!
Speaking of bald men, brentalfloss typically performs alone, letting his comedy lyrics stand out, back only by iPod music and maybe adding a dash of keyboard. When he wants some company, Descendents of Erdrick serve as his live band, re-dubbed "The Cartridge Family." I appreciated the added vigor but was slightly disappointed that the music drowned out Brent's vocals. He told me after the show that it's all about getting the sound mixing just right, so I hope that if I ever do catch The Cartridge Family again, the audio will be much more balanced.
One highlight from the brentalfloss set was "Metroid: A Fight for Love," of which I had previously heard at PAX East. Unlike Brent's other songs, it is neither comedically charged nor actually sung by him. Samus is instead brought to life by the powerful voice of Amanda Lepre. If Danimal was Nerda's busiest guy, Amanda was its busiest gal. In addition to Descendants of Erdrick and The Cartridge Family, she's also a member of the Final Fantasy rock opera Those Who Fight, another band I regret missing out on. Nonetheless, you were amazing, Amanda!
Let's not forget my boy Random a.k.a. Mega Ran! He always knows how to put on a fun show and get the audience involved. He even welcomed Adam WarRock back for "Pump It Up!" off the Mega Ran 10 album. The best part of his sets are always the freestyles, in which everyone in the audience holds up an item from their pocket or bag, then Ran scopes the room and incorporates as many trinkets as he can into an impromptu rap.
Always a good time! Such a shame that he had to cut a bunch of songs short for the sake of time.
Then... the NESkimos! So many memories. Along with the Minibosses, they were my entry into the world of VG arrangements. These guys got me through college, man! I listened to their three albums countless times! I was waiting patiently for their fourth album, Explod, to materialize, then the group quietly disbanded in 2007 and nothing was heard since.
Just a few short months ago, the NESkimos announced their reformation. I couldn't be happier as I stood in that room, basking in the sounds of familiar tunes like "Norfair Tenement Blues" and "Infiltrate Outer Heaven." I was surprised to hear them perform a hard rock rendition of "Still Alive," an obviously non-Nintendo jam, but hey, bonus! Now maybe they can finally finish that album.
Nerdapalooza 2012 closed with one final performance by The Protomen, and what a set it was! In celebration of the band's recent Queen tribute album, they performed nothing but Queen covers! Everyone, and I mean everyone, in that room was jumping! Folks who had spent every act of the weekend standing motionless with their arms crossed had finally loosened up and were swaying back in forth, singing along to those legendary jams.
How well do The Protomen pull off Queen? At some points, you even forget that lead singer Raul Panther is not actually Freddie Mercury! The flamboyant Turbo Lover bravely sports a zebra-printed leotard in order to sing "Death on Two Legs," while Ringo Segundo dons a wig and does his best David Bowie impersonation for "Under Pressure"! I never wanted it to end! This is how you do a proper finale!
Until next year
Ears ringing and bladder bursting from NOS overconsumption, my brother and I made our way back to our inn, reflecting upon a memorable weekend.
I wish I could have seen more acts, but you have to pace yourself and give yourself some breathing room now and then. I already mentioned Armcannon, The OneUps, and Those Who Fight, but I also missed out on Dual Core, Schäffer the Darklord, ytcracker, Geekapella, Professor Shyguy, and others. I was also bummed that Dtoid contributor Ian Bonds couldn't perform this year. Something to look forward to in 2013, I guess.
If you live in Florida and love to rock out with fellow geeks, you need to scoot your ass on over to Nerda when it rolls into town again. And if you live near New York, you might be interested in Nerdapalooza NYC, coming February 2013.
Now if you'll excuse me, my hearing still hasn't completely returned. Gotta go do something about that.
[I'm a shitty photographer, so please excuse the picture quality. All photos are mine save for the Frogsuit photo which came from Geeklisted's Facebook gallery.]