As a man who's done Rock Band Network tracks for a guy who did an entire Street Fighter Mixtape, and MC Lars, as well as writing a song based on Axe Cop I'm a bit into nerd music.
However, a recent (by the time I was like "Hey, maybe I could write about this...") Garbage Day article from Something Awful, prompted me to rethink things a little.
The main point of the article was that nerd music is more about nerddom than actual musicianship. There's no doubt that some are, dropping in references for the sake of people going "Hey! I know that reference!" (See: XKCD and Family Guy) and making the phat loot.
But I think in the end what matters most is this question: "Would I enjoy this song just as much if it weren't about video games/Star ____/internet memes?".
In the article, the writer, Daryl Hall, gives The Protomen as the "tamest" or "least bad" example of nerd-centric music, stating that their music, while not the worst, is only appealing because it's about Mega Man and they wear Mega Man helmets HEY MEGA MAN.
First: I don't think the story of any Mega Man game goes beyond "Here are some robots, kill them". If they do, then 1. I haven't been paying attention, and 2. that means you give a damn, and that's the kind of attitude that ruined Star Fox and Sonic.
Second, these guys really look more like robot David Bowie mixed with a shitty 80's band trying to stay relevant than Mega Man, but that's not the point I'm trying to push.
It's more of a loose interpretation. It's like they said Robots + Doctors = CLEARLY IT'S A DYSTOPIAN FUTURE!! (According to their Wikipedia page). They're not terrible, but like DH said, it's the Mega Man references that bring people in. Otherwise, they'd be a Survivor sound alike, maybe enjoying breif success after one of their songs is used in a montage scene in a movie.
Are they relatable? Eh. Like I mentioned, they sound like Survivor, but some of the songs get so heavy handed with their story it's like reading a book aloud with the radio on. A couple songs you can play for a non-gaming friend and might make decent workout music, but for the average dude, their get up might be a little hard to swallow. It's not that Aquabats! brand of weird where you can look at it and go "Oh, for kids." or "Oh, DRUGS"
Next, he brings up The Advantage, a video game cover band. These guys I can understand having a problem with. That problem is the same with all cover bands, but while listening to Basket Case play "Basket Case" will remind of the last time you heard "Basket Case", 'cause, you know, you like the song, The Advantage reminds me how I could be doing something more than just listening to Flashman's Theme from Mega Man 2 by downloading an emulator and actually playing the game.
Can someone explain to me the "gold plated batter's helmet" thing? I think I know where it is, but I can't remember...
But is The Advantage relatable? Sure. If I were to go to a remote village where people are too poor to afford water, let alone electricity, let alone video games, and blast the Tetris/Mario/Flash Man's theme, I could go back to that village a month later and they'd still be going doo do do doo do do doo do do dooo, because, as Extra Credits has taught me, the melodies of those old games had to be catchy due to limitations of the old systems.
But because they ONLY play videogame music, a point for Daryl, I guess. If you've never played the game, you wouldn't "get it". Although it'd be kind of badass to see a cover band that covers normal songs AND video game music. Then you got two markets covered.
Lastly, he brings up "nerdcore" or rap about nerdy shit, which he considers "fucking offensive" (or close to it). But I think one thing he misses is that rap/hip-hop is a genre, or a style of music, not necessarily a subject matter. If metal can be about anything from dragons and dungeons to rebellion, and punk covers a range of idealogies both left and right , then why can't rap be about video games or whatnot?
Because it doesn't take the scene seriously?
That kind of shit happened WAY before nerdcore was even a thought. While songs like "An Open Letter To The New York Post" have a lot more thought put into them than "Cant Touch This", Public Enemy look like a bunch of bad men, the kind I walk on the other side of the street as I see them walk toward me while MC Hammer is an inoffensive chap in shiny pants dancing about. One of the "good ones" so to speak. A "house- Well, you get the idea.
Pop sensibility trumps everything else in the end. Then again, "bitches and hos" sell well too, so the genre has been dragged through the muck.
For the relatible question, I'm just going to go over the triumvirate of nerdcore MC's: Chris, Frontalot and Lars real quick:
I haven't listened to much of MC Frontalot, but just listening to some of the song he has this weird harmony where by singing "off beat" he's creating a new rhythm. It's hard to explain. Sort of like he's doing a guitar solo with rhythms instead of melodies. And that's pretty much what rap is.
I outsourced this next bit to my good buddy Koltreg, who wrote a bit on Frontalot since I don't know much about him:
"Frontalot is considered to be the father of nerdcore, which instead of rapping about things like bitches and hos, raps about video games and lusting after goth girls."
But is he relatable? I asked as Koltreg admired my vast genius and broad shoulders.
"Nerd culture is becoming more mainstream. He has about 8 or so songs on really obsucre subjects, but he's got really good songs and can introduce you to something new."
MC Chris is probably the most hit-or-miss, since his songs cover a range: "Hijack" and "006" are typical "I'm awesome" songs. "Wiid" is about pot, but spelled Wii because NINTENDO. "Fette's Vette" is basically a boastful gangsta rap song about Boba Fett where "jetpack" can be replaced with "Bentley" and "bounty hunt for Jabba [the] Hutt" can be exchanged for "Cap mofos and get my hos".
He made a Ghostbusters reference in a "Twin Peaks" song. He actually made a "Twin Peaks" song, I know. What next, a "Deadly Premonition" song? No, because I wanna do a "Deadly Premonition" song called "F.K. In The Coffee". MC Chris is more than welcome to help.
Back to the "Twin Peaks" song, it's pretty self contained. Yeah, it'll help a ton if you watched the show, but most people can assume it's about a murder in a small town that has pie so good, it's a crime.
MC Lars covers the most mainstream topics, such as summaries of "Hamlet ("Hey There Ophelia") and "Moby Dick" ("Ahab"), ska music of the 90's ("This Gigantic Robot Kills") and a kid trained to be a pro gamer ("O.G. Original Gamer")
All three wanted to be rappers first, and just happen to be nerds. Even Hall conceded that this is people rapping about shit they like. Whether it's about girls, sex or games, people like what they like, and unless they're damn hipsters, they want to share it with the world.
Back to the original point: Is nerd music limiting the horizons of nerds, while dragging another facet of art into it's blubbery folds?
Music was already a part of nerddom in the first place, such as the 8-bit chiptunes The Advantage covers, or the orchestral background music in modern games like God of War. They're just adhering to sound musical theory. With Koltreg's point about nerd culture becoming more mainstream, who's to say what's "nerd" music at all?Or if it will even stay "nerd" music.
As far as limting horizons, that would be pretty difficult in the long run. Sure, you could make a shit ton of money relying solely on direct references (OH HAI FAMILY GUY), but they become dated after a while. This is the kind of nerd music we should be shunning.
Eventually the artists will inject themselves into the music, whether it be political (the line "If you're in the 80's Reaganomics was a scam" from MC Frontalot's "Spoiler Alert"), personal (MC Lars' "23" about the suicide of a former roommate of his), or even if it's outside the music, there are still things they feel strongly about (MC Chris' campaign against Cystic Fibrosis), that they will introduce to the audience.Want to play a Frontalot song on Rock Band? You'll need the disc first, that comes chock full of a diverse range of music, from classic rock to heavy metal to modern indie.
And there are the opening acts at these shows. At an MC Chris show, punk band Whole Wheat Bread opened for him, and they're not nerdy at all, unless you count the school uniforms.So don't worry, the nerds will see the sun eventually.
N.B. I did a "Speed Listen" of the first Protomen album with videos from YouTube and found this shit. That is why people hate nerds.
Thanks to Koltreg for the words on Frontalot, and Daryl "Fucking" Hall for the original article. I'll probably write more on the subject later, but I just wanted to cover the Garbage Day piece.
Hall did bring up a really good point about using familiar themes to expose people to other genres, mentioning metal, bluegrass and jazz. If you read this on Twitter, and know of any "Nerd-Non-Traditional Genre Here" acts, post it in the comments.