Nerdcore Could and Did Rise Up

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Last night I went to this nerdcore hip-hop show in Brooklyn. Nerdcore differs from conventional hip-hop in two ways: a) it’s about video games and computers and Star Wars and other nerdy stuff, and b) in place of hip-hop’s traditional boasting/self-aggrandizing rhetoric it substitutes weird self-deprecating/self-loathing rhetoric. It’s funny, but not so funny that it doesn’t kinda rock out. I’ve posted about it before.

I’ve been listening to nerdcore for years now — three years, anyway — but I’d never been to an actual live show. This one started with Schaffer the Darklord, whom I’d never heard of. When I turned up I was a little daunted by the scene — a basement room, bar at the back, tiny stage, a bunch of people standing around looking too self conscious to dance or be rocked out in any way. But Schaffer absolutely killed. There’s something disconcerting but also primally right about watching a skinny white guy with glasses, wearing a dark suit and tie, alone except for some kind of compact digital thingummy, just dancing and sweating and relentlessly pouring out rhymes on stage.

Schaffer closed out with Attack of the Clonef___er — audio here, video here – by which time everybody was loose and generally sold on the whole proposition and ready for Jesse Dangerously, a great Nova Scotian rapper during most of whose set I had to take a phone call. Sorry.

I came back for MC Frontalot, who’s the first nerdcore rapper I ever got into, and quite possibly the first nerdcore artist period. He had an actual band backing him — drummer, bassist, keyboards — all wearing ties, the bassist (I believe) actually wearing a backpack. They were fresh off a triumphant appearance at PAX and put on an unbelievably tight, slick, funky, enjoyable show, complete with Front’s trademark gawky-white-boy popping-and-locking. The set list was determined by a series of on-stage dice-rolls. I could list the actual songs, but most of you have probably never heard of them — suffice to say that it was a mix of old stuff and new stuff, and it all sounded ridiculously great live, the climax being a thunderous ska-inflected version of Frontalot’s Penny Arcade theme. Front is not a novelty act, he’s a real musician.

I got to talk to Frontalot a bit before the show, while he loitered by the merch table. His real name is Damian Hess, and he’s incredibly nice and sort of imposingly tall and used to work as a Web designer for USWeb, though he’s a musician full time now. I bought a t-shirt. It’s weird: by my calculations he’s been Frontalot for 7 or 8 years now, but he still hasn’t gotten anything resembling major- or medium-sized-label attention. Movies and TV have acknowledged nerds as a major demographic category for years now. Wonder why music studios haven’t figured it out?

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