With game developers taking frequent technological leaps and the popularity of Rock Band and Guitar Hero nearing the point of cultural oversaturation, current video game music is light years removed from the tinny din and clunky MIDI palettes of yesteryear. Yet there's much more gaming-related audio out there than what makes it to consoles.
The Internet is overflowing with musicians both paying homage to all types of game titles and using antiquated equipment to build original compositions. In a cursory sweep of the content available, you can find groups recreating game soundtracks (like The NESkimos, who exclusively tear out Nintendo tunes), “Nerdcore” rappers filling songs with pop cultural minutiae, entire tribute compilations to well-known artists using ’80s-era synths (Weezer: The 8-Bit Tribute came out in the summer) and hundreds of songs redone and available for free download at OverClocked ReMix (ocremix.org).
Though there is a vast audience for video game-related music — what else could prompt a Miles Davis ode called "Kind of Bloop?" — the sounds’ architects are scattered across the country and beyond, meaning the odds of catching any performances in Greater Cincinnati aren’t so hot. To repair this dilemma, two gaming aficionados have founded NerdPow!, an affair touted as “The Great Lake Region's first and only Nerdcore and video game music concert.”
Animation & Gaming (A&G) Ohio members Josh Farley and Jason Taylor came up with NerdPow! after noticing the drought of local gaming music-themed events.
“You might see one band at an anime or video game convention,” Taylor says. “Short of that, there are no events that have a big draw of people from the genre.”
This dearth also affects artists playing such music.
“Trying to get people to come out to see one local Nerdcore band doesn't do well,” Taylor says. “A lot of them are stuck doing acoustic performances in a Hot Topic once in a while. We want to break that mold.”
Because NerdPow!'s organizers have held previous conventions, assembling a roster of musicians wasn't too difficult. The real problem proved to be funding.
“We're pretty much running it on no budget at all,” Taylor admits.
They wanted to hold the concert in a place that would give the organizers control of their own venture and attendees a comfortable allotment of parking, which ruled out a plethora of venues. Their resulting choice was a Holiday Inn in Sharonville, a decision that might seem strange to concertgoers but one that Taylor is certain was the best considering the nature of the event and their convention history with Holiday Inn as part of A&G.
The pair spent eight months preparing the concert. Similar in approach to Florida's Nerdapalooza, the show consists of 10 or so acts taking turns at sets all day long. (Taylor expects the hours to run from approximately 11 a.m. to midnight.) This gives NerdPow! a festival-style feeling, a concept aided by the weekend's other activities: subculture-chronicling documentary Nerdcore Rising screened at the Little Art Theatre in Yellow Springs the Friday before; an after-party following the end of NerdPow!; and games to play as musicians rotate between performances.
For a debuting event, the NerdPow! roster is admirably diverse. Chicago-based Super 8 Bit Brothers (pictured) produce absurd Electro tracks with names like “Goodbye Cruel World of Warcraft” and “Cyberspace Sirens/Computer Casanovas,” while Buffalo, N.Y., quintet Armcannon makes grandiose but good-natured Metal. Moving onto Hip Hop, Houston's MC Router is a tattoo-coated lass delivering profane rhymes with a soft, unthreatening voice; Cincy duo Dual Core sounds like a laidback version of Atmosphere; and Shammers waxes vaguely poetic about Pokémon. The most compelling NerdPow! guests are The Protomen, a shadowy Nashville cabal that crafts conceptual Rock based on stories from the Mega Man saga.
Putting a bill like this together over the better part of a year is quite the investment. What attracts Farley and Taylor toward this niche to begin with?
“It's really something different,” Taylor says. “You hear music and now, how many years down the road, people are remixing it and making stories about the game you used to play. There's a lot of talented artists but they don't get any recognition because it's so small a genre. It's why so many of them get stuck playing small venues or trying to get paired up with bands that won't help them too much.”
The passion of the fans is another major motivator.
“There's a big cult following (for) this stuff,” Taylor says. “It's a work-in-progress this year. We're just throwing the idea out there to get the community together.”
While the men behind NerdPow! remain committed to their concept and the music, Taylor is unsure of the long-term viability of video game music.
“That's really hard to tell. I don't know what the turnout will be like this year, to be honest,” he admits.
If the first NerdPow! performs well, Farley and Taylor are aiming to be able to maintain a budget for the next one so they can invite Nerdcore heavyweights like MC Chris and MC Frontalot.
“We want to go on to do at least a two-day event and make an atmosphere rather than just a concert,” Taylor says. “If the music's good and people enjoy it, it'll eventually grow.”
NERDPOW! will be held at the Sharonville Holiday Inn at 275 North (3855 Hauck Road) on Saturday. Get venue and event details here.