I’m a big nerdcore hip-hop fangirl, as you’ve probably figured out by now if you’ve spent any time in the Music section of this site or following me on Twitter. On Friday night, I was fortunate enough to go to a very limited screening of the documentary Nerdcore Rising, at 92YTribeca in New York City.
Wait, What the Hell is Nerdcore?
Nerdcore hip hop, or simply nerdcore, is subgenre of hip hop music characterized by themes and subject matter considered to be of general interest to nerds, though it can appeal to others as well. Self-described nerdcore musician MC Frontalot coined the term in 2000 in the song “Nerdcore Hiphop”. Frontalot, like most nerdcore artists, self-publishes his work and has released much of it for free online. As a niche genre, nerdcore generally holds to the DIY ethic, has a history of self-publishing and self-production.
So, that’s the semi-official definition. Nerdcore is hip-hop about stuff geeks care about. Blogging, coding, science, sci-fi, comic books, and so on. It is very often funny, but I do not consider it a novelty genre at all. This is not Weird Al (no disrespect to Weird Al whatsoever – I have always been and always will be a huge fan of his.)
Many of these guys have actual hip-hop chops and make great music – the geeky themes and frequent humor are an added bonus, but it’s not what carries the music.
Okay… But What the Hell is Nerdcore Rising?
From the Nerdcore Rising website:
The documentary “Nerdcore Rising” investigates the newest wave of hip-hop, nerdcore, as it follows the godfather of the genre, MC Frontalot, on his first national tour. Beginning in South Carolina and culminating in nerd mecca – the Penny Arcade Gaming Convention in Seattle – masses of fans across the country come out to bask in the Front’s geek glory as he strives to achieve mainstream success.
In this movie, we follow Damian Hess (MC Frontalot), Brandon Patton (Blak Lotus, named after one of the most valuable Magic: The Gathering cards), Gaby Alter (G minor 7) and Sturgis Cunningham (The Sturgenius) on their first national tour.
There were only two New York City screenings scheduled, both on the same night, both of which were sold out. The screening room was tiny – maybe 50 seats – which made for a very intimate setting. It was uncomfortably warm, but the movie was so engaging, no one seemed to mind too much once the movie started. (Side note: 92YTribeca has some of the best hot chocolate in New York City, which was a lucky break considering the 3,875 mile an hour blasts of icy wind that was slowly stripping away at the flesh on my face during the painfully long walk to the theater from the parking lot.)
Nerdcore Rising is, in a word, utterly delightful. (Okay, that’s two words, but delightful didn’t seem emphatic enough, and who says “in two words”?) For a first attempt at film-making (as director Negin Farsad kept drunkenly reminding us), this really was an exceptional piece of work.
The actual footage taken (I think Farsad mentioned there were 400 hours — holy crap!) was at times thoughtful and sensitive, other times outrageously silly, as one would expect with this particular band of leading men.
I discovered the nerdcore scene a little late in the game, only a few years ago, and ended up bullshitting with Front, MC Lars and YTCracker at my first show, and the movie answered some questions that I probably would not have wanted to ask them directly. In Nerdcore Rising, Frontalot is candid about his concerns about the success of the tour, and plainly explains that this is the point in his life where he has to decide whether to pursue this as a full-time thing, or leave it as a hobby that he works on when he can.
The tour was not without incident, as Front’s back goes out halfway through, and Gaby misplaces a crucial piece of equipment the night before a show – but they keep their spirits up, and keep at it. Their energy and individual personalities and quirks really come through, and you end up feeling like you know them better after it’s over.
As you follow them across the country, from hole-in-the-wall joints in the south-east with 8 fans, to a triumphant victory at a packed show at PAX, you’re rooting for them the whole time, even though you know how the story plays out.
In several song clips throughout the movie, subtitles were provided with the lyrics to the song, and the way they were executed was simply delightful. Frontalot has a cadence to his music that’s hard for me to keep up with, even knowing all of the words, and the subtitles were perfect, in both font choice and frenetic, bouncy placement on screen. (The way I’m describing it makes it sound really cheesy – I promise you, it’s not. It’s quite awesome.) I wouldn’t have thought subtitles could possibly come close to mirroring the fantastically spastic movements of Frontalot on stage, but I was clearly wrong.
Woven into the film are interviews with other folks in the music industry, including Prince Paul, Weird Al, Jello Biafra, YTCracker, Beefy, the boys from Penny Arcade, and tons of others.
This story is inspirational and hilarious. Seriously, it was better than Cats. The editing was superb, cut with deliberately comic timing. Farsad is a stand-up comic as well as the director, so I expect she had a lot of influence on the editing, and it shows. They poke gentle, loving fun at their nerdiness (and the nerdiness of their audience) and celebrate it in the same breath – something I thin most modern geeks can appreciate.
After the screening, Farsad and the band hung around for some Q&A. I was at the second showing, and Farsad was clearly feeling the wines she was drinking, but it only added to the fun of the evening. Poor Frontalot suffered through the Q&A, juicy head and all.
I’ll be honest – even if the movie sucked, I love these guys so much, I wouldn’t have cared. But it didn’t suck – it really was an excellent film, fangirliness aside.
An added bonus, we got to sit down and bullshit with Brandon and Gaby over some beers after the screening. The bar was loud, so I didn’t get to chat with Gaby much, but Brandon, his fabulously nerdy girlfriend, and their friend Chris and I talked for several hours, only a tiny percentage of which involved music at all.
If you’re into nerdcore and you didn’t get to catch a screening, you can (and should!) buy the DVD – and any other shwag you can afford. Years worth of blood, sweat and tears went into this film in return for an exceptional amount of debt and the adoration of a small but dedicated group of nerds. Seriously – its only $20. You spend more than that on Magic: the Gathering crap in a week. Buy it now.
And put a banner on your blog. I know you have one. Only geeks read this website, and geeks have blogs. Or at the very least, you have a MySpace page. So banner up, bucko. Show some nerd love.
Also be sure to check out the additional web content on the Nerdcore Rising website, including material from other nerdcore artists, and the video blog. And if you’ve got a gaggle of geeks handy, coordinate and request a showing of the film in your town.
If you can’t get enough nerdy music, be sure to check out the Hipster, Please! podcast and blog.