Nerdcore Rising

April 7th, 2008

So this is not going to be one of my more usual reviews, although there will be one down-post aways. Be patient. See, late Tuesday night I got an e-mail from the Nerdcore Rising mailing list, telling me that the film was going to be shown at the AFI Film Festival here in Dallas and that mailing list members could possibly be gotten into the afterparty by RSVPing to the film’s “gracious sponsors Reel FX.” Thankfully, I didn’t consider that it might be an April Fool’s joke and immediately sent an e-mail to ask if the party was Thursday or Friday night. Wendy from Reel FX confirmed that it was Thursday…and then a few hours later she e-mails me again asking if I want interview time with Negin and MC Frontalot for my blog. I am not an idiot, dear readers; of course I want interview time! She lets me know that they can probably get me in before the sound check for a few questions, so…wait sound check! MC Frontalot will be performing? I didn’t think this story could get better, but read on for the interview, the review, and the better

So I arrive after briefly getting lost (as I do every time I go anywhere near downtown Dallas) and am escorted to meet the lovely and (really, truly) gracious Wendy who is chatting with some fellows I recognize as being the members of Frontalot’s band and Ms. Farsad. Frontalot was apparently still getting ready, so after a brief round of introductions Gminor7, Blak Lotus, The Categorical Imperative and I knocked a few balls around on the AFI Artist’s Lounge’s pool table. When Frontalot arrived, there really wasn’t time for a sit-down so we proceeded from the lounge to LFT, the site of the evening’s afterparty and concert, where the soundcheck was to commence, but on the way we had some time for conversation.

Brandon asked me what sort of blog I run and I explained that it’s a review site, movies, music, but mostly books. Mostly science fiction books. This lit Brandon up, because he likes to read Science Fiction, but having limited time to read in his busy schedule, he no longer feels like he has time for the merely fun stuff…he wants the “stuff that’s going to really change your life.” He likes the old masters; Asimov, Clarke and the like, but he feels lost in a bookstore because there’s so much new stuff and it’s almost impossible to know what’s really good without a guide anymore. Frankly, that’s the same sentiment that inspired me to start these reviews, in the hopes that someone out there will find them useful as a guide. Anyway, I recommended he try Vinge and Bujold. Somehow Neal Stephenson came up, which prompted Damian to comment that while he’d really enjoyed Cryptonomicon, he went on to read Snow Crash and was so disappointed by it that he gave up Stephenson as a lost cause. I encouraged him to pursue some of his later works, as I think they are more what Cryptonomicon was working at being and less of what Snow Crash was.

At the sound check I set up my camera to document it for Negin (who’d left her camera in the hotel and promised me a DP credit…I think she was kidding about that), and she and I had a chance to chat for a while. I asked how she had approached Frontalot with the idea for making the documentary. She related a hilarious story that I wish I could have recorded about how she’d just opened (her “day-job” is as a comedienne) for Al Franken in New York, and was on top of the world. She went out to celebrate and met up with Gaby, who was out with Damian. Gaby had told her about MC Frontalot and the Nerdcore phenomenon previously and she thought it was a fascinating thing and that someone should make a documentary about it, and so meeting this friend of a friend she declares to him “Oh, you’re MC Frontalot! Well, I’m going to make a documentary about you, and nothing can stop me because I just opened for Al Franken and I own this town!” She says that Damian and Gaby just waved it off as her being drunk and hyper, and she doesn’t think Damian really believed it until she showed up the day they went on tour with a bunch of cameras and people behind them.

I asked her about the critical reception of the movie so far, and she said that so far it’s been really very favorable, but aside from the mainstream coverage, it’s been the nerd-world reviews, the blog posts and the board comments, that have really been rewarding in their overwhelming positiveness. So, Negin, here’s another one for your collection.

After the sound check, MC Frontalot, the band and I finally had a chance to sit down for some actual interview type questions, that I could actually record, so here’s some transcription from that time:

MC Frontalot: What’s happening?
Skwid: I dunno, what’s happening with you guys?
Front: Well we’re in Dallas!
Skwid: I noticed!
Front: AFI Dallas Film Festival.
Skwid: And where are you going next?
Front: Back to Brooklyn for a while…the movie’s going to the Atlanta Film Festival, but we are not.
Skwid: So we’re like special, because you guys came to this?
Front: *head bobs like a drinking bird*
Skwid: Alright.
Front: And next is the Independent Film Festival in Boston, which will also have a “swanky” party, although it’s not going to be in a clothing store.
Skwid: OK, so how did the band members meet? What’s the chain of relations, there?
Front: Gaby and I met when we were 14.
Skwid: Nice! What class?
Gminor7: We actually had Chemistry together.
Front: Did we?
Gminor7: Yeah…I just saw the back of your head, though.
Front: We used to hang out in the Photo room, because we had this little redheaded friend who we…probably both wanted to have smooches with? But she wouldn’t have smooches with either of us. There were like, a lot of nerdy guys who would sort of…dance around her.
Skwid: The girls with the Nerd Harems, I know exactly what you’re talking about.
Front: She had a nerd harem.
Blak Lotus: Is that why you like the girl from Mythbusters so much?
Front: Probably.
Skwid: Man. Kari Byron. Man.
Front: Would you introduce me to her?
Skwid: Would I introduce you to Kari Byron? …No, no I wouldn’t!
Front: Right, there’s not a man on Earth who would introduce me to Kari Byron.
*long sighs all around*
Skwid: Alright, so you two met in High School, who came next?
Gminor7: Damian met Brandon in College.
Front: Right. Gaby came to college with me…
Skwid: Where’d you go to school?
Front: Wesleyan. I actually met Brandon our senior year when I was visiting Wesleyan. He had long, luxurious hair.
Blak Lotus: And that was just random, right?
Front: Well, I was given to some kid in your hall, and he was like “I think you’d like Patton,” and he just dropped me off with you.
Blak Lotus: So yeah, so the quick story is that I went to Wesleyan, and then Damian ended up visiting as a senior in high school and ended up in my hall, and meeting me with a bunch of my friends, and wound up getting a crush on one of my friends and decided to come to Wesleyan.
Front: Kind of like how I met Gaby!
Blak Lotus: They’re strangely similar!
Front: Girls never, ever hooked up with me, instead I met all of you.
Skwid: And Dan?
Front: Well, Gaby and I were in the Bay Area after college, doing our Rock Opera company, Emerald Rain Productions, and…Dan, how did Gaby find you?
The Categorical Imperative (TCI): I played for one of your shows.
Front: One of our Emerald Rain shows
TCI: I had a band that had a weekly spot all through college at Berkley, and our sound guy knew Gaby and knew Gaby was looking for a drummer, and he put us together and I started playing Rock Operas with them. That’s how I witnessed Damian’s talent for the first time.
Front: *incoherent self-deprecation*
TCI: You did, though! You were the Australian newscaster and you cracked everyone up every single time!
Front: I was supposed to be a New Zealander.
Blak Lotus: What’s the difference in the accents?
Front: I dunno, I just know I picked up the accent from the Peter Jackson movies, so…
TCI: It was in this drop-dead moment of the thing…
Front: Yeah, the plot stopped, the music stopped, and there’s this scene…
TCI: But it was hysterical!
Skwid: OK, let’s talk videogames…what consoles do you own?
Front: I’ve got a PSP, and a PS2 that I sort of have to sit down and negotiate with every time I want it to do anything anymore.
Skwid: I know you’re a big GTA fan, are you going to get one of the new systems to play IV when it comes out?
Front: I’m waiting. I’m hoping that the 360 will be a little cheaper on the day that it comes out. It’ll probably be extra-expensive for a day.
Skwid: OK, so now that you’ve achieved a level of indie success which you possibly did not forsee, have you had any contact with mainstream hip-hop musicians or producers?
Front: No, no I’ve never met any famous rappers, but I did get to meet Prince Paul at the premiere of the documentary at SXSW…it was exciting…I got kind of fanboy-ish…but ultimately I think I recovered.
Skwid: One of the things that Nerdcore Hip-hop has definitely borrowed from mainstream hip-hop culture is the whole rivalry thing, but you pretty much never diss on anybody but yourself.
Front: That’s true.
Skwid: Do you think that the rivalry thing is negative for the genre, over all?
Front: Probably not, I mean, whatever…people have rivalries with each other?
Skwid: Could the competition maybe stir some creativity or something?
Front: It probably helps them out, I mean that’s something to make a song about if you can’t think of something? But for me, I feel like that would be bad form to point out that other Nerdcore rappers are terrible because my rapping’s not all that great, and everyone has room for improvement. Maybe I’ll write, like, a thunderous diss track about how everyone has room for improvement!
Negin: You should write a track about me!
Front: You want me to write a diss track about you?
Negin: You should keep me in the spotlight!
Skwid: OK, Negin, I’ve got a question for you, what did you cut from the movie that was, like, the last thing you wanted to cut from the movie, but you had to?
Negin: Oh, man, there were so many! Hey, Andrew, what did we cut from the movie that we really, really didn’t want to? …Oh I think one thing we cut was they do this focusing exercise, sometimes, where they gather in a circle and focus on an object and they’re supposed push it away from themself…
Front: …using Psychic Powers.
Negin: Right, but if they all really focus hard, then the object won’t move.
Skwid: Because they’ll be balanced.
Front: Yes, perfectly cancelled.
Blak Lotus: We’re very good at that exercise.
Front: Never fails!
Negin: Brandon! Brandon was really wasted in that scene…
Blak Lotus: Yeah…and there was probably a lot more footage of me flirting with people that was thankfully cut…
Skwid: What are we getting for DVD extras?
Negin: We’re getting some hardcore fucking!
Skwid: Alright!
Front: All Sturgis, I assume.
Blak Lotus: Sturge-on-sturge!
Front: Sturge-on-sturge action!

And that was all the interview time we had. From there, the group went to the Red Carpet at the Inwood theater, where they were questioned by actual media for some time, before we proceeded to the Angelika theater for the actual screening of the film.

The movie begins with huge, humorous captions that explode. Literally, they blow up in a fiery ball. It sets the mood right off the bat that this is a film by and about people who absolutely refuse to let themselves be taken seriously. It then proceeds directly into Frontalot and band performing Braggadocio accompanied by animated lyrics popping up on the screen as Front says the words, which is both helpful to people who are unfamiliar with his voice and style and also a slick way to emphasize just how fast Frontalot spits the rhymes. There are occasional cutaways to full animation, in a roto-scoped sort of style, of Frontalot and the band performing, something that happens during several of the songs captured in the film. It lends those pieces more of a music video feel, which was an effect I enjoyed, but I could also see it perhaps being distracting to people who aren’t necessarily fans of the music.

From that initial song, the film follows MC Frontalot and his band from the loading up of the band’s van in Brooklyn all the way across the country on his first tour in 2006. As they travel, more and more of the history and evolution of Nerdcore Hip-hop and MC Frontalot are revealed are revealed through interviews with Frontalot and various notables from Nerdcore and elsewhere (Weird Al and Prince Paul in particular have some insightful comments about Nerds and Hip-hop). The tour also parallels nicely the climb of Nerdcore out of complete internet obscurity into a sort of phenomenal niche success, as it tracks the early shows of the tour having only a few fans show up at the venues they played, on through bigger and better publicized events, and culminating with their triumphant performance before a rapt audience at the PAX show.

The fans they interviewed at those earlier events, as well, were some of the most dedicated, and anyone who knows nerds knows that the truly dedicated among us tend to…have other issues. Those issues aren’t brushed under the carpet, though…the movie uses that display to talk about how this is part of why Nerdcore is growing. It speaks to those of us who might be a little off about something, those of us who really had serious social problems and found comfort in some niche of the world that most people deride or neglect. The film even touches on the issue of whether Nerdcore’s largely humorous appropriation of the predominantly African-American genre had racist undertones, something which had never occurred to me but I have to grant is a valid question, and does an excellent job of defending against the suggestion.

What the movie really accomplishes, though, is making you laugh. It’s damn good at that. Frontalot and Gminor7 and Blak Lotus have been friends for so long, they have a natural manner around each other that really shows on film. They’re highly intelligent, highly talented, genuinely hilarious, and Ms. Farsad’s arrangement of their antics only magnifies all of these qualities. I laughed often and hard, and the rest of the audience seemed to be similarly affected. Whether you’re a nerdcore afficianado or someone who just knows a nerd or two and wonder what all that’s about, anyway, I highly recommend it.

2 Responses to “Nerdcore Rising”

  1. Ari says:

    DVD? You bring up talk of a DVD at the interview’s end. I’m guessing that would only occur once the festival circuit ends? Or do you know something different?

    I saw the film last weekend during a midnight showing at the Boston indie fest. Maybe half-packed, about 100 people or so?

  2. Skwid says:

    Ah, sad that the Boston showing wasn’t as full!

    I would be shocked to see the movie DVD before the festival circuit is up; last I heard they were still choosing between distribution deals. You can buy “Nerd of the Week” DVDs, though, which are pretty awesome.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply