So, this is a topic I felt like I driven to write about in some capacity. However, this will probably be rather rambly and discordant.
The article over here states some very interesting points in regard to this sudden (is it?) genre explosion of nerd music – a term that I particularly despise. It sort of sensationalizes the concept of enjoying the music into something only a nerd is capable of doing, and also associates the environment which helped produce the musical text as something inherently nerdy. Not to mention associates the listener with a problematic, though a re-appropriated term. Nerd was never something I was comfortable with defining myself as, even in an ironic/accepted way. I have enthusiasm over many things, some of them associate with traditional nerdom, some not. What it does speak to is sort of the alarming trend of hegemonic power over people who chose to ignore traditional media and fan activities.
Genre works as a discourse, a constant dialog of shifts and changes within a particular set of associations and generic “rules.” So, saying this music is a new “genre” is odd to me, because bands like The Protomen (of whom I am a huge fan…) is rock music, not nerd music. But, it is this paradigmatic shift in genre towards this evolving and new media landscape of the internet that, I think, is partially causing some of the needless tension. Contemporary music has been built up on the DIY ethos of the punk and post-punk movements, creating a viable performance network and distribution of music and expression by un-signed bands, and to have it be profitable. This ethos is still applicable to the current generation of underground bands that make up this movement of “nerd music,” but is also greatly expanded by the internet.
We live in a postmodern world of immense media saturation, to the point where all texts become inter-texts. Where the creation of something new is inherently constructed by something in the past. All texts link to all other texts, and influence the author. So, the fact that this music uses cultural reference points ( nerd rap, or the nostalgia of 8-bit noise, etc) isn’t anything new, revolutionary or particularly important to the music itself. Black metal bands build albums around Norse myth, and The Protomen have created albums around Mega Man myth. The act becomes culturally significant, however, because it speaks directly to a culture that would get/understand these references, and be able to engage with them in a serious way. And this contemporary nerd culture often lacks a voice in media – they are presented to (with video games, comics, film, etc) but not asked to participate with their culture, unless it means buying more products. Nerd music has created this participatory output for a culture that is heavily mediated, and thus, exposed to cutting edge texts and technologies to use and engage with.
Part of the problem is America’s fear of messing with intellectual property, I believe. The movement and genre play hasn’t developed too much because it isn’t profitable for major record labels, especially if they have to worry about Capcom suing them because The Protomen have put out a new album. It is nearly impossible to escape political economy, and this is no exception. The second a major corporation can figure out how to get Anamanaguchi on MTV, this sort of debate will change in a drastic way.
Another part is authenticity. Music fans are intensely fierce and protective. Cover bands are never seen as authentic, and originality counts. I think a lot of the fear comes from the ideas around what it means to be original. Girl Talk is respected and seen as authentic, but his music comes entirely from cut up samples of other musicians. Is he more or less original than The Protomen creating a story around the mythos of the Mega Man universe? The documentary Rip: A Remix Manifesto posits the idea of creativity and cultural development versus intellectual property, and again, is related to this discussion.
That being said, I can’t stand about 99% of it. But, it is certainly a topic for interesting debate. Nerdcore has sort of exploded (enough so to have its own documentary…), but for my money the best “nerdcore” song is by someone who doesn’t fit the nerdcore mold, and possibly not even known within the nerdcore culture:
Del Tha Funkee Homosapien has a brilliant song about video game culture, and able to keep the cultural cache (another important element of this debate…) of auteured hip hop. And he was able to do this 4 years before MC Chris burst onto the scene. So, this idea of contemporary inter-textuality has been around, and musicians were willing to play with this idea a decade ago.
Do I want to listen to Nerdcore? No, but I don’t want to listen to country music either. But, of course, there are always exceptions to these rules. Quality helps, authenticity helps, originality, expressibility, performance, taste – all of these help. I’ve gotten friends into The Protomen not because they play video games and are literate in that medium, but because they like a lot of the music and culture that came out of the 1980’s, and The Protomen is clearly influenced by that. That being said, I have friends who love video games and even Mega Man that wouldn’t touch the band with a pole. There is lots to be said on this topic, and it is certainly complex, but in 10-15 years I think people will think we are all being silly for having such problems with “nerd music.”