The sound of a geek's heart breaking can only be duplicated on a Mosrite guitar.
That was the brand of electric guitar that The Ventures, the seminal surf band, used in 1964 on what I once argued was the first geek-rock album. Covering the themes to The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone TV shows, The Ventures in Space launched the space-surf style, clearing the field for future bands such as Man or Astroman? and The Reverend Horton Heat.
A few months ago, I had the chance to interview The Ventures' lead guitarist, Nokie Edwards, about the record. Was he, too, a sci-fi-loving geekazoid? Was there something special about science fiction as a genre that inspires musicians to greatness?
With his answer, Edwards might as well have smacked me with his whammy bar. The Ventures were posers. “Whenever a trend would come out, we'd jump on it,” he said.
But here's where this geek's heart mends: Bands made up of sci-fi fans, whose songs are almost exclusively tributes to the genre, are finally finding their followers. And with 134,000 geeks expected to attend San Diego Comic- Con International this week, our city should become geek-rock ground zero.
For the second year in a row, local nerds have organized an event called Comic-Concert: A Night of Geek Rock. Started by Matt Sernaker, a 26-year-old San Diegan who's been to every Comic-Con since he was 2, the show will feature his own band, Random Gibberish, as well as The Megas, a Los Angeles-based group that covers music from the classic video game franchise Mega Man.
“The fact that people come from all over the world to [Comic-Con] says something,” Sernaker says. “I think there's a void in the music area that some bands are starting to fill.”
Sernaker describes his band as a blend of comedy and rock, a genre that has been gaining mainstream momentum thanks to groups like Jack Black's Tenacious D and massively popular TV shows like Lost. Last year, Random Gibberish won a national contest to create a theme song for the program, and that's helped boost the band's profile. Fan communities are also becoming large enough to sustain all manner of art based on science-fiction franchises.
“The geek subculture in general has always been involved in art and costumes and fan films, but now it's reaching out into music,” Sernaker says. “The Internet in general has allowed for a lot more geek-rock stuff to come about. That's pretty much how we distribute all our music and how we gather most of our fans.”
Events like Comic-Con, as well as the San Diego Geek Pride Fest this past May, indicate that geek rock is spilling over into the physical world.
“What we're seeing now is that because geekdom and, let's say, geek-inspired properties are more marketable and there is an audience to consume it, people are more encouraged to give it a shot,” says Arturo Garcia, a sci-fi fanatic who DJ'd Geek Pride Fest under the name @aboynamedart. (That's a Twitter reference, of course.) He'll be spinning at the Geek Girls Network's “Tweet-Up” during Comic-Con.
“I think sci-fi and fantasy just naturally encourage people to expand themselves,” Garcia says. “That's just the nature of the genre.”
The Canton Mudders, a local band that played Geek Pride Fest, will also shine during Comic-Con week when they play at “ICONS,” a Comic-Con-related party put on by promoter Jon Block. The band's songs often pay tribute to sci-fi television creator Joss Whedon; its name is a reference to Whedon's short-lived space-western show, Firefly, which amassed an enormous and devout geek following.
“If you told me in 2007 we'd still be doing this in 2010, I wouldn't have believed it,” the band's lead singer, Mark Kramer, says. “Joss Whedon fans, in general, are hardcore. Some people don't even like our music but like that we sing about Firefly and buy the CD and come to our shows.”
Once upon a time, Kramer sported a purple mohawk as the frontman for the San Diego punk band Café Bela. Accepting his inner nerd wasn't easy, he says.
“Someone once told me: ‘Write what you know,'” Kramer says. “Well, I've been a nerd all my life. Why even fake being cool?” I posed the same questions I asked Edwards to the Canton Mudders: Is there something special about science fiction that inspires so much music? Why do bands write songs about Star Wars and not romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally?
“Maybe it's that science fiction is about other worlds and makes metaphorical references to real life; it's easier for musicians and other people to enjoy,” says Ryan Burdick, the band's drummer.
“Plus,” Kramer adds, “they have better explosions than a Meg Ryan movie.”
DJ @aboynamedart will spin at the Geek Girls Network Tweet-Up on Friday, July 23, at Jolt'N Joes. The Canton Mudders play at ICONS on Saturday, July 24, at the Horton Plaza Event Center. Random Gibberish performs with Kirby Krackle and The Megas on Sunday, July 25, at Dream Street Live. For Comic-Con details, see comic-con.org.