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Live Active Cultures

Seth Kubersky travels into the dark heart of nerdcore

The sun is just starting toset as I steer my car off Aloma Avenue into the sketchy strip-mall parking lot. As I approach a nondescript entrance with blackened windows, deep waves of barely muffled bass batter me through the wall. Pulling open the door, I step into a smoke-laden atmosphere heavy with the hoppy scent of spilled happy-hour drafts. On a tiny stage surrounded by Stonehenge-sized speakers, a pair of microphone-wielding rappers stalk the stage, screaming rhymes as the long-haired, black-shirted crowd bobs their heads.

Can this really be … where the nerds are?

As stereotype-shattering as it might sound, the answer is "yes." This Nerdapalooza night (Friday, June 10) at the Haven Lounge in Winter Park was organized by the folks behind the annual convention (returning to Orlando's Airport Marriott July 16). And upon closer inspection Krondor Krew, the opening act I walked in on, are more nerdcore than hardcore; they had the audience waving plastic swords and chanting, "We are ninja."

Of course, "nerd" is in the eye of the beholder, and the definition seems to have changed significantly since I was growing up. The socially isolated, aesthetically awkward, perpetually virginal lads of Revenge of the Nerds lore have been transformed in a tech-saturated generation that embraces the formerly pejorative label. And mainstream media hasn't just accepted former nerd-only domains like comic and video games; it's dominated by them. In other words, contrary to what you may have heard, today's nerds are hip, and some of them are even girls (gasp).

No one understands this dork dichotomy better than Marc Sirdoreus, better known as Orlando singer-songwriter Marc With a C. Over the last decade, Marc's indie pop has become associated with the area's burgeoning "nerd rock" scene, and he's been a repeat performer at Nerdapalooza. But even he still can't say exactly what the label means. "I didn't know I was nerd music [until] this scene embraced me," he told me outside the Haven following his set. "I'd be hard-pressed to try to define ‘nerd'," Sirdoreus says, "but everyone is a nerd about something. Jethro Tull is nerd rock. The Decemberists [are like] if Garrison Keillor had a rock band … and don't tell me the guys in Metallica aren't playing Dungeons & Dragons on their private jet."

If nerdiness equals obsessive enthusiasm for offbeat pop culture, then Marc may be nerddom's musical poster child. Some of his fan favorites are odes to That '70s Show star Laura Prepon and social networking sites MySpace and LiveJournal (newly updated with lyrical references to Tumblr), and he does a wicked mashup of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" with "Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer." His latest album, Motherfuckers Be Bullshittin', may be the nerd-rock apotheosis. For starters, it's a concept album inspired by classic rock operas, from the great (Pete Townshend's Quadrophenia and Lifehouse) to the godawful (the Kinks' Soap Opera). All the vocals and instruments were performed by Sirdoreus, and he mastered the album at super-fine 32 bit/96 kHz to preserve the dynamic range lost on most modern mixes and "remind the listener that the volume knob has a purpose." And geekiest of all, the vinyl packaging is a perfect replica of the Spectravision VideoDisc of Steve Martin's The Jerk: You don't get that kind of old-school obscurity just anywhere.

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