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Music

Nerdapalooza Festival

The 5th annual music fest anticipates its biggest year to date, and its most awkwardly public presence

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

The Protomen

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Math the Band


The first time the word "Nerdapalooza" crossed my desk in 2008, I thought little of it. The festival was birthed by Northern California college-radio DJ John "Hex" Carter, a then-24-year-old with a hankering for so-called nerd music, a subgenre that featured mostly geek rapping badly over 8-bit backbeats and parody songs in the tradition of proudly uncool artists such as Weird Al, Tom Lehrer and Dr. Demento. Following massively under-attended test runs first at Carter's alma mater, Humboldt State University, then in Gainesville, Fla., and even a disastrous showing in the U.K. – "We had, like, five performers," Carter says – the tiny festival was imported to Orlando in 2008 with the help of early supporter Rob Tobias.

That semi-official inaugural year was not the most timely in which to celebrate nerddom's niche subversiveness: The year's two top-grossing movies were The Dark Knight and Iron Man for a combined $850 million at the box office; the year's four top-selling books all included the word Twilight; and presidential hopeful Barack Obama fought back against accusations of being "Spock-like." For the first time ever, the San Diego Comic-Con International sold out of all passes weeks in advance of the convention. Amid the atmosphere of the meek inheriting the pop-culture Earth, the Nerdapalooza lineup – rapping pirates! indie Harry Potters! – seemed, if anything, almost crassly commercial.

"It's difficult, because the lines of who is a nerd and who isn't blur so easily," says the jovial Carter, now prepping his fifth official Nerdapalooza festival, the first held downtown, with an expected attendance in the thousands. "Back in the day, if you liked Batman, played with computers and liked video games, you were a nerd. Now, everyone's playing Halo, everyone's watching The Dark Knight, and everyone has a laptop. So the definition of 'nerd' has changed."

Nerdapalooza was promptly assigned to the far reaches of my editorial mind, even as it garnered notice in magazines like Blender and was even slavishly covered by the Wired blog, GeekDad. Photos emerged of nerdier happenings than once thought, like attendees with tattoos of a waveform from the Voyager Golden Records shot into space in 1977 or hyper-enthusiastic fans legitimately anxious to hear the Protomen's concept album based on the Mega Man video game.

By this year, the din became simply unavoidable. The Nerdapalooza contingent made themselves known, most conspicuously in last month's Best of Orlando issue of this paper, where Carter's friends and affiliates walked off with Best Local Music Festival, Best Local Website and Best Local Big Shot, among other awards. Nerdapalooza headliners cleaned up in the music reader's poll, claiming wins for Best Pop Act, Metal Act, Indie Act and more. The era of nerd acceptance, it appears, is over. Welcome to the age of nerd dominance.

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