How the Nerds Rock Out

Issue #4 of Geek Monthly features an article by Rayo Casablanca on “lab nerd music,” quoting and profiling artists including Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, Severed Heads, Jonathan Coulton, and Freezepop. These artists are offered as the latest and perhaps most overtly geeky musicians in a tradition kicked off in the early ’80s: “Artists like Devo, Talking Heads, Thomas Dolby, the Residents, the Soft Boys, Oingo Boingo, They Might be Giants, and Primus wore their science chic loud and proud” (p. 28).

I’ve been aware of these bands for awhile, though I’d never heard the “lab nerd” label used to imply that they constitute a particular scene or subgenre. Nerdcore hip-hop, on the other hand, seems to have a much more cohesive community, with artists referring to one another in their lyrics and collaborating on a series of free compilation albums. Of the artists noted above, however, two (Freezepop and Jonathan Coulton) are scheduled to play at the Penny Arcade Expo this summer alongside video game cover bands and nerdcore hip-hop artists (and I believe the organizers attempted to get Darkest of the Hillside Thickets for an earlier PAX). Pulling these artists into explicitly geek-marketed events could help identify a distinctly recognizable lab nerd music scene, even if such a community (or at least a Wikipedia entry describing one) doesn’t currently exist on any large scale.

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