Down with the Cygnus

Laptop Deathmatch didn't just crown a winning musician this week. It crowned a new scene in Dallas.

To the uninitiated, Lower Greenville's The Cavern would have looked like a comic book convention or a World of Warcraft guild meeting early Sunday evening. About two dozen men (and a few girlfriends) were milling around dressed in slacker attire (jeans and nerdy T-shirts, some covered with videogame logos, others with Japanese characters), holding bags of electronic equipment and either avoiding each other or sitting down and staring intently into laptop screens.

And to think, these guys could be the future of local music.

This week, Dallas bore witness to the second installation of Laptop Deathmatch, a musical event that, despite its infancy, is already doing a good job of defying simple categorization. The monthly competition, created and organized by Mazinga Phaser II's Mwanza Dover, pits 16 people in a tournament to find the most talented laptop musicians in town. Players get three minutes to whip up whatever noise they want, as long as it comes from only a laptop and a MIDI controller device.

The most exciting thing about the event, really, is that nobody actually has a clue what "most talented laptop musician" means. Sure, the judges score specific categories--creativity, technique and stage presence--but this is an event without much precedent in Dallas, which means that anything is game and, more important, anybody with a laptop can win.

Nothing made the spirit of the event more evident than the opening grumble of the first contestant, Andrew Foster, whose computer filled The Cavern's PA with the crackling and shaking you'd expect from an earthquake before exploding into a nasty, fast-paced drum and bass session. Immediately afterward, a young competitor by the name of Cygnus walked onto the stage, opened his IBM Thinkpad and turned around; as a kung-fu movie sample played, Cygnus spun around with a samurai sword in hand to pantomime the movie.

You heard me: a samurai sword. Rap battling has officially been rendered wimpy in comparison.

Competitor after competitor filled the room with the kind of amphetamine-pumped noise and sampling mayhem you'd expect from a foreign, touring techno group, but everyone here was local, which made the ceaseless talent that much more staggering. The 20-sample, end-to-end noise pileups of Sebastian; the Pi-like, overtweaked super-speed techno of Vitamin; the series of chopped-and-echoed soul vocals spliced over a crunchy beat by a guy who went by, um, DJ Sexydillionaire--in all, the 16 first-round contestants delivered what sounded like an ultimate mix CD of electronic variety.

A few strong competitors were left in the dust by first-round voting; in particular, Day of the Double Agent's Daniel Huffman delivered a lovely, spacious soundscape with freakish vocal effects but lost points for his subdued stage presence. What, is he supposed to freak dance with the mouse during the slow parts? But charisma, and even technical prowess, proved less important as the rounds melted away, and the competitors who didn't waste their best grooves too early were rewarded for consistency through later three-minute musical sets.

Sebastian proved a crowd favorite with his endless mash-ups, eliciting shouts of "You brought your game this time!" from Dover, while Cygnus added a sensible amount of insanity to the proceedings (you know, aside from the whole sword thing) with mid-song tempo modification and onstage dancing, but it was Bexarametric who outlasted the masses with Aphex Twin-appreciative beats and delicious sprinkles of melodic sampling for his four rounds of fury. Despite netting fewer votes than Cygnus in the final round and taking only second place, Bexarametric (aka Kevin Deal) delivered a performance that would make the Lizard Lounge or minc weak in the knees--I'll be looking for Deal at November's Deathmatch at the Gypsy Tea Room.

Before that, Dover is hosting a special Deathmatch at the Cavern on Sunday, October 30, in which performers will have to dress as the musicians they mash-up in their sets (someone has already claimed a Morrissey outfit), and anyone interested in competing in that special show, or the next official one, is advised to contact Dover via email: laptopdeathmatch@yahoo.com. Be careful if you attend future Laptop Deathmatches, though--I've only been to one and am already eager to buy a MIDI controller and join in. Don't be surprised if you catch the bug, too.

 
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