It's beginning to look like anytime you attach the word "core" to the end of another word, something's going to suck.
Case in point: There was an article last week in The New York Times about "mumblecore," a faddish subgenre of independent film that chronicles the young and existentially grumpy. Essentially, mumblecore cinema doesn't cover any other ground that, say, The Graduate or La Bohème or Catcher in the Rye didn't; that is, it follows the lives of post-college/high school, pre-adult life 'tweeners, those with the luxury of wallowing pleasantly in their disenchantment, turning disaffectedness into a commodity, once it's put to song or script or screen.
It's true that time of life is a difficult one, full of the type of angst that used to end at high school. It's borne of a commendable questioning of all culture, true, but when you combine that with a generational tendency to prattle on online about really boring personal things—what you had for breakfast, the pajamas you had when you were 12, why you named your cat Reznor—and pass them off as part of some sort of greater critique/investigation of modern alienation...ugh. I already read The Bell Jar, bitches!
Then there's steamcore. Steamcore is, and this is not made up, a subgenre of some other subgenre of music that uses old-timey instruments to make punk rock music. It's sort of embarrassing to write about but even more difficult to explain; think the music equivalent of using one of those big-wheel bicycles at the Tour de France.
OK, one's a type of music, the other a type of film, but the similarity is they are both pretentious, self-indulgent and potentially very, very boring. That doesn't necessarily mean they're not art, though you probably shouldn't expect the kids to line up around the block for a show. Of course, Dashboard Confessional seems to do all right.
Which brings us to nerdcore. When I heard of Fort Worth's MC Router's collective of nerdcore fanatics, I figured that based on my definition of nerds, this might be a type of core that I could get into. I pictured my brethren, those folks who took the exchange student to prom, whose homecoming mum said something like, "You're neat," spelled out in glittery letters. The kind of people whose lack of pretension gives their angst some sort of resonance. What kind of music would those people make?
Turns out, not that great. The leader of the pack is Router, who is rather inspiring. Balls-out, septum-pierced, necklace of tattoos, big-bootied-white-girl-rapping inspiring. Straight offa Fort Worth Weekly cover story inspiring. Girls doing what boys used to have the monopoly on inspiring.
Only problem is, many of the "bands" on a recent night at Club Dada were...boyish. The testosterone in the air lent the room a musky scent, as if a cat had just sprayed to mark its territory. The first nerdcore act that I saw—and I'm not going to name names here, because I've only heard these acts once, so that seems unfair—was a pair of boys, one playing a bass, one a guitar. Neither guy was adept at his instrument—they were out of tune, there were squeals of mysterious origin, the timing was off—but they were heartfelt, there was something there. The duo managed to churn out instrumental songs that rolled along on an updated psychedelic track, up and down and over a surreal landscape, despite the glitches and the fact that the guitarist was playing through a teeny mini-stack and the bass player was playing a junior bass. It was pretentious and a mess, but the songs had potential.
The following act consisted of, um, two boys. The larger one manned the iMac that stood on a lonely table on the drum riser, various wires spazzily sticking out of its back, attached to speakers and other cables and pedals of different shapes and sizes. He hunched over the keyboard, pumping out some hard industrial beats, actually the best part of the show so far. The fuzzy rhythms and inventive stylizing that came out of the computer had a Nine Inch Nails kind of feel—something industrial but well-conceived, bits and pieces you could latch on to and hang on tight.
This dude's electronica was the best part of the show; his cohort paced around the stage and chain-smoked cigarettes, à la Denis Leary, and chugged a Lone Star out of a can while he intermittently screamed into the microphone—something about the war, maybe, and a "bitch." I think so, anyway, since it basically was just one big rush of tuneless, guttural boy jerk-off.
Not a total loss, but disappointing. Especially if you think of another definition for the word "core," the one that refers to something's essence, its center, its soul, because so far, the cores I've seen have proven a touch rotten.
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