Got the Look

In rock, there are several classic, iconic poses that have stood as visual emblems of the genre, that have sustained it for years. In this case, the cliché of a picture being worth a certain number of words holds true: The windmill pose of a guitar king—most perfectly personified in Pete Townshend, of course—says "I am the coolest manifestation of life, be it plant, animal or man, on earth. With one downstroke, I can rock you so hard, I will blow your head off with the force and power of a close-range .357." The way a lead singer slouches, as if the only thing holding him up is his mic stand as he straddles it while his half-closed eyes are captured by some photographer or other, says, "I am so rock 'n' roll that you will never come close to touching me, Mr. Cubicle Worker. If you try to wear leather pants like mine, the universe will implode from the power generated by the entire population of the universe laughing at once. Meantime, I am coming to have sex with your daughters, and maybe even your sons, and there's nothing you can do to stop me."

Yes, it's very male-driven (with some exceptions); yes, it's pretty much about sex; yes, it's pretty hackneyed at this point, but the aesthetic/philosophy of and behind these images is the aesthetic/philosophy that's always fueled rock: Somehow, certain people are anointed by the gods to be capable of striking certain poses that we regular humans simply cannot pull off. Sometimes the folks just started off that way: They have always been the cool ones. Other times it's folks who started off as dorks (Morrison, Morrissey) and/or outsiders (Dylan, Devo) and somehow made that magical transition wherein marginalized status blossomed into, well, coolness.

At least, that's how it's been. With the fin de siècle come and gone, it seems at least the poses have changed, if not the entire paradigm of coolness and how it relates to the changes that have occurred in music. This is perhaps no more noticeable locally—this week—in the form of Laptop Deathmatch's Open Laptop II event.

Laptop Deathmatch—the pose in this case is perhaps the traditionally geekiest: Some person (still usually a dude—the gender thing is another column entirely) hunched over a computer in the classic hunched-over-a-computer position, eyes squinched and staring at the screen. These are people who look more like they are suffering through a term-paper all-nighter or some wonky programming problem rather than rockin' out.

Oh, but they are. Laptop Deathmatch events remain some of the most popular in Dallas. The Deathmatches are a new riff on an old battle form, like dueling banjos or guitar solo one-upmanship or MCs trading insults, but in this case computers (usually Macs) are the weapon of choice. The setup varies slightly, but basically, contestants must use only their computer and an external device to create on the fly three minutes' worth of song, ambient noise, beats, electronica (obviously!) or other musical-type, unnamable entity. The participants are judged on creativity, technique and stage presence.

It's an interesting concept even on a surface level, for sure, but what's perhaps more subtly engrossing is the fact that stage presence is even a factor. In an environment where even audience response is calculated by a computer and the music—and don't get me wrong, it is music—is made solely of ones and zeroes, what does the visual matter?

Dunno. But the fact that it matters is a testament to the ever-evolving nature of rock and aesthetics, as well as a testament that those who lament the supposed decline of creativity in the Dallas music scene are just plain wrong. It's entirely possible that the geek-pose of the computer nerd is the new windmill, and as such, it's a visual reminder of yet another shift in the way we see and hear music. Or maybe it's just a hell of a lot of fun. Or maybe all of the above. I don't know. Let me run all the data through Excel, and I'll get you a spreadsheet tomorrow.

Handstamps:If you don't attend the Pete Rock DJ set on Saturday, April 21, at Minc you are a sucka. Seriously, this man is a legendary producer, but more than that he knows how to put on one hell of a postmodern dance party. It's not just enough to throw some platters on the table these days. You gotta bring something new, and Rock knows how to bump with a mix of old-school classics, plus his own stuff and new beats. I'm telling you, even if you don't like hip-hop, you will dance your pants off. Hopefully, you'll do it in front of me.

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Jonanna Widner
Contact: Jonanna Widner