OULU, FINLAND —
But is he good enough to beat Airistotle?
A teenage upstart in San Diego who became an internet sensation, or some wannabe who challenges people to air off’s on facebook; something totally new out of Boston or Kansas City, or as far away as Guam takes a competition by a landslide. Somehow, the question is always the same:
“But can she beat Airistotle?”
Friday night, on the world stage here in Oulu, the question was resoundingly settled before a crowd of 8,000 screeching Finns and a dozen international representatives from around the world competing in the name of world peace.
Was it close at times? Yes. Did Airistotle’s rival from Moscow take a close second place? Certainly. And did his U.S. teammates make America gleam prouder than ever after securing another two of the top five spots? Indeed.
Because Friday night they came at us from every corner of the globe: Russia, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and New Zealand, to name a few.
But could they beat Airistotle?
Oh hell no.
Airistotle handily grabbed the title of 2016‘s best air guitarist in the world. Airistotle, who began competing professionally in 2008 as an awkward, lanky 17 year-old out of Staten Island, stepped onto the world stage last night as an awkward, lanky 20-something and defeated his closest competitor by 9/10th of a point (a veritable landslide in the sport). This was Airistotle’s fourth trip to the Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, and the first time he took the title, after a string of runner-up finishes.
Also joining Airistotle’s 2016 Team USA was MOM JEANS JEANNIE (Nicole Sevcik, Chicago), THE MARQUIS (Rob Messel, 1st place Portland / 4th World), VAN DAMMAGE (Luke Sevcik, Former Midwest Champion / 5th World) and THE AIRTISTE (Jeffrey Stiles, 1st place Boston / 7th World).
Asked about his feelings on tonight’s victory, the evening’s youthful champion took a long chew of salmiakki (Finland’s national candy) and humbly responded, “I think, when people look back at this show years from now, what they’ll be talking about is Mom Jean’s round one.” Much later in the evening, we approached AIristotle for a follow-up.
Our question was less important than his response: “Wooooooooooooo!”
Mom Jeans took the bronze medal and lifetime bragging rights as the world’s third greatest air guitarist. Over the past three seasons – as has been deconstructed time and time again by this and other blogs – she’s tightened up her routine from a technically proficient “high concept act” to an absolute on-stage powerhouse. The juice box props and hand sanitizers she provides drop your guard, and the cheesy 50s intro music portends “here comes something kitch and kinda sucky.”
But then the hard stuff comes out, a “oh fuck” hush comes over the crowd, and Mom Jeans melts every face in Finland, scoops those faces off the ground, sprinkles on local cardamom and feeds those faces back to flabbergasted humans in the front row. Meanwhile, she has ripped off her mom jeans for sexytime daisy dukes, tears off a bloody arm prop from the crowd during Metallica’s “Take my hand! / Off to never-neverland,” and rips the crowd a new one just before whispering something like “be safe!” or “call me when you get there okay, hon?”
Pacific Northwest champion THE MARQUIS, finishing on Mom Jeans’ heels in 4th place, offered some of the best moves of the evening: exceptional choreography, a well-timed wig toss, and when the stage manager said he’d stop the show if he dumped his beer on the stage Marquis said Fuck it, I’ll dump out his water bottle instead. Among my favorite moves, after being long-warned against propping his endless legs on top of the stage monitors (they’re almost never bolted down unless someone is shooting an Iron Maiden video, and we’ve seen a lot of people eat shit trying to imitate that classic move, Marquis subtly planted his dominant leg atop an air-monitor. Absolute brilliance, in any century.
Midwest’s Van Dammage wowed and confused his Finnish audience tonight, who had never before experienced Slovak-Spanish chops, with a long-stemmed rose and “LOVE” shaved into his prosthetic chest hair. VD’s flamenco-hardcore hybrid, which has earned him an elite status on the US Air Guitar circuit, was universally adored – even by the photographer he crashed into after a well-executed though imperfectly calculated knee slide that stopped a few feet after the stage did.
And then there was Boston’s Airtiste, whose name was spoken all season, in hushed voices, in response to that nagging question which began this post. But overseas, his experimental, interpretive, superhumanly intoxicated performance was the embodiment of you-might-not-be-ready-for-this-but-your-kids-are-gonna-love-it. Among his many original moves, Airtiste broke with convention and played several bars of his song with his toes. With the HD crane cameras zoomed in tight, it appeared that Airtiste was able to move each toe independently of the others, despite such motions having been deemed “humanly impossible” by leading neurobiologists.
Internationally, the competition was steep, with a level of talent unseen in recent memory. There were no “minute thieves,” as has happened in the past (we’re looking at you, Bolivia) and for the first time in years most would agree that every competitor on the world stage would have a shot an any U.S. semifinal, where the sport is generally said to be taken more seriously than anywhere else on the globe (excluding Northern Scandinavia).
Some other great moments included the French LORD SCRAT’s (Vincent Roussel) entire routine, the guy who pulled an air guitar from his fanny pack (or “bum bag,” as it’s called here), and the UK’s Thom “w!ldth!ng” Wilding dropping some “Fuck Brexit” shit on his smitten crowd of Europeans.
Japan, for her part, has unleashed a torrent of brilliant performers in recent years, and this year TAM (Manami Morita) nailed her routine and, not to be outdone by her countrywoman and 2014 World Champion SEVEN SEAS (Nanami Nagura), paid homeage to the former champ by implementing Seas’ trademark backwards-spider-bend until her bangs swept the ground; but she added her own twist by incrementally dropping back in sync with her song’s drum fills. “Noted,” quipped the wiry Japanese girl’s body double and Midwest all-star THUNDERBALL (Nielsen Nacis) on the livechat.
G. TSO MONEY (Dave Chen), who has previously represented the East Coast on the USAG National stage, was this year representing his native Taiwan. His look screamed Steven Seagal, with black-on-black dojo slicks and a commanding ponytail. G. Tso has been playing with the form for years, at first heavy-handedly (anyone remember the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air period?) and now ever so subtly, ever so cutely, that he’s become a “must see” performance no matter what country he represents. Friday night, in a feat of dexterity, he whipped out a hand puppet and the world watched in awe as it played its own little air guitar.
But no performance was more widely anticipated than Russia’s defending 2015 World Champion, YOUR DADDY (Kareel Blumenkrants). He has been called Airistotle’s hemlock, his nemesis, his equal and, as was the case in 2015, his better. In fact, Your Daddy matches Airistotle in length, width, height, and even nerd. One look at either young man conjures images of 12-sided die, lactose allergies, and that kid in class who always asked, “is there any homework tonight?”
Your Daddy exploded onto the stage in a skin-tight black spacesuit, exposing his noodle-arms and a “maybe next year, son” amount of body hair. His performance was Balletic – who would have guessed Sum 41 could be graceful? – filled with long sweeping motions and high-energy instrument shifts from air guitar, to air keys, to air drums, to playing air drums with his air guitar, etc. Near the end of his first round performance, to ensure he would outnerd his American counterpart, he included a pit-smell move in his routine followed by an allergic sneezing sound effect in his track. Genius.
Into the compulsory round Airistotle was neck-and-neck with Your Daddy, but the Russian champ seemed to slow down a bit, mistiming a few licks and playing the slightest bit of musical catch-up to an expertly edited “Speedin’” track by Reckless Love. Airistotle, on the other hand, was unstoppable.
As the final scores were announced, the two champions – who have become close friends over the past 4 years – embraced one another. And as happens every year, the champion – our champion – was presented with a custom Flying Finn guitar, handmade by master craftsman Matti Nevalainen who ceremoniously presented it to a guy who has absolutely no idea how to play.
Airistotle, as World Champion, also receives an all-expenses invite to Finland next year to defend his title. And, as the leaving-Oulu blues bubble in our bellies and Airistotle tries to ship his new guitar home and bill it to the room, everything seems to be settled for now. But in about a year’s time, that familiar question will get asked again in new languages, in far-flung countries across the globe: Mutta he voivat voittaa? Aber können sie schlagen? ولكنها يمكن أن تغلب؟? しかし、彼らは打つことができますか? But, can they beat Airistotle?
World peace, friendships of nations, and goodwill. 2016 World Air Guitar Championships Final Rankings
1. Matt “Airistotle” Burns (USA) 35,7
2. Kereel “Your Daddy” Blumenkrants (RUS) 34,8
3. Nicole “Mom Jeans Jeanie” Sevcik (USA) 34,3
4. Rob “The Marquis” Messel (USA) 34,1
5. Dave “G. Tso Money” Chen (TW) 33,7
5. Luke “Van Dammage” Sevcik 33,7
7. Manami “TAM” Morita (JPN) 33,6
8. Dave “Onkel Udo” Wonz (GER) 33,3
9. Blake “The Canadian Tuxedo” Johnston (CAN) 16,8
10. Daniel “Moredrive” Oldemeier (GER) 16,7
10. Vincent “Lord Scrat” Roussel (FRA) 16,7
12. Jeffrey “The Airtiste” Stiles (USA) 16,5
13. Thom ” w!ldth!ng” Wilding (UK) 16,3
14. Giesela “Gizzy Guitar” Visser (NZL) 16,2
15. Carlos “Hanzel the Manzel” Mengual (CAN) 15,8