Photo credit: AGWC
OULU, FINLAND — A nail biter to the bitter end, in Friday night’s Air Guitar World Championships the United States once again asserted its dominance on the international stage in a stunning display pitting countryman versus countryman, as two dueling Americans shredded each other apart in an epic battle to be number one.
No matter what we say, this is the angle the media will take. But it is not how it happened.
This past week, national champions and organizers trained side-by-side, rubbing bare elbows and knees and other parts in the sauna, sweating, and sharing meals at the House of Peace in the capital city of northern Scandinavia. They bicycled tandem through the streets and rode the notorious stabbing tour of Oulu, stopping at every pub and boob statue along the way.
By day, they told fart jokes. By night, they returned to the rooms they shared and farted.
Friday night, they each played some part in a performance that packed the streets of Oulu with 5,000 howling fans, so loud that over the audience no heard the sirens or bullhorns of the Polisi ordering people away from the outskirts of the city: downtown Oulu was beyond capacity, and no one would be allowed in until someone else walked out. And yet somehow nothing was louder than the roar backstage because no one supported each performer more than the performers themselves.
On the previous night, the annual dark horse competition showcased nearly two dozen of the world’s best wannabes, runners-up and, at times, genuinely talented performers — of whom only the top five would advance to the World Championships. Among those who didb not advance were Denver’s MAGIC CYCLOPS (Magic Cyclops), Larchmont, New York’s SETH LEIBOWITZ (Craig Billmeier), Chicago’s CANNONBALL MAVIN (Chelsea Jangord) and DC’s DOUG THUNDERSTROOCK (Doug Stroock).
Seth, as usual, totally botched his performance.
From the press box way back in the cheap seats, Magic’s technical and stage presence were there as always, but what about that other thing? Resist as they may, at times Cyclops has an uncanny ability to transfer his strange magic into the very fiber of his often dumbstruck crowd. I’m thinking specifically of his 2011 Denver performance that never got the blog it deserved, in addition to the weddings that he has Deejayed. A wedding reception is meant to be a celebration of eternal union between two loved ones – yet the reception I attended was instead all about Magic Cyclops. Unfortunately, at the Finnish Dark Horse, Madge kept his crowd in their comfort zone and that kept him out of the finals.
Doug Thunderstroock, on the other hand, brought on the discomfort early when he charged onto the stage to Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” before his Finnish audience who have never even met a black person, let alone one from Birmingham / Bam-ba-lam! / Way down in Alabam’ / Bam-ba-lam! In my opinion, Strook’s dark horse performance was second only to Nordic Thunder’s.
Chicago’s CANNONBALL MAVIN (Chelsea Jangord) warmed my heart when she air-whistled the harmony from GNR’s “Patience,” while simultaneously testing the patience of her judges. About three-quarters of the way through her performance she broke down into some harder shit and finished off with her token snatch axe, but by then it was too late for the judges. Sixes for the high concept and fours for the rest; like my SAT’s, Mavin finished in the bottom 50th percentile. For the record, I think we both deserved way better.
The next day, the main event began with a group of typically tough Finnish children singing the song “In Front of People” (Lyrical approximation here). Although the song is about loving someone boldly in spite of popularity or gender, the children appropriated it for their own cause: to be in front of people and proud of who they are, despite any differences or challenges they may possess. The choir transferred that spirit into the performers, who themselves mustered the courage to be in front of people — 5,000 of them to be exact — to play, well, nothing.
These kids were so good that if the show had ended on the choir’s last note, the crowd would have left pleased. But of course it did not, and of course the crowd went berserk.
Through all the fog and confetti and shit, a few performances stood out for me: Russian OLYMPIAN’S (Artem Chernov’s) act, although it tapered off a bit toward the end, used his six-foot-five Siberian stereotype to his advantage and air-benched about 50 kopecks at the top of his performance, sending grunts and talcum powder across the stage; following him was Netherland’s Theun “Tremelo Theun” de Jong. After taking one look, I instantly hated him. His dangling pacifier and sticky ringpops reminded me of everything I hated about the European stereotype I fostered when I was 12. But it only took a few seconds to realize this guy had serious chops. His energetic flailing combined with his candy raver outfit created an optical illusion that landed him in third place overall. Finally, there was Belgium’s national organizer, Raphaël “Willy Wantmore” Monnanteuil, who had the balls and licks to enter the previous night’s dark horse, win, and then follow it up with a solid performance on the national stage. He has become a hero to national organizers worldwide.
As has already been reported by Time, NBC and BBC, the competition came down to America’s Airistotle and Nordic Thunder. Needless to say, what was not reported is that like porn, air guitar invariably breaks down into fetishes: when the big-tittied Viking shares a scene with the petite ladyboy-next-door, all viewers generally lose their boner. Likewise, fans of Nordic’s metal tend to loathe Aristotle’s Blink 182. That both performers convinced the same panel of judges (consisting of Finnish guitarist Juha Torvinen, TV host Heikki Paasonen/Air Guitar World Champion 2000, Markus “Black Raven” Vainionpää, and two national championships’ organizers from the AGWC Network, Alexander Gott from Russia and Filip Cerny from Czech Republic) to send them into the second round is as awe inspiring as the final scores themselves.
Nordic Thunder and Airistotle did it in front of 5,000 people, and yet not one of them could tell you how Nordic did it just two-tenths of a point better. It is my best guess that Nordic, as the 2011 US Champion, had the upper hand through experience. Gunther Love, the two-time world champion from France, had a more profound observation: “Last night, I could see it in his eyes.”
After the show the entire gang of cutthroat performers from a dozen rival nations ordered boxes of pizza topped with garlic and reindeer while watching the sun rise over the distant Caucasus.
1. Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard, 34,6 (US)
2. Matt “Airistotle” Burns, 34,4 (US)
3. Theun “Tremelo Theun” de Jong, 34,3 (NL)
4. Andro “The Void” Urb, 34,2 (EE)
5. Jaakko “The Colossal” Härkönen, 33,5 (FI)
6. Takehito “Choco Bat Ukai” Saito, 33,4 (JP)
7. Ephraim “The Fame Flame” Noer, 33,3 (DK)
7. Veronika “Like Ever Gin” Müllerova, 33,3 (CZ)
7. Corentin “AirGus” Fermont, 33,3 (BE)
8. Aline “Devil’s Niece” Westphal, 32,8 (DE)
9. Vincent “V-Snyder” Bekaert, 16,4 (FR)
9. Jonathan “Juan Nightstand” Morales 16,4 (UK)
10. Quinten “The Great PretendAir” Rutgers 16,3 (NL)
11. Jan “Geeky Gisbert” Fischer 16,2 (DE)
11. Marie “Moldy Peach” von Borstel 16,2 (DE)
11. Artem “Olympian” Chernov 16,2 (RU)
12. Raphaël “Willy Wantmore” Monnanteuil 16,1 (BE)
12. Bryan “Telerockbies” Antoine 16,1 (BE)