I’ll be the first to admit I have a somewhat strange taste in music.
If, when introducing an artist to someone else, I have to go into great detail to describe the subgenre of the music, that might be a sign that it could be considered peculiar.
So, to save myself some time and possibly spread some nerdy earworms, here’s a primer on a handful of unconventional musical acts that cater to a certain crowd. Sure, any nerd with a 20-sided die and a skepticism toward baked goods is familiar with artists like MC Frontalot and Jonathon Coulton. But believe me when I say this rabbit hole goes much deeper.
Steampunk vaudeville/robot pantomime
Can I tell you about Steam Powered Giraffe? Please?
Imagine a band of robots, complete with grinding gears and mechanical malfunctions, singing goofy songs in perfect harmony.
OK, so it’s actually a bunch of performers in heavy makeup who are rather good at miming and making robot-sounding noises. They do have wonderful harmony, though, and don’t resort to auto-tune despite portraying machines.
Their act is as much about stage presence as it is the quality of their sound. Each robot has a personality – from the straight-laced Spine to the unhinged Rabbit, played by twins David and Bunny Bennett, respectively. The group also includes Hatchworth (Sam Luke as a mustachioed bot built from a stove) and some humans: Michael Philip Reed, Steve Negrete and Matt Smith. The original band included two other robots, The Jon (Jon Sprague) and Upgrade (Erin Burke), who have since left the band.
It’s hard to pick a favorite among their songs. There’s “Captain Albert Alexander”, about the life and death of a brave seafarer, or “Honeybee”, a robot’s love ballad (“You didn’t have to say my name / ignite my circuits and start a flame”), or even the catchy sing-along “Brass Goggles.”
Video game-inspired rock opera
Speaking of robots… Have you heard of The Protomen?
This rock band has so far released two acts of a rock opera loosely inspired by the Mega Man video game franchise. To anyone unfamiliar with it, Mega Man is a fictional robot built as an assistant by the scientist Dr. Light who is transformed into a fighting machine after Light’s partner, Dr. Wily, betrays him and turns his robotic creations against the world.
The Protomen take this basic idea – Dr. Light on the side of good, trying to elevate mankind and free people from suffering, and Dr. Wily on the side of evil, using the robots to bend people to his will – and they transform it into a gripping narrative with deep social themes. In the first act, Mega Man is the rebellious teenager, ignoring his father’s warnings and fighting against corruption to the sound of distorted hard rock. He confronts Wily’s right-hand robot, only to learn it is the long-lost “brother,” Protoman, whom he thought was dead. The two have a dramatic standoff, with Protoman condemning the people for not standing up for themselves.
And that’s just the first act.
The second act, released in 2009, goes back to the doctors’ younger days, showing the clash between Light and Wily and the betrayal that put Wily in control and turned Light into an outcast. Not only does the album continue the story, it does so while showcasing the band’s musical growth. Where Act 1 brought a wall of sound and blood-pumping rock, Act 2 is more refined and restrained. It starts as a sort of rallying cry and transforms into an ’80s-style rock anthem.
I’m looking forward to Act 3. Word is it will be their last, and it will be interesting to see how they top their previous release.
As the name might suggest, chap hop is a dandified form of hip hop, with trace elements of steampunk thrown in for good measure.
The genre has two leading performers: Professor Elemental and Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer. And given that they are pretty much the only chap hop performers, they’ve got a bit of bad blood between them.
On the one hand, Professor Elemental is a pith helmet-wearing rapper who loves a good cup of tea. Mr. B is a banjolele-strumming fellow who enjoys tweed jackets, cricket and pipe-smoking. They had an ongoing feud – the video above is a challenge from Elemental to Mr. B – but have supposedly made amends, making guest appearances in each others’ music videos.
If I had to choose, though, I would throw my support behind Professor Elemental. At times, Mr. B’s music can get so deep into parody that it loses some of its value as entertainment.
When regular swing music isn’t enough, there’s electro swing.
At its core, electro swing is a fusion of swing and more contemporary styles, such as electronic, house and hip hop. As swing has seen a revival (I’ll admit, I enjoy the lindy hop myself on occasion), many artists have found success sampling classic big band and swing tracks and remixing them into something both new and old.
A quick YouTube search turns up a slew of electro swing mixes, but my personal favorite among electro swing artists is a French group called Caravan Palace. With touches of Django Reinhardt and Daft Punk, the band holds true to traditional jazz themes while infusing some extra pizzazz.
I have yet to attend an event that incorporated electro swing into the mix, but from what I gather, it can be rather diabolical.
All right, full disclosure: I’m not a huge fan of Harry Potter.
That’s not to say I don’t like it, but I never got into the books. I’ve seen the movies, but I wasn’t blown away by them. I don’t hate Harry Potter, I just never got into the franchise.
But that’s OK because other people have, enough to create a whole genre of music centered around the stories’ universe. The whole thing started with the punk rock band Harry and the Potters and has grown since then, with other groups emerging with names like Draco and the Malfoys and the Whomping Willows. The genre has even garnered enough attention to have a documentary made about it.
To be honest, I don’t know much about wizard rock (or wrock, as it’s abbreviated). It’s the one genre on this list I have not really listened to before. Even so, it’s clearly popular enough to draw large, screaming crowds.