Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Air Guitar World Championships, part one: in which I abase myself in jolly fashion

Hey folks, I think I mentioned earlier my intentions of conducting research on air guitar by traveling to the birthplace of competitive air guitar performance, Oulu, Finland. Read up to see how I lived the dream.

Oulu, Finland

I wake up at a reasonable hour on my first day in Oulu in order to take advantage of the hotel breakfast. They should really extend the breakfast hours past 10 for the weekend, since air guitarists need to sleep in, and the training camp doesn't even start until 12. That gives me plenty of time to get some work done, and since I noticed Bjorn Turoque and Hot Lixx Hulahan eating together in the breakfast room I know they are up and decide to start off with an interview with Mr. Turoque. We discuss Freud, Nietsche, and air guitar ideology until it is time for me to go.

Arriving at the High Altitude Training Camp, I find that my co-guitarists are two 2 Swiss, Airnado and Lord Airness (who turns 35 this week - we both feel a little over-the-hill for airing, but I soon find out that many others are old enough to be our.. well, brothers, anyway) and 1 South African, Skeletair. That's it but Bjorn Turoque and Hot Lixx also decide to join with us, as do a couple of the Finnish hosts (the only other females). Bjorn’s Scottish wife is there briefly but leaves. She will play in dark horse round tomorrow as Zero Prospects, in order not to get anyone’s hopes up..

During the introduction, the principal organizer of the event attributes the rise of air guitar to Finland’s economic downturn in the 1990s and the cutes in health and mental health care that accompanied it. Intriguing: air guitar as low-cost, DIY therapy?

Our training day begins with an improv course. According to the promotional materials, “Improv is a jolly form of self-abasement.” Accordingly, we make complete fools of ourselves and laugh hysterically for much of the rest of the day. We play the “bunny” game, a kind of hot potato game in which we have to make floppy bunny ears with our hands; we lead a “blind” partner around the house; we have to rapidly assume the roles of police, victim, sheriff, or thumb-sucking child; we collaborate to complete stories on the topic of “Biting the dust” (ours involved murderous giant midgets); we chant musically in a circle with appropriate sound effects and gestures; we sing songs on topics and in styles provided by the others in “Whose line is it anyway” fashion (mine was “delicious golden raisins” in country style, but others included Christian pop, techno, blues, and Miami sound machine). Finally, we create air bands in the suggested styles, so that I find myself at one moment playing bass in an emo rap band, then air trumpet in an 8-man Jamaican group singing the lament, “There is no snow in Jamaica.” All throughout, we are being filmed both by the Australian 60 minutes crew and by a Parisian/English couple residing in Germany and working on an air guitar film. If this footage ever gets out, I may never live it down…

At break, I avoid a journalist wanting to interview me, preferring to conduct my own interview instead, this time with Tappo Launonen, one of the original founders of the festival. The journalist eventually gives up, and I rapidly consume a sandwich mid-interview in order to be prepared for the next event, a lecture by 2008 World Champion Hot Lixx Hulahan. He isn’t very well prepared, but he is enthusiastic in demonstrating some moves for us. Also, he’s brought along the bottle of spirits traditionally provided by the defending champ for the drunken amusement of the aspiring air guitarists. Unfortunately, due to airline restrictions, he has only brought about 25 mL.

Thus, we are forced to attend the next workshop, the Choreography workshop, completely sober. First we play funky music while focusing on using different body parts, like the shoulders, or different levels from standing to kneeling. Then we join up in a group, watching others and copying their moves (I, unfortunately, as yet have none worth mimicking). Bjorn and Hot Lixx get a little nutty, tossing the air guitar around the circle from across the room, Bjorn finally eating his guitar. Then we join into pairs to play a Rage Against the Machine song twice, experimenting with 2-person air guitaring and the well-known back-to-back solo pose. Afterwards my neck hurts. Also, I find out that I am the only one who has never played Guitar Hero, making me a kind of social outcast. They should give me a red A (for Air) to wear on my shirt.

Continuing in the theme of self-abasement, we are given funny air guitar head wraps to wear for our bike ride to a wooded island. With our hair thus protected, we feel no need to protect our brains as well, and forgo helmets. On the way we stop to see some local sights: a salmon run constructed of concrete steps and located in a park below water level; some fountains and ducks in a river where a Ric Ocasek look-alike gives us hate-filled glares before he rides away; a library building right on the water, near the stage now being constructed for the big event on Friday. After coasting across some bridges from which we can see the paper factory, we pull up at an 1892 house/cabin now used as a Waldorf School – and for air guitar training, naturally. It’s kind of rustic what with the giant woodburning stove in the living/dining room and the composting outhouses, and also a bit cold, so after a salmon-based dinner inside, we gather around a fire going in the back. There a couple of Sami shamen play drums for us to scare away the evil air spirits. They seem a little befuddled by the whole thing and leave as soon as they can.

Next Bjorn/Dan and Tappo give their motivational talks on air guitar and Hot Lixx/Craig passes around the ceremonial bottle. Luckily, he also got a larger one from duty free, so that we can play the new drinking game Dan’s invented. It was a sort of Air Charade – Chairade? – deal, where he made up a special iPod playlist, passed around a written copy, and then everyone has to play a song and have others guess it based on nothing more than their movements. My skills are still pretty low-end so I pick the easiest one I see on the list: “Girl you really got me” as performed by Van Halen. The woman here as representative of the City of Oulu also must do it, and she plays Nirvana’s “Smells like teen spirit.” That one was slightly harder, lasting about a minute longer than by 10-second performance. The Australian film crew is back again. We learn they’re here in between providing vital news coverage of dramatic events in Israel and Africa. Maybe air guitar will make world peace.

Afterwards, I stand by the fire a while longer, chatting with the Finns and learning
swear words they assure me are highly useful. Then I join the others in a huge old wood-burning sauna, where impromptu rock sing-alongs are already underway. The Finns have thoughtfully provided us with beer and with birch branches to whack each other with, an oddly refreshing activity, and an appropriate-enough end to a day of jolly self-abasement.

1 comment:

Ums said...

Oh, such jolly memories....

Glad you (presumably) made it home OK. Until your next installment.
- Craig (hot Lixx)