New Dork City

August 29, 2006


The avant-nerds

New dork city

Experience avant–nerdism first hand at these far-out freak shows and eccentric escapades.



8-Bit Music



For anyone who’s hummed along to Castlevania or Mega Man, there’s comes a monthly concert party featuring “chiptune” sounds derived from hacked Nintendo gaming consoles. Onstage, artists appear to be playing Tetris on a Gameboy; the synthesized noises they produce are added to works of all genres, including heavy metal, classical and electronica. “It’s the folk music of a new digital era,” says organizer Mike Rosenthal. “A lot of experimental music is hard for people to get into, but this has a real playful element to it.” In addition to these monthly shows (the next one is Saturday 26), Tribeca’s the Tank hosts the Blip Festival, an international gathering of video-game music and art December 1–3. The Tank, 279 Church St between Franklin and White Sts (212-563-6269, thetanknyc.org).



Come Out & Play Festival


Just as that crazy Christo transformed Central Park into a work of art, the three-day Come Out & Play Festival will turn the city into a giant board for large-as-life street games. Approximately 20 events, varying from camera-phone-enabled scavenger hunts to a Wi-Fi location-based competition from the guys behind the meta–video game Pacmanhattan, will take place throughout the city September 22–24. Go to comeoutandplay.org for a full schedule and to register.



Pinchbottom Burlesque



Thanks to Nasty Canasta, Jonny Porkpie and the Pinchbottom crew, your perverted genre fantasies have come shimmying to life. The dancers served up a sci-fi theme this past spring (boobified Godzilla, we won’t forget you), and Porkpie promises “more geek-tastic burlesque” in the next six months, including nights devoted to superheroes, cooking shows (!) and, coinciding with the release of Casino Royale, James Bond. Here’s looking forward to Octopussy.… Pinchbottom Burlesque is held monthly at Collective: Unconscious, 279 Church St at White St (212-254-5277, pinchbottom.com).



Madagascar Institute



The Madagascar Institute is not a locus of scientific inquiry off eastern Africa; it’s a semi-federated artistic group devoted to staging spectacles. Explains Christopher Hackett, the Institute’s director: “If you have an insane idea, like making a scale model of the Chrysler Building that turns into a speedboat, we’ll help you.” Madagascar encourages inspired thinkers to use its shop space and expertise in welding and electronics to “make cool shit happen.” Past events have included a baby-seal piñata bash and a musical parody with tap-dancing human rats. Hackett says to “stay tuned for an elaborate, prank-type event” in late October. For more, go to madagascarinstitute.com.



The Williamsburg Spelling Bee



Nerdsters who know how to spell Horologium head to the back of Pete’s Candy Store every other Monday evening at 7pm to partake in the jokey, cabaret-style Williamsburg Spelling Bee and compete for prizes such as Broadway show tickets or the a chance to be included in one of two prestigious finals. The Bee is the brainchild of Spellbound-inspired mariachi singer bobbyblue, who’s been hosting the event since 2004 with comedian Jennifer Dziura. Rather than single-error elimination, “it’s three strikes and you’re out,” Dziura says. “It’s a little less pressure.” 709 Lorimer St between Frost and Richardson Sts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-302-3770, petescandystore.com).



LightSabersNYC



“The city is our playground. Childhood is subjective.” So claim the members of LightSabersNYC, a group of sci-fi geeks who wage elaborate (and politicized) versions of capture the flag using $10 plastic lightsabers. Whether you’re fighting on behalf of the evil Darth Bush and Emperor Cheney or teaming up with AlGore Solo, Clin-ton Skywalker and the rest of the Jedicrats, the rules are simple: no head shots, bring your own saber and, of course, fight with honor. For info on the next battle, go to myspace.com/lightsabersnyc.



Improv Everywhere



Eighty people walk into Best Buy wearing the trademark blue polo shirt and khakis of the store’s employees, confusing workers and shoppers alike. In midtown, a frantic wife tries to talk her suicidal husband down…off a four-foot ledge. For five years, Improv Everywhere, a group dedicated to creating scenes of chaos and joy in public places, has made the city its stage. Founder Charlie Todd oversees the group, which conducts about eight missions a year and never reveals or explains its actions. “It’s far more interesting,” says Todd, “to let people draw their own conclusions.” For more, go to improveverywhere.com.



Schoolyard games



If the idea of organized sports brings back painful memories of hanging from the business end of an atomic wedgie, it’s high time to heal your inner doofus. The New York City Social Sports Club summer season is in full swing with twice-weekly dodgeball games; registration for fall is now open (nycssc.com) to individual and team participants. “People tend to think dodgeball is childish, but when they see it they realize that it’s not a sport for kids,” says veteran player and referee Dj Hemann. NYCSSC also offers single-day events with four square, floor broomball and rock-paper-scissors tournaments. Kickballers can get their punt on in Central Park by signing up with the local chapter of World Adult Kickball Association (worldkickball.com). Alternatively, Brooklyn Kickball (brooklynkickball.com) hosts a lawn BBQ and spirited matches at McCarren Park every Sunday at 6pm. Walk-ons are welcome, and while the $3 entry fee doesn’t buy a shirt, most teams coordinate their outfits—one team, for instance, shows up in pirate costumes.



Deep Dish Cabaret



Billed as the “wackiest, edgiest underground performance spectacle in Manhattan,” Deep Dish Cabaret counts among its alumni such popular comedians as Aziz Ansari and Andy Blitz. Created by host Stephen Kosloff as “an antidote to the crassness of New York’s mainstream nightlife,” Deep Dish is held every two or three weeks in bizarre locations. According to Kosloff, who for some time was known for wearing matching pink sweatbands on his wrists and head, this changes the hilarious show from “just another hackneyed art freak-out to just another hackneyed art freak-out in a boxing gym.” The shows last an impressive two-plus hours each, and they typically showcase the most ridiculous comedy you’ll find in New York. To get on the mailing list, send ane-mail to info@ghentmag.com.



Quiz and trivia nights



Whether you’re competing for a free keg at Fiddlesticks or a bar tab at the Crocodile Lounge, quiz nights are the perfect outlet for an inner dork who yearns to be freed. The gold standard of useless trivia is the Big Quiz Thing (bigquizthing.com), held every other Monday at the Slipper Room. Written and hosted by Noah Tarnow (who toils by day as TONY’s copy chief), it’s one of the few places where you can see cool brainiacs vie for cold, hard cash—and the occasional cookie. You’ve got to love any competition where you can earn Smart-Ass Points for a wrong answer that makes the host laugh.



The Idiotarod



Copped from a San Francisco event called the Urban Iditarod, this race assembles teams of one “musher” and four “pullers,” who lug decorated—and, typically, purloined—shopping carts through three prearranged checkpoints and on to a finish line. Teams are encouraged to sabotage each other along the way; in January, one group distributed fake flyers about a checkpoint change and actually caused several teams to be disqualified. The biggest obstacle, however, was a massive police presence that blocked parts of the route. While dodging arrest is part of the subversive fun, this year’s organizers have yet to determine the feasibility of the race in light of the potential penalties.



Dork DJ



The Dork DJ collective, led by computer programmer Jim Bishop and featuring a rotating cast (including TONY contributor Kirk Miller), takes over low-key outer-borough spots such as Magnetic Field and Union Hall once a month for a night of laptop deejaying, free pocket protectors and viewings of classic Doctor Who episodes. According to Dork resident Karen Sandler (a.k.a. DJ Punkrocklawyer), the night is for “dorks, hackers, crackers, phreaks, shoegazers, sweater-clad twee doofuses and indie-pop nerds.” Dork DJ takes place one Wednesday per month at Magnetic Field, 97 Atlantic Ave between Henry and Hicks Sts, Brooklyn Heights (718-834-0069). For updates, visit myspace.com/dorkdj.



Scrabble



Obsessed logophiles pining to amass high-value word scores fork over $12 and join fellow die-hard competitors for a weekly tournament-style version of Scrabble.  On Thursday evenings in a midtown office building, National Scrabble Association Club #56 meets for four hours of intense word battle under the leadership of 2002 NSA champion Joel Sherman. Other Scrabble clubs exist in the boroughs, but Sherman claims #56 has “traditionally been the one club that is attended by the majority and the most skilled of all the regular clubgoers in the city.” For more info, send an e-mail to Joel Sherman at icenine@panix.com.



Dorkbot NYC



The Dorkbot NYC motto is “people doing strange things with electricity.” Emphasis on the strange. Projects presented at this community’s monthly meetings (minus a summer break) are a blend of art and invention, ranging from audio remix programs to robots that perform Hedda Gabler. Founded in December 2000 by Columbia professor and self-styled electronic artist Douglas Repetto, the group consistently draws crowds of more than 100 boho tinkerers. Miraculously, Repetto estimates the gender split to be 50-50. “If someone were looking to meet a cute young dork, it’s probably a good spot,” he says. For more, go to dorkbot.org/dorkbotnyc.



The Cringe Reading Series


A lot of people kept journals when they were teenagers—and most of them would never, ever let those journals see the light of day. But on the first Wednesday of each month, a few brave souls at the Cringe Reading Series blow the dust off of these painful adolescent memories for the enjoyment of a roomful of strangers. Cofounder Sarah Brown has seen it all since the series began—letters, poems, even a rock opera. But journals, peppered with the deep, pimply shame of adolescence, are “hard to beat on the funny scale,” she says. 485 Dean St between Flatbush and Sixth Aves, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn (718-622-7035).



Partying Without Permits



The earnest youth of Thedanger.com are on a mission to foster spontaneous expression in public spaces. This loose confederation of artists, formerly known as Complacent Nation, held its kickoff event on July 29 with a party called One Night of Fire. The Promethean fete, whose location (it started in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge) was revealed only 24 hours in advance to people who signed up online, featured brass bands, stilt walkers, hula hoopers and, of course, fire-breathers. “We want to throw amazing, life-affirming parties,” spokeman Will Etundi says, “and bring liberation in this time of regulation and creative oppression.”



Kaiju Big Battel



The Boston-based Kaiju Big Battel, where costumed freaks with names like Kung-Fu Chicken Noodle, Silver Potato and Pedro Plantain duke it out live, is perfect for those who secretly envied Hulk Hogan and the WWF, or the villains in the Power Rangers. What started out as a film project, according to cocreator David Borden, has now become an event filled with fake J-pop commercials and ringside announcing, not to mention bands like Peelander-Z opening shows. See it all on a DVD coming out this fall, or on the new season of Action Blast on the G4 network, which will no doubt hold your interest until the group returns to New York. For more, go to kaiju.com.



Nerdcore


For reasons unknown, New York has become a hub of a burgeoning musical genre called nerdcore rap—an unholy cultural mash-up that presents former D&D players spitting rhymes about video games and Star Wars. The city’s leading nerdcore act is probably MC Chris, who voiced the fictional rapper MC Pee Pants on Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force. MC Frontalot, another Gotham-based nerdcore force, recently returned from a 16-stop national tour and is the subject of an upcoming documentary titled Nerdcore Rising. True to the geek ethos, most nerdcore rappers don’t sell CDs; they distribute BitTorrent tracks announced on their MySpace pages. For more, go to nerdcorehiphop.org.



—Alia Akkam, Dan Avery, Max Foxman, Dustin Goot, Kirk Miller, Mike Olson and Matt Schneiderman












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