Nerdcore Rising is a reverie, a self-aware and unabashedly dorky celebration of a musical genre and its godfather — both of which seem refreshingly incapable of taking themselves too seriously. In the spring and summer of 2006, director Negin Farsad and her modest crew followed MC Frontalot (Damian Hess) on his first national tour, as he and his band attempted to take the country by storm. Farsad was given almost unlimited access to the group’s lives while on tour, capturing them as they waxed philosophical about high school alienation and the tribulations of self-producing albums between kicking out jams that glorified algorithms and performed anthems about downloading PRON off the internets.
Launching the tour in New York City and stopping at small venues throughout the Southeast, the boys play their hearts out to relatively meager crowds, tackling the challenges presented by Frontalot’s chronic back pain. His backing band consists of three friends, Gminor7, Blak Lotus, and The SturGENiUS. The self-deprecation evident in their nomes de plumes is made excruciatingly real by both their shyness and the disbelief they display when confronted with their budding legion of fans. Farsad and her crew perfectly capture the mood of the individuals in MC Frontalot’s act, drawing us into their story, entreating us to join them as they revel in their painfully obvious nerddom — their pre-show warmup, for example, is a competition to see who can most clearly resemble Chewbacca’s mating call.
The most hilarious scene in Nerdcore Rising takes place when Gminor7, the group’s keyboardist and beat programmer, realizes he’s left his midi at their last tour stop. In a stroke of genius, Frontalot suggests they inquire about the return policy of an unnamed big-box musical equipment store, and voila: with the new equipment in hand, the band plays to one their biggest crowds yet — roughly 50 people. The next day they reclaim their money and are on their merry way. The feigned badassery of everyone involved evokes images of the demise of that poor printer in Office Space. MC Frontalot’s maiden voyage finally culminates with a gig at the third annual Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, the boys flabbergasted at the number of fans waiting to see them perform.
Farsad allows MC Frontalot and his cadre to show us just how likable they are, providing along the way an accurate if a bit adoring history of nerdcore hip-hop (when Frontalot is asked to give a definition of the genre on an FM Radio interview, he replies, in the most perfect Fred Willard dead-pan, “Well, it’s a lot like hip-hop with the word ‘nerdcore’ in front of it”). By the film’s end, we come to understand that MC Frontalot is largely credited with starting the genre around 1999 by participating in online song competitions such as Song Fight! His entries to these competitions infused classic hip-hop rhythms with notes from math- and prog-rock, over which he would spit rhymes about gangsta shit like the Fibonacci Sequence.
The audience’s reaction to MC Frontalot’s compositions and lyrics are intriguing, taking into account the way in which he jettisons any remnant of stereotypical hip-hop bravado and self-promotion. In fact, in one of his early efforts, the song “Braggadocio,” Frontalot lampoons the idea of "being hard." It's also interesting to note that one of the audience members interviewed after a show considered the very idea of nerdcore hip-hop racist, something akin to the blackfaced minstrel shows of the past.
With the added benefit of interviews with artists like Prince Paul, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and Jello Biafra, Nerdcore Rising serves as an entertaining yet fluffy documentary about one of the most laughably interesting forms of musical expression in the West.