- Hardly highfalutin': Philadelphia's Statas rocks the crowd at On Gallery, winning the 2006 Galactic AssDragon Classic.
In Pittsburgh -- still a rock 'n' roll town at heart -- many who have attended an event featuring a performer with a laptop computer have probably felt decidedly underwhelmed. Either they've mistaken the musician for being a mere "DJ" (thus missing the creative aspect of live electronic music) or they've been less than impressed by the anti-spectacle of a geek who looks like he's checking his e-mail onstage, and whose demeanor is about as exciting as watching paint dry.
Those people haven't been to a Galactic AssDragon Classic. Started five years ago at a house party by Dave Crimm, the AssDragon became the antidote to austere laptop battles, events which began popping up around the country as the software for live performance became more powerful and accessible.
"I think these [events] were a natural extension of battles of the bands, or DJ contests," says Crimm, who performs electronic music under the name 8Cylinder, and is proprietor of Thac0 Records. "But when I went and saw what was going on at them, I was really disappointed. It was high-falutin', chin-scratching, glitchy IDM stuff, a little bit academic, and not really engaging the crowd. I wanted to do something that was the opposite of that, where people try to get the crowd going, getting everyone wound up, and it's more of a party."
Nowadays, computers offer possibilities to perform electronic music in a live context that were unthinkable just a few years ago. Many budding Aphex Twins use a program called Ableton Live.
"They buy it or they crack a copy," says Crimm. "But there are so many alternatives. You can use Cubase, or freeware open-source DAWs [digital audio workstations], or even GarageBand and Audio Mulch. There's also a large spectrum of what people prepare ahead of time. Some will make all their stuff up totally on the spot, and others will have their entire set planned out. There's no restriction either way."
But if you're looking for Top 40 mash-ups -- a la the instant booty-gratification of Girl Talk -- you won't get them at the AssDragon.
"In this battle, things tend towards the breakcore, hardcore and gabber," Crimm continues, "maybe some drum 'n' bass or techno. It's mostly beat-oriented dance music, but aggressive and on the harder side of things."
Like any good contest, there's a panel of judges -- no, not Randy, Simon and Paula, but rather Crimm, Greg Trash (who runs the Akron-based No Room for Talent label), and a mystery guest to be unveiled that evening. The top four performers move on to the second round; two then face off in the final struggle. The champion not only gets a trophy and bragging rights, but also a 7-inch single pressed by No Room for Talent (funded by the door proceeds).
The contest has already drawn more than 20 entrants from several states -- Detroit's Deepwinter and System of Adon plan to participate, as do local stalwarts Tusk Lord, Jordan Decay, Cutups, Doverspike (of the L337 ravers) and Cloned Beef Lukemia (of Technoir). But the list is by no means closed. Crimm hopes more musicians will show up unannounced, much like they would at an acoustic open stage on the South Side.
"Since there's no headliner and this not a proper show, a lot of people come out of the woodwork who are bedroom producers," Crimm says. "There's a network of people into electronic music trying to do more of the harsher stuff, and some of them I only know over the Internet. But after each AssDragon, I start to see some of them all the time, which is pretty cool.
"I want them to give it a shot. They only have to make 10 minutes of material, and the only rule is that everyone gets to play. It's a relaxed atmosphere, so bring out what you've got -- you have nothing to lose."
Galactic AssDragon Classic. 9 p.m. Fri., Feb 15. Belvedere's, 4016 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $3 (free for entrants). 412-687-2555