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A hacked Game Boy, compliment battles, video games and Mr Blobby: the rise of UK nerdcore
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A hacked Game Boy, compliment battles, video games and Mr Blobby: the rise of UK nerdcore

We’ve had live jazz bands playing Mario Kart, and a full orchestra rendition of Sonic. But there’s a whole subgenre of video game music artists who’d happily describe their sound as even more nerdy. “Nerdcore has been around for 25 years. It’s hip-hop about nerdy subjects, predominantly video games,” says 41-year-old Nick Box from Blackpool. Box has been in all sorts of “weird silly bands” such as electronic horror punk band Hot Pink Sewage, where “all I did was dress as a gimp and push play on the backing track”. He now performs solo as Cliff Glitchard and it’s even weirder than you think.

“It’s all set against a backdrop of a ZX Spectrum running an AI clone of 90s TV presenter Noel Edmonds,” he “explains”. “The show starts with the Spectrum loading screen, then a pixelated Edmonds tells the crowd he’s responsible for every celebrity death, political decision and major disaster of the last 40 years. I run around shouting about crap celebrities and end up shagging Mr Blobby on stage.”

Box tells me that 2000s Sunderland-based nerdcore rap band BType are his main inspiration, “probably the biggest nerd rap band in the UK right now”.

Mega ran, for use with piece on Nerdcore music (c) mega ran

“There was an explosion in the early 00s of the soundscapes of video games crossed with punk rock, hip-hop and rap,” says 39-year-old Steve Brunton AKA BType. “The first game people got really excited about for its music was Final Fantasy VII, which led to remixes and covers.”

BType have covered Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Mortal Kombat and Cannon Fodder. “Each track is a love letter to the source material,” he adds. The band perform using a hacked Game Boy and live beatboxer. “I’d describe our sound as Beastie Boys working for Nintendo,” he says. Gigs attract a smörgåsbord of fans from “metal heads to the nerds and geeks you can recognise from their T-shirts. When we started, it was this huge untapped reservoir. Now, lots of people identify as fans because everyone plays video games.”

“You should really talk to Mega Ran,” he advises. “He’s a former English teacher from the US who came up rapping about Final Fantasy VII and Mega Man, and is about to open for Wheatus on their UK tour. He’s an absolute delight.”

“I’d got the second golden age of hip-hop in the early 90s when Snoop Dogg, Nas and Wu-Tang Clan dropped their seminal records,” explains 45-year-old Philadelphia-born Raheem Jarbo AKA Mega Ran over Zoom from LAX airport as he waits for his delayed flight to London. “A bunch of us said: ‘Let’s just write a song.’ But we weren’t cool kids. So we just wrote about our lives playing video games.”

Mega Ran released his first album in 2006. He quit teaching in 2011 when Capcom offered him a gig to write music for Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. “The songs are still nerdy, but the line is blurring. You can put on Kanye West and hear a reference to video games. Before, I thought no one would know my Marvel Comics references. Now, Marvel is one of the biggest franchises in the world.”

BxLxOxBxBxY1.View image in fullscreen

Mega Ran supported Wheatus in their UK tour this June, and he came on stage with the band to do a rap during Teenage Dirtbag. “There’s references to Nintendo Power, AOL, Yahoo, all the things we were doing as kids in the early 2000s,” he says.

“Have you heard of Mr B [The Gentleman Rhymer] and Professor Elemental?” he asks. “They’re big British nerdcore artists who do compliment battles where instead of disrespecting each other, they compliment each other: ‘You look so great, your haberdashery is the best.’ You should talk to them. They’re delightful.”

“I’ll be particularly pleased to get some positive press,” says 49-year-old Brighton-based Paul Alborough AKA Professor Elemental. “Ten years ago, Michael Gove mentioned he liked my music and it ended up in the Guardian. I had to get in touch to say that if he came to my show I’d have the audience hit him with sticks.”

Alborough describes his Professor Elemental character as “a mad, optimistic but wildly incompetent British eccentric explorer and inventor”. He’s performed for over a decade, including at this year’s Glastonbury, where you’d have found him in a rainbow suit and pith helmet, with chimps and lions as backing dancers.

Like Mega Ran, Professor Elemental has written music for Sega and Nintendo. If you’d like him to write you a personal song, it’s £500 a pop.

So what does he make of his nerdcore contemporaries? “Sometimes I’ll hear about someone doing, say, Mr Blobby-themed rap and think: ‘I can’t bear all this novelty rap, it’s not proper hip-hop.’ Then I remember what I do …”

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Cliff Glitchard, for use with piece on Nerdcore music.View image in fullscreen

Mr Blobby-themed rap brings us on to 39-year-old Dan Buckley, who fronts Mr Blobby-themed grindcore band BxLxOxBxBxY.

“I’m really into the meeting between music, comedy, surrealism and good-natured, wholesome weirdness,” says Buckley, of his 20 years in the biz.

BxLxOxBxBxY (pronounced “Blobby”) is an improvised stage show with a guitarist, drum machine and Buckley in “skimpy pink underwear, bow tie, painted head to toe in Bobby paint. I’ve got the build for it,” laughs Buckley, as well as – he shows me – a tattoo on his thigh of Blobby lying in a martini glass, which “went viral on TikTok”.

“I just scream the word Blobby into the microphone over and over,” he says. “It’s very chaotic, which channels the energy of Blobby. You don’t want to wear out the joke.” Sets only last 10 minutes. I ask why Mr Blobby is in fashion. “I think the moving wave of nostalgia has just caught up with the 90s,” he reasons. (The actual Mr Blobby joined Self Esteem on stage in Hammersmith in 2023, and was reunited with Edmonds in June this year on Good Morning Britain.)

Buckley organised and appeared at alternative festival Hoersfest in York this March. Also on the bill were rave punk band the Petrol Hoers – also Buckley, but dressed in a horse mask – Cliff Glitchard, BType, and perhaps the most intricately specific piece of video game nerdcore ever: a live reading of the script from 1997 PC game Theme Hospital, by original voice actor Sarah Green.

She treats me to a demonstration.

“Staff announcement, staff announcement. Patient with bloating head disease …”

How did she get that job?

BType, who perform with a hacked GameBoy.View image in fullscreen

“I’d trained as an actor and was living with a house full of animators, one of whom was working on Theme Hospital,” she says. “I was doing voiceovers for ‘Have you been involved an accident?’-type adverts. I sent in my reel and they hired me … There’s only one voice in the game and it’s mine: I play the receptionist who guides the player around the game.”

Green has only performed her Theme Hospital set a handful of times. Sets are kept to about 10 minutes. “Nobody would want to listen to me for a whole night,” she laughs. “It’s a nostalgia trick, isn’t it? People were teenagers in the 90s when Theme Hospital came out. Now they’re in their 40s. It’s sweet how much they enjoy that nostalgia of hearing my voice. But you do get younger people, because their dad played it.”

When did she last play Theme Hospital? “Never. I’m rubbish at computer games, although I did like Wipeout.” Green was hired to voice the mum in never-released follow-up, Theme Resort. She is now a voice coach to students at a local university, and also a playwright, having finished a version of Doctor Faustus and another play about a young, autistic standup comedian.

Does she get recognised from her role in Theme Hospital, I ask? “Maybe someone will ask me for a photo or to record a birthday message,” she says. “I’m not on Tik-Tok, but a video of me doing Theme Hospital has got more than 450,000 views. A few people have stopped me in the Co-op and said: ‘Are you the lady off TikTok?’ So that’s been quite funny.”

Source: theguardian.com