The 16 Most Gloriously Nerdy Musical Acts of All Time

By Chris Cummins in Daily Lists, Nerdery
Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 8:05 am
nerdiest musical gwar.jpg
Rock stars are perceived by most as being the coolest of all celebrities. So what happens when a popular musician also turns out to be a, gasp, nerd? In our post-Guitar Hero times this is increasingly more often the case. No longer is the mantra that "nerds do it better" strictly applicable to bedroom prowess. Geeks can rock out pretty damn fine as well, and not just while drunk playing videogames. History has proven nerds have been making waves on the pop charts since the birth of rock and roll -- from Buddy Holly to Biz Markie. Every now and again a group or individual performer comes along whose gimmick, left-of-center approach to music or dedication to creating decidedly non-mainstream material gains attention amongst kindred spirits. Here are 16 of those types of musical acts. Some are superstars, others are obscure curiosities. Yet they are all united by a love of music and a nerdy ethos that is either worn like a badge of honor or kept just beneath the surface, ready to emerge like a phoenix of awkwardness.

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16) Matthew Sweet
Throughout the course of his deservedly lengthy career, Matthew Sweet has crafted songs of romantic despair and desire that any lovelorn nerd can relate to. Better still, he's covered the themes to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Speed Racer, and his early videos featured footage from anime films. (Just check out the above clip). But what really proves that he is one of us is his tattoo of Urusei Yatsura's Lum  -- the same character that Topless Robot main man Rob Bricken has permanently inked on his person.

15) Ben Folds
Whether transforming Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" into a romantic ballad, extolling the virtues of a cappella vocal groups or recording with good pal William Shatner, Folds is always making his brand of piano-based nerdiness seem cool to frat boys and indie rock snobs alike.

14) Stovokor
If you saw Trekkies 2, you probably remember Stovokor -- the world's most popular Klingon death metal band. Again, they are a death metal band. Consisting of dudes in Klingon outfits. Who sing entirely in Klingonese. Let that sink in for a moment. Now before you go and mock them, remember that bat'leth strikes are really fucking painful.

13) Gwar
Do Gwar really need an introduction at this point? For 25 years the costumed rockers have been bringing mayhem (and plenty of mysterious fluids) to audiences around the world. The fact that the group have achieved mainstream success is baffling and more than just a little impressive. As the above clip proves, even people in the heartland find latex-clad anarchists with Lovecraftian tendencies lovable.

12) Devo
Devo scared the shit out me when I was growing up. So you can imagine that the "Whip It" video, what with its weird hats and mashed potatoes, was akin to my worst nightmare. As the years have gone on and kid fears have dropped away, I've come to recognize Devo for what they truly are: Harmless nerds who make music for other harmless nerds. Bonus points go to frontman Mark Mothersbaugh for his amazing art lessons on Yo Gabba Gabba!

11) Volume
Part of the downside of being a genre cover band is that there's not much career longevity. Like The Beach Balls (1980s songs done in an operatic style) and The Nick Atoms (garage rock covers of sci-fi and TV themes) before them, Winnipeg's Volume were masters of esoteric nerd rock who faded away all too soon. The group's sole release was 2002's The Amazing Spider-Band, a nine song EP that featured re-recordings of the jazzy music cues from the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon. The instrumentals featured on the series were a mixture of stock music and original works created by jazz great Ray Ellis. Having given up hope for an official soundtrack release, Volume set out to record their own versions of the series' most recognizable melodies. From the opening theme to the incidental music that played whenever Spidey went web-slinging, the quartet brought these fondly remembered tunes back to life -- albeit with a slightly harder edge. Even more impressive was that they did so with the blessing of Ray Ellis himself. These days, the CD is now long out of print, Ellis is dead and there's still no hope that the complete original Spidey music will ever get the CD release it deserves. The world is a cruel place. Oddly enough, Volume isn't Canada's only Spider-Man cover band. The Alberta-based Mole City released a medley of songs from the toon in 2000 called Swing and Dig it. That too is impossible to track down. Sorry.

10) MC Frontalot
If Tiger Beat was geared towards fans of videogame references and hip-hop, MC Frontalot would be the publication's Justin Bieber. Once an unassuming musician named Damian Hess, the rapper has become the face of the nerdcore movement -- which is convenient since he coined the phrase. By infusing humor with geekcentric subject matter, Frontalot creates music that is fun and packed with smart rhymes that rival those of his peers in the mainstream hip-hop world. Let's hear Eminem try to fit the words "300 baud" into one of his raps and not sound ridiculous.

9) Kraftwerk
Germany's Kraftwerk have often been mocked for their cold, mechanical sound (the most notable example being The Big Lebowski's nihilist band, Autobahn). Yet beyond their carefully constructed image and robotic vocals lies an innate desire for human connection. As heard above, 1981's "Computer Love" is a commentary on how technology can increase loneliness -- something that anyone with hundreds of Facebook friends yet no one to spend a Saturday with can relate to. Creating eerily prescient predictions of the perils of online dating is one thing, but Kraftwerk really established themselves as nerd icons with the release of a ditty called "Pocket Calculator." Guess what it's about.

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