Air Guitar: From Bedroom to World Stage!

Jun 02, 2008

Guess I need to get out more! But, of course, there are many who say that people who devote hours to perfecting pretend-guitar need to get out more, too!

Quick! What pops into your head after you hear the name “Finland”?

Half a year’s worth of nightfall at a stretch? Not-so-gentle Arctic breezes? Nokia cell technology? Finlandia vodka? Hockey and auto-racing standouts competing across the globe? Personal names that have an unparalleled number of “k”s in them?

Well, here’s something truly quirky to add to the list: Finland is the mothership for all serious competitive air guitarists!

Yes, this Nordic nation has, since 1996, hosted the World Air Guitar Championship Contest as part of a larger annual music festival.

The contest has placed the swingin’ Finnish city of Oulu on the map, and every year at summer’s end, the world’s top invisible-guitar metalheads and rockstar wannabees descend upon Oulu to battle it out for gold, silver, and bronze honors.

Guess I need to get out more! But, of course, there are many who say that people who devote hours to perfecting pretend-guitar need to get out more! I might have been tempted to join the critics, except that I did a little reading up on the subject, and I came to the following conclusion: that serious air guitar performance seems to derive from essentially the same origins as the ancient art of mime.

So if we’re not yet ready to shoot all the mimes (and in this, I do realize I am speaking only for myself) then we might want to spare the competitive air guitarists as well, for the time being.

Of course there’s a vast difference between the precise stories being told in traditional mime and those being told in air guitar, and also a difference in the devices used to tell these dissimilar stories. In mime, the performer is creating a physical world, and showcasing a set of circumstances, emotions, and outcomes that take shape within that world.

With air guitar, as far as I can tell, the performer is taking on a persona—or perhaps revealing one—and refining “instrumental technique” and overall delivery to express the essence of a certain kind of musical experience—specifically, the metal or rock experience. “Living the dream,” is how some describe their high-energy, intensely acrobatic adventures onstage.

What’s that whole top-level air guitar scene like, though? What drives people to fund a trip to the frigid peak of the globe to display their imaginary “chops” before the howling international masses?

Also, just how do you compete in a guitar battle without a guitar? If not musicianship, then what are the judges looking for? Are there cash prizes at stake? Groupie-laden world tours? TV and movie contracts?  Is anybody actually making a career of this strange pursuit?

Is there a “greater purpose” to the Oulu competition, or is this all just some sort of colossal, beer-fueled put-on, along the lines of The Emperor’s New Clothes?

Next time, we’ll look at some of the giants of air guitar (indeed!) for the answers to these questions and more!

Meanwhile, you can study these guys while working up your own act!

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