Air guitaring wins over audience members with its spontaneity, writes Anand Holla
Of all its spread of cool games and quick thrills including a shot at bungee jumping, the biggest crowd-puller at the Twenty-Four Fun Zone was spun literally out of thin air.
At a chirpy pop-up venue beside the Doha Golf Club, people thronged through two weeks to replenish their fill of art, fun and sport. However, it was the US Air Guitar All-Stars (USAG), who were roped in towards the latter part of the event, that stole the show, night after night.
For the uninitiated, air guitaring is essentially a person rocking out to an imaginary guitar – an act that’s more of an instinctual response to the pure joy of listening to good, solid music (usually rock or metal).
Three air guitar pros, Andrew Litz (whose stage name is William Ocean), Justin Howard (Nordic Thunder), and Matt Burns (Airistotle) were down in Doha and they sure got the crowd air-headbanging along. All three have triumphed the ultimate battles of “airness” by clinching the US Air Guitar Championships – Burns in 2012 and 2014, Howard in 2011, and Litz in 2007 and 2009. Howard has also won the World Championships in Finland.
“For 60 seconds, you go up on stage, get to be whoever you want to be, and get to do whatever you want to do,” Burns says, as the trio hang out by the stage after setting off another night of mayhem, “And all through, people are cheering for you. There’s no negativity in air guitar.”
Marked by exaggerated strumming patterns, facial contortions and even lip-synching to match, an air guitar performance is all about putting your liberated self out there. “For me, air guitar is like an addiction. It’s just the most fun performance art. I love being on stage and seeing people go all crazy. It feels great to just embody the music and get lost in it,” Burns adds.
At the Fun Zone stage, Litz, Howard and Burns would first belt out their air guitar performance to some pounding music and a screaming audience. Next, they would have three volunteers from the crowd come up on stage and jam out on air guitars for a minute each. The winner, decided by crowd approval, would pocket a stay at a suite in W Doha. The show would end with the whole audience joining in a collective air guitar performance.
“The best part for me,” says Howard, “is to see people here, who may not normally get to have this type of boundless fun or release their pent-up feelings, let their true colours show. To be part of that and to encourage that is priceless.”
Litz, too, found most joy in this. “Every night, at the end of the show, when we invited everybody up to the stage or in front to play along with us, people would have the time of their lives,” he says.
Burns points out that one doesn’t need to know to play the guitar to be awesome at air guitar. “It’s silly and ridiculous but it’s so much fun. The difference is you can spend years and years learning to play the guitar and you can spend five minutes listening to your favourite song and jamming out on air guitar,” he says.
At air guitar competitions, one is judged on technical merit (how real the performance looks), mimesmanship (how convincing is the illusion of an invisible guitar), stage presence, and that inexplicable element called airness.
Defined as “the extent to which a performance transcends the imitation of a real guitar and becomes an art form in and of itself,” airness measures whether the performance itself was a work of art, and not just a simulation of playing guitar.
“I am not a musician and I don’t know to play the guitar. But I love music, listen to it all the time, feel it, and embody it,” Litz says. Just to get better at air guitar, Burns started learning the six-string. “Once I learnt the guitar, perhaps I transferred more authenticity to my air guitaring,” he shares.
But don’t they ever feel like they are not playing a real instrument? Howard, who by his own admission is like a giant teddy bear and not the ferocious death metal guitarist he becomes on stage, says, “If I believe what I am doing – which is putting on a show and projecting all the positivity and love amongst the crowd – then it’s impossible for the audience to not believe that as well. Air guitaring is an exchange of good positive vibes.” Burns adds, “We convince ourselves, and therefore, convince everybody else.”
The trio admit to being pleasantly surprised by the warmth of people here in Qatar. “We have travelled a lot and have had wonderful air guitar experiences, but Qatar has been incredibly unique, fun and memorable,” says Litz. Howard adds, “Everybody is so welcoming and embracing here. And it’s so much fun seeing people have so much fun.”
To give a sense of how air guitar’s official debut in Qatar touched a lot of people, Howard shares an anecdote: “After our show, a gentleman walked up to us and looked into my eyes and said with utmost seriousness: ‘This is the first time in my life that I have ever had such fun. Thank you for doing this.’ I almost wanted to cry. To be part of something that allows people to have fun, even if only for a night, is very special.”
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