Three Days at A-Kon 23: J-Pop, Boy Bands, Grown Men with Pacifiers
See also: The fans of A-Kon.
Catherine Downes The ladies of A-Kon
I don't really know why I asked to cover A-Kon, the annual anime convention in Dallas, other than I support like-minded people coming together to share a common passion, the exception being those who burn crosses and wear red arm bands. I had no idea what to expect from a convention centered around a medium that's literally foreign to me.
The little I do know about anime was gleaned from one fall in the early Aughts when Dragon Ball Z crossed over into the mainstream, and various things I've picked up from being a fan of the rather brilliant SNL J-Pop skits. But last week, an email popped up about the fest. After perusing the site, I noticed the programming had a pretty strong musical bent, so I sent an email to Audra and after a quick back and forth my weekend was planned. I was left to wonder what the hell J-/K-Pop really was, and if Peelander-Z was close enough.
As I made my way to the Sheraton in downtown Dallas, I had little idea what to expect. I assumed there would be hordes of costumed individuals and even larger hordes of general fans converging on a few conference rooms to swap memorabilia and talk about their favorite shows or movies.
I was so unbelievably wrong.
South Pearl Street was awash with costumed convention-goers, a sea of colors grabbing my attention as I tried to cross the street. One girl dressed in little more than day-glo netting, a bikini top and barely-there shorts almost caused my death as she sauntered across the street. By the time I make it to the press check-in, I've already seen several dozen people in cat ears, at least four middle-aged men in baby doll dresses and more school girl outfits than I saw throughout my entire Catholic upbringing.
My press contact is a friendly guy named Lee, who can't be older than 23 and is wearing a set of blue fairy wings, or maybe they're Brony wings, I can't tell. After a quick greeting, I'm banded, given a map and a schedule and told they're expecting more than 22,000 people through the weekend. The entire 39 floors of the Sheraton are occupied, and there is spillage over to the Marriott across the street.
It's decided by what I assume is a festival higher-up that Lee will give me a quick tour around the main rooms and get me to my destination: the Music for Nerds panel. Lee quickly leads me to an elevator, making sure to point out where the festival worker elevators and staircases were, and making it a point to let me know that with some coaxing, I should be able to use them.
We arrive on the second floor, where there are massive rooms for video screenings, a first aid center, multiple bathrooms and a room where con-goers can enjoy delicacies like Domino's Pizza. As we trek across a skywalk, Lee points out that the escalators are all turned off. There was an issue with them breaking down in previous years, so the hassle of a repair job has just been eliminated. We arrive in the main hall and are greeted by what must be hundreds if not thousands of con-goers of all shapes, sizes, genders, non-genders and dress. Lee points out that the music panel is on the third floor and I'm off to join the discussion.
I arrive midway through to find about thirty or so people listening to the panelist, a woman named Beth, talk about Auto-tune. Beth is in a Nashville-based band that goes by the name Absinthe Junk, and their website features the sort of swooshing font choices bands made around the time nu-metal became popular.
Beth does not like Auto-tune, but is resigned to the fact that it is a necessary evil of modern music. She also seems to take issue with pop stars lip syncing, though she understands the choice. These points are well worn and we're not breaking any new ground by rehashing them. It was, however, enlightening to hear Beth heap praise on Pink for daring to sing during her shows.
The discussion bounces from the lack of philosophy in today's music to how disposable lyrics are. A few people take time to attack current chart-topper Gotye, noting that they liked the song when they first heard it, but now considered it watered down from overplay. The Internet from four months ago wholeheartedly agrees.
After Gotye is sacrificed at the alter of mainstream success, a young lady dressed in a frilled dress goes for the throat and says Radiohead is a band that everyone claims "to love but never listens to." She goes on to say this will never allow them to be mainstream, and adds that we need to champion bands that have made their own way in the music business, like Matt & Kim.
I'm rather shocked when UGK comes up in conversation, but that's not enough to keep me in the room. I raise my hand and point out that Radiohead selling out arenas is awfully mainstream, and that Matt & Kim have been under sponsorship since their Colt 45 tour. I exit the room determined to apologize to every poor soul who's had to listen to me bitch about music in the past ten years.
As I make my way to my car, I share a quick conversation with a Dallas police officer who seems even further out of his element. I snag a picture of a guy dressed as a mix between Sisqó and Blade. Unleash the Dragon kids.