Arts & Entertainment

Air metal: The battle in Hollywood to become LA's best air guitarist

Airosol competes in the 2008 Air Guitar championship in San Francisco. The amps will be turned up to 11 at the Viper Room in Hollywood, as air guitarists compete to be crowned the best in the world.
Airosol competes in the 2008 Air Guitar championship in San Francisco. The amps will be turned up to 11 at the Viper Room in Hollywood, as air guitarists compete to be crowned the best in the world.
Photo by Andrew Huff via Flickr Creative Commons

The Sunset Strip has been ground zero for some of L.A.'s most iconic bands. Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and Guns 'N Roses have rocked audiences in the heart of Hollywood with big hair, big sound and a lot of distortion.

This Saturday night, amps will be turned up to 11, as Slash wannabes take the stage at the Viper Room on the Strip in their quest to become the number one guitarist in the Los Angeles — air guitarist, that is.

Saturday's show in Hollywood is just one of many competitions taking place in cities around the country in the run-up to the regional events (the West Coast's will be in San Francisco). Then it's on to the U.S. championship in Portland, Oregon, this August. The triumphant air shredder will  head to the world finals in Oulu, Finland, later that month.

Tim Granlund, an "established air guitarist," helped organize the L.A. showcase. He said his air guitar career began as something fun to do, but "[once] you have your first taste of it, you know, you're hooked, and you keep coming back to do it."

He says that after several years of participating in the tournament, people he's met at air guitar competitions have become like family.

"It takes a certain kind of wiring in your brain to make you want to go on stage and pretend to play guitar," Granlund — nom de air "Six String General" — tells KPCC.

"So, all of a sudden, you're in a room with all these like-minded people, and you instantly get each other, and there's this interconnection," he said.

Like the art of the faux performance that is pro wrestling, Granlund says each competitor embodies his or her own character with a unique style. For Granlund, the inspiration was Van Halen's first (and some would say "only") frontman David Lee Roth.

"Alright, I realize he wasn't exactly a guitarist, but certainly that showmanship and the theatrics of it all — that intangible rock star quality — that's kind of where I'm coming from," Granlund said.

Competitors get judged on three criteria: technical merit, stage presence and "airness."

Airness is "the ineffable quality, that way that you take what is just getting up on stage and pretending to play guitar, and creating this whole other art form," Granlund said.

Air guitar personas range from the antagonistic anti-hero like Nordic Thunder ...

... to the dedicated performance artist like Peter Stiff Dickens, whose air axe avatar is a tenacious Guitar Center employee ...

... to pioneers like the "low budget," Hello Kitty-endorsed former world champion Sonyk-Rok.

You can root for your favorite air guitar hero Saturday at the Viper Room in Hollywood. Show starts at 9 p.m.

Tickets for the show and others around the country are available at the U.S. Air Guitar website.

Be air or be square!