Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Central Report

the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of any of the other Anime Hell participants or organizations.

Last May in Chicago we were at ANIME CENTRAL and on Friday night we ran the CENTRAL HELLFEST for the, what, fifth year now? I had a big list of stuff to show and lots of tapes and DVDs and stuff, and it pretty much all went out the window, because the whole thing started so late.

Apparently the Japanese band showed up late for their sound check, and that made the other events in the room late, and that made the Japanese band's gig late, and they played their entire set, and then SWEK, a band made up of American anime fans, played THEIR entire set, and by the time they were off the stage and the equipment had been moved off the stage and the chairs had been set back up and the projector had been put back in place and all the VCRs and soundboards had been rewired, well, it was time for people to start asking me when MIDNIGHT MADNESS was going to start. Literally, I was supposed to go on at 9 and instead I went on after 11.

Three times during their "performance" I went to SWEK, or people lounging around the stage fingering their instruments anyway, asking when their set was going to end. Three times nobody could tell me. THAT'S PROFESSIONALISM, GUYS. Not only was there nobody -no events director, no room manager, no MC - with the authority to get these people off the stage, there was no desire on the part of SWEK to do anything but play their entire set, including encores, to a thinning audience of their friends and roommates. This may have something to do with the fact that SWEK is made up of people on Anime Central staff, and henceforth with the power to play as long as they damn well please. This may also have something to do with the fact that at the 2003 Central, when SWEK ALSO went over their time slot, I was hollering at them to get their untalented asses off the stage, so they probably have every incentive to make things as difficult for me as possible.

The real problem is, of course, that you have 100 people INSIDE the room listening to SWEK, and you have 1000 (count 'em, one thousand) people OUTSIDE the room standing around for two solid hours waiting for Hell to start. Now, do the math, what's larger, 100 or 1000?

Regardless of their ability to stall Hell, I'd like at this juncture to just come right out and say it. SWEK stinks. I can't say whether the band itself is untalented or the sound reproduction in the main events room is bad, but for whatever reason, they are not an entertaining listening experience, and I speak as someone who has seen arena rock shows, club venues, outdoor festivals, house parties, and bands set up and play entertaining sets in hotel lobbies. SWEK is a lousy act. They sound like vegetable soup. Either they don't have the talent to supercede inferior equipment, or they don't know what they sound like, or they know what they sound like and don't care. Whatever; they aren't entertaining.

It's a waste of Central's time and resources to allow SWEK access to the room, the equipment, and the booking time slot. They're not worth it. It's an even BIGGER slap in the face when SWEK is allowed to noodle on and on while hundreds of cash-paying badge-holding Anime Central customers cool their heels waiting for the next event. I saw a constant stream of people wander into the main events room, stand with their fingers in their ears, shouting questions to each other as to when this lousy band was going to get off the stage, and then ultimately give up and go outside again, where it wasn't so noisy.

It's easy enough for me to bitch and complain on my own account; I hauled most of my crap 800 miles, I scheduled my entire Friday at Central around the fact that I needed to be in the main events room at 8:30 so I could be ready to do Hell on time, and all this went out the window because musicians won't dare trim a moment from their vitally important musical endeavours (I blame both the Japanese band and SWEK for this). But I was invited to Central and knew that this sort of thing is endemic to conventions, and I can handle it. What really pisses me off was seeing the lobby jam-packed with people who were essentially being told "We don't care what you want, we're going to ROCK AND ROLL ALL NIGHT, BADLY."

What's even worse is that Ryan has to go on after me, and he really DOES have an all-night slot. Every hour I delay means an hour Ryan delays, which means an hour Ryan doesn't get to sleep because unlike you or me, Ryan actually has to get up on Saturday morning and do Acen work. Not to mention the hundreds of people who will also stay up all night for Midnight Madness. It's disrespect to all of us, is what it is.

I don't mean to criticize Central or any of the people who were so helpful and instrumental in getting me there, like Issac and Ryan. But you need to have somebody in that room with the authority to start kicking people off the stage when they run long, and that includes Japanese bands, American bands, anybody. I'm a guest at Central (meaning they asked me to come, not that I have "guest" status. Nobody ever paid to come to a con because they heard "Dave Merrill" was going to be there) and I didn't feel I had the right to go backstage and start yanking plugs. Next year will be different; I make no promises as to my behavior. I played the nice guy this year and it turned out to be a bad decision, so look out. There are one thousand people waiting in the hall who will back my shit up.

So Hell finally got started, and then we had more equipment problems, and out of a three-hour slot I managed to show maybe 90 mintues worth of material, to an audience that was increasingly clamoring for Midnight Madness, since it was long past midnight. Ryan got to start around 1:30 and I hauled my stuff upstairs and tried to go to sleep, and then around 3:00 I realized that I'd left my Heino autobiography in the main events room, so I had to go back down there and secure it. Ryan's DVDs went well and made things a lot simpler, even though the time lag involved in hitting stop, ejecting DVD, inserting DVD 2, watching it spin up, selecting menu, selecting feature tends to eat away at the rhythm. And you have to be very careful to not let the menu show on the main screen, because then everybody knows what they're about to see, and that's just not good. I guess the wave of the future is 2 DVD decks along with the 2 VHS machines and the cuing deck.

Some of the material went over well, some of it didn't, and a lot of stuff I didn't even get to show, so we'll find out at AWA whether it's crowd-pleasing or not.


Unknown said...

I found that Gavv's DVDs worked pretty good at AnimeFEST. I cued up Heino on my Discman 3 Portable DVD Player and paused it while showing Farting Evangelist from the VHS deck. When the Tilton segment finished I stopped the tape and hit play on the DVD. The only drawback was I started with the THAT'S IRRITAINMENT Heino which continued into something else that wasn't Heino (some guy in a toga?) so everybody got to see the menu when I selected the new techo Heino (VERY COOL, you roxxor Gavv!) but otherwise it worked pretty well.

Unknown said...

Just found the SWEK website:

Doesn't look like they've updated since before ACen2004. Is it me or do they only play cons?

Anonymous said...

Well, of COURSE they only play cons! (More precisely, cons where one or more are staff at). If you expected them to play REAL venues, then clearly you've never heard them "perform".


Unknown said...

Wait a this the same band that held up Central HELLfest in 2003, too? Did they have a different name then?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that was them. They ALSO held up the start of Hell at Sugoicon the year before THAT. This is why I don't feel guilty dissing them; if I thought they were nice people it'd be one thing but they seem to have serious delusions of rockstardom and thus think it's okay to drag out their sets and delay the rest of the programming, because they're OH SO IMPORTANT.


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Hey, considering all of SWEK's past inconsiderations, I wouldn't blame Dave if he pulled the plug on them in the future.

Daryl Surat said...

"Nobody ever paid to come to a con because they heard "Dave Merrill" was going to be there."

LIES. As soon as it's economically feasible, I intend to start attending ACen so that I may see the almighty Merrill power in action more than once a year!

Jeez, 1000 people. That's higher than the total attendance numbers for some Florida anime cons (about 2/3 the attendance of the larger ones).

Anonymous said...

This is Dave, as Blogger won't let me log in.

SWEK played before Hell at Central '03, and I believe they played before Hell at Central '02, and I think they went on before Hell at Sugoicon '02, and they may have delayed things every time, but you can't blame it all on them.

Con schedulers need to realize that live acts need a half-hour to set up and a half-hour to take down, and that's with paid roadies doing the work. Things take longer with amateurs.

Whether or not live musical acts are suitable for anime conventions is a debate for another time. What's pertinent is that (a) time is scheduled into the day to allow for setup and takedown, and (b) all events work together to keep delays from getting out of hand. That means that everybody should trim their events, not just me.

Anonymous said...

Alright. Obviously no one noticed that the entire Live Programming schedule was trashed because of S... SID! It was not SWEk that caused the problem. If you wish to point the finger of blame then look to what actually happened. I am sorry that you didn't like the band. That is your choice. But to blame US (yes.. us as in SWEk) is not fair because we got started 2 hours late. If you have any comments or flames feel free to bitch at me. email: And also for the record, we play other places that I am not on staff at. I am the only member of SWEk that is on staff.

SWEK Bassist.

Anonymous said...

Note: yes, I am on ACen's management team. But I have little to do with LP, so this is my somewhat-sorta-inside and completely unofficial opinion.To be fair, the entire reason that SWEK went on late is because SID was horribly, horribly late. It's not really their call when to end things, and as long as nobody's telling them differently, they have every right to stay on stage for their allotted time.

Was it fair that Anime Hell got pushed back? No. Was it fair that SWEK was also delayed? Nope. But the best thing we can do is act in a mature and responsible fashion to correct this sort of problem in the future. I'm assuming you've already brought this to Isaac's attention? ACen can't fix problems without the input of those it affects most.

As for why SWEK has a prime spot logistically, well, it makes better sense than setting up the sophisticated A/V equipment a band like SID or SWEK needs, only to tear it down and then put it back up again later. Also, ACen doesn't have the space or resources to host a live show that large anywhere other than main programming, especially given the expensive equipment bands require.

In any case, SWEK is very similar to Anime Hell in that it's a fan-run, fan-fueled event that is popular with a lot of people. I've only been to half a SWEK show and never been to Anime Hell, so I can't agree or disagree with your particular opinions. But I do know that they have fully as much right as you do to put on a show, and hopefully LP staff can correct many of the issues you mention so that this year nobody ends up getting shorted. I do know that some problems have already been taken care of.

Julie Lindsey
ACen Production Director

d.merrill said...

The point isn't that SWEK sounds terrible and isn't a tenth as popular as Anime Hell, even though this is the truth. The point is that I was forced to cut my show in half, while SWEK was not forced to sacrifice anything. The point is that one event suffered at the hands of another event, and while the cash paying customers of Central were inconvenienced, the staff doesn't seem to care.

YES, I KNOW IT WAS SID'S FAULT. That's not the issue. The issue is that instead of acting with consideration for the other events on the schedule, SWEK acted as if nothing had happened, as if the other events waiting to go on could just wait all night while they wrung every last tortured note out of their poor, abused instruments, as if hundreds of people weren't milling out in the hallway asking when the hell that band wasn't going to get off the stage. Central is also at fault, for failing to have anybody in the main events room with a wristwatch and the authority to tell SWEK that there are other events waiting to go on so they'd better wrap things up. It's not rocket science here, people.

You'll pardon my criticism of SWEK's musical ability. I've been seeing live acts for twenty years and I gotta tell you, SWEK sounds pretty bad. Of course the sound systems you get at anime cons aren't anywhere near the quality needed for decent sound quality at a professional live gig, so who knows? It may just be the P.A.