By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
It also helped reinvent his life.
Sitting inside his cozy office, a recent addition to the Mesa home Simon shares with his wife, Darby, and their three children, this implementation analyst for a local staffing company ("It's as boring as it sounds") describes how Lightning Octopus transformed him from a cubicle drone and reclusive homebody into a nerd about town.
A trip to Phoenix Comicon on a lark opened Simon's eyes to the Valley's vast geek scene and provided the impetus for the blog he'd been itching to create. Nights spent watching TiVo gave way to unforgettable experiences with hackers, cosplayers, monsterologists, and zombie hunters, often with his family in tow.
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Much as he did, Simon implores others to pull a Luke Skywalker and ditch the homestead in search of adventure.
"I've become an evangelist of opening your door and seeing what's going on right in your neighborhood," he says. "I was super-blind to it, to all this stuff to explore here, stuff I never would've done before."
Like hanging with R2-D2 at Tempe's Geeks Night Out, riding in a DeLorean during KAET's Nerd Walk, or other activities that would've made his younger self insanely jealous. Star Wars and Back to the Future were beloved to this child of the '80s, who preferred science and spaceships over sports while growing up "on the mean streets of Sandy, Utah."
Simon has reduced his blogging recently due to increased parental responsibilities (including another baby on the way), but makes time for Lightning Octopus' newest feature, the aptly named Electric CephaloPodcast. It debuted in February after web developer/graphic designer Austin Baker and Chris Dodson, a network engineer, approached him about a podcast emphasizing homegrown geekery.
"It was a match made in heaven. Austin had the microphone, Chris is good at editing audio, and I had the blog," Simon says. "Basically, we're all geeks who have fun chit-chatting about nerdy stuff."
Currently one of the few Valley-centric geek podcasts of its kind, each episode is a blast of breezy, brainy fun. Listeners feel a part of some laid-back conversation among old friends, where the topics are purely geek and meander between the silly (Simon discovering a half-eaten PowerBar with a wrapper featuring Eureka star Colin Ferguson at Phoenix Comicon) and the cerebral (recapping ASU's mind-bending "Storytelling of Science" panel).
Local guests occasionally "come on and nerd out" about their passions (like Valley improv comedian and soda geek Preston Smith, who shared his favorite Phoenix spots to perform or enjoy gourmet pop) or gush about choice books, movies, or comics.
The members of Man-Cat are a secretive bunch. They won't disclose their names or ages and refuse to remove the matching plastic tiger masks that cover their faces.
Anonymity is vital to Man-Cat, helping reinforce its edict that "identity is irrelevant" and avoiding reprisals from the targets of a series of culture-jamming stunts, gleeful pranks, and other guerrilla-like activities they've dubbed "projects."
The Phoenix-based music and art collective boasts countercultural DNA hewn from bits of Anonymous,
Adbusters, and the Occupy movement, with heaping handfuls of Fight Club's Project Mayhem and Negativland thrown in for good measure. It makes for one of the more unique bands in ages to storm the occasionally milquetoast Phoenix scene.
The group's site (mancatmancat.com) claims they are both "thieves of intellectual property" and "ruthless garbage disposals of pop." Its music, art, and antics have reinforced the description since its beginnings. As a one-man remix project in 2007, Man-Cat released the mash-up "Thuggy Stardust," juxtaposing David Bowie's androgyny with rap's ghetto machismo. That got the attention of Rolling Stone, but it wasn't their only foray into pop deconstructionism.
Gathered inside their cramped, disheveled studio and lair at a CenPho warehouse, Man-Cat's four artists describe how, in 2009, the act grew in both membership and scope. It became more an art-rock/noise hybrid that "regurgitated pop" by mixing samples of pop songs and discordant sounds in with distortion-filled guitar noise. Lyrics of Top 40 tracks are excerpted, repeatedly translated to foreign languages and back to English, before being used in Man-Cat songs.
"Identity has become a constructed, almost fabricated, manufactured thing. A lot of music has kinda shifted too much that way, especially pop," one Man-Cat says. "So we're moving the opposite way, deconstructing things, removing identity and just focusing on the product, the ideal, and the message."
The group also has reworked pop culture remnants into their often-scandalous creations, such as a music video for "Yeast," which consists of "pizza guy porno" clips obscured by a Man-Cat eating slices of round pie.
Culture-jamming antics and other gags include selling religious candles featuring celebrities like Oprah and Snooki as beatific deities, plastering the ASU campus with propaganda-style posters emblazoned with ridiculous pop lyrics, and wheatpasting enormous tiger mask prints around Tempe and Phoenix.
The most attention-getting stunts, however, have involved pop stars. Before Justin Bieber infamously vomited onstage during a September concert at Jobing.com Arena, Man-Cat and three dozen masked followers had gathered outside the Glendale venue 30 minutes beforehand, presciently wielding signs declaring its "Regurgitate Pop" dictum.
He sounds like a future famous designer. I liked reading about him. Much luck and success to him in his future in design and hopefully I'll see his clothes in the best shops in the future.