His name is Lord Wolmer and he triumphed over his challengers to claim the South African Championship title, before taking on the world’s best in Finland. It is a discipline without compromise and a stage few can stand upon. It is the world of… air guitar!
This column originally appeared in the Weekend Cape Argus Tonight section on 22 February 2009.
I track down Heinie van der Walt, aka Lord Wolmer, the South African Air Guitar Champion and am delighted to discover a humble, easy-going man with a warm sense of humour. This is no conceited superstar, no brat of the international jet-set. Although he has strode the stage with the world’s best, and felt the heat of both stage-lights and global competition, he has not let success go to his head. Rather, he subscribed to a simply philosophy – one which guided him to victory in South Africa and looks set to stand him in good stead as he continues the lonely warrior-journey of the air guitar practitioner.
“My only responsibility is to be loyal to rock ‘n roll,” says Wolmer. Air guitar involves a range of skills and demands both physical and mental dedication. Of his training regimen, Wolmer is candid: “I have two beers in the morning, a shot of brandy in the afternoon, and two beers at night. You don’t just plan a routine, you have to improvise. You think of what you would do in your head, but it’s not so much about physical preparation – it’s way more of a mental thing. For example, if you play rhythm parts, you have to use your full body to show how you are part of a band. For the solo guitar parts, you must pull a trigger-face and just look as though you are doing the right things. When the song starts, you can bring in your other moves if the are relevant.”
He pauses and adds, with appropriate gravitas: “Air guitar is all about the show: when the audience looks at you, they must see a real guitar in your hand.” The annual Air Guitar Championships were held for in Oulo, Finland last year, with Wolmer as one of the contestants to take the stage. It was the thirteenth consecutive year of the contest’s staging. “According to the ideology of the Air Guitar, wars end, climate change stops and all bad things disappear if all the people in the world play the Air Guitar,” explained an official statement. The day of the event’s finals also saw a peace parade in Oulu, as spectators gathered to see whether two-time champion Japan’s Ochi ‘Dainoji’ Yosuke (2006, 2007) would retain the title.
That was not to be, and America’s Hot Lixx Hulahan, based on the “M*A*S*H” character Hot Lips Hulahan and real name Craig Billmeier, wearing skin-tight black pants, satin shirt and red tie, took the title. Wolmer only secured seventeenth place, but is sage about the experience. “It’s not that high in the range,” he says, “But in the whole world…” Then he continues, “I’m sure that if I win the SA Air Guitar again, I will get out there and do better. Last year I was fresh, but I saw what the judges like and I know what it’s all about. It’s not about what you think is cool – it’s about the people watching, You must be entertaining.”
He contends that South African competition is likely to be stronger than last year – and even admits to being nervous about defending his title “when he thinks about it”. But, he says, he “learned a few tricks” from the other champions. “It was amazing to see them, and very cool to share a stage with them, but when it was over I looked at myself and I knew that I could do better. This year, there are going to be fireworks.”
Although air guitar is a road less travelled, a calling that beckons to only the chosen few and, often, a lonely path, there is something of an international fraternity. When Wolmer got to Finland, he was surprised to recognise one of the other contestants. “The guy that won last year, the American, I recognised him,” he explains. “He plays in a real band, Conquest Of Death, and I met him when my real band, Rhutz, toured in Botswana.” Does being in a real band, then, make for better air guitaring? “No, no, no,” says Wolmer quickly. “It makes it harder. I think that people who don’t play in bands can concentrate on just their performance. If you have experience in a band, then you look at the technical elements.”
The Air Guitar Championships involve both prepared and improvised components. For his prepared routine, Lord Wolmer chose the Pantera song, “Domination”. “It was the song that I have air guitared to the most in my life, so I already had a start for a routine,” says Wolmer. “Plus, it’s my favourite song in the world, and it just fucking rocks.” Asked to recommend other air guitar bands, he starts with AC/DC. “They must be one of the bands that started air guitar, with ‘Thunderstruck’. Any rock bands with major guitar solos are good to play air guitar; songs like Guns ‘n Roses‘ ‘Sweet Child ‘o Mine’ and Queen‘s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Anything that you would hear on ‘Guitar Hero’, I guess.” So, then, does South Africa’s reigning air guitar champion play the guitar-based video game? “No,” he says flatly. “I refuse to play that game, because it’s not air guitaring…”
Finally, does Lord Wolmer have any advice for the aspirant young air guitarist? “I recommend that you turn it up to eleven, and then just irritate the neighbours,” he says with more than a grin. “Turn it up, and watch yourself in the mirror and practice your power slides. If you feel silly, then you are probably doing something right…”
To enter the 2009 Air Guitar Championships, send a thirty second video clip of yourself playing air guitar to email@example.com, with contact details and stage name. Clearly, no fakers need apply.
Ramfest features highly anticipated reunions by metal legends Voice Of Destruction and electro-theatrical foursome Lark, and the launch of Max Normal‘s new project, “Die Antwoord”, as well as Battery9 (Jhb), Architecture Of Aggression (Jhb), Kidofdoom (Pta), Foto Na Dans, Fokofpolisiekar, Taxi Violence, aKing, Dirty Skirts, Van Coke Kartel, Bed on Bricks, Dan Patlansky, Horror Cast, New Holland, Isochronous and more. Heinie van der Walt’s non-air-guitar band Rhutz (Jhb) also plays (Friday 27 February to Sunday 1 March, Nekkies, Worcester; weekend pass R250 (R300 gate), Saturday / Sunday pass R200 (gate), Sunday pass R70 (gate) from Webtickets.co.za. More on Ramfest.co.za.
In related vein, consider this twist on the hallowed tradition of karaoke: Eye of Horus Pub hosts a “Metal Karaoke Evening” on Monday 2 March (c/o Raglan and John X Merriman Sts, Bellville, 0219498212, 9pm, doors 6pm, happy hour 6 to 8pm; more from firstname.lastname@example.org).