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How to Be an Air Guitar Champion

Dara Kerr | July 12, 2012 | Lifestyle Story City Life Culture

Air guitar name: Cold Steel Renegade

Real name: Matt Feldstein

Age: 35

Day job: Counselor for mentally ill and drug-addicted adults

Ranking: Three-time S.F. regional champ; 14th in United States

How would you describe one of your performances?

I base my stage persona on my old favorite action stars, like Snake Plissken from Escape from New York. He’s just someone who doesn’t give a shit and isn’t going to back down from anything. He’s just a badass, a renegade, so to speak.

The music I pick, it always has to be danceable. Generally heavier rock stuff works the best. Ideally it’s got a blistering face melter, which is a guitar solo. The solos are one of my favorite parts.

You’re gonna see me doing a lot of weird dance moves, including a two-step sidestep thing. My style has been described as “Thrash meets River Dance.” In addition to that I’ll arch my back and make these intense facial expressions where it looks like I’m constipated or something.

What do you wear?

My costume is pretty spartan—usually just some tights. My first year I had a pair of pink ones that my sister had given me for Burning Man.

My footwear is key. Right now I’m wearing these…I guess some people would call them cockroach killers. They’re crazy patent leather and the tips are extended about three to four inches past the normal use of a shoe.

My signature, what I’m most proud of, is my Astroturf arm guards, which I make myself. Sometimes I’ve adorned them with glass or reflective tape.

How are you judged?

There are three criteria, exactly like ice-skating. Technical merit means how much it looks like you’re actually playing the notes. I play a little real guitar so that helps, but it’s certainly not necessary.

Stage presence speaks for itself—you know, how much you get the crowd going. If you can come out of your shell in front of 500 screaming people.

The third criterion, and perhaps the most important, is what’s called airness. It’s been described as the X-factor or the je ne sais quoi of air guitar. You can’t really define it, but you know it when you see it. It’s kind of when you blow people’s minds. But you could never claim to have airness yourself. Someone else would have to comment, “Oh, I just saw some airness.”

See Cold Steel Renegade compete at the San Francisco Regional U.S. Air Guitar Championship on July 14, 9 p.m., $20 at The Independent.


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