These People Dress Up Like Transformers and Cover the Transformers Soundtrack
We like to keep up with the latest and greatest when it comes to cosplaying, soundtrack cover bands. The Cybertronic Spree is clearly the most important thing in that burgeoning field.
Photos by Aaron Bernstein.
There was once a time when a toy would become a cartoon, and that cartoon would become a movie. Back in the 80s, that sort of movie wouldn’t cost over 100 million dollars to make or stir concerns over racially insensitive robots. It would just be a feature-length cartoon orgy of lasers and action figures duking it out in the name of good, evil to the sounds of epic arena rock. They dependently featured riff flailing soundtracks, and relentlessly uplifting themes. Now, while films based on toys have become the Michael Bay-made blockbusters to beat, somehow they’ve lost sight of what some true fans believe is the best part. In other words: where the heck are all the power ballads?
Enter The Cybertronic Spree, the inevitable hybrid between a cover band and the enthusiasm of Comicon cosplayers. Taking the stage as Hot Rod, Arcee, Rumble, a Quintesson, Spike in a yellow construction helmet, and Unicron’s head, the boxy, brightly costumed six-piece belt out numbers from The Transformers The Movie: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack dressed as Transformers themselves. It’s the most notable resurrection of Stan Bush’s “The Touch” since Boogie Nights.
Their first show was at a FanExpo afterparty, and I caught them this month during another nerd-centric occasion, the launch party for Bit Bazaar, an indie video game winter market, where they blew up several Instagrams of Canadian geeks—especially when comic book artist Steve Manale popped up as Weird Al for the encore, “Dare to be Stupid.” The Cybertronic Spree is a fandemic ready to hit the nerdy world.
I spoke with these humans in disguise, who chatted with me entirely as their Transformers characters, about where they plan to take their act, what modern soundtracks are missing, and generally getting every annoying nerdy question I have about being a Transformers off my chest.
VICE: I was under the impression that Autobots and Decepticons didn’t get along too well.
Hot Rod: I’ve got a statement prepared for that.
Hot Rod: “Beyond good, beyond evil, beyond your wildest imagination.”
Arcee: Hot Rod, that’s just the movie’s tag line.
Hot Rod: I mean, who are you going to choose as your drummer? Of all the Autobots, of all the Decepticons? Frenzy applied, but he was a death metal guy, and I feel like we’re more hair metal.
So far you guys have focused on playing nerdcentric events: Bit Bazaar, Fan Expo.
Hot Rod: When we got together, we thought we’d just do a night at the Horseshoe. Fan Expo, we love those guys, and who’d have thought that humans would be so receptive to our brand of music. After that first show, we felt that we’d have to do that again. We became a band birthed in battle.
Would you guys consider expanding this into a tour then?
Hot Rod: Well, logistically, it’s really hard to get Unicron into our orbit. When he passes around the Earth every so often, we can do a show. We’re looking into it.
So, do you guys have to get life insurance or auto insurance?
Hot Rod: Auto. Definitely auto insurance. And that shit ain’t cheap.
I’d imagine your rates are pretty up there.
Hot Rod: With our parts? You can’t just find them anywhere. They gotta space bridge that shit from Cybertron. It’s a real hassle.
Would you have to rent a tour van, or do you just turn into cars and carry the gear yourselves?
Rumble: I only turn into a tape! You know how hard it is to find a vehicle with a cassette player these days?
Hot Rod: There’s that prick Soundwave, but he’s doing his whole DJ thing.
Rumble: To be honest I don’t really like hanging around Soundwave. He always makes me jump into his chest. Do you know how bad it smells? Do you know how many other Decepticons are in there? You got Ravage, Ratbat, Frenzy, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Overkill, Slugfest...
Hot Rod: He should have a shelf Transformer to put them when he’s not using them.
There’s no bookshelf Transformer?
Rumble: The Decepticons don’t have that kind of technology.
What do you like about Transformers: The Movie’s soundtrack?
Hot Rod: The tunes are really catchy. A lot of feeling, a lot of gusto.
What’s your favourite song off of it?
Hot Rod: I think we’ll have to defer to the almighty Unicron on that. Unicron?
Unicron: [After a few moments] “Autobot/Decepticon Battle.”
Why do you think soundtracks have changed so much since the 80s? I don’t think any current film uses arena rock in earnest.
Hot Rod: I think it was a time and a place.
Arcee: It was when you would work out to a soundtrack. You’re not going to work out to the soundtracks you hear today.
There’s probably one really serious person out there pumping iron to Hans Zimmer.
Hot Rod: It’s very intense.
Rumble: Here’s the thing about the 80s and movies. I watch a lot of that stuff hanging around with these bozos, and I love the 80s. Those soundtracks, they got you pumped. You would have this song, and it would just tell you exactly what you saw, summarizing everything in 3 minutes. By the credits, you realize you just wasted, like, an hour and a half because you could have just listened to that song in the first place. That was a time for people like Stan Bush, Vince DiCola, Survivor… That big, ostentatious sound went with movies perfectly. Movies had montages with epic pump-up sequences. We thought this was kind of silly, this was weird, I remember I got the soundtrack, listening to it on a CD player, don’t tell Soundwave, but it sounded great. We thought the music was pretty cheesy, but now that we’ve learned it, we’ve discovering all these neat idiosyncrasies with the music, with the scales, different harmonies, different guitars doing different things. Even time changes within the rhythms themselves. You can write off the whole soundtrack as cheesy, which it is, but when you look at it from a performance level, this shit is pretty hardcore. It’s not easy to do, but it’s really fucking fun to do.
Have you reached out to Stan Bush?
Hot Rod: We actually got an email the other day, it was from a fan. He said he’s already talked to Stan Bush about a collaboration, and he just wanted to let us know that he’s proposed “something” to him.
Rumble: It was the BotCon guys that contacted us.
HR: Yeah, they think it would be amazing if we could sit down and collaborate.
Rumble: You asked if we were going to go on tour. Truthfully, we are probably going to go on tour, we just have to decide what conventions we’re going to go to. This kind of act isn’t the kind you’re going to go see on a Tuesday night at a bar on the side of the road. You don’t want to be a random guy walking into a bar and see THIS happening. I mean, that could be pretty funny, and it’s funny for us to see when people don’t expect it, but we need the right audience. Bit Bazaar is the right audience. We figured this is a good place for us to perform; we could feed off of this vibe. With Fan Expo, everyone there grew up watching Transformers. Everyone knew the words to what we were playing. They were shouting the lyrics back at us, we could hardly hear ourselves. These conventions all over North America are sending us emails, asking if we want to perform BotCon or Charticon, which is something in Charlotte. We’d love to go to Austin.
Hot Rod: We’re not just looking at Transformers conventions, we’re thinking of doing conventions in general, we’re part of fandom. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Rumble. It takes a lot of heart for a Decepticon to say that, but it is about the right kind of people, community, that makes The Cybertronic Spree. Am I right guys?