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Deadlift Lolita Grapples Con-Alt-Delete

Ladybeard and Reika in action. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund.
Ladybeard and Reika in action. Photo credit: Andrew Rothmund.

How is an anime convention in a suburban Chicago hotel relevant to this website? We managed to think of two reasons: unabashed fandom, and the furthest reaches of the extreme. Metal is our focus here at Invisible Oranges, so much so that it’s our obsession. There are those out there who share the same level of obsession, just through a different catalyst. We, like others, take things to the extreme — we search for extreme music, extreme forms of expression, things new, groundbreaking, and interesting. We’re nerds, dorks, dweebs, and freaks. Such is the nature of passion and those special few who it beholds. To all those passionate people out there: never be ashamed of the object of your pursuits (that is, unless, your thing is like being an asshat toward others or needlessly hateful).

So it was: “Con Alt Delete” last Friday night, featuring a performance by the inimitable Deadlift Lolita. They’re a smash-’em-up-metal duo comprised of Richard “Ladybeard” Margarey (cross-dressing Australian bloke, one of the nicest dudes in existence) and Reika Saiki (buff yet petite Japanese girl, bubbly and friendly as hell) who pro-wrestle baddies on (and off) the stage to power metal, breakdowns, and slam riffs. We, the “esteemed” Invisible Oranges Editors Jon Rosenthal and Andrew Rothmund thought it would be utterly sinful to miss out on their J-pop/metal-fueled insanity. So we set out in the suped-up Mini Cooper toward the great unknown (knowing literally nothing about anime, ready to learn via observation from the hotel bar* and awkward interactions with wandering Pokémon on the way to said bar) to find something reflective of our sometimes lost and deeply befuddled selves.

*The hotel bar (in this case, Hyatt Regency Rosemont’s Red Bar) is a classic sociological hotbed for cultural understanding and meaningful expression. This one didn’t seem to be occupied by the convention-goers; its patrons offered an outside perspective on the costumed, fanfared madness going on downstairs. Our bartender (an extremely friendly middle-aged woman) was unfazed by the cartoon occupancy — perhaps she’s seen even worse, or maybe anime conventions feature kind, respectful people in comparison. Although, some jerk (an assumed non-convention-goer) at the bar referred to Rothmund as Seth Rogen, and Rosenthal as Workaholics’ Blake Anderson, which are both plain ‘ol inaccurate. Take off the shit-goggles and keep your daft thoughts bottled, Mr. Otherwise-Unimportant.

Yes, we were drinking. Of course we were drinking. These were high times, fraught with all the expectedly concomitant anxiety. Rosenthal decided to thicken the plot and numb some of the tension by ordering shots of Jack Daniels Rye (we had no prior clue of its existence), only they came as neat pours… $13 each or something outrageous; nevertheless, they nicely followed the several beers we’d already gulped. Our excitement for Deadlift Lolita — and being able to meet Ladybeard and Reika face-to-face for hugs ‘n’ high-fives — was unquellable, undefeatable, and (to be honest) incredibly childish. The end of your twenties only increases the power of reminiscence, especially with respect to that furious excitement you used to feel, but no longer do because you see that the world is a bitterly cold desert of numbness and defeat. We seek out these little enclaves of fantasy (plus mind-altering substances) — the whole dressing-up aspect symbolic of our desires to escape reality — to allow expression to flow freely from the inside to the outside. In the moment, “on the stage” of the Hyatt Regency’s confusing floorplan, we transform into new selves, truer reflections of who we are deep down. Without the social scene and the support it provides, this level and depth of expression would be impossible; with nothing strong holding the outlet open, external pressure (hate, discrimination, presumption, stereotyping, etc.) forces it shut, sometimes forever.

So how do two metalheads — dressed as such (Rosenthal sporting a Palace of Worms t-shirt plus a black leather hooded jacket, Rothmund a Wolves in the Throne Room t-shirt and black hoodie) — blend in/out of the this anime scene? Well, we donned costumes of our own, really, and those in costume seem to be accepting of others in theirs as well, despite any obvious differences. In fact, we felt abnormally normal, meaning we’d have been more comfortable dressed in masks, capes, plastic swooshie pants, and cardboard armor. Nevertheless, we interacted with several kind folk throughout the convention: a witty and eccentric photographer who taught me (Rothmund, a pathetically amateur photographer himself) some trade tricks, and a wheelchaired older woman in the Deadlift Lolita crowd who scoffed at the fact that neither of us had been to a Metallica concert yet dared call ourselves metal journalists. Damn, she was right.

We were stumbling about, meandering aimlessly awaiting the 8 p.m. Deadlift Lolita showing, our eyes darting wildly from costume to costume — Bender (Futurama) here, Goku and Vegeta there — purposely trying to avoid those unavoidable glances at the more scantily clad patrons. This was a “PG-13″ show according to the website, which turned out to be accurate… and we could go into the whole “lolita” thing (exemplified by Deadlift Lolita, of course) and its implied/implicit sexualization of youth, but that’s a huge discussion of course, and one perhaps outside of our scope here. Suffice it to say: we didn’t really notice any unsavory types eyeballing or ogling. That’s not to say that there weren’t any… certainly a dark pair of sunglasses would offer the incognito necessary to conduct rude glances and stares, and there were definitely folks in dark sunglasses. On the other end of things, it’s a fear that perhaps we (two fugly white males, but nowhere near as bad as Seth Rogen) can never fully understand — the fear of being eye-fucked or groped (signs which read COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT donned the walls), essentially — but we think its apt to point out that this convention, and we presume anime conventions as a whole, would offer such wrongdoers ample opportunity for heinous acts. But the scene is strong and guarded, with most partakers allied on the same social justice fronts, and rude behavior is certainly not tolerated, zero exception.

Earlier on, the technicalities of being the press at a show had presented themselves as expected: for instance, we needed to make a few phone calls to Teng, the Deadlift Lolita manager, for our passes after being totally lost upon our grand entry. We hurdled these obstacles with aplomb, or so it felt; we probably looked entirely lost and slightly scared. Hopefully we didn’t look like actual creeps, though our polite and genuine demeanors should have canceled out any unintentional/automatic labeling based on our appearances. And the reverse is true as well: in unknown territory, the creatures among us felt like aliens, but we know that while our bodies/brains tell us one thing (i.e. be afraid of the unknown), and we can use our minds/consciousness to actively understand people from their perspective. This is the only known cure for “The Fear.”

Open-mindedness and a learning/questioning attitude can go a long way in this world of diverging and ever-specifying social groups. It takes things like empathy, respect, and perhaps most importantly: the acknowledgement of ignorance. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing; there’s something wrong with not knowing and substituting an artificial, unilateral “truth” in place of truth as understood by those subjected to it. Suddenly, we were a sociologist and an anthropologist again, though this inquest felt so strange that attempting to maintain the outside, non-judgmental view indeed felt mountainous. Though, as we will always know, outsiders of the metal world might feel similarly.

Besides, how the fuck else could you make sense of this?
Besides, how the fuck else could you make sense of this?

The most obvious thing: these people shared the same intense passion for their object (anime) that we have for our object (metal). Both are artistic forms of expression, both have their own set of politics, both produce meaningful products for consumption by a persnickety and particular audience. Stripped of all embellishments, we felt on the same nerd-level as those around us; likewise, our initial anxieties (totally natural) dissolved smoothly into the ether (lubricated by alcohol, of course). By the time Ladybeard and Reika were to make their appearance — any time now, for fuck’s sake! — we felt comfortable and at one with things. It’s a nice feeling, one which doesn’t come too often, and one which should therefore be cherished and loved.

Having attended dozens of concerts during our tenures as a metal fans, we doubt we will witness anything else quite like Deadlift Lolita ever again (lest we feel the urge to brave another anime convention). In short, they were the sound of caffeine and bright colors, some innocent pipedream of a young child reared on the pageantry of professional wrestling and their dad’s stash of Pokémon cards. This singing, dancing, flexing, high-kicking, wrestling mishmash is some sort of “Renaissance crew,” mastering all within their purview. Ladybeard and Reika were likewise master performers, especially to their selected crowd, and maintained a balance of cute, childlike innocence and metallic, muscular violence. Though some might disagree, Deadlift Lolita is a metal band, and they want to pump — clap! — you up.

To us it felt like a hallucination, this brief period of our lives directed by some fictitious Japanophile Ed Wood. These jacked performers pirouetted and headbanged across the stage, smiling and flipping each other over with glee. Set to a soundtrack of saccharine, almost maddening “playtime metal,” it was overwhelming, all these sights and sounds colliding in our skulls and bouncing around, effectively shredding any leftover grey matter. Between songs, the dynamic duo would somehow hold Olympic bodybuilding poses, meant to painfully flex full muscle groups, for lengthy periods of time. It was exhausting, both for the performers and the audience — or maybe just us two, because apparently the rest of the audience only reacted with semi-dancing hand motions (lamesauce).

Suddenly, Ladybeard and Reika were not alone onstage. An ominous speech referring to an attack by local wrestler Jesus Bryce (who called Ladybeard a “tiny, non-muscular girl”) just weeks before was suddenly met with a tense drone. Two wrestlers from the Indianapolis area were suddenly straight-on attacking (well, “attacking”) Reika and Ladybeard. It was violent. It was extreme, the crowd booed, and a common enemy was established (in jest, of course).

Have you ever seen a choreographed fight on stage… at a metal show? It truly is something, even moreso when it leaves the stage entirely. Deadlift Lolita were suddenly the underdogs, attempting to take on these intrepid locallers in an ecstatic routine which made its way through the entire crowd in the hotel’s dimly lit ballroom. We’ve heard of intense, stage-transcending performances, but a five-minute fight which partially puts the crowd at risk? Punches and kicks flew, bodies soon thereafter. Suddenly, extreme metal wasn’t so extreme, and Deadlift Lolita’s own performance changed our own perceptions, if just briefly, as to what “extreme” even meant. “Overwhelming” suddenly didn’t capture what was going on, and the sedentary audience was so undeserving.

Sure, the colorful, kawaii aesthetic fit their interests, but metal? Not so much. Deadlift Lolita was preceded by some awful, theatrical nü metal abomination opening act which was met with a similar fervor from the crowd, which begs the question regarding placement of interest. Maybe it was all just aesthetics to those in attendance, the “cute factor” overriding any other artistic element thrust in their face and ears. Preferring to mirror Reika’s hand motions, the audience might not think of Deadlift Lolita as a metal band, which suddenly makes these Otaku perhaps similar to those who dismiss the band altogether.

But we didn’t care. We were overjoyed, smiles reaching ear to ear. This was something so new, so alien, that the most we could do was let this colorful dream completely override our brains. We had no idea which way was up, which was down — we were completely abducted by the J-pop/metal/wrestling goings-on, all so frantic and strobe-infused and unhinged. We were strangers in an even stranger land, but it didn’t matter anymore, at least when Deadlift Lolita was mid-performance. To be captured within the moment is the essence of all live music, this included.

“We have one more song, and we need you to dance with us.”

Dancing? What’s dancing? Are we supposed to do something other than headbang, stand with the cross-armed stare, or give the horns/oranges at metal shows? The shift in reality was now a wormhole, and we were beginning the process of spaghettification… or at least we thought. As it turns out, the “dance” for Deadlift Lolita’s “Pump Up Japan” is actually a small, full-bodyweight calisthenic routine. Extended flex — chest fly — extended flex with squat — jump! What is this? Do Deadlift Lolita truly want to pump up Japan? Because the audience was trying to manage, but ended up keeping the hand motions to a flopping al dente. We got the sense that everyone could have tried harder; we wish they could feel Ladybeard and Reika’s exhaustion onstage which was so blatantly apparent backstage later. It’s so much more than a floor show or metal performance with a extended routine — Ladybeard and Reika are putting their own bodies on the line, performing hourlong extreme workouts while still managing to sing along to them. It’s surreal. There is nothing else like it.

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Backstage, Ladybeard was the more exhausted of the two, completely starfished on the ground and groaning while sweat pooled in his eyes. This is what the poorly groomed, mostly standstill crowd (we won’t go into the complex bouquet of body odors smelled that day) doesn’t see. People don’t think about how taxing a performance like this can be on the human body, no matter how muscular and ecstatic that body might be. Their night wasn’t over, though, as the two changed into new, not-as-sweaty outfits to prep for signing. There were fans to meet, photos to be taken, posters to be Handcock’d. Even so, Deadlift Lolita made time for us, and we had lovely conversation with the performers and their “local wrestling enemies,” who, as it turns out, were equally as kind and thoughtful.

“Hey Reika, it’s Invisible Oranges!”

Sweaty hugs were had. Did either of us think we would be found in this situation six months ago, excitedly embracing a lolita-aesthetic wrestling duo at an anime convention? No, but it’s okay. There is no such thing as “metal cred” anymore, and, honestly, Deadlift Lolita is probably “truer” than most extreme metal out there. They are giddy, excited about making music and performing. Sure, the pageantry is nothing like what any sort of metal calls for, but there was a time when even leather and studs were these new, funny things met with ridicule. Say what you will, if you truly feel that way, but Deadlift Lolita don’t care. They’re too busy playing and turning frowns upside-down.

— RosenRoth

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