It’s shocking to some, but air guitar is kind of a big deal.
What began as a somewhat absurd competition in Oulu, Finland in 1996 has turned
into an international event that sees 20 performers from around the world
competing in the Air Guitar World Championships.
And this year, Canada has established itself as one of the top
air guitar nations in the world, with Whistler’s very own Cole “Johnny Utah”
Manson managing to snag third place with his performance to a remixed version
of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck in the grand finals.
American Craig “Hot Lixx Hulahan” Billmeier captured the
coveted top spot, while Andel “John Sniffler” Soreen of the Netherlands came in
second. But it was a close race between Soreen and Manson, with only a 0.1
point difference in their scores.
The rules for air guitar are pretty simple: it’s all about
surrendering to the music without using a real instrument. You can be male or
female, young or old — it doesn’t matter. As long as you come prepared to
rock on your invisible acoustic or electric guitar, you’re in the game.
Well, in order to make it to the World Championships,
contestants have to be designated as their national champ, or enter the Dark
Horse competition and score within the top four spots for a chance to compete
on the world stage.
Manson heard from competitors, organizers and judges that this
year was the highest level of competition they’ve seen at the event.
“The cool thing about the World Championships… was that the
whole premise of the whole competition is to promote world peace, and when
you’re over there, you really realize that it’s not a joke, they’re not just
saying that, they really mean it,” Manson said. He added that all of the
competitors participated in a parade through Oulu, ending at the town hall,
where the mayor gave a speech about how air guitar promotes peace.
Manson said it was particularly meaningful to represent Canada
at an international event at the same time the Olympics were being held in
“I’m definitely proud to bring home the bronze medal.”
Manson, who works as a martial arts instructor, even threw some
back flips into his performance, for good measure, though he points out that
spontaneity is an important aspect of air guitar.
“You can’t get too choreographic with it, or else you lose
points for losing yourself to the music.”
Song choice had been a sticking point with the judges during
Manson’s past performances. In previous years, they hadn’t really been that
into his Jimi Hendrix selections. So this year, Manson enlisted the help of a
friend and local DJ, Rob Banks, to remix some tunes that he could really rock
out to onstage.
“It was really big,” he said. “The crowd was singing along to
the part that I was prompting them to sing along with, and they loved it and
the judges loved it.”
It must have worked, because Manson made it to the one of the
top spots in the comp.
“I was super excited because I thought I did well and I was a
little bit surprised that I got third, because most people… figured I was going
to get second,” Manson said. In fact, it was a close race between the top
“Actually, I beat the guy that got second place in the finals.
He got a way higher score than me in the first round, so he was actually in
first place after the first round, and Hot Lixx Hulahan was in second and he
was only 0.1 ahead of me, and I was third place going into the finals,” Manson
The crowds were a bit smaller than in previous years, because
the Sex Pistols were playing at another venue in town on the same night.
“But we still had probably about 500 spectators.”
Other than the returning world champion from Japan, Manson was
the only other competitor to come back to compete again this year.
Manson plans to defend his national title next year, and hopes
to go back to Finland to compete on the world stage again.
To celebrate his homecoming and victory for Canada, Moe Joe’s is hosting the Whistler Cup Air Guitar Championships on Thursday, Sept. 11 starting at 9 p.m. The event will feature an unofficial local air guitar competition, hosted by none other than Manson himself.