Doug Stroock puts on his metallic spandex booty shorts just like everyone else: one hairy, muscular leg at a time. It’s all in a day’s work — and what the world expects — when you’re the second-best air guitarist on the planet.
D.C.’s Stroock — or Doug “The Thunder” Stroock — is one of roughly 400 competitors in this year’s U.S. Air Guitar Championships and one of thousands vying to compete in the 19th annual Air Guitar World Championship in Oulu, Finland, next month.
“I guarantee if you go to an air guitar show, you will have fun,” Stroock says. “If you do not have fun, you are not a fun person.”
Stroock is a fun person, but even for the reigning No. 2 air guitarist in the world, it’s a long way to the top. To represent the U.S. in the Olympics of air-shredding, Stroock’s ’80s glam-rock persona will first compete in Saturday night’s Mid-Atlantic semifinals showdown at the 9:30 Club, where he’ll take on other hopefuls who’ve made it through citywide qualifiers. Saturday’s top three finishers advance to the finals, where there can be only one. The U.S. champion then takes on representatives from the rest of world in the art of air-shredding in loincloths and stretchy fabrics. (The finals also include a Dark Horses’ Qualifying round, offering those who didn’t win their national tourney one last chance to compete in the finals.)
How does one quantify this international pastime? Judges — former air guitar champions, comedians and musicians — award points based on technical ability (are you playing in time?), stage presence (do you dominate the crowd?), and “airness.” (“It’s like porn,” Stroock says. “You know it when you see it.”)
Many participants practice their 60-second routines for months in order to place in the sport’s four-month season. “Between practice and working out, I’d say [I devote] maybe an hour and a half, two hours a day,” Stroock says. “In non-air guitar season, it’s zero.”
During the typical workday Stroock dons a suit at his own startup, Ideaism, and leads somewhat of a double life. The classically trained pianist, 39, looks like any other professional in the District but don’t let that fool you; since 2011 he’s grown a seasonal pornstache, purchased custom-made costumes off Etsy, and played through 60-second clips of songs as much as 600 times each.
It’s left him with enough stories to last a lifetime, like the night he was abducted by Russians at the world championship, or the time a window washer caught him air guitaring naked in the living room (“As the guy came down we slowly locked eyes,” he says).
Come Saturday, he’ll have one more story to share after he takes the stage at 9:30 Club.
“[D.C.] is one of the top air guitar cities,” Stroock says. “People love air guitar here.”
Come Saturday, you will too.
Air Guitar 101
Do it in front of a mirror. Do it with a mop. Do it for five or 10 minutes a day, at minimum.
Pick a song and a costume that match your persona; a cool name doesn’t hurt.
Hold It Like You Mean It
Air guitars are scientifically double the size of a regular guitar. So go big and over the top when you’re playing and never forget its placement and shape — this includes throwing it into the air.
9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Sat., 8 p.m., $20; 202-265-0930. (U Street)