We’re top at (air) rock 

Whistler’s Cole Manson captures third place in Air Guitar World Championships

click to enlarge Meet Johnny Manson and Hot Lixx Hulahan rock out in Oulu town hall
  • Meet Johnny Manson and Hot Lixx Hulahan rock out in Oulu town hall

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 Beijing.

“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 three.

“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 explained.

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.

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