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Songs of the square

Geek Pop Presents: The Science Sessions London

Jennifer Rohn 22 March 2010

Star-studded: Dr Stu (left) and band

The band’s drum kit takes up half the stage and has more toms and cymbals than seems advisable by the laws of physics

The small upstairs venue in The Miller behind London Bridge station quickly fills up with young, fashionable intelligentsia. I’ve come along to see Geek Pop Presents: The Science Sessions London on a rainy Wednesday evening, which has promised me a night of live music “so square, you can fold it into an isosceles triangle”. Not a few of the growing audience sport geeky T-shirts with various mathematical symbols, and there are a lot of designer spectacles glinting in the colored glow emitted from the lights rotating over the stage.

Geek Pop describes itself as “the internet’s celebration of science, music and geekery”. Active for a few years now, the ethos of Geek Pop is to organize live music festivals in a carbon-neutral fashion by delivering it primarily online. Although this gig is clearly grounded in reality, the acts are all local and are being streamed live via The Naked Scientists.

Stuart Clark – the astronomer, science writer and guitarist from the evening’s headliner band, Dr Stu and the Neutron Stars – spots me and comes over to say hello (check out the imbedded video below for our brief interview and a clip of the band; you can also follow @DrStuClark on Twitter). When I ask him if he’s nervous, he says he’s worried that they’ll be too loud. Indeed, the band’s drum kit takes up half the stage and has more toms and cymbals than seems advisable by the laws of physics. Remembering that I’ve forgotten my earplugs and am sitting in front of one of the massive speaker stacks, I start to feel nervous too.

Heavy metal underwear and other tales: Dr Stu reveals all

Finally, compère Chris Dunsford bounds up onto the stage in a Star Trek shirt (original Star Trek, he is quick to point out, as if that's the only version that will wash with this particular crowd) and warms up the audience with a series of jokes primarily about embracing our inner geekiness.

Spirit of Play, a five-person combo, comes on next with a set of upbeat folky-pop featuring clever lyrics and intricate vocal harmonies. Their songs deal with quirky topics from ranging scholarly love affairs and the wave vs. particle state of light through to the possibilities of parallel universes, and though they make me laugh, many also contain an agreeable undercurrent of minor-key sweetness.

Next up is Helen Arney, a professional comedian whose modus operandi is the ukulele. Perched on a stool, she soon has us firmly under her spell with her lovely singing voice and her wicked, laugh-out-loud observations about science quackery, mathematics and the vagaries of geek romance. In one song, a woman on a first date asks the boy for a DNA sample and a urine specimen (“I’m looking for love, not…Chlamydia”). Like Dunsford before her, she remarks that it's nice to be able to make science jokes for an audience who not only understands the references, but actually finds them funny.

Finally, Dr Stu and the Neutron Stars close the session with a hard-rock set of songs with an astronomical theme. “If you’ve brought along earplugs,” one of the guitarists quips at the beginning, “it might be a good time to insert them now.” The songs are beautifully executed, from Soundgarten’s “Black Hole Sun” and Muse’s “Supermassive Black Hole” through to a few “for scientists of a certain age,” including Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” and Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’ ”, and has the crowd – including us in the LabLit contingent – whole-heartedly head-banging.