John Davis shredding his imaginary axe.

Mike Brown: Air Guitar!


BerserkAir flips his hair while playing air guitar.
The art of air guitar has its origins in Finland. Photo: John Taylor.

I like writing about topics that I haven’t tackled before. And since SLUG is still (kind of) a music magazine, I decided to write about a unique musical art form: Air guitar! I interviewed my friend John Davis, also known as BerzerkAir (get it?), all about air guitar (AG). See, BerzerkAir hosts the local qualifiers here in SLC for the national championship in Cleveland, which can get you a trip to the World Championships of imaginary instruments in Oulu, Finland later this year. BerzerkAir competed for the world title last year, so he knows what he’s doing.

BerserkAir glares at the camera while playing air guitar.
Air musicians get groupies too. Photo: John Taylor.

BerzerkAir got into the air guitar genre after watching a documentary called Air Guitar Nation. This was several years ago, when—much like hip-hop or punk-rock or most cool music—air guitar was birthed in New York and Los Angeles, and aborted to other cities thereafter. BerzerkAir made a pilgrimage to The Viper Room in LA to see his first live AG show, which impacted him enough to bring it to Salt Lake.

I asked BerzerkAir about the origins of air guitar. The first competitive event was founded in Finland in 1996 by some college students who described it as a world peace movement. The concept was that if you can hold an air guitar, you cannot hold a gun (whoa, that’s deep). And much like the Juggalos, there is an air guitar community—although BerzerkAir does not know of any Juggalo air guitarists. But a stranger who was overhearing our interview at Jackalope Lounge did interject that some Southern Utah guy named Josh is a Juggalo who plays the air guitar.

BerzerkAir has even participated in an air guitar funeral, where “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd was appropriately performed. In fact, every local and national air guitar show ends with “Free Bird,” and internationally, the shows end with “Rockin’ in the Free World” by Neil Young.

On this subject of how the shows end, let’s go over the rules. Although air guitar is considered more of an art than a sport, it’s evaluated by three judges on the same numerical scale as figure skating, from 4.0 to 6.0. You can pick any song you want to perform, but it has to be edited down to 60 seconds. Also, you are not allowed to use props of any kind, although you can wear whatever you want. If your outfit matches your persona, that’s a plus.

There are three basic criteria upon which the judges evaluate. The first is technicality—it really helps if you actually know how a guitar works and if your air chords match your tune. The second criteria is stage presence and the third is your level of “air”-ness, which is kind of like your air charisma, I think.

I still had a few more questions for BerzerkAir: First, is there any beef between air guitarists and mimes? It was explained to me that while mimes are trapped in an imaginary glass box, air guitarists smash that imaginary glass ceiling. I also wanted to know if there are any other air instruments besides guitar. The answer is no, not really, but there are full air guitar bands, which makes load-in and load-out much easier.

There are also air guitar groupies, which is good because as we all know, most dudes join a band for the babes. One such groupie that BerzerkAir knew about was a girl named Spider Monkey who has a crush on performer Cold Steel Renegade. Spider Monkey also does air guitar at Burning Man. I don’t think I need to fact check any of this—it all sounds about right.

Anyway, go down to The DLC at Quarters on Friday, May 31 to see BerzerkAir compete in the local qualifiers. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $15 if you want to perform, and anyone is welcome to sign up to play. Go to for more details!

Read more from the one and only Mike Brown:
Mike Brown: My First Legal Beer
Mike Brown (Still) Hates Horses