BTC: The Rock-afire Explosion

Good day, comrades. This mesmerizing WTFery has been on the YouToobz for a few years now, but DJ DeadBilly only alerted Coilhouse to its existence this morning. (2012 is off to an auspicious start!)

Who among our readers remembers The Rock-afire Explosion animatronic stage show from their pepperoni ‘n’ cheese-drenched childhood? It was the brainchild of one Mr. Aaron Fechter, who, in addition to creating and heading a company called Creative Engineering Incorporated, invented the Whac-a-Mole, and co-founded a venture called Showbiz Pizza Place in 1979, which eventually merged with –and became more commonly known as– Chuck E. Cheese (apparently under bitter circumstances).

In spite of a handful of painful business disappointments over the past thirty years, Fechter and his team have stayed the course, and C.E. Inc. remains “a leader in the Family Entertainment business”, designing and manufacturing “sophisticated animatronic stage shows for many amusement parks and entertainment centers around the world”.

Fechter’s company has additionally been involved in several somewhat less HappyHappyFuntimez™ projects of various sizes and technologies, ranging from development of robotic soldiers for the U.S. Army (“a great success, I might add”, says Fechter) to water removal systems for commericial roofing (“not one of my best”).

But through it all, Fechter’s heart has remained devoted to “developing high-tech equipment to entertain and amuse the public while developing the self-esteem of the participants”.

Hence, the Rock-afire Explosion platform’s re-tooling into a custom-programmable animatronic jamboree for crowdsourced songs and private clients. The ball got rolling when Rock-afire revivalist and programmer Chris Thrash acquired and updated one of the remaining Rock-afire platforms. (Originally controlled by a four track reel-to-reel tape machine, and later on by Apple II computers, the machine is now operated with a specially modified Tivo.) With Fechter’s permission, Thrash started taking internet bids on what tunes to program next.

Funds from those auctions went towards preservation, promotion and maintenance of the Rock-A-Fire installation. For a while there, irony-steeped and/or nostalgic aspiring rock stars, rabid pop fans, hip-hop enthusiasts, NIN diehards, Rick Astley pranksters, and even Hollywood producers were all clamoring to have their songs of choice produced, much to the Rock-afire caretakers’ delight… with certain caveats. In 2008, Fechter explained bluntly why he would not allow songs with explicit profanity to be programmed:

“I have to draw the line somewhere so that we can get a TV show deal someday and so that the parents who look to me to give their kids some wholesome entertainment will find that I haven’t completely sold out just so I can get 1,000,000 hits on my You Tube channel (which with $2.00 will get me a cup of coffee at IHOP)”

In recent years, as interest has died down somewhat, it seems like Fechter has reevaluated his rules concerning prurience. In September of last year, he released the first original Rock-afire song “I Ain’t Gay” into the wild… to groans, facepalms, and a low view count.

It’s difficult to say this, because the mere existence of these guys, their stranger-than-fiction life stories, and what they’re trying to do is really amazing and wonderful, but… the new original song’s content is terrible. Not because it’s “racy”, mind you, but because their choice to run with lazy, tactless “LOL that bear said ‘ghey’ and he can’t get laid” comedy isn’t sharp or smart. Still, here’s hoping the Rock-afire team sticks with it, strikes the right balance (whatever that may be), and eventually strikes it rich.

You can watch a 2008 Rock-afire Explosion documentary streaming on Netflix. Fechter has written a rather grumpy, very  funny autobiography about his career on the official CEI website, Robots and Games. The Rock-afire Explosion is still available for hire at $400 per finished programmed minute.

Readers, if you could program anything into The Rock-afire Explosion, what would it be? Kurt Schwitter’s Ursonate series? “Gloomy Sunday“? “Super Duper Pooper“? Skinny Puppy (with special guest appearance by OHGR)? Sleepytime Gorilla Museum? Cage’s “4’33”? What?

Previously on Coilhouse:


4 Responses to “BTC: The Rock-afire Explosion”

  1. Nowhereman Says:

    “Geiburt Einer Nation” from Laibach. No question.

  2. LP Says:

    Ya’ll come on down to Huntington, West Virginia. I’ll take you to Billy Bob’s Pizza Wonderland where the Rock-a-Fire Explosion still entertains nightly. ;) The mouse is terrifying to me, but the go karts and laser tag make it all worth it!

  3. A. Grey Says:

    Weird. That mouse looks just like the one in the (still-working) West Virginia platform. Seeing it perform to Nine Inch Nails is strangely alarming, yet perhaps a perfect metaphor for my elementary-school visits to Billy Bob’s.

  4. Moomin Says:

    These are especially frightening when badly soiled and half disassembled. It is the stuff nightmares are made of.