In the air tonight Guitar music fans mime it out for Finnish w

Sunday, August 25, 2002

OULU, Finland -- As the red sun set behind the dark fir trees, Zac Monro's guitar solo hit a fever pitch. He rolled on his back on the outdoor stage and thrashed madly with his hands.

All without striking a chord. The performance was enough for him to retain the Air Guitar World Champion title for a second straight year.

Monro, a 32-year-old architect from Brixton, London, also known by his stage name of "Mr. Magnet," was one of 12 finalists in the three-day contest with competitors from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Norway and Austria.

Some 3,500 spectators cheered, clapped and whistled in the balmy Friday night on the outskirts of this Baltic port city, 370 miles north of the capital, Helsinki.

The contestants each mimed an excerpt from a rock song of their choosing, followed by a performance of this year's mandatory piece: "Last Night," by The Strokes, a New York rock group.

The seventh Air Guitar World Championship is one of several events the Finns arrange in the summer, which include a cell phone throwing contest, boot throwing, wife carrying and mosquito swatting.

Pieces chosen by competitors were mostly heavy rock numbers by Kiss, Motley Crue, Motorhead and Lenny Kravitz, but organizers kept the mandatory song a close secret until the last round of the competition began late Friday.

Not a single guitar string was seen on stage from start to finish, when Monro was named the winner of the first prize and was handed a handmade guitar known as a "Flying Finn" worth about $2,000.

But for Monro, playing air guitar is much more than about prizes.

"There's a purity to playing air guitar; it's a zen thing," he said.

For the first time, some countries including Australia and New Zealand held preliminary rounds this year before sending national winners to this seventh international contest in Oulu.

Judging on a scale of 4.0 to 6.0 points, like in figure skating, was conducted by a panel of two, led by Juha Torvinen, a Finnish rock artist.

"The standard was very much higher this year," Torvinen said. "We look for spontaneity and improvisation, and we certainly got that. The compulsory piece is the one that usually brings out the true artist."

Mr. Magnet scratched up almost full marks with 5.9 points for his convincing performance of "Last Night," which gave him a total of 23.3 points.

Close behind in shared second place with 22.9 points were Toby "The Tobanator" Peneha, from Hastings, New Zealand, and Andrew "Air Raid" Buckles of Nova Scotia, Canada.

David "Super Dave" Williams, the national champion from Sydney, Australia, was accompanied to Finland by a loud group of fans waving the Australian flag. But he didn't make it to the top three

"Naturally, I would have liked to win, but this has been such great fun. I'm enjoying myself tremendously," Williams said. "I've been playing air guitar since I was a young kid, and am not going to stop now."

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