Image: Dezmond Castner
YouTube
Dezmond Castner rarely shows his face in his "Rock Band" videos. But viewers get a good look at his arms bashing the heck out of the game's plastic drums, shown here augmented by Castner's own "sock mod."
By Games editor
msnbc.com
updated 2/3/2010 8:02:40 PM ET 2010-02-04T01:02:40

On YouTube, Dezmond Castner is a bona fide “Rock Band” god. His videos, done under the nom de plume “azuritereaction,” have been viewed almost 60 million times. His subscribers — just over 86,000 of them — post hundreds of comments ranging from “good job, bro” to “how do you DO that?”

In real life, Castner, 24, is a student, a video editor and a part-time electrician’s assistant living in Modesto, Calif. — a town that he says is “famous for meth labs, George Lucas, Scott Peterson and nothing else.” And while acknowledging his obvious skill, he stresses that he’s “probably in the top 40 or the top 30” of “Rock Band” drummers. He’s famous, mainly, because he was quick on the draw.

“When the game first came out, I put up a video faster than anyone else … and I got boatloads of views,” he explains. “If you get subscribers, you get them exponentially.”

His videos show only his thrashing arms, his tube-socked foot on the bass pedal and a scrolling “Rock Band” drum track. He takes care not to show his face in his videos, because “if you don’t know everything about a person, you find it easy to relate.”

But for a guy who was named for a Beatles song — “Oh-bla-di, Oh-bla-da” — Castner says that games led him to music, not the other way around. His first love? “Dance Dance Revolution,” played in the arcade.

After a decade of playing, in his estimation, about 170 rhythm games, Castner’s figured out a thing or two. He says he was one of the first “Rock Band” drummers to try and improve upon Harmonix’s original drum kit, which he describes as “really, really bad.” He put tape on his kit, which led to lots of YouTube comments about  it, and then, more views. He’s also the guy responsible for the so-called “sock mod” — four socks and eight rubber bands that “instantly make the majority of stock kits much, much better.”

I spoke to Castner about preaching the gospel of rhythm games and how much practice it takes to be a “Rock Band” star. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.

You’re a real drummer. Why get into “Rock Band?”

The real reason I actually got into drumming in the first place is because, a long time ago, back in 2000, I got into rhythm games in general … And five or six years ago, there was this thing called “Drum Mania,” which is the same thing as “Rock Band,” and I played that in the arcade. That got me into real drumming.

At this point, I probably spend maybe four hours a week, at most on “Rock Band” drums, and four to five hours a month on real drums.

You’re telling me you’re able to do this on four hours of practice a week?

I’ve been playing rhythm games now for about 10 years … and when you play one video game, it helps with the next one. Your motor reflexes get better and better. Rhythm games especially — the more you play them, they layer on top of each other.

Why do you spend so much time doing this?

Video games, I believe, if used in the right way, (are) educational — especially with rhythm games. They’re physically demanding and require much more brainpower than people think. I’m not saying that I’m a genius or whatever but I’m saying that it utilizes that spatial intelligence and … hand-eye coordination, which is a type of intelligence.

The majority of Americans only know about “Guitar Hero,” Dance Dance Revolution,” “Rock Band,” PaRappa the Rapper” and “Beat Mania” maybe, when there’s hundreds of them out there that people could be playing, and that’s why I do some of the videos that I do, to get more knowledge out there about rhythm games.

Does it ever get boring?

Every single week, Harmonix has put out at least three new songs for you to play. I mean, you have to buy them, but … granted, they’re not all fun or all entertaining, but it gives you a gigantic selection of songs. That keeps it entertaining.

You work pretty hard to be anonymous. In an age where people really want to be known for something, why do you want to be anonymous?

If a big, blonde, buff dude is watching a really skinny Asian girl (video game) character, he can’t really relate that much. But if you see just my foot or my arm, it’s much more relatable.

Also … I’ve had some really weird stalkers over the years. One guy invited me to fly to Europe to (play) a song for him. I’ve had death threats, I’ve had marriage proposals … from both sexes. I’ve met tons of people, and plus it just makes it more interesting if you don’t completely know who the person is, or whatever, and it makes them more interesting, and you ask more questions.

You’re more mysterious.

Exactly.

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