The Rock-afire Explosion are animatronic rock history

by birtanpublished on July 2, 2020

There are two acceptable reactions to an animatronic
band A warm wave of nostalgia for the magic

of your childhood, or bone-chilling, abject
terror Here's an ape and a bear singing Arcade

Fire

Walt Disney first conceived of animatronics
in the 1950s, but it wasn't until the opening

of Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963
that his plan — executed by Lee Adams and

a host of other early Imagineers — became
a singing, chirping reality

Called Audio-Animatronics, or AA, those robot
birds pre-dated Disney's animatronic Abe Lincoln

by a year, who made his debut at the 1964
New York World's Fair The first human AA

Lincoln became part of Disneyland's Great
Moments with Mr Lincoln, heralding an era

of massive robot-people growth at the park

And so Honest Abe gave us Pirates of the Caribbean,
Haunted Mansion, and the Carousel of Progress

But took a greater visionary than Walt Disney
to fulfill the real promise of singing robots

And the guy who invented Whack-A-Mole was
that visionary

Aaron Fechter — who invented Whack-A-Mole
— started producing fully-animated stage

shows in 1978 with the Santa Clause Revue
and Confederate Critter Show, which looks

like it was bananas

But he is best known, and loved, for creating
the Rock-afire Explosion

Showbiz Pizza Place first opened its doors
in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1980 Three years

after the first Chuck E Cheese opened in
Sane Jose and a full nine after Disney's Country

Bears Jamboree made their Orlando debut, it
wasn't like Rock-afire was the first But

they were the best

It was a short ride — when Chuck E Cheese
filed for bankruptcy in 1984, Showbiz Pizza

swooped in, bought it, and slowly unified
the two chains under the Cheese brand By

1992, there were no Rock-afire Explosion shows
or Showbiz Pizza Places left in the US

But Aaron Fechter is no ordinary animatronic
band programmer and Whack-A-Mole inventor

And the people who loved the Rock-afire Explosion
are themselves afire — with passion

It seems Fechter managed to hold on to a few
complete shows, using them to make videos

like that one and keep the band alive in our
hearts and YouTube playlists He's also sold

a few to fans Like Chris Thrash, who made
this

It was Thrash's video of the Rock-afire Explosion
performing "Pop, Lock, & Drop It" that recently

blew up on Reddit

Between him and Flechter's programming, you
can watch robots bears and apes and wolves

performing everything from Shakira to Nine
Inch Nails to Arcade Fire

Big names have also come calling for the official
Rock-afire treatment — MGMT enlisted Flechter

to program his band for their "Electric Feel"
video in 2008

And in 2013, Cee-lo had them schlepped out
to Las Vegas for a very special performance

of "Fuck You"

You can still spot some Rock-afire Explosion
shows in the wild — Showbiz Pizza Place apparently

still operates in Lebanon and Dubai, and some
independent shows at venues like Billy Bob's

Wonderland in Barbourville and Odyssey Fun
World in Naperville are still a thing that

is a thing

Maybe just stick to the YouTube videos

What's your childhood memory of animatronic
bands like? Charming, terrifying? Let us know

in the comments and check out the description
if you'd like to watch the full videos we

used in this episode And subscribe for new
episodes of This Exists every week See you

at Odyssey Fun World

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