Review: Atomic Lollipop

If you’ve ever been to an anime convention, you know that it’s a wild combination of mayhem, madness and merchandise, all mixed together with a colourful dose of Japanese culture and childlike wonder.

If you’ve ever been to a music festival, you know it’s a days-long exercise in debauchery, testing the limits of sound technology and liver capacity in the quest for the most intensely awesome experience possible.

If you’ve ever been to both at once, then you were probably at AtomicLollipop.

This relative newcomer to the annual convention circuit marked its 2012 appearance on July 14th and 15th, returning to the Sheraton Inn and Convention Center on Dixon road in Toronto – an area familiar to Anime North convention goers. Still, despite the shared geographical and topical roots, Atomic Lollipop easily distinguishes itself with an eclectic mix of panels and entertainment unlike anything found at more traditional anime conventions.

And what a mix it is! The convention maximizes its use of the available space, putting each of the dozen or so rooms to work practically non-stop. Programming is suggested and implemented almost entirely by volunteers, leading to an extremely diverse array of options – so much so that convention staples like the dealer room almost seem like afterthoughts. Examples off the top of my head include an all day/all night blanket fort; an interactive series of Zelda-inspired quests; a Smash Brothers burlesque show; introductory DJ classes; a free pancake breakfast on Sunday; a late-night Russian roulette meeting; and an extremely popular 4-chan inspired panel with a name that isn’t quite fit to print. The convention organizers went out of their way to encourage participants to go as wild and crazy with their ideas as they saw fit, and it’s clear that the audience responded.

Of course, one of the focal points of the convention is the combined outdoor midway and music stage, built in the Sheraton parking lot and complete with ferris wheel, rodeo bull and other carnival midway staples. The music drew readily from rave, anime, and Burning Man cultures, with a diverse lineup of DJs and entertainment such as aerial performers and a brief but potent fireworks show. Main acts included Kid Kaboom from Seattle, Maromi from Phoenix, DJ 23 from New York and Hamilton-based Renard, known for his Lapfox Trax label. Plenty of local support enabled the music to run clear through til 4 AM and then start right back up the next day in time for a pool party and air guitar competition; meanwhile, it was abundantly clear that the partying continued unabated through the intervening hours of relative quiet.

With tickets available for as low as $30 for the weekend (hotel room not included), Atomic Lollipop packs a lot of bang for the buck. If you’re looking for a unique experience with plenty of music and a healthy dose of chaos, you’ll want to be sure to keep tabs on Atomic Lollipop for 2013. And if you have an idea for something ridiculous you’ve always wanted to try, you may want to talk to the promoters – from what I saw, it seems likely that they’ll be able to figure out a way to make it happen.