Remembering how the nu-metal superstars came close to killing your editor.
For one reason or another, Limp Bizkit is trending on Twitter today and so it seems time to reminisce about my own history with the band – a history that mostly involves a single event rather than some ongoing connection. Sorry if you were misled there. I suppose I could include drunkenly telling someone that Break Stuff was the most important rebellion anthem since Anarchy in the UK (I might still say that but would definitely need a few drinks first) but in truth, it all comes down to the one day that Fred Durst nearly killed me.
The time is September 2003 and by this point, Limp Bizkit has already long slipped from the point of cool and is now on its way to becoming hated on a Nickelback level, a hatred whipped up in part by Durst’s egotistic behaviour and insistence that a wealthy man heading towards his mid-thirties could be the voice of dissolute youth, but also in part by a music press that never felt comfortable with nu-metal to begin with and was very keen to put the knife in as soon as possible. It always struck me as odd that Kerrang!, in particular, was so keen to dismiss the genre – one so varied/non-existent that it ranged from Linkin Park to Slipknot, bands that you might think have nothing in common beyond emerging at roughly the same time. During the height of nu-metal, Kerrang! saw a spike in sales, pushing its weekly readership above that of the NME for the first time, and you might expect that the magazine would want to ride that gravy train for as long as possible – but the genre was never cool with music hacks and at the first opportunity, the magazine switched to featuring not-remotely-metal bands like The Hives, The Strokes, The Prodigy and such on the front cover in the hope that they could tempt indie kids away from the NME, and the subsequent decline in sales be damned. Of course, the British music press loves nothing more than building them up and knocking them down but even so, the desperation to be in with the cool kids at the expense of the people who actually read the magazine seemed odd.
Inconveniently for everyone, Limp Bizkit remained oddly popular with a section of the population in 2003 and so when a UK tour/gig was cancelled for reasons that I’ve long since forgotten, there was much complaining even as the press celebrated. As an apology, the band then arranged a free gig in Finsbury Park, with five other bands – which I think arguably qualifies as a festival. You needed to obtain tickets and of course, the ticket agency demanded their booking fee, but still – for around a quid a ticket it seemed pretty decent. Other acts including so-called ‘bands of the people’ have not done likewise when forced to cancel shows, we might note.
Anyway, I’m up for anything free and even though a trip to the smoke was still a costly and involved affair for me back then, I decided to pop along and make a day of it. This meant doing some off-site socialising beforehand and so missing the very fleeting pleasures of ThisGIRL, InMe and Biffy Clyro, two of whom would vanish into the passing obscurity of the emo scene (now there was something hyped way beyond its worth and popularity) and one of whom would become unnecessarily popular. It’s 5.30 by the time I arrive, already slightly lubricated, and as soon as I get into Finsbury Park and catch up with Adrian Smith (now of Movies and Mania infamy) and his chums, I’m handed a beer by Big Dave, a man that I’ve never met before. This is very much a sign of how things will continue.
I’d made a determined effort to arrive in time to catch The Cooper Temple Clause, a band that had critical plaudits but few record sales and now seem almost forgotten, a consequence of not really being part of any particular scene and perhaps a bit too arty and psychedelic for the masses. They are the ‘not quite appropriate’ act (there’s always one) of today’s line-up and are not going to win anyone over with a quite spectacularly bad performance. Not entirely their fault, it must be said: the low volume and wide-open spaces of the park combine to reduce what may well be a cracking performance to little more than a minor background irritation. Any subtlety or power in their music is lost, and the lack of video screens means that the band themselves are mere specks on the horizon. I’ve found this to be the major stumbling block of most festivals, which is why I generally avoid them: the music often floats away on the wind and the bands – at least those performing during the daylight hours, which is most of them – are lost in the general spectacle and everything feels rather distant and uninvolving, like listening to your neighbours playing music. Between that, the ‘eclectic’ line-ups of acts you don’t care about, the inevitable bad weather and my curious ability to walk from stage to stage, only ever catching the final song by any band I actually care about, and yeah… I can live without it.
The CTC are so poor that I’m forced to look elsewhere for my amusement and this is more than adequately provided by Big Dave’s teenage nephew, spiky-haired Ollie (wearing his Chocolate Starfish t-shirt, natch) and his mate Tom who are enjoying their first ever gig! Seriously, kids today… having already sampled far too many beers, they have reached the point where they will surely fall over at any minute and it says a lot about the diligence of the Carling beer tent staffers that these clearly underage lads, although pissed to the gills, are still able to purchase more pints of the pissy fluid that is our only option. Imagine the moment: your first gig is Limp Bizkit and your first pint is Carling. The only way is up, some might say.
The next band on are ‘A’, the epitome of bandwagon-jumping, soon-to-be-forgotten nobodies who clearly think that they are going to be the next big thing. It’s embarrassingly determined stuff, frankly. The band’s excitable frontman is keen to get the crowd going, shouting “Everybody Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!”. Everybody? As I’m standing at the urinal during this instruction, it seems an order that is best ignored. The sound has been turned up slightly at this point but is still in losing competition with the funfair that has been provided as an additional attraction. A question, festival regulars – do you ever feel the need to take advantage of these sideshow extras during an event? And if so, why? I can only assume that there is plenty of free time even if you love every band on the bill and today there is quite a gap between ‘A’ and the headliners. Worn down by pint after pint of the only ‘beer’ option here, we rather foolishly opt to try the over-priced red wine which astonishingly manages to be even more disgusting. I hear that festival drink options are slightly better today – would anyone care to confirm? They certainly couldn’t be worse – even by populist lager standards, Carling always seemed the lowest point you could reach and its dominance of the British music festival scene always seemed like another reason not to bother with such events.
Anyway, back to the story: it’s getting dark now, and like a mini-Woodstock 99, there are paper skiffs alight all over the park, oafs are tipping over Portaloos (with people still inside) and the inebriates who have been snoozing all day are being awoken by their mates, all of which can mean only one thing: pretty much dead on time, Limp Bizkit are about to appear on stage.
Or at least the band are, but where’s Fred? He’s audible, yet hardly visible. Ah yes, there he is, lurking at the back of the stage like some errant schoolboy who’s late for assembly. It’s hardly a dynamic entrance but then again, the beer has taken hold and I’m suddenly rather unsure just what is going on at all. I can hear music but no vocals, but there Durst is on stage so he must be singing. It’s a form of selective drunkenness that I’ve never quite experienced before or since (and there have been several times when it would’ve been quite handy). Nevertheless, it’s all rather entertaining – more entertaining than I could have ever imagined because I was (and am) certainly not a big fan of the band. It’s all so much fun, in fact, that – perhaps rather foolishly for a man who has spent the day drinking – I decide to venture forth into the heaving masses, who are all absolutely adoring every minute of this and so rather crushing the idea that this is a band unloved by anyone.
No sooner do I arrive at the front of the heaving masses than we have a huge crowd surge. Wondering just what the devil is going on, I look around and find that Mr Durst has ventured out into the crowd, presumably perched atop some burly roadie… and he’s just feet away from me. Naturally, this whips his loyal fans into a frenzy, and as they all – seemingly the entire damn crowd – try to get as close to him as they can, inevitably, your drink-fuelled, none-too-steady-on-his-feet editor is suddenly knocked to the ground. Now, as many people know, this is not the place to be at a Limp Bizkit gig; at this point, it was less than a year since someone had been killed in exactly these circumstances when the band played the Big Day Out in Sydney. I have visions of being crushed beneath several thousand pairs of Nike trainers. Of all the ways to go, ‘trampled to death by Limp Bizkit fans’ does not seem an especially dignified one. But somehow or other, pit etiquette comes into play impressively quickly, as the masses – a second earlier seemingly out of control – are brought shudderingly to a halt by a bellowing ‘WHOOAH!’ from some unknown source, giving me a chance to return to the vertical position and make my way towards a safer spot… at which point it all begins again as if nothing had happened. Impressive.
Did Durst see me on the ground? Unlikely. The band had been heavily criticised for their actions – or, more accurately, inaction – in Sydney, which frankly seems unfair; I’m not sure you can really expect a band to spot everything that is going on in a crowd of tens of thousands of people even if it is apparently right in front of them, though there are a surprising number of video clips showing frontmen calling out gropers, punchers and misbehaving bouncers, so who knows? I rather suspect that he was completely unaware of what was happening just in front of him, but maybe his bouncers – who were pulling people out of the crowd fairly constantly during his little trip to ‘meet the people’ – were. Or, more likely, it was a particularly clued up crowd member. Anyway, I have no idea who stopped the surge but obviously, I’m in their debt.
As for the gig itself – well, my memory of it is a blur – indeed, was a blur even as it took place. The band seemed solid and you know what? I can see why people still love Limp Bizkit today from both a nostalgic viewpoint and as an underrated act. In a world of bland, well behaved, utterly right-on music, you really need a band encouraging people to ‘break stuff’ – even if they are all now in their fifties.
Perhaps the local police figured that the crowd would take the message of that particular song to heart, as they were out in force as the gig ended, complete with horses and riot gear, corralling a large contingent of the crowd under a railway bridge for seemingly no reason whatsoever. You have to question an idea of ‘crowd control’ which intimidates rather than helps, especially as it forces people to abandon any idea of using public transport and means that many are made to walk home, disgruntled and resentful. It’s not as though this was a football crowd and the proactive kettling seemed beyond unnecessary.
And what of Big Dave’s young wards? Well, their first mosh pit proved to be more than a match for them, with a post-puke Ollie sustaining a broken arm. I suspect every gig since has seemed very dull in comparison.
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It’s my opinion that the music media (and therefore the media at large) being so overtly dismissive and derisive of any band that could be described as ‘testosterone-fuelled’ (eg Rage Against the Machine and as you’ve pointed out, the entire genre of Nu Metal), despite its HUGE popularity was the point at which the disconnect between the media and the populace was broken beyond repair. Like it or not, that music cut through to a large swathe of disaffected young people (particularly men) who had nowhere else to channel raw emotion, and the response from the mainstream press was unrelenting mockery.
At this point the internet offered an alternative source of information, which was people-lead and was built from the ground up by enthusiasts – a welcome relief from the self-aggrandising snark of the print media.
Then when people started looking around a bit more they’d find out things that they had been sheltered from by their traditional information sources, which I suggest indirectly lead to the widespread distrust of legacy media (with justifiable reason), and made people more trusting of online and interpersonal sources – leading to where we are now, where it’s hard to tell whether up is down or not.
BTW Break Stuff is an anthem, Biffy getting hugely popular was a genuine surprise, and Cooper Temple Clause had two songs that I remember ripping off Audiogalaxy.
I think you’re right about much of the contempt shown for these bands came from a wider contempt for the sort of people who listened to them. Which has long been the case with metal all round, really, where class-based sneering and blatant stereotyping was always in force by otherwise socially-conscious critics who would not dream of making such sweeping statements about other genres.
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