Last month, The 405 sent me to Download – a heavy metal festival held in Donnington, UK. I was only there for the Friday because the line-up that day was nu metal heaven (as you can see). Unfortunately, the only thing I got out of it was an existential crisis. So that’s what I wrote about…
For most people, nu metal was something that existed exclusively between the years 1993 and 2002. It was a pleather-studded personality-shaping era where bike chains functioned as necklaces and personal heroes were ranked in order of chin beard extravagance. Some of your friends will try to convince you that they were never into that sort of thing, but they’re either straight up liars or closet-greebs who still dig out Hybrid Theory when they’re home alone and enjoy it for reasons beyond nostalgia or irony.
Much like dubstep is now, nu metal was so inescapable it was basically commercial. Tammy Girl sold jeans wide enough to fit five people in each leg, even the kids who listened to Scooter lost their shit to ‘Last Resort’ at school parties and anybody caught wearing less than two studded belts at once was treated like a disease.
I know, I know – those were the days, right? Still, the majority of us neatly compartmentalised those years in a box labelled “NOPE”, slapped a parental advisory sticker on top and moved on. What you might not realise, though, is there were people who thought: “actually, this is for me”. And I don’t just mean like that one kid who sat in the corner of class carving pentagrams into the tables with a compass and wasn’t allowed to use the Bunsen burners, I meanfucking loads of people – a fact bomb that didn’t truly drop until Papa Roach announced to a 100k crowd mid-set at Download Festival that 2013 marked their twentieth anniversary.
You have no idea how seriously that made me re-consider my entire worldview. I had been living under the ignorant assumption that nu metal had pretty much died along with high street shops called things like “Renegade” and “Oriental Arts” where I purchased all my fishnet tops and legal highs. I thought everybody either graduated to the harsher hell of Cannibal Corpse or made the transition to second-wave emo via My Chemical Romance and questionable piercings (or both at once, if you were me). I thought even the ‘best of’ had been forever resigned to Rock Band playlists, VCRs that came free with Kerrang! Magazine and the occasional ironic club night, but it turns out Coal Chamber still has a lot of things to say.
So many questions underlay this new perspective. Is nu metal cool again? What would that mean for the world? We’ve dug up and embraced pretty much every other culture disaster the 90s including jelly shoes and hair crimpers, and I don’t even need to go into the amount of reunion tours currently happening. Is nu metal the last bastion of the 90s yet to be revived? As a result of nostalgia fetishism, is it only a matter of time before Urban Outfitters start stocking Bernies and wallet chains and Mudvayne LPs? I doubt anybody who frequents this site pays any attention whatsoever to Bring Me The Horizon but their new record is hella nu metal and I heard it blasting out of River Island a few days ago…
So that’s why I ended up at Download, which isn’t something I’d normally get excited about, but when you’re prone to self-destructive behaviour and opposed to drug and alcohol abuse this is the kind of thing you end up doing to yourself. For real though, I’ll level with you – I went because I feel like we’re in the middle of an era where most festivals are too overwhelmed by pretence to be genuinely enjoyable, so immersing myself in a sea of adult men in red and black knee-high socks screaming ‘People = Shit’ with their eyes closed seemed incredibly appealing. Also I thought it would be funny. Also post-teenage rebellion is a very real thing. Let me explain…
I’m an only child, so when I wasn’t spending my days writing in journals and developing an ego complex I was being culturally reared by a cousin seven years my elder. Hence, my list of favourite bands at age eleven featured Machine Head, Otep and My Ruin (which isn’t that surprising or uncommon given that the state of music around the year 2000 meant that ‘Yellow’ and ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ were two of the most successful songs on the planet).
Unfortunately, I’d grown out of (most of) those bands before I was old enough to hatemosh at a Slipknot show (apparently my parents thought that went against my their desire to keep me alive), but even though I almost exclusively listen to bedroom pop with lots of handclaps now, when asked if I wanted to cover a festival headlined by Slipknot my immediate response will never not be “SHIT YEAH HOW’D YOU LIKE ME NOW MUM?!” The amount of people who wanted to come with me confirmed that this is a fairly standard response and I don’t have to make new friends who refer to themselves as “maggots”.
So I was pretty stoked to enter this ridiculous dimension where Converge were billed below HIM, but when I got there it wasn’t the all-embracing paradise I was anticipating. I was 400% ready to lose my head but I ended up being too busy trying to wrap it around what was going on. Maybe I’d over-hyped it, but it felt too much like opening the door to the past. Like, I spend my downtime learning Taylor Swift songs on the ukulele, I no longer know how to hate my parents, diss anybody who has ever tuned into Radio 1 or refer to things I don’t like as “gay”.
Also, most people who like metal take it really seriously. Going to Download is like making a pilgrimage to riff Mecca undertaken by everybody from dudes who live down the road to Europeans who spend their summers following Dragonforce on tour. It’s like Coachella only with less self-awareness and more Ibanez’s. On that note, I would totally attend the year they book Drowning Pool feat. hologram Dave Williams.
I could spend the remainder of this article describing the many styles of clown face paint and how much I died inside when somebody heckled Jacoby Shaddox with “take that eyeliner off, you poof” (because apparently nowhere is safe from gender stereotyping, even in a universe where gimp masks, leather kilts and cross-dressing are standard practice), but instead I want to talk about James – a nine-year old I found kitted out like a mini Corey Taylor, straight up chilling as if he were at Centre Parcs.
Amid a gathering of fucking miserable juggalos and grown-ass men in Viking hats, this kid was by far the most stoked individual at Donnington. This was his first festival. He was completely in his zone and by that I mean totally WUFT to see his favourite band in the world and was going to dizzy dinosaurs until he fell on the floor regardless of how many wasted faux-Norsemen were sprawled and puking on it. At any other festival, those still in primary school are only really there as accessories to be carried on the heads of adults who couldn’t find a babysitter wearing ten waterproof layers and noise cancelling headphones. This kid was there because he wanted to be, because he liked music, he got the ‘knot about five years early. I liked this kid.
A part of me was totally jealous that I had never been in a situation where my parents were constantly mobbed by people complimenting them on their child rearing skills, but then another part of me was like… I can see at least 5 people standing around this lil’ dude smoking weed, is this really okay?
Then I started thinking about myself (only child, duh) and some the people I used to spend my pre-teens with and how we’d always hang out at the house of the person with the least responsible guardian. I wondered what my life would be like if my parents were into Iron Maiden instead of Genesis, whether I’d be totally different if I’d been allowed – encouraged, even – to go to a Slipknot show when I was nine or handed a copy of Life is Peachy as recommended listening. Then I realised everybody was probably having an awesome time even if they looked totally emotionally haggard and I was there as this judgemental sack of shit whose bedtime stories were lifted directly from Tom Waits lyric sheets and that’s why I don’t like anything. At age nine I was listening to 911 and my parents were forcing me to get my hair braided by a man in a waffle jumper at Brecon Jazz Festival, which Van Morrison was headlining, so whose childhood suffered the most, really?
The thing is, you’re either seriously into metal or you’re not at all. It really is one of those “way of life” deals. It sucks that it has such a negative stigma attached to it and a reputation that demands anybody who recommends a Korn record to justify, more than they would with any other sort of music, the reasons why. That band has two Grammy Awards, which I only know about having seen them on MTV Cribs, but people are still all like “dude singing into some metal tits tho”.
Even at its commercial peak, nu-metal was “for weirdos”. It is and was always relevant, but it was never cool. It never will be. It took a weird turn when fashion sites like Nasty Gal shot up in popularity and Taylor Momsen took to Download’s main stage wearing nipple tape and a dog collar. The fact that FIDLAR were on the bill this year seemed like it was leaning towards something more on point, but their presence there made even less sense than mine. So to everyone whose heavy drinking I interrupted: I’m sorry I crashed your party and shoved a Dictaphone in your face demanding a philosophical discussion of the Dark Carnival.
I still maintain that the best is two decades behind us, though. Having a nu metal festival in 2013 is essentially just a bunch of people coming together from all over the world to debate which album kicked the most ass: Sinner or L.D. 50. If there’s going to be a legit revival in the same way new guitar bands are now churning out a bunch of re-worked grunge records, I’d be interested. Get at me when somebody writes the new Iowa.
Originally published on The 405 here.
Photography by me.