- 20 Jun 01
LIMP BIZKIT are a rock'n'roll phenomenon. Notching up in excess of 20 million album sales over the past two years, they're in the vanguard of the nu-metal movement that has seen guitar rock reclaiming its place at the top of the singles charts. In Madrid to catch the band live, PHIL UDELL first hears passionate words from the frontman, FRED DURST. But, amid a welter of controversy, the raging music is put on hold as Limp Bizkit's show in the Spanish capital is cancelled – an ominous foreshadowing of the events that will see their UK, German and Irish dates also sensationally cancelled
The man behind the Madrid airline desk takes a drag on his cigarette and a withering look at the traveller currently resting his head on the counter. In response to the not unreasonable question “where is my suitcase?”, he blows out a lungful of smoke, makes a few half-hearted stabs at his computer and gives a shrug in the international language of ‘not giving a toss’. Our 24 hours in search of Limp Bizkit has not started well…
hotpress has made the two and a half hour journey to Spain to coincide with the visit of perhaps the most talked about, controversial, derided, adored and just plain biggest rock band in the world right now.
Formed in Jacksonville, Florida in the mid-nineties, Limp Bizkit have been a platinum concern in their native country since the off, helped in no small way by their ‘Three Dollar Bill, Y’all$’ lead single, a full-on metal mashing of George Michael’s ‘Faith’. 1999’s Significant Other followed suit, debuting on the Billboard chart at number one and shifting over six million copies.
But it wasn’t until last summer’s MI-2 soundtracking ‘Take A Look Around’ that things went ballistic on a global scale and, since then, the figures have kept mounting. Chocolate St*rfish & the Hot Dog Flavored Water reached number one in thirteen countries and to date has sold over ten million copies – a figure that is increasing by the day and shows no sign of stopping.
Not only that, but the album spawned an equally massive single in the shape of ‘Rollin’. While others can lay claim to the musical blueprint, never has a band taken the rock/rap hybrid to such dizzy commercial heights. Rage Against The Machine in the pages of Smash Hits as well as Kerrang!? Unthinkable, yet Limp Bizkit have become an omnipresent media force over the past twelve months, and no member more so than their founder and singer Fred Durst.
An ex-tattoo artist and US Navy serviceman, Durst is every inch the modern rock star. Claiming to still feel like, and represent, outsiders all over the world, Durst is nonetheless the vice-chairman of his record company Interscope, and is preparing to direct his first feature film.
Suffice to say that Limp Bizkit are not scrabbling for a few column inches in the Midland Tribune.
Press access in Madrid is restricted to one press conference. No individual interviews, no phone calls, no nothing. We are, as Durst will later remind us, at their call. We would appear to need them more than they need us.
So we wait. And wait. And wait. The reason for this delay, it emerges, stems back to January of this year, when the band were headlining the travelling Australian festival The Big Day Out. Amidst growing scenes of crowd hysteria (which would also lead At The Drive-In to voice their dismay), a young Australian died after suffering a heart attack due to the crush in the crowd. The band blamed the promoters for inadequate safety procedures. The promoters blamed the band. And still someone had lost their life at a rock concert. Since then, Limp Bizkit have written a set of safety demands into their contract and the allegation is that the Spanish promoter has been dragging his feet a little.
Finally, a scrum at the back of the room indicates that our man has arrived. His appearance on the stage creates even more mayhem. Kitted out in baggy trousers, hooded top and regulation backwards baseball cap, Durst’s physical appearance is nothing particularly remarkable, aside from deep blue eyes that fix you when in conversation. Not that this bothers the assembled photo corps, who are falling over themselves to grab one of the staged shots.
So we have Fred on his mobile phone. Fred giving them the finger. Fred doing that funny thing with his hands. Watching all this, it becomes clear just how embroiled in the ridiculous music industry circus Limp Bizkit have become. How they deal with it and try and turn it to their advantage is turning out to be the really interesting thing.
Limp Bizkit are one of those bands that people either get or don’t. Rarely has a group in recent years attracted such extremity of opinion, not just from critics but from fellow musicians. Some love them (Eminem, the Wu Tangs), others hate them (Marilyn Manson, Mos Def). Fred isn’t bothered.
“I’m a person who feels that way about everything,” he asserts. “I don’t believe in grey areas, it’s all black and white. I either believe in it or I don’t. Limp Bizkit just happen to be one of those bands who aren’t living in a grey area, you either love it or you hate it. We’re happy that we can be hated and loved, to get the full spectrum of feelings and the fact that we’re a band that a lot of people in the media and a lot of critics like to take stabs at because of how we present ourselves or what we do.
“It’s kind of good therapy for us, it makes us feel sympathy for these human beings and makes us care about them even more. It makes me feel sad for these people; I mean, if you don’t like it just leave it alone. I believe we’re doing something right if everybody’s talking and I understand that with the good comes the bad. I think it’s very cool that people even give a shit.”
In contrast to his rather squeaky rapping voice, Durst speaks with a slow, Florida drawl. It has to be said that he does not look particularly overjoyed to be here. At no point in the proceedings does he ever break into a smile, the best we get being more of a smirk. While unquestionably living, and enjoying, the rock’n’roll lifestyle, the Durst before us today is calm, thoughtful, likable and surprisingly self-effacing. The cynics – and there are plenty sharpening their pencils here today – may sneer, but he carries the ‘we can’t believe we got this big’ routine off, really well.
The singer has often talked about being on some sort of ‘mission’, something he elaborates on when asked about the difference between Limp Bizkit and the other Nu-Metal bands.
“We are a little more festive, we try to interact with the crowd a little more, to bring people’s spirits up. If I see people who aren’t really feeling the show I think it’s my duty to get it out of them, to satisfy them, to make them get along with others who are getting into it.”
After an hour in his company, you’ll believe that a rich rock star can be humble.
“We’re very fortunate to touch millions of people, whether it be good for them or bad for them, that’s our goal. To be a CD in somebody’s bedroom when they’re listening to it at night, or when they’re down or when they love music at that particular point in their life – we just wanted to be that band but we can’t really believe that people choose to listen to our music at that particular point in their life.” And then, with a line that will reverberate later in the evening, he comments, “music is so important, it dominates everything else.”
Aside from his artistic endeavours, Durst has taken a cue from many of his hip-hop contemporaries and become heavily involved in taking care of business, recently launching his own label Flawless and taking a variety of bands under his wing.
“Me being involved with the music industry is not very pleasant for the music industry. It’s not very pleasant for my record company especially,” he observes. “I don’t believe in the way things work in those companies so I get to go in as an artist and with my success and pretty much run things the way I feel they should be run, the artist’s way. Giving artists 100% control creatively, from every point. I use Limp Bizkit’s success to make that work in my favour. I’m not a stereotypical person at a label, I’m an artist who gets to make things happen his own way, that’s for my band or any band I’m involved with.”
He feels as much an outsider to his own business as he does society in general.
“I believe that the music industry stifles creativity,” he says. “Success is measured in $ signs, not by the material or the career or the longevity. I believe in the career not the dollars, but if they happen to come along with the success then I’m not mad about that either.”
Despite the odd question fishing for a bit of inter-band rivalry (“Crazytown – I just don’t like that band at all. I’m sure they’re very nice people but I don’t really care for their music”, guitarist Wes Borland replies tactfully at one point), the whole affair has been generally good-natured. Until, that is, a journalist questions the band’s claimed relationship with their fans, the fact that they aren’t doing any interviews and what he perceives as their general arrogance. A slight hush descends as the question is relayed to Durst.
“We’re more in touch with our fans than we’ve ever been,” he answers icily. “The only people we act different to and boss around are you, and everyone else in the media, and labels. It’s only the writers and the business side that we tend to treat like shit because we happen to be our fans, we act like our fans. We don’t have to go to you, you have to come to us and, in your case, I would make you travel so fucking far.” The room echoes to the sound of nervous laughter, rather like a school classroom when one of their number has been humiliated by the headmaster.
We pity the poor sod who has to follow that when the mic is passed; worse, we suddenly realise that hotpress is, in fact, that very sod. Durst’s eyes glower down from the platform. I ask Fred why bands such as Faith No More, Jane’s Addiction and Fishbone, who began this whole musical journey, failed to reap the rewards they deserved. The question seems to capture his imagination and he sounds almost animated.
“I love those bands, there’s a lot of my inspiration right there,” he enthuses. “I think that music’s at a weird point right now; maybe we’re a stepping stone to get us back to when we had great bands, who were really amazing and were able to take us to places where we’d never really been. We could indulge ourselves and be emotional with that type of music.
“I think bands like Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction made a couple of decisions in their career so that success wouldn’t happen,” he speculates. “I wish there was music like that around now. My music might not sound like it but I’m really influenced by those kind of bands from that time-period. I try to sing things that makes me feel like that music used to make me feel. It just comes out in a different way.”
For a moment, we forget about all the cameras, the tape recorders and the confused faces and are having a conversation with Fred Durst, music fan. Yes, Fugazi were a huge influence – both musically but also in the way they ran their own record company. We’d love to ask him what he’s listening to at the moment, whether he’s heard Asian Dub Foundation, his views on the shit that rap is stirring up. But we’ve had our turn and must give the floor to a colleague. What, he would like to know, are those funny men on the album cover? Jesus… For a minute, you think Durst’s dismissive attitude to the media might just be justified.
It doesn’t get much better. Fred is asked why he’s so angry, Wes is asked why he’s like what he’s like. We learn, perhaps not too seriously, that the new album has got a post-nuclear apocalypse Pink Floyd vibe. We hear Fred’s views on Napster (“the only people who are really concerned are the ones looking for their royalty cheques”). And he lets us in on his bewilderment with Guns N’ Roses (“I’ve tried to talk to Axl Rose before but he won’t talk to me. He won’t do anything, he won’t come out of his fucking house. I’m a fan and I wanted to collaborate with him on his new record.”) Then it’s all over and we leave Durst to pose for endless photos and shake hands while his guitarist hovers, like an embarrassed guest at a party who doesn’t know anybody. We have a festival to go to.
Except we don’t. Word comes through later that the band and the promoters have failed to reach an agreement on the barriers being used at the festival site, and that consequently Limp Bizkit won’t be appearing. An hour or so later, the band’s entourage begin to return to the hotel. We happen to be passing through the foyer when we spot Durst walking towards us.
Away from circus of the afternoon, he looks far more approachable. So we approach him. He is once more pissed off, but not in the bored rock star way of early on. Genuinely upset and angry that his band have been forced to disappoint their fans, he tells us that “since what happened in Australia we just can’t take anymore chances. If just one person gets hurt then it’s not worth it.”
For what it is worth, hotpress tells him that we think they did the right thing; I give him a tentative pat on the shoulder. Despite all the media baiting and the circumstances, he is charm itself. “Thanks for coming anyway,” he sighs, “we really appreciate it.” Then he disappears into a lift, leaving a bunch of journalists to kick their heels and twenty thousand Limp Bizkit fans to receive the news with differing reactions of disappointment, dismay and anger.
For the week afterwards, it looks like the special relationship with their fans that the band pride themselves on is – in Spain at any rate – under severe strain. Durst posts one of his regular messages on the Limp Bizkit website to explain their position (“these promoters don’t realise how emotional and passionate we all are. They just care about their bank accounts sometimes I guess. He couldn’t care less if someone were to get seriously injured. Well we’re not having it”) but the response from those who feel let down is less than sympathetic. “Fred, the next concert in Spain I’m going to kill you, you bastard”, one correspondent pledges; it may have been one of the more extreme messages, but the sentiments run deep. Fans from other countries joined in defending the band (“Just take a moment and think about that girl that died before you all start selfishly moaning about how you didn’t get to see them and if you do think about it and still feel the same, then fuck you”). It’s a no-win situation, and the whole fiasco leaves a sour taste for all concerned.
Certainly for the promoters, who immediately go on the attack, issuing a statement questioning the band’s motives and claiming that they (the band) “collected 100% of their fee. This decision of cancelling in the very last moment has been praticsed by the band previously through their tours.” The official statement also remarks on the decision to hold their press conference at a hotel, “forgetting about the fact that their fans were installed and waiting to see them inside the festival area and disregarding the constant requests from the organisation”. In this version of events, the band never visited the festival site during their two days in the area and the safety of the facilities was confirmed by experts (who issued all the necessary certification) and backed by written support from a dozen bands playing at the festival, including Biohazard, who stepped into Limp Bizhit’s headlining slot. The Festimad promoters are now considering legal action against the band, in a distinct echo of events in Australia.
And then came the bombshell that five other European dates were being pulled by the band, in Germany, Britain, Switzerland and Ireland. Fred Durst had been carrying a back injury for some time. Now he was under doctors orders, his management company stated, to take a mandatory rest period of at least two weeks. A stress fracture to the fifth lumbar vertebrae was cited as the cause.
It was an extraordinary development that could potentially place Limp Bizkit’s standing in Europe under threat in the long term. As the Spanish experience underlines, fans don’t like shows being cancelled – no matter how good the reason may be. Fred Durst is a passionate and effective spokesman. But it may take a special kind of gesture to win the band’s European and Irish fans back after this serfies of controversies and disappointments. This is where Fred Durst – man of the people – should really come into his own.
Limp Bizkit’s planned Irish date at Punchestown has been cancelled. It seems unlikely that the show will be rescheduled.
Most likely to follow Limp Bizkit into the big league. Debut album Hybrid Theory currently doing the business around the world. Have a knack of combining – yes! – rock and hip hop with a pop sensibility and, in Chester Bennington, have that rarest of all beasts, a nu metal frontman who can actually sing. Strongly rumoured to be coming here in the autumn.
Also poised for promotion to the Premier League following the release of their Dreamworks Infest album. Catchy suicide ditty ‘Last Resort’ has been given the all-important MTV seal of approval. Claim diverse influences, including jazz and funk that manifest themselves in a swinging bottom end. One time school orchestra lead clarinet Coby Dick is very much a nu metal man, articulating rage and surprising vulnerability. Wear black. All the time.
New Found Glory
While rock was supposed to have withered away during the nineties, the punk community kept the faith and quite probably paved the way for the genre’s return to grace. Green Day, Blink 182 et al managed to work their way into the public consciousness by way hugely catchy pop songs played very fast, a concept that New Found Glory wholly subscribe to. As a band who include a cover of Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ in their live set, it’s safe to say that they are not particularly angst ridden. With an upcoming appearance on the Warp Tour it’s also safe to say that they will be massive.
The Union Underground
Just as with the last rock explosion around grunge in '91, there are those who want to have fun and those who take life very, very seriously. Life is not a bed of roses for The Union Underground, who would rather be there for the nasty things in life – such as violence, failure and drug abuse. Driven by a burning ambition and huge self-belief, the San Antonians are dark, twisted and very heavy.
A hip hop artist dabbling with rock (as opposed to visa versa), Kid Rock has an attitude far more in keeping with those glory days of late eighties metal than the Coby Dicks and Maynard Keenans of this world. His is a world of fast cars, late nights, beautiful women and cartoon rebellion – his stage set features a giant hand flipping the middle finger. More likely to fight for his right to party than his right to vote. Currently dating Pamela Anderson. Nu metal’s answer to David Lee Roth.
As far removed from the shouting jumping brigade as possible, Tool are also the godfathers of alternative metal, arriving at the same time as the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Faith No More. As befits their disparate (often art orientated) backgrounds, the band deal in complex, dense sounds, complemented by equally mind bending visuals. Maynard Keenan (vocalist and a man who once applied the concept of Feng Shui to remodeling pet shops) was also behind A Perfect Circle. After years in the cult wilderness, it looks like Tool’s time has come.