Jonathan Seidler is an Australian writer. This is his column for Esquire.
OVER THE PAST TWO MONTHS, music fans of my specific generation—loosely but proudly rebranded as ‘Elder Millennials’—have been experiencing something of a renaissance. Buoyed by demand for acts of our vintage and the slightly more robust bank accounts of those who grew up in the Big Day Out era, promoters have pummelled Australia with weekend after weekend of acts whose heyday was around the time of Y2K. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve been lucky enough to witness performances from Jamiroquai, Bloc Party, Interpol, Paramore, Fall Out Boy and Limp Bizkit. Paramore, the youngest of these acts, are on the cusp of celebrating their 20th year as a band. At this point, I don’t even remember being twenty. I imagine I wore fake prescription glasses for fashion reasons.
Outside of Jamiroquai, whose acid jazz and bizarre hat-wearing have become timeless, if not iconic symbols of a recently bygone era, many of these bands’ popularity is rooted in what Stefan, a friend of mine who recently became a father, affectionately called the ‘Hot Topic’ era; something we in Australia might refer to as the ‘Dangerfield Years’. In addition to the checked Vans, chain wallets, American Apparel tees and verbose lyricism that’s characteristic of this moment in history, rock music that was stupendously popular at the turn of the millennium has not exactly aged well thematically. Paramore’s Hayley Williams has perhaps engaged with this problematic legacy the most directly, initially refusing to perform—and now trying to reclaim—an objectively problematic lyric in the band’s biggest hit ‘Misery Business’, which slings insults at another woman competing for a man’s affection.
By contrast, Limp Bizkit, who rolled through the East Coast of Australia this past week, have updated precisely zero of their lyrics—lyrics that caused parents and much of the Western world unparalleled levels of angst at the zenith of their influence. But I found it interesting watching the band interact with their audience, a surprising number of whom were not yet born when ‘My Generation’ came out. Fred Durst and the band are now in their fifties. Their music remains offensive to almost everyone, yet despite this, Limp Bizkit appears to be experiencing a second-coming in the age of digital outrage.
It’s peculiar. Surely, one would think they are overripe candidates for cancellation. One popular theory is that the same right-wing, anti-woke movement that has become a dominant platform for badly behaved men has held out its arms to catch them. This theory would have made more sense if the crowd was of a certain age and gender. But surprisingly, it was neither.
Instead, what I observed at Limp Bizkit’s Sydney gig was a band full of men aware of their shortcomings, but seemingly trying to be better as people. Their aggression was reserved for the music, rather than spilling out into the live environment it was played in, and they made deliberate points about diffusing sexist behaviour and encouraging crowd safety—even in the midst of some seriously intense head-banging. Though their music is now as old as the MiniDisc, to my genuine surprise, the Bizkit seemed in tune with the myriad ways in which the culture has changed. They may have recently dropped a characteristically loud record, but this time, they did it with a video embracing being daggy dads. Much like Williams, they can’t change the fact that people still love their old music, even if it is inherently problematic. After all, it no longer belongs to them, and hasn’t for many years.
I’m not trying to argue that Fred Durst is entering his role model era. But the fact a band that caused so much societal misery (Limp Bizkit were accused of inciting violence in the mosh at that fateful, final Woodstock in ’99) might have a sense of humour, or might call out the very same behaviour they once popularised—that they might advise those not ensconced with mosh pits to leave before heavier songs and be respectful to their female fans—now that was something I wasn’t anticipating.
During the set, another mate actually texts me to ask: ‘Is this the same band?’
I’ve written here before about cancel culture, including recent instances in which it’s failed us—and itself. With obvious provisos for legitimately bad actors, what cancelling people can do is stymie any ability for someone to positively change. Almost none of the bands I have seen recently would successfully run the post-2017 gauntlet of acceptability. They were (variously) misogynist, ableist, classist and racist. But while the music is rooted in the time they wrote it, they are not. Limp Bizkit clearly understand their role now is to provide their fans with a good time and take the piss out of themselves, and that in 2023, a good time means being safe and respectful while also playing ear-blistering songs you can hear from three suburbs away. It is to cosplay 1999, rather than recreate it.
Last time I saw many of these bands, people certainly weren’t bringing picnic blankets to sit on. There wasn’t an entire wine sampling area sponsored by local vineyards at the venue, or gourmet rotisserie meat being served, as there was at Harvest Festival in Adelaide where Jay Kay headlined. These days, Elder Millennials may have different expectations of live music events, but we still turn up for the hits.
“It’s not about shame,” Williams said when ‘Misery Business’ returned to Paramore’s set lists. “It’s about growth and progression.” If anyone in the public eye has learned the hard way about owning up to their past transgressions, it might just be the musicians of the late ’90s and early aughts. What sets them apart is their ability to work through it and remain relevant. Or perhaps their enduring relevance is a direct product of their willingness to own up and work through shit.
Jonathan Seidler is an Esquire columnist and the author of It’s A Shame About Ray (Allen & Unwin).
Like all proper columns, this one will be back next week. You can see every one of Jonno’s columns for Esquire here.