Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Aug 6th 2010 4:30PM by Joshua Ostroff
Pearl Jam, Flickr
The modern summer fest landscape is now marked by the likes of Coachella, Bonnaroo, Osheaga, Pitchfork and, of course, Lolla. All have good-to-great bills with great-to-amazing headliners, many of whom do the circuit jumping from one fest to the next. But even with some of the same bands, these standalone festivals are incapable of fostering wide-scale subcultural growth.
North America is a sprawling place and these one-off festivals simply can't create a communal experience beyond their immediate concert grounds, and therefore can't fuel connections between like-minded music fans from far off places. (Post-Woodstock '99, they can't be big enough to transcend their locale, and even if they attract some out-of-town pilgrims, the travel costs are prohibitive to most music fans).
Sure, we have Facebook and Twitter and, no doubt, a whack of social-networking sites known only to various teen cliques (MyGoth? Emobook?) to bring subcultural communities together. But as gee-whiz cool as the Interweb is, it can't replace IRL experiences. (That's "In Real Life," by the by, I Googled it).
The current "indie" culture has failed to coalesce with the force of past music-based youth movements, from mods and rockers to punks and ravers. Much of that is due, no doubt, to hipsterdom's signature self-loathing. But it's also because of the desire to create unique experiences at the expense of shared ones.
Enough time has passed to look back at the early '90s with a mix of fondness and shame -- I feel both for plaid flannel -- but also pride. A subcultural revolution occurred, and it was fuelled by Lollapalooza.
Growing up in Vancouver, we'd always get the second Lolla show after Seattle, so you'd see these little-known acts like Pearl Jam (in '92) or Green Day (in '94) playing early-afternoon slots but become huge superstars by summer's end. Lolla was big enough to break even the oddest artists -- hell, even the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow landed on the X-Files.
At the time, "alternative" music fans were grungy Manic Panic'd minorities in their schools and colleges and McJobs. But once a year they ascended to majority status, assembling on fields across the continent to see what their cultural cohesiveness hath wrought. At Lolla '94, the Vancouver festival got bumped from the UBC football field to the rodeo grounds in the rural town of Cloverdale. As the grungy masses descended by the tens of thousands, stared-at by startled residents, it felt almost like an invasion -- or at least an arrival.
By this time, the alt-kids had enough clout to push their favourite Lolla acts to the chart top, most notably with Nirvana knocking Michael Jackson out of No. 1 in a symbolic changing of the mainstream guard.
Narrowcasting was actually the ideal that fuelled Lollapalooza's ahead of its time line-ups. Farrell's genius was to bring different subcultures to one place to see different subgenres. The result was that once they joined forces, be it at the same concert or at another date down the road, they became powerful like Voltron. At the old Lolla, everyone across the continent saw the same soon-to-be legendary line-up. Of the small number of North Americans who make it to Coachella, few even see the same acts considering how many stages are running simultaneously.
Touring festivals without a subcultural component like the new Lilith -- which aimed at one-half of the human population, thereby missing its target entirely -- offer no more than the event festivals do. While the venerable Vans Warped Tour, now in its 16th year, is able to annually serve and strengthen the skate-punk community and the Mayhem traveling metal fest has been picking up steam, there isn't a singular experience for the indie generation to rally around.
Lollapalooza 2010 is gonna be a wicked weekend, there's no question. But it won't matter, not like last-gen Lolla did -- and there certainly won't be an entire generation named after it. Maybe that doesn't matter, either. But the rise of one-off summer festivals robs young people across the continent of a place to gather together offline, and that kills the old-school momentum needed to truly take underground culture over land.