Inside Limp Bizkit’s Unexpected And Unlikely Resurgence
With new music on the way, is it finally time to re-evaluate Limp Bizkit's legacy?
The future of music festivals in the US right now is touch-and-go at best, and a sinking ship at worst.
With whatever comes next, however, we were at least treated to one truly seismic moment at Chicago’s Lollapalooza — and not from an act you’d expect, either. On a weekend filled with contemporary stars like Post Malone, Megan Thee Stallion and Playboy Carti performing to capacity crowds, the world found themselves talking about Limp Bizkit above everyone else.
From the parade of hits from the late ’90s and early 2000s to the “dad vibes” new look of Fred Durst (handlebar mo and floppy grey hair included), it stood out head and shoulders above the dozens of other performances offered over the four-day festival.
Memes ensued about Durst’s new look, certainly, but tellingly there was a newfound focus on the band’s music as well — indeed, Billboard reported that both the band’s streams and their music sales had taken a considerable boost in the wake of the performance. Between this and the recent HBO documentary on Woodstock 1999 — billed as “the day the 90s died” — there are more eyes on the Bizkit currently than there have been in years.
Ahead of imminent new music — a decade on from their last LP, Gold Cobra — it’s time to consider the band once again in the present tense. Is their bad rap justified? What does their resurgence say about where we’re at? Most importantly: Are Limp Bizkit here to stay?
Their Way Or The Highway
Putting it lightly, Limp Bizkit’s body of work has never been treated kindly. NME wrote off 1999’s Significant Other as “a muddle of hardcore hip-hop and limp radio-friendly choruses,” while Robert Christgau succinctly dismissed follow-up Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water as “doody jokes for corporate America.” How much of this bad juju, however, is justified in retrospect?
Were Limp Bizkit the most artful, subtle or nuanced rock band on the circuit at the turn of the century? Of course not. However: Can you think of any acts of the era, even outside of the rock spectrum, that possessed as identifiable a sound as theirs? Truthfully, probably not. Oddly, one of the best descriptors of the band’s sound comes from someone who’s neither musician nor critic: Ben Stiller, whose voice is heard at the end of Hot Dog Flavoured Water and to whom ‘Livin’ It Up’ is dedicated.
As Stiller posits: “Who else could take rap, hip-hop, thrash, punk, metal… take it, throw it in a can, spin it around and come out with something that wasn’t fertiliser?” It’s in amongst good-natured ribbing on Durst (“Did you grow up with DJ Lethal? Did you call him DJ Lethal when you were kids?”), but it’s a surprisingly salient point. Many bands attempted the cross-genre hybrid that fell under the nu-metal banner from the mid-90s onward, but only Limp Bizkit had dibs on their particular concoction.
Wes Borland — regarded as the centrepiece of the band, even by those that aren’t fans — is responsible for some of the era’s most unwieldy, tense and properly distinctive riffs and guitar tone. At a time when heavy music basically hadn’t been played on the radio since ‘Enter Sandman’, ears pricked up at the sound of ‘Break Stuff”s disjointed, atonal snarl or the siren-like wails that glue together the verses of ‘My Generation’. Borland’s entire presence in the genre spoke at large about this style of music being for outsiders by presenting listeners with one — his unmistakable body-paint and blackened contact lenses are as intrinsic to the band’s image as Durst’s backwards hat was, and indeed provided the perfect yang to its yin.
Speaking of ‘My Generation’: It’s impossible to get taken to the Matthews Bridge without John Otto holding down the beat. With precision and groove, Otto allows for songs to build from a steady head-nod to an all-out thrash. Intrinsically linked is his rhythm section cohort Sam Rivers, who shines on fretboard workouts like ‘Nookie’ and ‘My Way’ that simultaneously locks in with Otto while complementing Borland. As for DJ Lethal, do you really think the man responsible for dropping the beat on ‘Jump Around’ is any kind of slacker? Whether it’s check-checking out the melody or swooping in a surprise Eagles sample on ‘Livin’ It Up’, Lethal’s flourishes add texture and colour to music that’s often already largely brimming with both.
This, of course, leaves us with Durst. There are some who have offered back-handed compliments in the same way they did to fellow Woodstock 1999 band the Chili Peppers — that they’re technically skilled musicians, it’s just their doofus frontman who lets them down. Realistically, it’s the same argument that’s made when people wanted a quote-unquote “real” drummer to play with Jack White in the White Stripes — in other words, it’s ivory-tower UltimateGuitar forum bullshit.
Would you want to hear ‘Seven Nation Army’ or ‘Hello Operator’ with anything apart from their bash-along beats, which can literally be described as perfectly simple? Fuck no you wouldn’t. Durst and Kiedis may be the least talented from this music-student perspective, but it’s ultimately their personalities as frontmen that serve as the nucleus for these musicians to work around. In the case of Durst, it’s catharsis — preying on Borland’s use of tension and release to drop bombs and not care who gets blown up in the process.
There’s no deeper meaning to ‘Break Stuff’. It’s been a day, and everyone is going to pay. Anyone who claims to have not had “just one of those days” is a bare-faced liar. Said release is at the centre of ‘My Way’, too: “This time, I’mma let it all come out/This time, I’mma stand up and shout.” In a world where it’s easy to feel forgotten and ignored, moments like this provide listeners with an outlet — not dissimilar to either “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” or “shut up when I’m talking to you.”
Paring Limp Bizkit musically with anyone apart from Durst just wouldn’t tessellate. Everyone in the group apart from him has come and gone for various tenures, but his is the only unbroken line in the band’s timeline. It’s an outlet, and as petulant as it may seem to those that consider themselves more refined in their taste, it’s a necessary one.
In the build-up to all hell breaking loose at Woodstock 1999, in the breakdown of ‘Break Stuff’, Durst offers a call-to-arms. “You got girl problems?” he questions. “You got boy problems? You got parent problems? You got boss problems? You got job problems? You got a problem with me? You got a problem with yourself? It’s time to take all that negative energy and let it out of your fucking system.” It doesn’t get much more universal than that.
It’s Just One Of Those Days
But to fully understand where Jacksonville’s finest sons are now, it’s worth considering where they’ve been: through the ringer. Limp Bizkit were more than just an easy target at their peak — they were a scapegoat. When disaster struck at Woodstock 1999 and the Big Day Out 2001, they were thrown to the wolves and cast as entirely to blame. In the latter case, they were literally taken to court over it.
The blame-shifting that came Bizkit’s way was easy, but it was also a grossly damaging over-simplification of the matters — neither of which deserved to be taken with any triviality. This is made incarnate by the unfocused mess of HBO’s Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage, which plays hard and fast with its own morals.
Take promoter John Scher, for instance. Highlights of his interviews include contrarian takes on why Woodstock 1999 was Good, Actually, as well as literally victim-blaming women that were assaulted. But who’s ultimately to blame for Woodstock’s downfall? Take a guess. “Fred Durst was a moron,” he moans at one point. “A normal Limp Bizkit show wouldn’t have him… jumping into the crowd and yelling ‘break things, break things.’ He caused a lot of trouble.”
Putting aside Limp Bizkit’s hit at the time literally being called ‘Break Stuff,’ this buck-passing is all too common. It’s Scher wanting to have his cake and eat it too — booking one of the biggest bands in the world, primarily known for boisterous and aggressive music, in order to sell tickets; then having an about-face when the band is, quelle surprise, boisterous and aggressive. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers played Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’ the next night, while there are literal fires being lit across the grounds, Scher doesn’t say a word. He’s too focused on Limp Bizkit’s incendiary set to seemingly remember this.
This, of course, is not to diminish what happened — particularly to the late Jessica Michalik, whose tragic death at 2001’s Big Day Out almost destroyed the festival entirely. As Double J’s Inside the Big Day Out podcast series testified, it drastically changed the landscape of the Australian music festivals, and felt like a true loss of innocence.
What’s often overlooked, however, is the larger context. In the episode dedicated to the 2001 tragedy, promoter Vivian Lees acknowledges Limp Bizkit’s team were also concerned about crowd safety, and had requested a T-barrier for the crowd — which received pushback from the BDO team. This was before even the D-barrier existed at the Big Day Out, which was implemented after the fact.
It’s also worth considering on the same run, At the Drive-In infamously walked off stage after the audience refused to stop slam-dancing and violently moshing. Speaking to Music Junkee (then FasterLouder) in 2015, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez claims the band “couldn’t have been more uncool for doing what we did,” and the move infuriated promoter Ken West.
“We stood by what we did. We saw people getting hurt, we wanted to stop it. We’re people. We’re not a machine. We were unapologetic.”
“Everyone thought we were so lame,” he said. “A lot of the bands made fun of us — they thought it was a really sissy thing to do. We stood by what we did. We saw people getting hurt, we wanted to stop it. We’re people. We’re not a machine. We were unapologetic.”
What happened during Limp Bizkit’s set could have, realistically, happened during At the Drive-In’s set — or even during Queens of the Stone Age, whose frontman Josh Homme boasted he “got Limp Bizkit kicked off this fucking tour” after the incident.
Much like what happened at Roskilde 2000 should not define Pearl Jam, it’s ultimately unfair to place the blame of these incidents solely at Limp Bizkit’s feet. New York Post writer Mauren Callahan puts it best, ironically enough, within the confines of Woodstock 99. “I think the blaming of artists…is all just political manoeuvring,” she says. “It’s an easy way to misdirect your eye over here, when the real problems are so much more difficult.”
Taking A Look Around
People have been hesitant to give Limp Bizkit any credit over the years, but it’s come their way all the same. Realistically, it’s about framework and perspective. Henry Rollins was acutely aware of this in Don Letts’ 2005 documentary Punk: Attitude. While he perceives the band as “formulaic” in their songwriting approach, he’s also quick to acknowledge the band’s energy and the band’s power over an audience. “This is a no-brainer,” he says. “If I was 17, this would probably be my favourite band. When that big guitar comes in, you can’t help it. You’re like, ‘hell yeah! Let’s go wreck something!’”
Keeping that idea of framework in mind, let’s look at three instances in which Limp Bizkit’s music was used at the height of their power: Mission: Impossible II (‘Take a Look Around’), WrestleMania X7 (‘My Way’) and The Fast & The Furious (‘9 Teen 90 Nine’, ‘My Way’ and both versions of ‘Rollin’). In all three cases, using Limp Bizkit’s music absolutely nails the brief. Action movies and pro-wrestling are peas in a pod – good guys, bad guys, stylised fighting and high-octane excitability. What band encapsulates that the same way Limp Bizkit does?
For those that aren’t steeped in the rivalry between The Rock and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin circa 2001, allow Limp Bizkit to set the scene:
That part where it’s just Borland’s guitar and Durst’s pre-chorus, with the two biggest stars in pro-wrestling staring one another down? The payoff of the whole band kicking in for the chorus as soon as they come to blows? It’s perfection. It’s widely regarded among wrestling fans as one of the greatest video packages of all time, selling you on a clash of the titans by using a song about self-reclamation and asserting dominance as its soundtrack.
While all three were considered wildly uncool, barbaric and entertainment for the lowest-common-denominator at the time, all three have undergone reappraisals in the ensuing decades. These days, YouTubers dedicate videos to the fearlessness and excitement of the Mission: Impossible series. Junkee’s own Sinead Stubbins became a superfan of the Fast & Furious series in one week, even describing the characters’ bonds as “wholesome.” And wrestling? There’s never been a more exciting time to get back into it, with everywhere from Forbes to Variety to even Pitchfork getting in on the action.
So, if Limp Bizkit fits perfectly into all of these, and all are back in the cool books circa 2021, it really does make a world of sense that punters at Lollapalooza would be out to see the band in droves. They’re just as worthy of reconsideration as all of the above franchises.
“They’re great because they embody the true spirit of rock & roll, which is abject stupidity.”
“Limp Bizkit isn’t great in an ironic sense,” posited Eve 6 frontman Max Collins on the band’s increasingly popular Twitter account in the wake of Bizkit’s Lollapalooza set. “They’re great because they embody the true spirit of rock & roll, which is abject stupidity.” In 2021, that’s about as acute a dissection of why the band has survived and ultimately been revived in the manner that they have.
Limp Bizkit never wanted to dismantle the powers that be or offer a finessed critique on societal infrastructure. They came to break shit — the same way The Who came to break shit, The Stooges came to break shit, or Black Flag came to break shit. Fundamentally, it’s all not that different. Where Limp Bizkit differentiate is how upfront they are about it.
Are Limp Bizkit here to stay? Here’s hoping. After the year or so we’ve all had, only one band can truly soundtrack having one of those days.
David James Young is a writer and a podcaster who keeps the ticket stub from when he saw Limp Bizkit at the Hordern Pavilion in March 2018 inside his phone case – so he never forgets who he is. He Instagrams at @djywrites, because Twitter made him want to break stuff.
Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images