As part of their day-to-day existence, audiences were seeing themselves embodied in the messages of nu-metal — Frith’s “subjective and collective identity”. The music that was speaking to commercial participants in the genre reflected their socio-economic and geographic situation by and large. Nu-metal albums in the late 1990’s were being marketed heavily, and that marketing reached a largely suburban, young white male audience. This was the demographic group for whom Korn and Limp Bizkit resonated most. Rubin, West, and Mitchell, in their piece: “Differences in Aggression, Attitudes toward Women, and Distrust as Reflected in Popular Music Preferences” give a good overview of genre’s effect on fandom – who listens to what. Their study looks at what is affecting in music, and how those factors differ genre to genre. Aggression, low-self esteem, and depression can all manifest in a listener’s preferences.[64] This study primarily evaluates metal and hip-hop, and determines a positive correlation between those genres and a lower self esteem fan base.[65] Rafalovich comes to a similar conclusion through less quantitative measures, but corroborates Rubin, West, and Mitchell’s theorem with critical theory, citing Foucault’s fitting assertion that “Western man has become a confessing animal.”[66] As such, nu-metal fandom was the space for confession of distaste for one’s current situation, and offered an escape. Jonathan Davis’ tales of emasculated ennui (on “Falling Away From Me”), abuse (on “Faget”), low self esteem (on “Blind”) were intimately relatable to an audience that saw themselves in Davis’ lyrics. The driving force behind this relatability was nu-metal’s paired aggressive (and appealingly simple) compositions with lyrics that reflected a uniquely non-urban miasma.

This aforementioned “suburban miasma” is one that comes up across multiple narratives of the late 20th century and early 21st century. Across multiple mediums, authors took to the suburbs to attempt a current explanation of American Culture, the same way that Rod Serling floated around the country in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s attempting to illuminate post-war America. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s texts like Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, and Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, subverted and commented on assumptions about “the perfect suburban life”. It became increasingly common to see “suburban” be understood not merely an urban plan, but rather as a socio-spatial system that predicated a so-called life of luxury on a repression of emotion. By inducing an architectural landscape of conformity, aesthetic and emotional rebukes to such became necessary to craft a sense of individuality.

Donna Gaines’ book Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia’s Dead End Kids fleshes out this world, the same world in which Korn lyrics hit home with their audience. Her book focuses on northeastern suburbs and exurbs, specifically in Bergenfield, New Jersey and the socio-economic milieus that are common in ostensibly middle-class areas. Gaines’ focuses on the term “burnout”, and how the term reflects a classification unique to areas where there are no technical barriers to success, other than the overbearing weight of the suburban machine. The “suburban machine” is an assemblage of logistical, educational, spatial, and socioeconomic factors that lead to suburban miasma. It is the logistical branch of the suburban topology that illuminates the reasons behind the people and creative output the suburbs spit out.

This concept of the “suburban machine” is essential to understanding the appeal of nu-metal. Gaines focuses on the concept of the “burnout”, which in her reasoning is a social stratum (much like jocks, or nerds) around which the “social order of the American high school” forms. In this system “teens are expected to do what they are told – make the grade, win the prize, play the game.”[67] What Gaines is describing is the suburban machine, driven by the inflexible drive forcing students to do well and succeed by traditional metrics. American schools are woefully inept and fostering multiple learning environments, and burnouts are a direct result of this. The etymology of the word itself implies the stresses innate in being in high school in a relatively close-knit community; these are the students who burn out from the constant state of expectation that follows their every decision and find solace in unsanctioned extracurriculars, be it alcohol, drugs, music, or all three. Outside of institutional pressures, built environments do their part in fostering a sense of malaise. This is seen across Weinstein, Gaines, Berger, and Klosterman’s work especially: the built environment’s lackluster existence being a vital ignition for sub-culture fandom and interest in rock and specifically metal. As early as the 1960’s the suburbs were being critiqued as places devoid of cultural and physical meaning, and by the late 1990’s this was only amplified. Writing in 1961, the urbanist Lewis Mumford described the suburbs as a: “multitude of uniform, unidentifiable houses, lined up inflexibly, at uniform distances, on uniform roads, in a treeless communal waste, inhabited by people of the same class, the same income, the same age group, witnessing the same television performances, eating the same tasteless pre-fabricated foods, from the same freezers, conforming in every outward and inward respect to a common mold [sic].”[68]

Mumford was speaking of the post-war suburbs, and the uniformity both expanded and crumbled as the next three decades passed. Everything became more commercialized, with box stores starting their unstoppable march through the middle landscape. Robert Bruegmann argues that the suburbs and sprawl hold weight as an entrenched cultural factor even though we: “live in the ugliest of all ages of the world, and that the worst part of this ugliness – the suburbs and exurbs – constitute the largest part of our urban system, [and] house a majority of the population.”[69] While some of the architecture changed, it rarely manifested in anything more dignified than the squat rows introduced in Levittowns across the country. It is no wonder that out of this came what Gaines called the “teenage wasteland”, an environs where going to the mall was the social activity, and buying the same “pre-fabricated” trinkets of suburban capitalism was rote. Burnouts were simply responding to what the world gave them, which was the option of participation in the suburban machine or an attempt to defy it. Nu-metal was a way in which kids saw someone who sympathized with this plight, funneling outward blight into personal rage. In a 1998 interview with SPIN Magazine, Jonathan Davis (of Korn) takes Neil Strauss around his hometown of Bakersfield, California, and the interview ends with Strauss narrating their trip:

And finally there’s the mortuary, where Davis worked as a coroner’s assistant and lived on-site, the overflow corpses part of his kitchen decor. After seeing victims of car crashes, suicides, and sexual abuse — including people he had known or talked to the day before — he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and has nightmares to this day, one of which is exorcised in the Follow the Leader song “Pretty,” about a young incest victim. Exploring Bakersfield — meeting Jonathan’s parents, sister, step-siblings, and former bandmates, seeing the gas station that Head’s father owns, watching the forty-and-over alcoholic pick-up-scene at local bars — Korn begin to make more sense. Korn began long before anyone in Korn was born.[70]

Strauss illuminates what is obvious to an outside viewer, but harder for people (especially youth) to annunciate – that the deeply unpleasant spaces in this country spawn deeply unpleasant desires.

After reading Strauss’ evaluation of Bakersfield, Rubin, West, and Mitchell’s research about the correlation between emotions and music are prescient. The particular sound of nu-metal — aggressive, low, and loud — is a key component of understanding the relationship that Strauss is implying by saying “Korn began long before anyone in Korn was born.”[71] In saying this, Strauss is making a connection between the social and spatial ugly-ness of the suburbs and exurbs (here, Bakersfield) and the perceived ugly-ness of the music that Korn is making.

Sianne Ngai’s writings on the aesthetics of ugly emotions, or negativity, give a window into understanding how affected teens in the suburbs find themselves drawn to Korn, Deftones or Limp Bizkit. Her afterword on disgust gives insight into the gory allure of nu-metal to suburbanites, but to her “disgust finds its object intolerable and demands its exclusion”[72] which, while useful for critical insight into nu-metal, offers little in terms of understanding its affective abilities. However, her discussion of tone uses Herman Melville’s esoteric The Confidence-Man to understand the effect of affect on tonal capabilities in a work, and illustrates the innate connection that affect – like that situated by Deleuze, shows “affect’s surprising ability to produce distance rather than immediacy.”[73] Through this, it can be understood that affect allows an approach to understanding the tone of a work that “provocatively reveals an ‘aesthetic attitude’ at the heart of the critical mindset that makes ideological analysis possible;”[74] in this case, nu-metal. In Social Critique Bourdieu says:

it must never be forgotten that the working-class ‘aesthetic’ is a dominated ‘aesthetic’ which is constantly obliged to define itself in terms of the dominant aesthetics. The members of the working class, who can neither ignore the high-art aesthetic, which denounces their own ‘aesthetic’, nor abandon their socially conditioned inclinations, but still less proclaim them and legitimate them, often experience their relationship to the aesthetic norms in a twofold and contradictory way.[75]

As such the ‘dominated aesthetic’ is one that centers on ugly-ness.

“Distance rather than immediacy” is essential in understanding the relationship that teens and young people, nu-metal’s predominant fan base, had to the artists. Acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit were idolized, having escaped the delirium induced by that same suburban machine. The music they made was informed by a similar delirium however, and thus ugly-ness functions as a mode of understanding. The aesthetic tonality of nu-metal: the down tuned guitars, flabby bass tones, and emotively sing-rapped lyrics, all functioned as a metric of relatability between the artist who escaped from sub and exurban wastelands, and the fan who is still consumed by it. Affective tonality drives this relationship, with ugly music speaking to those in ugly situations.

Ngai’s assertion that affect drives Deleuze’s framework of “distance rather than immediacy”, illustrates how nu-metal bridged the gap between artist and fan. Jonathan Davis working in a morgue is a visceral ugliness that gets translated through Deleuze’s framework to a distant, aesthetic ugliness (musically and lyrically). This is affect at work, creating a warped immediacy to the artist-fan relationship. The fan understands and sympathizes with the ugliness that Davis experienced by, although theirs is most likely of a fundamentally different origin, and thus an intense relationship is born. Kids who hated school could box that into an affectual container of anger, and see the same anger reflected back through the distance between Davis and themselves without there being any moment where Davis is singing about hating school. This aesthetic transformation from visceral ugliness to distant ugliness should be understood as perhaps the defining reason for nu-metal’s popular success. The embrace of ugliness is the most significant part of what nu-metal was doing – finding massive commercial success while also presenting something common, obscene, violent, all together aesthetically unpleasant to a populace who could see those same aesthetic and ontological affects in the world around them. These affective factors that connect artist and fan are the same as those that connect fan to fan, and through this series of relationships form a sub-culture similar to those throughout metal.



The sub-culture that formed out of nu-metal fandom in the late 1990’s and into the early 2000’s was heavily commercialized and centered on the economies of suburbia. Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Deftones were the primary agents involved in engaging suburban fan bases through clothing and exclusive music deals with big box stores. Stores like Zoomies and Hot Topic built recognition around the intersection of nu-metal and suburban culture, using the established cultural transgression of skateboarding as a launching pad for various other forms of aesthetic rebellion. The typical fashion of nu-metal was an amalgam of skateboarding couture, traditional metal outfitting, and hip-hop clothing – it favored dark colors, gigantic fits, and transgressive bodily modifications (dreadlocks on white kids, lip piercings, and tattoos) as signifiers of affiliation. Each of these aspects were filtered through chain stores and distilled into their purest form.

JNCO jeans became de facto representations of nu-metal subculture, with their distinctive graffiti-esque pocket designs and sometimes 50-inch leg openings being the clearest annunciation of ugly-ness as an affective identity. Impractical for walking, sitting, moving, or putting on[76], JNCO used a bawdy and almost playful representation of vulgar aesthetic to briefly dominate fashion in a particular cultural sphere. Sales of JNCO jeans peaked in 1998 at $186.9 million before precipitously falling in the years to come.[77] They took the concept of the puffy-jacket and sagged jeans look that dominated hip-hop fashion in the early 1990’s[78] and parroted it back to suburban kids for whom transgression needed have a cartoonish architecture for it to be understood.


Dreadlocks were another significant instance of nu-metal taking an aesthetic out of context and used it to define a new kind of affective transgression. Jonathan Davis[79] was perhaps the most visible artist with dreadlocks, but Korn’s Brian Welch, Deftones’ deceased bassist Chi Cheng, Terry Balsamo of Evanescence wore them proudly as well. They functioned partially as wishful homage to the hip-hop culture nu-metal was culturally outside of, but also existed as a marker of commodified transgression. Dreadlocks were an image sold through images of the artists as being an aesthetic tenet of genre, but additionally applied in a context (the suburbs) in which they clearly juxtaposed the surrounding crew-cut confines. They were the simplest refusal of a societal norm: grooming.

Outside of fashion, nu-metal was deeply commodified for ticket sales and pricey live concerts. Again, Korn led the way. Their Family Values tour, launched in 1998, took several of the highest profile nu-metal and hip-hop acts on the road together across the country, playing smaller towns like Lowell, Massachusetts; Hampton, Virginia; and Kalamazoo, Michigan alongside the typical United States tour destinations. The initial tour featured Korn, Rammstein, Ice Cube, Incubus, Limp Bizkit, and Orgy, and in subsequent years acts like Linkin Park, Ja Rule, Staind, and Mobb Deep would join the tour. The tour grossed over $10 million in 1999 and averaged 10,000+ attendees per stop across the 27 dates.[80] The phenomenal success of the Family Values tour spurred on what would become one of the most infamous events in nu-metal lore: Woodstock ’99.

Organized by John Scher, the event took place in Rome, New York in late July of 1999. Korn, Limp Bizkit, Rage Against the Machine, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all headlined the festival that saw 250,000 attendees grace its grounds over a three-day period. In a report for the Washington Post about the festival Alona Warofsky details the “reek of smoke, garbage, and human waste” that stemmed from “several impromptu bonfires lit during the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ set,”[81] which was followed by a melee between festival goers and police. Noteworthy music critic Rob Sheffield attended the festival on behalf of Rolling Stone, and detailed the grotesque scene he witnessed in his piece “Woodstock ’99: Rage Against The Latrine”, the title itself being a reference to lack of adequate plumbing on hand for the number of attendees. Sheffield’s piece focuses on the amount of sexual assault and violence he witnessed; several other reports corroborate and verify instances of gang rape throughout the festival. At a particularly violent moment in his piece he describes the scene:

The bulls on parade have picked up another girl, who shakes her head. The boys boo her. “Aw, come on,” one yells. “This is your fifteen minutes, kid.” This is sexual assault, and it’s about power, not pleasure. Though the next girl willingly whips her bikini top open, she snaps it back up before everyone has had a chance to photograph her, which makes the boys very angry indeed. They push her onto the shoulders of a guy twice her size. A few hands reach up and unsnap her top, while other hands reach into her shorts. The big guy lowers her so everyone can grope her. The Peace Patrol finally arrives on the scene. They’re here only to get the goons off the trailer – somebody might get hurt – but the mob quiets down.[82]

The San Francisco Examiner famously dubbed Woodstock ’99 as “The Day Music Died”[83] a sentiment that was echoed time and again afterwards when referring to the cultural impact of nu-metal. Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit was targeted as a specific instigator of violent behavior, as after asking attendees to rush the stage, he backed down when organizers made him take it back. In place of the request, he reportedly said “But I don’t think you should mellow out. This is 1999 motherfuckers, stick those Birkenstocks up you ass!”[84]

Across every journalistic piece written about Woodstock ’99 was an acknowledgement that the price gouging of attendees was a significant contributing factor when considering the mayhem. Tickets cost $150[85] plus fees, water bottles cost $4, and food was $10 or more. For a festival catering primarily to a youth audience, presumably spending their parent’s money or money they made from part-time jobs, this was widely considered to be exorbitant. Indeed, this seems in line with much of the corporate culture of nu-metal, where rabid fans were exposed to a bare bones capitalism that insinuated that a specific amount of money could garner a transformative experience. As a subculture born out of ugly-ness it is of little surprise that Woodstock ’99 bred such violence: physically, sexually, aesthetically, monetarily and territorially.



[64] This is obvious to anyone who is alive – ones listen to music that reflects their state of being, but there is now data that proves this to be the case.

[65] Alan M. Rubin , Daniel V. West & Wendy S. Mitchell, “Differences in Aggression, Attitudes Toward Women, and Distrust as Reflected in Popular Music Preferences”, Media Psychology (3) 2001: 25-42.

[66] Foucault, The History of Sexuality cf. Rafalovich, “Broken and Becoming God-Sized”, p 30.

[67] Donna Gaines, Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia’s Dead End Kids (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1998.

[68] Lewis Mumford. The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc, 1961), 486.

[69] Robert Bruegmann, “Learning from Sprawl,” in Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes, ed. Andrew Blauvelt. (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2008).

[70] Jonathan Davis, interview by Neil Strauss, SPIN Magazine, November 1998.

[71] ibid.

[72] Sienne Ngai. Ugly Feelings. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (2005).

[73] ibid, 83.

[74] ibid, 84.

[75] Bourdieu, Social Critique, 33.

[76] Some JNCO jeans required two users to don on.

[77] Sales data from:

[78] see: Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Puff Daddy, Busta Rhymes, et. al.

[79] This is enough of an identifying factor for Korn that their upcoming 2016 summer tour with Rob Zombie has been named the “Return of the Dreads” tour.

[80] Data from

[81] Warofsky, Woodstock ’99 Goes Up, p. A1.

[82] Rob Sheffield, “Woodstock ’99: Rage Against The Latrine”, Rolling Stone, Sept 2, 1999.

[83] Jane Ganahl, “Woodstock ’99: The day music died”, San Francisco Examiner, July 28, 1999.

[84] ibid.

[85] In 1999 dollars, roughly 42% less than 2016 dollars, as $1 in 1999 = $1.42 now.


Next: Chapter Five:
Change (in the House of Flies)
Acknowledgements, Bibliography, Listening Appendix


Previous: Chapter One
Click Click Boom

Chapter Two
Heavy Metal

Chapter Three:
Bulls on Parade