At the end of a serene street in Venice, Calif., there’s a house that sticks out among the neighboring bungalows like a punk rocker at a Bob Dole rally. It looks like a Gothic aircraft hangar, with panels of blue stained glass set against a gray industrial-metal frame. Once inside, you’re greeted with tranquil world music wafting from a built-in media center at the far end of the large living room. Bright sunlight reflects off the pool outside, casting shadowy stripes on the high ceiling and multicultural folk art that’s scattered throughout the house. Last year, this bohemian dream space was featured in Architectural Digest.
This is the house that Lollapalooza built –– Perry Farrell’s handsome reward for revitalizing the summer-tour business in the early ’90s. His links with the annual festival have since grown increasingly tenuous, and this year he’s completely abdicated his advisory role with Lollapalooza. Instead, Farrell’s breaking away with a movable fest of his own. Christened ENIT, it’s due to embark this September on a 13-date inaugural run, with Farrell’s current band, Porno for Pyros, headlining. “It’s celebrating man or woman’s coming of age; it’s the earth’s bar mitzvah,” explains Farrell. “I want to use an adult format, celebrate being intoxicated, celebrate sex, caring for the earth, the passing of the baton from the old to the young.”
Farrell has passed on the Lollapalooza baton to his four partners: Marc Geiger, a vice president at Rick Rubin’s American Recordings; Ted Gardner, the former Jane’s Addiction manager; and Don Muller and Peter Grosslight, both high-level executives at the William Morris Agency. With Farrell out of the picture, the festival’s most public face is Geiger, a former booking agent who must field endless questions about how long Lollapalooza can sustain its five-year run of solid profitability and whether it can retain its credibility at a time when the term ‘alternative rock’ seems to have lost all meaning. “It has been an uncomfortable couple of years for us,” Geiger admits. “We think the majority of what’s called alternative music is such shit. Listen to any major-city radio station in this country –– you’ll hear the same 10 to 12 bands. We don’t want to turn into a radio-station festival.”
Lollapalooza’s main rival this summer is H.O.R.D.E., the festival created five years ago by John Popper of Blues Traveler. Whereas Lollapalooza broke the traditional dominance of dinosaur rock tours with a bold gathering of new youth tribes, H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) has prospered with bands that grew in the cultural space created by neo-hippie nostalgia. “You go to Lollapalooza expecting something you’ve never seen before,” says Popper. “It’s more about your conscious mind: “Wow, that’s interesting. I’ve never seen that before.’ With us you’re going to see something that’s inherent to you, music for your soul. Social music, Miles Davis called it. Music to get drunk to and scam on the opposite sex with.”
Duke’s coffee shop is an unlikely venue for Lollapalooza’s well-heeled custodians to hold court in. The Sunset Strip restaurant is a living museum of the ’80s L.A. hard-rock scene, its walls plastered with posters and photos that range from Guns n’ Roses to countless metal hopefuls who never made it past a supporting slot at the Whisky a Go-Go or Coconut Teaszer. Marc Geiger is not here to talk about the demise of hair metal; he’s here to address the criticism that’s been leveled at Lollapalooza, carping that he sees as unjustified. The alleged crime? Booking Metallica and Soundgarden as headliners for this year’s festival, a pugnacious pairing that arbiters of alternative correctness are calling Monsters of Rock Revisited.
“Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!” says Geiger, a fresh-faced Jonathan Richman look-alike with a Type-A personality. The young executive tirelessly argues that although the sixth Lollapalooza will indeed climax with a thunderous display of heaviosity, the day will mostly evince the eclecticism we’ve come to expect since the tour’s 1991 inception. The main stage will also include punk replicants Rancid, their creaky forebears the Ramones and Asia’s Shaolin Monks, alongside a rotating roster of guests. The second stage will feature a more consistently alternative lineup, including Ben Folds Five, Soul Coughing and Cornershop. There’s also a third stage, reserved for indie-label bands.
Sitting next to Geiger and nursing a brown plastic coffee mug is fellow Lollapalooza partner Gardner, a grizzled, laconic Australian whose management roster includes this year’s main-stage mystery booking, Psychotica. Gardner points to an old photo of Echo and the Bunnymen on Duke’s wall of shame as an example of the prealternative bands that Geiger and Gardner worked with in the ’80s, groups that set the stage for the ’90s success of Nirvana and their ilk. The original idea for Lollapalooza came to Geiger and Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins at England’s Reading Festival in 1990. Gardner says that after watching the Pixies play to “40,000 kids screaming ‘Debaser’ together,” he and Perkins talked about creating an equally exciting American counterpart. They received the instant benediction of Jane’s Addiction’s frontman Farrell, who assumed the role of adviser-pitchman for the event and supplied the name, taken from a Three Stooges movie.
Lollapalooza first rolled out in July 1991, an unlikely convoy of musical styles and personalities that included industrial tyros Nine Inch Nails, black funk-rockers Living Colour, English goth royalty Siouxsie and the Banshees, Texas terrors Butthole Surfers and Ice-T, with his metal band, Body Count. Not only was this motley tour an unheralded breakout success, the whole event took on an almost mythical aura when Farrell announced that Jane’s Addiction would split up after the tour’s last date, in Hawaii. By the time the second Lollapalooza started in ’92, it was widely recognized as a focal point for new youth culture, a growing mix of multicultural media, politics and food, plus the tattoos, regurgitation and pierced genitalia of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Grading Lollapalooza has since become a seasonal sport among rock’s opinion makers. Just as wine lovers swill, spit and judge each year’s Beaujolais Nouveau, every Lollapalooza lineup is carefully submitted to the alternative taste test.