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How the Family Values tour started the nu metal revolution

20 years on, we revisit Korn's Family Values tour and how it brought nu metal kicking and screaming into the mainstream

The 1998 Family Values tour booted the door open for nu metal to become the dominant force in US rock for years to come. Classic Rock’s Ian Fortnam recalls his experience at the tour that defined nu metal.

The planets had been aligning for some time, from the crucible of Def Jam cross-fertilisation, through the industrial/funk fusions of Ministry, Rd Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Tool and Faith No More. Pantera brought the groove, Public Enemy and Anthrax combined to bring the noise, and with Ross Robinson officiating as production midwife, Korn, Deftones and Limp Bizkit ultimately begat nu metal. The word was out but needed spreading, and it was Korn’s inaugural Family Values package tour of autumn 1998 that ultimately saw nu metal hijack the US mainstream consciousness.

The startling State Of The Nation line-up initially allied scene leaders Korn and stars-in-waiting Limp Bizkit. They were joined by newly imported, pyro-heavy, Teutonic controversy magnets Rammstein, here-today-gone-tomorrow deathpop pretty boys Orgy and, most crucially, ex-NWA gangsta rap heavyweight Ice Cube. Family Values spread the gospel of cross-generic, hip hop-literate, groove-infused modern metal to an American constituency sick to death of grunge’s plaid shirt puritanism and the anonymous blurred uniformity of SoCal punk.

There was little doubt the sell-out crowd that caught the tour on its final Halloween date at the 10,000-capacity Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia (located within spitting distance of Washington DC) were fully intending to party. There ostensibly to catch the dildo-happy, spontaneously combusting mensch machine that was Rammstein, we were immediately struck by the audience demographic: there were way more women here than you’d usually expect to find at a 90s rock show. The bill, the very definition of the rising nu metal zeitgeist, was attracting a different kind of punter. By blending metal and rap, cranking up the underlying groove, and distilling the whole shebang into a decidedly more danceable and inclusive whole, Korn had stumbled upon a new evolutionary strand. Moreover, it was a strand that had mass appeal.

As Orgy preened, we battled our way through a language barrier into the Rammstein psyche. Recently pilloried in the British press, the band were incredibly difficult, then thawed to merely distracted. Unsurprising when you consider what was about to happen. As they took to the stage, Till Lindemann burst into flames – situation normal there then – but then he dropped his chainmail. Aside from tiny scraps of gaffa tape, Rammstein were completely naked, and before you could say ‘spurting prosthetic cocks’, a burly pair of gun-toting representatives of Virginia’s finest marched onto the stage and arrested the entire band for the second time on the tour. A riot ensued, but it was a good-natured one – the kind of riot where frisbees are thrown rather than Molotov cocktails, which in essence encapsulated the spirit of Family Values in a nutshell.

Since the date had been advertised and subsequently sold out, Ice Cube (committed to shoot scenes for the movie Next Friday) had pulled out of this final leg of the tour and his place taken by the S.C.I.E.N.C.E.-era funk-fuelled Incubus. Cube’s non-appearance didn’t instigate insurrection or even empty seats in an arena almost exclusively populated by rock and metal fans, for while rock audiences seemed delighted to assimilate hip hop culture, traffic seemed distinctly one way.

Fairfax’s Patriot Center lapped up Incubus and warmed to the personality of Fred Durst (imagine that), before the Adidas-clad Korn absolutely creamed all comers, their Limp Bizkit-enhanced encore of All In The Family casually defining the imminent brave nu future of metal.

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The granddaddy of them all, Korn’s Family Values was the tour that helped nu metal take over the world. Jonathan Davis gave us the inside story on the shows that changed everything.

This idea started super early. For years, we always wanted to do a festival and put something together that was new. We went back and forth with our management and figured out what we were going for and how to do it. It was fun to do.

It was about showing what was going on at that time. We were at a turning point in heavy music and it felt huge and we wanted to put something on that showed what the fuck was going on. Everyone was given a full production so it felt like you were getting a headline show from all of the bands: Limp Bizkit with their big-ass spaceship, and we had the Korn Kage that put kids on the stage, rocking out with us. I think the cage was Fieldy’s idea and to this day, I still think it’s one of the coolest things we’ve ever done.

It served its purpose in the way it exposed people to what was going on at that time and what we were doing in Korn. It blew everything up. It was the first time we ever played arenas and it seemed everyone who was on that tour – except for Cube, who was already huge – blew up and were playing bigger shows after. It was a stepping stone to all of our bands and that scene taking over for a couple of years.

We were convinced we needed to have a hip hop act on there. We all listened to hip hop at that time and it was a big influence on us and the scene, and who better than Ice Cube? That was the shit. It was awesome. That guy is a legend and people had to respect that. I didn’t worry about the crowd not taking to him at all because he ripped it up every night and you can’t deny that. He was bringing old NWA into his set and the crowd loved it. The kids who liked us and Bizkit came from the same school of thought as us so having Cube on there made total sense to everyone.

We always tried to get Deftones on the tour but we could never figure it out. Other than that, it was the exact bill that we wanted to put on the road. Everyone hung out and it was a good time, but it was when I was dealing with anxiety for the first time so I spent a lot of time in my bunk. I remember everyone in the band had a great time and got along with every other band and there was no bitching – it was an amazing tour.

Family Values could definitely happen again. I’d like to bring out trap artists and things reflecting what’s going on right now in music, just like we did back in the day. There’s plenty of aggressive acts in all forms of music that could tour together and do a new Family Values so it’s definitely something we could look at doing again in the future.”

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