Let’s take a journey back to the year 2000 where Lil Browny was 13 and barely sporting enough bumfluff on his face to justify not shaving. He was slowly making his transition from fanboying over pop acts on the radio to delving into the heavy riffs and screams from bands like KoRn, Limp Bizkit, and Drowning Pool, all the while bedroom moshing to acts like blink-182 and Sum 41 (shout out to my older brother Josh for his influence)… But in October of that year, a new entity emerged that would change the musical landscape forever.
Linkin Park burst onto the heavy music scene with their debut album Hybrid Theory, which catapulted the guys into international stardom due to their – taboo at the time – hard-hitting lyrics about mental health struggles. Their nu-metal sound, which combined hard rock elements with rapping and DJ samples/scratching, was similar to Limp Bizkit before them, but with a fresh twist that blended the screams and melodic high vocals from iconic frontman Chester Bennington (Rest In Peace).
It’s hard to believe 20 years have passed since that masterpiece was released, and last week Wall of Sound was invited to join the band’s International Press Conference to celebrate and reflect on the success of the album. It not only changed the band’s lives forever, but their legion of underground fans who, back then, didn’t have the resources we have today, (e.g. Social Media and Emails) and relied heavily on word of mouth, chat rooms, forums, and street team meetups to help spread the word.
Lead Guitarist Brad Delson threw back to that strange era (I’m talking way before the MySpace days) revealing:
“I think what was really cool about that time, is it was the super, super, ascent of the Internet, there was so much change going on, like CDs were basically going away and then Napster kind of came on the scene and then got in trouble and like file sharing and downloading, and we really rode that wave, like we were making fans directly on our street team, over the Internet! And… I mean, it sounds so ridiculous, but that was like a new thing to do.”
Nowadays, when a fan wants to connect with a band/musician, all they need to do is reach out via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and eventually they’ll get noticed. But back in those days, the hard yards really helped bands connect with their fans on a more personal level as vocalist/rhythm guitarist Mike Shinoda added:
“When we first started, Google hadn’t even really become a thing, like we were signing people up for our street team on a mailing list at our merch table and half the people put down their Snail Mail address ’cause they didn’t have email yet.”
One key factor that aided Linkin Park at the start of the new Millenium was the fact that back then, mainstream media ACTUALLY played heavy bands to their audiences. Like, I’m talking radio stations would play System of a Down, Evenescence, Marilyn Manson, and KoRn during the day, night time countdown shows would be full of rock, pop punk and nu-metal acts, and music TV programs (like Channel [V]/Video Hits) would play Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears’ videos alongside the likes of Slipknot, Grinspoon, Spiderbait, and 28 Days just to name a few. It’s legit what us newfound older Gen Y assholes refer to as the heydays!
That major component – mainstream media support – is what I went into the Media Junket’s discussion to personally ask the guys about. Do you think Linkin Park would have become the globally recognised force they are now had mainstream media not supported or played them back in those days?
Ask yourself this, if Linkin Park were to release Hybrid Theory in 2020, do you honestly think it would have the reach it had back then to, and eventually, become the biggest selling record on the planet at the time?
No! I can safely say no, it wouldn’t have. And that’s in no way me taking a dig at the band – that album was (and still is) a masterpiece – it’s mainstream media that need to take a look in the mirror. They’ve lost touch with the power they have to make or break actual bands instead of opting to go for generic, “flavour of the month” acts that’ll either live long enough to be classed as one-hit wonders, or fade into oblivion never to be heard from again.
That’s what this opportunity was all about, to shine a light on the neglect heavy music has faced since the mainstream “norm” condemned it as nothing more than “devil worshipping music” that doesn’t have the appeal of a repetitive beat and simplistic, bubble-gum pop lyrical content. They’re afraid to take risks. But as we have seen with Linkin Park‘s success, the end result has life-changing consequences for everyone involved, and the memories associated with these bands/musicians will last a lifetime.
I mean, here we are, two decades later still talking about (and frothing over) this album and the B-Sides/Rarities they’ve announced to celebrate the 20th Anniversary.
Mike Shinoda weighed in on the subject personally with a touching anecdote about receiving word from his team that Hybrid Theory was the best selling album at the time, which puts it all into perspective about how times have changed now compared to back then, stating:
“I remember we were on tour and they told us that the album was the best selling album in the world, is what our manager said and we were like ‘Oh yeah, like in the world.’ He’s like, ‘no literally in the world, it’s the biggest selling best selling album on the planet’…”
“I couldn’t wrap my head around that because the two most popular things in music were the heavier rock thing that we were doing, but the other side was Britney Spears and the super pop stuff, Max Marten and all that.”
“Still to this day, I still can’t believe that ’cause that seems so big like TRL and MTV and all of those things that surrounded it seemed so big and pervasive…” Shinoda reflects.
Wild huh! But as I mentioned earlier, there was a time when those artists would/could have been played right after each other on the radio. And as Mike explained in his wrap, it couldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the support of their loyal fanbase/street teamers, requesting those songs any chance they could, because they wanted nothing more than to hear their favourite band getting a spin via these mainstream media outlets.
“There was something very unique going on, with what Brad was saying with the advent of the Internet, the way people were connecting online. The fact these subcultures of people (who looked like they just walked out of a Hot Topic with their arms folded back), found their people and they all connected and they realised that, you know, they got behind certain things they had in common and we happened to, you know, be one of them”.
Never, ever, doubt the power a fanbase can have in a band’s success. But also, it’s a great gesture (that certainly doesn’t go unnoticed) receiving a helping hand from outlets whose initial designs were to inform and promote artists that passive listeners/viewers could hear for the first time, then consequently follow up and dive deep into the world of, by checking out the other songs on the album, their back catalogues and other projects the members associate themselves with.
As we enter a new decade and fans nowadays are seeking their own ways of hearing their fav bands/songs on demand – e.g. streaming services, YouTube, Social Media etc. – those older mainstream outlets will quickly become obsolete, outdated, and boring. Unlike the heavy bands/tracks they used to play for us back in the day, which I foresee will not only withstand the test of time, but influence and breed a whole new generation of fans/bands to follow in their footsteps, bringing that dream of worldwide success through heavy music – one step closer – with every day that passes…
Words by Paul ‘Browny’ Brown @brownypaul
Celebrate Linkin Park‘s #HybridTheory20 Anniversary right here