Coronavirus has not been kind to house parties. With their legality suspended – and me not wanting to get personally cancelled for attending and documenting an illegal one – this column hasn’t seen much action since March of 2020.
However, parties have been around for as long as humans have existed, and even if we can’t physically go out to drink increasingly warm cans and spend our overdrafts on Ubers, we must keep the sesh alive in our hearts. How best to do that? Remember the iconic parties of yore. First off: the launch night and listening party for Limp Bizkit’s third album, Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water.
It was the year 2000, and nu-metal was at the peak of its popularity: shaving your facial hair into a soul patch was not yet a criminal act, and “width” was considered an aspirational feature in sneaker design. The music industry still had money to burn, because CDs still existed and people outside of Michael Buble’s fanbase actually bought them (not long after this party, Chocolate Starfish sold 1.05 million copies in its first week, becoming the fastest-selling rock album ever).
Taking place on the 28th of September at LA’s Playboy Mansion, the party was hosted by Interscope Records and MTV, and recorded for an hour-long MTV special. I spoke to the show’s host Ananda Lewis about her recollections of the night.
Located next to the Los Angeles Country Club, just a tee shot away from the £30 sandwiches and non-surgical lip enhancements of Beverly Hills, the mansion was the home of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, and would later become the set of reality show The Girls Next Door.
“The bunnies lived there, like a private home, so really most of the party happened outside,” said Ananda. “There were so many people – I don’t know how they would have handled everyone being in the house.”
Watch the YouTube rip and you’ll spot a few sneaky snippets of bunnies playing pool in a games area full of pinball machines, but otherwise, as anyone who’s watched The Girls Next Door will know, it didn’t look like Hef had updated the decor since he bought the place in 1971.
“I got there early to prep while they were still setting up, and by the time they got back it was nuts,” said Ananda. “There were probably 500 people – it was a huge house.”
Regular-human partygoers rubbed elbows with a truly baffling line-up of celebrity guests, including Courtney Love, Debbie Harry, Verne Troyer, two-time Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt, Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath, Korn, Rob Zombie, Powerman 5000, Paul Sorvino from Goodfellas, Deftones, Charlize Theron, Incubus’ Brandon Boyd, Ashton Kutcher, jazz singer Tony Bennett, Pauly Shore, Tommy Lee, Warren G, some Buffy cast members and endless Playboy bunnies.
“Everybody knows everybody, even if it’s just degrees of separation,” Ananda explained. “I feel like I have a recollection of Hef walking around in one of the smoking robes he would wear. The Pharcyde were there, Sisqo was there – and a bunch of athletes. Xzibit was there!”
“There were all these different stations outside,” said Ananda. “In the Grotto, there were a lot of rocky, watery-type places, and you had to manoeuvre around those, but everywhere was packed with people.”
Watch the video and you’ll see there were assorted seating areas flanking the rocky bridges running over the various swimming pools, plus a checkerboard illuminated by some extremely high-grade disco lights.
“Girl,” said Ananda, “we are never gonna get back to that kind of party, even if the [coronavirus] restrictions are lifted.”
Never the most glamorous segment in a house party review, but still: what was the bog like? “I try not to drink a lot when I’m working, so that I don’t have to go to the bathroom,” said Ananda. “But the bathroom in the Grotto area – you had to go under a rock, almost, and it was in the rock. I went to that bathroom to fix my makeup.”
Was there any nookie? “You’d walk into a bathroom, and yeah, people would be in there getting it on.”
“Nobody was getting dressed up [crazy at the time], except for award shows and stuff. You know, people were chilling – they were like, ‘I’m gonna run up to the Playboy Mansion real quick,’” said Ananda. It’s true: most of the people in the footage are wearing the y2k equivalent of “jeans and a nice top”. Mark McGrath was wearing a black tee and jeans. Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst was hosting in a fluffy Kangol bucket hat.
“I had a really skimpy top,” said Ananda. “When I found out it was at the Playboy Mansion, they were like, ‘You’re going to have to go sexy.’ I was like, ‘I don’t do little negligees and stuff, but I can wear some sexy shit.’ Some people were walking around in bikinis. If you’re partying in California and it’s warm, anything goes, especially in the Playboy Mansion.”
In the first few minutes of the MTV special, Courtney Love takes someone’s phone to urgently message Chris Rock; teen heartthrob Ashton Kutcher is caught flirting with Ananda; and Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland dresses up as a journalist to interrogate Fred Durst on his Woodstock 99 antics. There are also, unsurprisingly, lots of boobs being flashed.
Ananda also remembers a moment in which an overhyped Mark McGrath pretended to eat her shoe: “When we’re sitting down, trying to get ready to do the interview, he was so freakin’ distracted, like the whole time. I was like, ‘Calm down!’”
“I never had expectations going in, except I knew it was going to be crazy and that my feet would be killing me when it was over,” said Ananda. “Everybody was drunk, and it was crazy. I actually had to work – I couldn’t just be drinking and smoking, like… I have to actually interview you!”
As a fellow house party reporter, this is a feeling I can sympathise with.
Ananda also said there was something about the time – perhaps the relative economic prosperity, or the fact neither 911 nor the Iraq War had happened, or that we weren’t in the midst of a deadly global pandemic – that just made everything more fun: “There was such an air of celebration and happiness in that whole era – it’s so different from what it is now. It was genuine, and the fun was real – like, we weren’t just having a good time for the cameras. We were really happy.”
Also, the internet was essentially a toddler, and camera phones were still a good half-decade off producing photographs where you could actually make out basic facial features. “Back then, you had a good ten-day window of getting away with stuff,” said Ananda. “It would eventually get out, but at a snail’s pace.”
“I’m pretty sure there was a free bar – I guess they were serving everything,” Ananda recalled. “There was this blue drink with smoke coming off it, but I was drinking vanilla vodka with Coke. It wasn’t Smirnoff, it was Stoli. Good god, girl, you’re bringing back memories.”
There was also, notably, a free-for-all buffet serving cups of mac-and-cheese.
“I wasn’t into drugs, but it was always an option,” said Ananda. Though she’d never grass on who was doing what, it was confirmed that all the usual suspects – stimulants, ecstasy, mushrooms and weed – were present that evening: “People were, you know, hopping on whatever they do. I don’t think that’s ever gone away – drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.”
Being a Limp Bizkit album launch party, there was, of course, plenty of music from Freddy D and the boys – including a live set. “I remember the performance being really good,” said Ananda. “Everyone was singing – especially to that hit, ‘Nookie’. It was crazy.”
At the end of the footage from the night, you can watch Fred performing “Getcha Groove On” with Xzibit, who features on the track. Verne Troyer is seen to the left of Fred’s shoulder, grinning. Truly an extraordinary moment in time.
Ananda can’t remember specific conversations, which is fair enough, considering the party took place literally two decades ago. However, the footage includes various titillating topics, including:
- A playmate getting her belly button pierced.
- An assortment of wide-eyed male celebs trying out cheesy pickup lines on the overwhelming number of beautiful women surrounding them.
- Fred Durst interviewing Hugh Hefner in the mansion library about all the parties he’s thrown there.
- Mark McGrath explaining that he’d been invited to a party at the mansion before, but because he’d arrived on a moped he wasn’t allowed in.
- Various members of other bands commenting on how proud they were of Limp Bizkit’s success.
- Rob Zombie being interviewed about his upcoming cult horror film, House of 1000 Corpses.
- Xzibit talking about his upcoming album, Restless.
- Verne Troyer talking in glowing terms about Limp Bizkit’s performance at the Napster tour.
- Wes Borland admitting that he doesn’t like any of the songs on the album, which is a bit awkward in retrospect, given that he quit the band the following year.
Despite seeming like a rager, the party ended around 2.30AM. “That was kind of normal,” said Ananda. “In New York, we’d go ‘til six, seven, eight, but it’s always going down earlier in LA.”
Having spent the evening trying to interview inebriated celebrities, Ananda has a vague memory of a group hitting the clubs afterwards. After a few vanilla vodkas and 20 entire years, you have to commend her for remembering anything at all.