I'm in a parking lot in New Jersey at the Vans Warped Tour, watching a rapper ask a crowd of teenagers to put their middle fingers in the air if they don't give a fuck. He's standing under a sign that says "no moshing." The kids toss black balls around. At one point, a DJ stops playing EDM to blast Jay Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulders." Then the EDM comes back on.
In case you haven't already realized, Warped Tour is no longer the summer event Blink-182 described in their song "Rock Show." A lot has changed.
From a distance, the event looks the same it probably did in the early days, when skateboarders who called me "faggot" made up most of the audience. These days, the crowd is different. In the parking lot, I meet a former Marine tailgaiting with his co-workers and baby sister, who wears a bandana and chugs tequila. They blast hardcore from their car speakers and the marine shows me his manliest scream.
People still attend Warped Tour in hoards, but once upon a time, it meant something to attend or play here: It meant you were emo, pop-punk, or scene, or you belonged to a band that had a ridiculous name like Bowling for Soup or Cute Is What We Aim For. But now, at least at this weekend's Camden stop, I see kids dancing—not moshing—to EDM, rap, pop, hardcore, and pop-punk—a variety of genres encompassing, well, everything.
Green, black, and yellow tents still fill the parking lot where the event takes place. My favorite tent was the one raising awareness about testicular cancer as Yellowcard plays "Ocean Avenue."
Where, in previous years, bands like Paramore, Fall Out Boy, and No Doubt played the show both before they were famous and after they had become superstars, the biggest act I recognized on this year's roster was Yellowcard—a one-hit wonder. In the history booth, the most recently famous musician on the wall is Skrillex. He performed at the Warped Tour when he was an emo band called From First to Last, which never took off.
I never went to Warped Tour when I was a teenager—or if I did, I must have gotten too drunk to remember—but my friends went, filling my Facebook feed with pictures of emo kids while I shopped at Hot Topic and listened to My Chemical Romance at home. When they got back, they talked about waiting for hours—I mean, like, six hours—through terrible opening acts to see one good band, but at this year's Warped Tour, nobody waits for bands. Instead, kids sit against fences, texting.
What does it mean to play and attend Warped Tour? I'm unsure, so I decide to ask the bands.
My first stop on the Warped Tour is the Maine's tour bus. The Maine has played the Warped Tour several times. I remember scene girls listening to them in high school. As I drove to Warped Tour, I received text messages from someone on their team who somehow found my contact info, asking me to interview the guys. I've never heard their music, but since middle school, I've fantasized about five smelly, emo guys gangbanging me on a tour bus. So I agreed to meet them.
Luckily for me, their bus smells like a used condom wrapped in a dirty sock. Twelve guys live on the bus, and the living room space feels hot (temperature-wise). I expected their bus to look this sexy and gross—Alexa Aimes, a porn star I know, was engaged to a member of a Warped Tour band, and she said one year she had a queef contest on a bus. Bands lined up to have a queef-off with her. Great, right?
At the same time, living on a bus with 12 dudes doesn't sound fun. I sit down with the Maine and ask how they manage to masturbate when they live in a glorified hallway, beds piled on top of each other. They all say they're used to life on the road and typically wait to bust a nut until they make a stop at a hotel, which means they might go days without ejaculating.
"The problem on this bus is the curtains don't hang down to the bottom of your bunk," one of them says. "You have to know what your angle is [if you masturbate on the bus]."
I pretend to be the Barbara Walters of Warped Tour as they talk—but really I'm just thinking about having a gay bukkake with all the guys in the Maine.
After a brief absence from the Warped Tour, the Maine decided to play the event again to gain new fans and attention. Their song "Birthday in Los Angeles" is a catchy song I'll probably listen to the next time I fall in love. That said, it's unclear if the Warped Tour can launch any of their songs to the top of the Billboard charts, considering that, in the purple press room behind the amphitheater, I see no legitimate members of the press—only teenagers with flip-cams who claim to run blogs.
One blogger stops me. "Mitch!" she screams. I look up, unsure who she is. She tells me she met me when I was reviewing an Aaron Carter concert at a Mexican restaurant last fall, because she's the "manager" of Aaron's opening act.
Moments later, I hear an Australian musician tell a blogger, "My idols played [the Warped Tour]. Legends."
The only band who seems to realize that no career breaks are coming out of the Warped Tour is the Protomen, a rock band that smells terrible and paints their faces silver. One of them hears I'm from VICE and asks, "Why is VICE here?" After a brief interview, they pick me up and throw me over their shoulders.
The only band I meet with radio potential is Hunter Valentine, a (mostly) lesbian rock band best known for opening for Cyndi Lauper and appearing on The Real L Word. They're also competing in the new VH1 talent show Make It or Break It from Linda Perry, the songwriter and producer behind P!nk and Christina Aguilera's biggest songs, which makes sense considering their songs are catchy.
Kiyomi McCloskey, the lead singer, is also media-savvy. She tells her bandmates to remember I have a recorder on. If the band does take off, they'll succeed because of their social media presence and reality TV appearances, not the Warped Tour.
Like most girl-fronted bands at the tour, Hunter Valentine are playing on the Shiragirl Stage.
The terrible press room hasn't stopped Shira, the 32-year-old Warped Tour veteran, who created the Shiragirl stage. Performing as "Shiragirl," she's basically the Penny Lane of the Warped Tour—a veteran believer of the movement who has lived a life of being almost famous.
In 2003, she joined the tour as a TRUTH MC, encouraging kids to avoid cigarettes. She noticed there were no girls performing and proposed to Kevin Lyman, the tour's founder, that they start a girls-only stage. He said no, because the next year was the tenth anniversary. In an act of defiance, Shira drove a pink RV onto the tour ground the next year and set up performances across from the stage.
"Girls saw pink and came running," she says.
The stage was so successful, the next year Lyman invited her to set up the Shiragirl Stage, a stage where only girls could perform. Shira played with her band, Shiragirl, and both Paramore and Joan Jett played the stage.
After several years without the Shiragirl Stage, Shira has returned this year for Warped Tour's 20th anniversary—but now she's singing EDM instead of pop-punk.
At the Camden tour stop, she dances with chains and climbed over her dancers, while wearing a cheap-looking Lady Gaga rip-off outfit better suited to 2008 than 2014.
"I wanted to do something with my dance training," she says. But considering EDM is trending right now and she used to sing pop-punk, it seems like she's trying to cater to the market.
Shira says Limey's smart to make sure the tour adapts to the changing market, but also admits she's nostalgic for old aspects of the Warped Tour, like NoFx and the skate ramp—nevertheless, she still believes in the tour. To her, genre doesn't matter. The Warped Tour is a "punk-rock summer camp."
The teens treat Warped Tour more like a mall encompassing 2014's biggest trends than a punk rock event. Vendors try to sell them hats with the word swag on them and weed shirts, but the kids would rather sit around and gossip.
The teens have different theories about Warped Tour's failures. One kid with very spikey hair tells me that the influx of younger crowds—and the need to appease them—has ruined the tour.
"Warped used to be awesome," he says. "Now [there's] no moshing because kids are coming."
The only person who seems to need the tour is the marine veteran I met outside the venue. While serving in Afghanistan twice, he says, he listened to hardcore and pop-punk because it was one of the few ways he could get through his difficult emotions both during and after the war.
"My first deployment it was all heavy shit," he says. "I will fucking be [hardcore and pop-punk] until I fucking die."
These two girls from New Jersey love the Warped Tour—they think their generation has no use for the labels like emo, pop-punk, and scene that made the Warped Tour thrive during the Bush years.
"There's no labels," one says.
"Besides nobodies," the other corrects her.
In the history booth, this sign hangs about the birth of the Warped Tour and why the tour matters, but the quote contradicts itself. The internet has formed an accepting generation that, for the most part, doesn't need subcultures, because everything they could ever want is on the internet, and they listen to rap, EDM, and hardcore.
If kids have the internet and EDM, do they really need punk rock?