"People=Shit" is a statement that will forever be locked in the basement of my brain. Around the turn of the millennium – just as I was turning into a proper, deodorant-using teenager – it was a sentiment that was reinforced to me on a daily basis, printed on the back of the countless Slipknot hoodies roaming the corridors of my school.
I probably encapsulated the "shit" they were talking about pretty accurately. My group of friends dressed like semi-professional darts players – all luminous shirts, buckled loafers and wet-look hair gel – and actually referred to our chosen cigarette brands as "classy". We were townies, not grungers. We thought the Slipknot kids were weird, and they no doubt thought we were cunts.
But looking back, I have a lot more respect for those guys than I do for myself at that age. They weren't fickle and eager to please; they were defiant and dedicated. Despite the trend at the time, they didn't spend their pot-wash pay on Ben Sherman shirts and squirty bottles of CK One; they invested it in leather dusters and more ball-bearing chains than could have ever been physically necessary. They didn't hide behind the safety blanket of conformity; they braved the streets of suburban Britain in black nail polish and slowly decomposing Criminal Damage jeans.
Over a decade on, I noticed that Slipknot and Korn were touring the UK together. I wanted to see whether that sense of dedication has held strong – whether the rock and metal kids of my youth had survived emo, indie and the inevitable vanillafication of your personality that ensues when you have to spend your free time reading HMRC letters rather than Metal Hammer. Whether there was a new generation of angsty teens, or if the class of 2004 were still dyeing their thinning dreadlocks green and upgrading their hoodie size once a year.
Arriving at Sheffield's Motorpoint Arena, the first thing I noticed was how mixed, gender-wise, the crowd was. At school, the flesh tunnel mafia was always way heavier on the testosterone, so it was nice to see that balanced out 15 years down the line.
In fact, the crowd was generally a big old melting pot. There were anime-eyed kids who'd inexplicably taken MD for the moshpit; a girls' night out shotting mini bottles of wine; white-haired 70s metal blokes stuffing hotdogs into their mouths with nicotine-stained fingers; lonely men propped up against the wall drinking Coke; groups of tattooed lads drinking paper pints of Carling; a couple of genuine potential psychopaths; and, generally, lots of people who were very nice to me despite the fact I was acting like a massive narc, approaching strangers and asking them about their "musical allegiances".
Those closer to my age seemed to mostly have stuck with the same kind of stuff they were wearing in my school days. Metal's an aesthetic that people just kind of adopt forever, isn't it?
Find me a full-on, wet-shaved-bald gabber who's had to properly think about school catchment areas and I'll give you a tenner. Go to literally any mid-to-large sized rock bar and I guarantee you'll spot a group of men and women in their late forties, still wearing bullet belts, spiky bracelets and boots covered in lots of extraneous bits of steel.
It's a bit like musical herpes, metal – once you've got it, it never goes away.
After spending some time lingering around the bar, trying to count how many boiler suits were in attendance, I had a walk around and chatted to some fans.
VICE: Hi. Are you guys here for Slipknot or Korn?
Janne: I thought it was Emperor!
Nathan: Slipknot are one of those bands I used to listen to when I was younger, so it's a bit of a nostalgia trip seeing them again. We're into a lot more darker, heavier stuff now, but it's still nice to revisit where it all started.
Have you kept up with their more recent material?
I've dipped into it now and again, but mostly I've been working on my own stuff of late. Still, it's nice to revisit the classics.
Janne: I liked Korn when they did their first album, when they used to build their own distortion pedals. I really respected them for that, creating their own unique sound.
Hi Scott, who are you here for?
Scott: Mainly for Slipknot.
You a big fan?
Yeah, I'm a big fan. I've been into them since I was 15, and I'm 21 now, so it's been quite a few years.
What was it that attracted you to the band initially?
It was completely different to what everyone else was doing at the time, and there was a vibe from the band that pulled me towards them. From then on they brought me into this whole other genre of music, and it's taken me everywhere. I was in a really bad situation before and it helped me through it by listening to it, and it's brought me to where I am now.
So it's something you've found therapeutic, almost?
Yeah, absolutely. I've followed the fashion that goes with it, too – and yeah, I'm really happy and I can't wait to see them onstage. It's the first time I'm seeing them.
What are you expecting?
I'm expecting a massacre and absolute brutality. I reckon they'll be mental. I'm expecting brutality; if they don't bring the brutality, I'll be disappointed.
People having their lives drastically affected, inspired or improved by Slipknot was a common running theme; people who'd felt marginalised as teenagers said they'd found solace in this group of masked men from Iowa who sang about spitting and bleeding, and huffed up the scent of dead crow onstage to make themselves projectile vomit. They found a unity in the other.
Interview a stadium full of Stereophonics fans and I doubt you'll hear about as many life-changing experiences.
Korn were the support act, presumably because frontman Jonathan Davis has been too busy both creating dubstep and then jumping on that Borgore flex with his J Devil project to concentrate too heavily on the band that made him.
Still, the crowd were lapping it right up, especially old favourites like "Freak On a Leash" and "Blind". Some people even applauded sincerely when JD brought out his bagpipes.
Actually, the guy with the Marilyn Manson neck tattoo completely lost his shit at that point.
How long have you guys been fans for?
Carole: Well, I'm 37 and have been into the alternative scene a long time. It was [Slipknot's] record in 1999 that really got me into them.
What is it that's kept you interested for all that time?
They're different to anything else – they don't copy anyone else. They don't go by image; they wear masks so they look mysterious and have that horror movie vibe to them. So many bands come and go that look like someone else or resemble someone else, but with Slipknot you don't think, 'Oh, they're like this other band.' They're just Slipknot.
Speaking to people tonight, they clearly have a hugely dedicated fan base. I suppose you could say that they're making niche music – in the mainstream sense, at least – but they're still enormously popular. Why do you think that is?
I would say it's the alternative, heavy metal lifestyle. It's more a lifestyle choice than anything else – it's not an image or a religion, it's a lifestyle choice. I think fans are dedicated because it's like a big family, a big group of friends. There's a really good atmosphere at rock and heavy metal gigs that you don't get at any other concert. The fans are their own people; they're not fake, and I think that's why it works.
What first attracted you to Slipknot and Korn?
Ryan: Teen angst, pretty much.
Charlotte: Yeah. I was always a fan of rock music growing up, too.
What's made you stick with the band for the last ten years?
Ryan: It's reminiscence – a bit of nostalgia.
Charlotte: Yeah. Like, the first album I ever bought was Sum 41, and I still love them. You grow up with those bands.
Ryan: Slipknot are in my top three favourite bands to see live. The energy, the entertainment – they've got flames going off... it's just a show.
Is it the wilder, the better for you?
It's not the wilder, the better – they just know how to put on a show. Not a lot of bands do these days. I hope my boss doesn't see this; he's a devout Christian like those lot outside.
You didn't see them? There are groups of Christians with banners and signs saying things like "sinners repent" protesting the gig.
We ran back outside (past those two above) to catch the Christians, but were told by police we'd missed them. I found it genuinely bizarre that, in 2015, a concert could still provoke such a response from the religious right; you'd have thought they'd have switched their sights by now.
Mind you, there was a nice irony to the protests; they were demonstrating against a tour called "Prepare for Hell" by preaching the very same message to everyone in attendance.
How long have you two been fans?
Daz: I first saw them in '99.
You wouldn't have been born then, would you, Ethan?
He was born in '98.
So you've been brought up with Slipknot?
Ethan: Yeah, pretty much.
Daz: He's had no choice!
What's kept you coming for 15-plus years, Daz?
It's a hard question, that. It's an instant thing; I know I like it and it gives me exactly what I need out of music. It gets better and better every fucking album; you can't get anything better than Slipknot, really.
As Tash, our photographer, was escorted to the photo pit ready for Slipknot, she was asked by security whether she had insurance against piss. There would be lots of piss chucked around, she was warned.
Thankfully, Tash and her camera remained piss free, because it turns out Slipknot's fans aren't nearly as keen to drench each other in bodily fluids as Kasabian's – the gig the security guard cited in his piss speech.
"I've never seen so much piss thrown in all my life," he said. "It's how they get their kicks."
As soon as Slipknot burst out through the pyro and onto the stage, the entire crowd was whipped up into a series of splintering circle pits. Thirty-five-year-old men lost themselves in the maelstrom and started to thrash their heads back and forth, yanked in and out of the pit by kids half their age.
I expected the night to be a mix of young teens cathartically blowing off the same kind of angst many my age did ten years ago, and others still captivated by those formative years, hanging in there despite the fact their boss keeps telling them they really shouldn't wear their lip ring to work.
I found lots of both, and, just as I'd expected, all those my age – while allowing themselves some other tastes of various cultural niches – had more or less kept rock and metal as their constant. They hadn't been swayed by the tides of fashion and bought into health goth or seapunk; they'd remained loyal to the subculture they allied themselves with at an age where virginity and hazard perception tests were still very much at the forefront of their minds.
Mind you, along with that lot, I found plenty of people who'd only just discovered the bands a few years ago – entire families, mums and daughters, dads and sons – proving it's never too late to go all out, shave your entire head and get that Slipknot tattoo on your skull that the 14-year-old you always wanted.
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