You know the old saying: New year, new Decadepalooza!
By now, many of you are probably familiar with our fictional fantasy music festival series, but for those who’ve just stumbled in, here’s a quick overview of what we’re all doing here.
Simon and I both like music quite a bit. We also like making our lives more stressful by forcing ourselves to choose between our favorite musicians from a specific era to curate imaginary, four-act, era-specific musical festivals, all while attempting to anticipate each others’ selections so our picks don’t get sniped (spoiler: somebody got sniped this time). In previous installments, we’ve created festivals based on the ‘60s and ‘70s, and ‘80s, so a big old no-prize for anyone who guesses the decade for this installment.
A brief rule recap before we dive in:
- Only artists who released music during the years 1990-1999 are eligible for this Decadepalooza draft, and only the music they produced during that era will be included.
- Each festival must have one (1) headliner, two (2) co-headliners, and one (1) opener.
- Each headliner must have at least one #1 hit within the decade in question.
- At the conclusion of the draft, the festival promoters will select a venue and one additional variable to add to their festival.
For those hoping to get as close as possible to the true festival vibe, we’re each including a playlist of our dream sets by each act, which you can stream via the links in our festival titles; and for all you competition-junkies, draft results will be posted at the conclusion of the piece, below our individual festival breakdowns.
Without any further ado, welcome to Decadepalooza IV: The ‘90s!
Simon’s Festival: THE SCOVILLE STAGE Tour
Opener: Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins still hold the championship belt for “Most Aggressive and Angsty Mainstream Music Artist.” I’m in love with the way Billy Corgan and Co. managed to embody anti-commercialism while becoming one of the most commercially successful bands of their era.
Their music is dark, brooding, and generally pessimistic. Their lead singer has an objectively unappealing voice and look. Their best album is FIVE. HOURS. LONG. Against all odds imaginable, the Smashing Pumpkins remain a total cultural sensation. It’s a perfect storm of unlikely variables that turned into an underdog success story.
The band has a cinematic aura to them that brings a sense of levity to wherever they perform, perfect for a tone-setting opener. Myself and the thousands that will attend my fake concert will feel this energy after the first note is played.
Co-Headliner #1: The Pharcyde
YouTube is among the greatest inventions known to man. It’s rare that I end a night without going down some deep video investigative rabbit hole. About two years ago, one of those nights began with the Charlie Kaufman penned, Spike Jonze directed classic Being John Malkovich.
(Quick Kaufman sidebar, I don’t know if there’s a more mercurial screenwriter than him. He walks such a thin tight rope between making generational avant-garde films like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and meaningless piles of self-serving nonsense like I’m Thinking of Ending Things or Human Nature. It’s impossible to call him untalented but I also don’t feel comfortable giving him the auteur label that others have.)
Though it might have been a roundabout way to get there, Being John Malkovich led me down a Spike Jonez rabbit hole that eventually brought me to the music video for The Pharcyde’s “Drop” (which Jonez directed). I had never heard of The Pharcyde or their 1995 single until this point.
After the next 3:33, my musical life was never the same.
What follows is a semi-accurate reproduction of my thoughts during this climatic viewing experience:
“Nice futuristic-sounding beat.”
“Oh cool, some of this music video is in reverse.”
“Wait, how are they rapping their lines normally when the video is shot in reverse?”
“Did they memorize some of their lines BACKWARDS??”
“THEY MEMORIZED ALL OF THEIR LINES BACKWARDS!!”
“IS THAT THE BEASTIE BOYS??”
“This is the greatest music video ever made.”
That one video led to a nearly-five-hour binge of every Pharcyde song released in their all too short discography. It’s as close to perfect as any hip-hop artist has gotten, with a melodically alternative sound that lies somewhere between Dr. Dre and Marvin Gaye. The group just has an effortless charm to themselves and their music. It’s hard not to get sucked in after just one song; I’m glad I was. Personal thank you to Spike Jonze for indirectly leading me here.
I might be bold enough to label The Pharcyde as of the two most underappreciated groups in music history, or at the very least hip-hop history. I’m comfortable putting them at second, only because my pick for first place is coming in the next Decadepalooza. More on that next month.
Co-Headliner #2: The Fugees
My fingers are tired after that novel I wrote about The Pharcyde, so I’ll keep this one short. The Fugees are among the all time great super-groups to ever hit the music scene.
Lauryn Hill is the rightful centerpiece of the trio, right on the cusp of her stellar one-and-done album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. (Her disappointingly short discography and the legacy that accompanies it was briefly covered in Decadepalooza 70s, in yet another overlong sidebar).
Despite being the least commercially successful of the three, rapper and producer Pras adds a sense of legitimacy to the group. He’s credited as the founder of the project and his production on the records has since become immortal. This wasn’t just a gimmick, this was a real moment in RnB music history.
Lastly, Wyclef Jean’s island hooks and rockstar charisma tie a perfect bow on an already spectacular creation. The Fugees were an experiment that went just about as well as it could’ve possibly gone. Let’s hope their massive 2022 reunion tour is rescheduled.
Headliner: Red Hot Chili Peppers
At the helm of the chill counterculture to the ‘90s overtly aggressive and angsty mainstream, The Red Hot Chili Peppers remain the most consistent force in music. Just last week, the band released a new single, “Black Summer”, ahead of their 2022 stadium tour. Being successful in the music industry is already hard enough, staying successful is even harder. The RHCP have been massive for three decades and counting now.
Above all, the band hasn’t needed to evolve or change their essence over all these years of chart dominance. “Black Summer” evokes the same laid back slacker rock that the band’s 1991 single “Give It Away” did 30 years ago. There’s a certain confidence that comes with never changing. They know their formula works and they’re not going to touch it until it doesn’t.
Venue: Copacabana Beach
Variable: Festival leads to a RHCP-Fugees collab album
Nate’s Festival: The YOU OUGHTA BODYGUARD MY FAKE PLASTIC AWARD TOUR
We’ve officially reached the part of our Decadepalooza series where I can personally vouch for the performing capabilities of the act I’m about to select. In July of 2008, I was standing in a crowd of what I was sure at the time was a few million people, watching fireworks reflect off the skyscrapers and shout-singing off key along with Radiohead as they tore into the final chorus of “Fake Plastic Trees.”
Only a handful of live show moments have come close in their indelibility, and only a few bands have had a bigger impact on me musically. From Thom’s anxious lyricism to Jonny’s agitated solos, Phil and Colin’s lumbering pocket, and Ed’s inimitable ability to fill in the crevices between every jagged-edged part of their arrangements, Radiohead completely redefined my understanding of song construction the moment I first laid ears on them.
While picking them in the ‘90s burns my favorite of their albums (In Rainbows), saving them for the ‘00s would sacrifice two of their best (OK Computer and The Bends). And though it feels absurd to have them in the opening slot of any festival, fictional or otherwise, I can’t think of a better group to set the vibe than this quintet of genre-bending rock pioneers. Welcome to the fest, Radiohead!
Co-Headliner #1: Alanis Morissette
I’m deeply upset by how many acts that I adore are going to be left on the board. I am also aware that it’s going to look genuinely idiotic when we come out of this decade without Nas or Biggie or Fiona or Nirvana or Pac or Jay or Mariah or BSB or any other number of era-defining acts. But I gotta go with my heart; and my heart will forever belong to Alanis Morissette.
I have never heard anyone else annihilate a vocal the way Alanis can. I have never heard an artist shapeshift the way she does from one track of Jagged Little Pill to the next. I have never heard anyone come for an ex’s neck the way she does on “You Oughta Know.” I have never given fewer shits about whether someone’s usage of “ironic” is grammatically sound or not.
None of which speaks to the complete and utter revolution that was her impact on the music industry–the doors she opened for female-identifying artists to have agency and self-determination in their careers, as well as the industry-wide commodification of her archetype that followed Jagged Little Pill’s explosion (capitalism, amiright?). Of all the acts that were inevitably going to be passed up for this Decadepalooza, Alanis was the one that would have kept me awake at night.
Co-Headliner #2: Whitney Houston
Speaking of keeping me awake at night:
Something I learned about myself during the past few years, as my body and mind crossed the invisible threshold between twentysomething and thirtysomething in their march towards inevitable decomposition, is that I can no longer function well without sleep. Days, even weeks have been swallowed whole by the pervasive grumpiness that overtakes me after a collision between an ill-advised late night and my chronic inability to stay asleep past 6:30AM. As a result, I try my best to adhere to a regimented seven-hours-per-night-minimum schedule.
However, somewhere between two and three times a year (usually right around my very reasonable single-digit bedtime), I’ll have this sudden need to ruin the next day for myself by cuing up YouTube and watching Whitney Houston perform “I Have Nothing” at the 1993 Billboard Music Awards.
You might be wondering, “why would watching a five-minute and 39-second recording of one of the single greatest vocal performances of all time disrupt your Very Important sleep schedule, Nate?” The answer is that it only takes 11 viewings of that five-minute and 39-second video to have spent an entire hour watching one Whitney Houston perform “I Have Nothing” at the 1993 Billboard Music Awards.
“Ok, but an hour isn’t that long” you might be thinking to yourself, which is entirely true. But if you’re anything like me, once you’ve watched an all-time-top-five-dead-or-alive vocalist make her band pause at the key-changing climax of her best song to pull her gum out of her mouth eleven times in a row, you’ll find yourself happily sacrificing valuable rest hours to watch as many Whitney highlights as the internet will provide.
As cranky as I am the next day, it is always worth it. No other artist has the same ability to instantly demolish me emotionally. I had a tough choice between selecting her in this Decadepalooza or in the 80s, but ultimately “I Have Nothing” (and the rest of her tail-end of the 20th-century discography) won out. Diva incarnate. All-time superstar. And from here on out, an illustrious member of the Decadepalooza family.
Headliner: A Tribe Called Quest
What’s wonderful about Decadepalooza is that, given the depth and breadth of talent across an entire decade, and the differences in Simon’s and my strategic approaches to festival-building, our drafts are usually less about competition and more about celebrating music. But let me tell you–the second Simon left the door open for me to get A Tribe Called Quest with the second pick of the draft, I got the same rush that hit me when my fantasy league let Nikola Jokic fall to the back of the first round last season.
There are certainly bigger names on the board, but none that have had a bigger impact on my understanding of musical possibility: the boundarylessness of Tip and Shaheed’s sampling and production, the galaxy-brain lyricism, and bottomless swag of Phife and Tip, the unbridled joy in even the darkest tracks. Only a handful of artists hit me the way they do. I listen to Tribe and feel like I’m at once back in my Queens apartment and 30,000 feet above the earth.
Though We’ll Take It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service charts high on my 2010’s decade list, the 90’s capture Tribe at the absolute apex of their off-kilter powers, dropping a genre-redefining debut, two all-time classics, and two all-too-often-overlooked masterworks in the span of eight years–not to mention that their selection also means that I get to bring J Dilla, Trugoy, and Busta into the fold. There was simply no chance I could have a festival lineup that didn’t feature them in the headlining slot.
Venue: Roseland Ballroom, NYC
Variable: Parodied on an episode of The Simpsons
- Pick 1 (Simon): Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Pick 2 (Nate): A Tribe Called Quest
- Pick 3 (Simon): Smashing Pumpkins
- Pick 4 (Nate): Radiohead
- Pick 5 (Simon): The Pharcyde
- Pick 6 (Nate): Whitney Houston
- Pick 7 (Simon): The Fugees
- Pick 8 (Nate): Alanis Morissette