For millions of American kids, the Vans Warped Tour was the pinnacle of the adolescent summer. Founded in 1995, Warped Tour capitalized on the burgeoning popularity of extreme sports, combining the best of skate culture with the biggest underground punk, metal, and ska bands. In its inaugural year, the Warped Tour featured an impressive roster of alternative powerhouse acts, ranging from the West Coast stylings of Sublime, No Doubt, and Pennywise to the East Coast melancholy of early emo and post-hardcore forefathers like Seaweed and Quicksand. For many teens growing up the ‘90s, the Warped Tour became a comfort zone, where their music and hobbies, snubbed by the mainstream, were accepted and celebrated.
The ’95 Warped Tour quickly became one of the year’s hottest tickets, as its dozens of stages rolled from state to state, hitting every major metro and suburban area in the country and exploiting fans of the X Games, which were founded the same year, into paying top dollar for some of the best of the underground music scene. In the years since ‘95, The Warped Tour broke many of the decade’s highest-selling acts, ranging from Blink-192 and Green Day to NOFX, Paramore, and even Katy Perry. But somewhere along the way, the Warped Tour lost its magic—today, it’s become an embarrassing attempt to profit off the watered-down remnants of a scene that simply doesn’t exist.
During the 1990s, the Warped Tour catered to the interests of a vibrant counterculture market. Then, during the last decade, the roles reversed—big-name chain stores like Hot Topic and Zumiez have replaced the independent record stores and skate shops that fostered the passion of the early years. These national chains serve up a mass-produced and diluted dose of Warped Tour culture, simply pushing it towards the same uniformity that the original tour rebelled against. Today, the success and ubiquity of such stores have created a sizable market for alternative music. Whereas teens once had to research music they liked, trading mix tapes and burned CDs, these national chains now serve up a pre-packaged brand of “alternative” culture. Bands like Attack Attack and A Day to Remember have manufactured Billboard success by cornering the mass adolescent alternative market, yet their music is a funhouse distortion of the bands that paved the way for their success, such as Bad Religion, Every Time I Die, and Rancid.
So where does that leave us today? The originality and spirit of rebellion that fueled the Golden Age of the Warped Tour has been successfully homogenized and tamed into a corporate moneymaking monster with swoop haircuts and eyeliner. As the teens of the 1990s and early 2000s enter adulthood, they are turning toward more adult alternative and independent music, showcased at rival festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Bamboozle. The 2011 Warped lineup is one of the worst yet. The typical redeeming headliners of recent years have disappeared entirely, replaced with the likes of 3Oh!3 and The Devil Wears Prada. But while hoards of mall goths and high school girls will undoubtedly flock to the festival, carrying armloads of overpriced and garish merch to their parents’ minivans, there will always be those who keep the real spirit of underground music alive. Now more than ever, the stage has been set for another DIY-spirited fest without the corporate corruption and stale offerings that define today’s Warped Tour.
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