ELEKTRO Exclusive Conversation with Lollapalooza Creator Perry Farrell
In 1990, Jane’s Addiction lead singer Perry Farrell found the word “Lollapalooza” while thumbing through a dictionary. He was seeking a word to perfectly encapsulate a budding idea of his: a farewell tour for his band that would also unite disparate alternative acts and people. The word was “just magnificent,” he says. “It summed up what I wanted to do with the party.” Lollapalooza is defined in two ways: the first, someone great and/or wonderful; and the second, a giant, swirling carnival lollipop.
Looking to create something spectacular for what were to be Jane’s Addiction final shows, Farrell was issued a challenge by Marc Geiger, his agent and, later, a Lolla business partner. Farrell recalls Geiger teasing him to “come up with a name for [the tour] and you can do whatever you want.” At the time, Jane’s Addiction was at the height of rock super stardom, so Farrell took those last four words of Geiger’s very seriously, enticed by the possibility of creating a tour unlike any other.
“I was asking for more bands to add to the tour, better food, stranger locations, art galleries,” Farrell recalls. “I had all these things going on in my head. I meditated on that big swirly Lollapalooza lollipop that you can get at fairs. I looked at what we were doing as swirling in all these amazing, sweet things together and putting them on one stick.” On July 18, 1991, the first ever iteration of Lollapalooza was held in Phoenix, Arizona. Lollapalooza hit 22 cities on that first trip, and sold out nearly every one.
Just before the Lollapalooza tour, Farrell went to the U.K. to perform with Jane’s Addiction, and it was on that tour that he was introduced to dance music. His booking agent handed him an album by British electronic band The Orb, and Farrell connected with the music instantly. “When I got back to America,” he says, “I started to going out to clubs, researching DJ music and engulfing myself in the culture.” By the mid-1990s Farrell had begun touring as DJ, “playing break beats and techno, and learning the ropes as a turntablist.” His passion for the music led to the 1996 launch of Enit, a touring dance music festival, which brought acts like Lady Miscure, Meat Beat Manifesto and the Orb to five U.S. cities. Without the support or interest of major record labels or sponsors, the tour lasted just one year.
However, for Farrell, the seed had been planted. He deeply believed that Lollapalooza, with its goal of bridging gaps among genres and fans, would be an ideal host for EDM acts. By 1997, Lolla’s final year as a touring festival, artists like Korn, Snoop Dogg and Tool performed alongside The Orb, Prodigy and Orbital. The dance acts fit right in, becoming another “swirl” in Farrell’s colorful vision.
Jane’s Addiction reunited in 2003, and Lollapalooza was resurrected. The fest found a permanent home in Grant Park, Chicago after two trying years, and quickly became a major staple in the U.S. festival landscape. But Farrell was still grappling with the plight of dance music and its DJs. “At turn of the millennium,” recalls Farrell, “the great hope for electronic music started to wane. People didn’t really buy the idea of superstar DJs anymore. So DJ’s started to turn themselves into party DJ’s, [only] playing house music at the end of the night.”
Yet by 2007, Farrell noticed that the idea of the “party DJ” – who stuck to urban and rock music but peppered in dance beats to close out their sets – was fading. “House music was starting to surge again in a big way,” says Farrell. “So I asked my partners if we could put a stage together, solely for DJs and electronic producers.” This time around, the request was met with enthusiasm, marking the true beginning of EDM’s Lolla presence. With a hint of laughter, Perry says the first dedicated dance tent “looked like it was an afterthought, but the very first year we did it, it was packed for as far as the eye could see, all the way back.”
“I went up there and did a hybrid piece with Slash and Samantha Ronson,” Farrell says of the 2007 stage, “and we did this kind of combination of DJ and live performers.” The experiment was such a success that, the following year, “people like Kaskade, Wolfgang Gartner and Bassnectar” were brought in to perform on a unique circular stage. The importance of EDM’s presence at Lolla wasn’t lost on Farrell, and he had executed it flawlessly. The area became affectionately known as “Perry’s Tent.”
In Lollapalooza’s line-up this year, dance acts are no longer relegated to their own stage (though “Perry’s Tent” does, of course, still exist); Avicii and Justice will perform on the main stage alongside Florence + The Machine and Black Sabbath. This is no coincidence. “Dance music can rival any sound, and the enthusiasm coming from that audience is as strong–” Farrell says, pausing mometarily. “To be honest,” he says, “I believe it is the strongest, most intense experience in [live music] today.”
The pop influence of Avicii and others is “giving people like Skrillex and Bassnectar, the grimier, grittier people, the opportunity to come up underneath them,” Farrell says, drawing an apt comparison between the hair bands of the 80s and the harder edge of Jane’s Addiction. “People like Zed’s Dead, Porter Robinson, Nero, to me, are like what punk rock used to be,” he continues. “These people I’ve mentioned, people like Knife Party, are the rock stars of today, because their sound is inventive, it is intense, and I get the same feeling I would get at punk shows. It was dangerous and it was powerful.”
Farrell’s dedication to pushing boundaries and welcoming a variety of musical voices is what keeps Grant Park buzzing year after year. He is the first to admit that “the sound of dance music… it moves, man. The scene evolves really fast.” In terms of staying current, he says, “hanging out in the scene is really the way to go. You have to go out there and become a part of it.” And there’s no doubt that Perry Farrell – rocker, DJ, concert curator, dance aficionado – is and will be an integral part of that scene for years to come.