Nu-metal is coming for us all

Q&A with Holiday Kirk, the avenging angel of nu-metal

Nu-metal is not coming back. It is already here. And it is coming for you, personally. Some relevant data points:

I started thinking about the idea of making a proper nu-metal canon: a critical assertion that this thing exists and some of it is necessarily “better” than others and here is an argument about exactly what and why. But I found that someone had already done so exhaustively, cataloging not just the top 50 nu-metal albums, with blurbs sometimes running a thousand words long, but also the top 100 nu-metal songs — and that, moreover, I had been Facebook friends with the guy who did so for years.

Holiday Kirk Facebook-friended me sometime in Obama’s first term. When I asked him why recently, he told me was just a lurker for Cokemachineglow1, a web 2.0-era music webzine I was involved with from 2005 until the early 2010s. I saw Kirk pop up again a few years later as a prolific music director for Chicago-area rappers, an era of his career that he refers to as “deep lore” now. He told me he decamped for Los Angeles about three years ago for a video-production job that terminated in a layoff last year. Since then, he told me, he’s been a “full-time nu-metal guy.” 

He’s not joking about the scale of the operation he’s running. His site, The Nu-Metal Agenda, reminds me a little of a warped, bad-taste version of the classic A.V. Club, full of gonzo recurring features and troublingly in-depth vertical slices of culture, as well as daily news and reviews. Subscriptions and merch are available. He also runs a podcast, a TikTok, three Twitter accounts — one of which, “Crazy-Ass Moments In Nu-Metal History,” has 130K followers — and a Discord that feels like one of those breeding grounds for extremism you read about, only this time radicalizing people into liking a band called Snot.

These outlets traffic in more than nostalgia and so-bad-it’s-good yucks, although plenty of both are present. Kirk is a relentless promoter of a new wave of bands that pulls from the sounds of maligned turn-of-the-millennium music and repurposes it toward new ends, whether subversive or sincere. Some of it is, I swear to you, good. Cheem is a mathy band that has leaned hard into mall-emo and nu-metal on their cheeky, hook-filled new LP. Loathe is the first metal band I’ve ever heard recreate the lush, melancholic sensibility of the Deftones. There’s the sleazy electro of KFC Murder Chicks, and the Year-Zero-era industrial thrash of Vein.FM. I could go on, but I’m starting to just plagiarize Kirk.

Which, I guess, is my point: Kirk has made himself into an avatar for a whole emergent taste, situated on a website but not even kind of exclusive to the pageview model. I wanted to talk to him about this whole operation, and how he went from a superfan of a legendarily indulgent Canadian music webzine that pretty much only liked Frog Eyes to an NYT-cited avatar of low-brow culture. Music journalism will always be a sort of homebase for me, and its diminishing popular influence is less a cause of concern for me than it is an area of not-unbiased enquiry.

Holiday Kirk ended up being the right person to talk to, in this regard. He was as enthusiastic as would be expected, given the prolificacy and general tone of his editorial output, but he was also keenly, almost obsessively focused on how people consume and talk about culture online.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

EX: How did this project start? Was it a cosmic vision?

HK: This has been ongoing for three years, maybe. I moved to LA to take this office job. And the thing about LA is, these people are like Gen X and or even like young millennials that run these places. So they listen to the music that I used to think was good when I was in high school and my early 20s. I'd go to work and they would be playing like the National or Grizzly Bear or LCD Soundsystem on the stereo and oh, I fucking hated that so much. It just turned me against those songs to such an insane degree. And it became like, okay, what can I get into that would never, never get played on these stereos? If I ever even tried to play it on one of these stereos, they would come over there, like, you have to turn this off. And I mean, that's nu-metal. Nu-metal, honestly, it's still very embarrassing.

And there's really more to it than that. Once I started formally getting into the genre, and not just the big four bands2, but like, getting into B-tier, C-tier stuff, it was like, I couldn't believe that nobody was talking about this. So many incredible bands. And nobody knew it. Nobody was doing any justice by that. So I was like, I'll fucking do it.

EX: What does “doing it” mean, in this context?

HK: The first thing I tried to do was make a metal album. I think it's fine. It's interesting. I'm not a naturally musically gifted dude. I put it out and kind of sized up the reaction and was like, this isn't gonna be it. So I shifted my focus over to talking about the music. The Twitter account didn't come along until well into the project. Before that, I was doing very journalistic, very Cokemachineglow-ass, long write-ups, huge lists, all on my own.

EX: Yeah, I saw this.

HK: Speaking of which, there is a Cokemachineglow list out there, that’s like “terrible bands with one good song,” and “Blind” by Korn is on there.

EX: I think I wrote that blurb.

HK: I think about this more often than I probably should, because it's like, even they couldn't deny that track. Even these snobs couldn't deny that song. Well, just this snob3 couldn't deny it. I miss when people could be jerks like this. I miss when you could write a list like this and be mean without having to worry about one of the bands themselves calling you out for it.

EX: We were such pissants at CMG. It was all about the writer.

HK: I love that though. I like music criticism as much as I like music. I owe everything to music critics, music critics are so important.

EX: Well, if you liked CMG, you definitely subscribed to that philosophy. These days, critics are afraid. Fans have restructured the internet and journalism and criticism. No one gives a bad review anymore.

HK: This is why Pitchfork still matters. They're the only ones left that will pan the shit out of the big album. They just gave that Travis Scott a 5.7. I saw this Twitter thread going around with like tens of 1000s of reads of retweets being like, “Fuck this place. Why do we give these guys so much credit?” They were dragging the author, Alphonse Pierre, who is so good. And it's like first of all, you know, fuck you. And second of all, I wish we had more of that. I wish we could empower critics to do more of that.

EX: That’s what I find interesting about Nu-Metal Agenda. It feels much more like a fanzine. You’re generally advocating and curating. Do you consider this project critical in nature?

HK: Nu-metal has endured so many slings and arrows, that I don’t want to contribute to that. So there'll be bands that I like, that'll put out new releases that are bad. I'll just be like, well, we won't cover them or we won't write about them negatively. So no, it's really not critical. I can acknowledge when nu-metal is bad because nu-metal was frequently really, really bad. That's part of the magic. But as far as like the publication being a critical outlet, no, I guess it really isn't yet. It feels like the scene is very fragile, very emerging, and I think that people don't have an appetite right now for serious criticism for nu-metal. Right now my job is more advocacy. But I can criticize, critique, make fun of, I can come up with way more shit to say about nu-metal than you can. I promise that.

EX: Working occasionally in videogames, I deeply relate to the love/hate feeling. Even when I like a game, I still kind of hate “games.”

HK: I guess I'm lucky in the sense that I love nu-metal with all my heart. Even when it's bad, I love it. When it's good, I love it. But we do have people in my army4 that are very much like “defend nu-metal at all costs.” They'll go at people for talking shit about it on Twitter. I'm always like, “Please don't do that. We need people that are going to check us, that are gonna be pragmatic about the music.” I hate that people give critics so much shit now for doing something that's so needed. And I'll be damned if I'll let people do that on my watch.

EX: Earlier you mentioned nu-metal was fragile right now, still emerging. What else is going on? How would you describe this moment in nu-metal?

HK: It seems like a lot of vultures are trying to figure out if there's money to be made in nu-metal. So you'll see a lot of TikTok fashion kiddies start to pivot from emo to nu-metal, and publications launching their own nu-metal specific efforts. Everyone is trying to figure out if there's money in it, because when the emo revival broke big, there was money to be made. There were emo rappers who were famous and popular, and there were emo nights that were selling out. And now people are trying to figure out if the same thing is happening to nu-metal, and so far, it really isn't.

EX: Do you think nu-metal will ever get where emo has gotten since its mid-aughts revival?

HK: I don't think so. I want it to be something a lot more sustainable. The problem with emo is that if you fold emo-rap into it, it broke big really fast and there was a lot of money poured into those artists and then a lot of them fucking died because they just got too much money too fast. Lil Peep or Juice WRLD — a lot of other rappers in that scene are just gone now.

There is no divergent musical trend going on that could intersect with with nu-metal. With emo, at the time you had SoundCloud rap and the emo revival and those just connected perfectly and blew up. There's nothing like that going on for nu-metal.

EX: What was your relationship like with nu-metal when it was originally popular?

HK: I liked nu-metal. But I put that shit to the side. I rebuked all of that. I put it away like childish things and got more into indie rock. An old friend of mine asked me yesterday, “What happened that indie kid version of you?” and I'm like, “He's in the backyard. He's buried.”

It's just incredible to think but there was just a really long period of time where nu-metal was looked at as a total mistake. Any defense of nu-metal you'd find was very trepidatious. And always, even if it was like, “Hybrid Theory’s okay, Deftones are good,” they would always have to include this rebuke of the rest of the genre. It'd be like, “-- even though it was released in a climate in which the likes of Fred Durst could be successful.”

I just went to this fucking cabaret show thing here in LA. And it was a Woodstock 99 “coming of age” tale told in a cabaret format. And it was just absolutely beating the shit out of nu-metal for like 40 minutes — just this guy hammering away at nu-metal, the genre, everyone in it.

EX: Did he not realize that The Nu-Metal Guy was in the building?

HK: I had reached out because the guy had, you know, he was verified on Instagram at like, 50,000 followers, and I caught his ass. I caught his ass browsing around on my account. And this is just how I network with people. And I saw that they were doing this Woodstock ‘99 cabaret thing, and I reached out and was like, “Hey, can I come and check it out and talk to you after the show?” And he's like, “We're not very nice to nu-metal. I'll let you know now. But sure.” We had a great conversation afterward. But I really did put it to him a little in the conversation we had.

Well, okay. Let me actually stop myself there. Because I don't like where I'm going with this one. He was 16 in 1999. And he was gay. He was talking about how he felt like the culture was really against him at the time, as a gay man who was into, like, adult contemporary music. And the thing is, I can sit here and be like, “No,” but if he was 16, and gay in 1999, how the fuck am I going to tell him? Like, that doesn't make sense. That was his experience. And he felt like the culture was very against it, was a very masculine culture.

One of the things about nu-metal was that it was always so much more queer than people ever give it credit for5. This current generation of LGBTQ people love nu-metal so much. It's like, let's see what kind of music we can make from it. The nu-metal scene does look very different than it used to, which is great.

EX: I liked nu-metal a bit in high school, then there was a long dark era where no one talked about it, except disdainfully or ironically. In your opinion, when did the dark era end, and when did the nu-metal resurgence begin?

HK: When I got to the scene, motherfucker. I should just start saying that.

EX: Well, I am talking to you for a reason. How have you helped the resurgence happen?

HK: The reason why I'm optimistic about this and hopefully my role in this is because I've always tried really hard to publicize bands that were in the nu-metal era that did not get a good look the first time around or were just total unknowns that never really got beyond their parent's garage and give them some shine. Because if this becomes a cultural moment in which we just celebrate Korn and Deftones and Limp Biscuit and System Of A Down until we're all sick of it, then this is all just going to have been a total waste. So if we have this attention, we need to use it to right some wrongs, get some of those bands the attention they deserved6. Let's shed some light on the international scene and then really go hard repping for the young bands that we think are doing interesting stuff with this music.

EX: Is it just cyclical? I remember in the 90s my parents were like “Wow, the kids are doing bellbottoms again. What in the heck!” Is it just like every 20 years things circle back?

HK: Nu-metal is so unique when it comes to this 20-year nostalgia-cycle thing because I can't think of other nostalgia-cycle trends in which the object of nostalgic revival in question was so viciously hated by people in the interim. People definitely had a lot of shit to say about mall-emo and emo-rock, but I feel like the real gems of the mall-emo scene were held out as “good music” pretty fast. I remember reading critical appreciations of My Chemical Romance and AFI. I don’t remembe rthere being a huge press trend in which “mall emo sucks” like there was for nu-metal. Because mall-emo was referencing critically respected bands like the Cure and the Misfits, whereas nu-metal was just always super embarrassing. Does that make sense? Were you around for that shit?

EX: I was. People hated nu-metal so much. I remember a big Spin magazine article calling nu-metal “mook rock.” It was reviled. But it was also so big.

HK: That's the other difference between nu-metal and emo. People think mall emo was big? No, nu-metal was fucking huge. Chocolate Starfish and The Hotdog Flavored Water outsold probably MCR’s entire catalog7.

EX: They were so fucking big.

HK: When I showed up and discovered nu-metal, here was this thing that was reviled. Nobody was talking about it. People were embarrassed by it. And it was also FUCKING MASSIVE. I was telling people like I just discovered oil on my property or something. I'm like, “Do you realize how many people want to like this music?” These albums sold 10s of millions of copies — huge numbers — and we all have to stand around and be like, “This is bad. And we all should feel bad that we ever liked those. I'm ashamed of it.”

I love nu-metal because in its untalentedness, in its ungiftedness, it is a very honest expression

EX: So why did everybody feel so bad about liking it? It wasn’t just that critics didn’t like it.

HK: Because it’s embarrassing music, man. It's embarrassing. I could put “Crawling” on right now and I would be a little embarrassed to be into it. Because the people that were making this music, these weren't Elliott Smith-type people. They weren't poetically gifted. They weren't. They weren't even really musically gifted a lot of the time. They just had these emotions that they had to express. They were going to get it out there. And this was a very red-hot MTV era. So you had to have a gimmick. You had to have a look, you had to have crazy makeup. You had to have jumpsuits, you had to wear a kilt and play bagpipes on stage, you had to have a red hat. You had to have one of those garish visual tricks that feel stupid in retrospect.

The popularity thing, by the way, does not help when it comes to critical reevaluation. It's not like, “Man, this was a really underrated underground scene.” It was like, we were all so sick of it. Nu-metal criticism is very valid. And if you were around at the time, if you were a high-functioning 26-year-old in 1998, you would also be like, “I fucking hate this shit. I can't take it.” I appreciate it so much and love it to pieces, but as a pop music phenomenon, it was probably pretty infuriating. I love to listen to “Rollin’” by choice, but if I had to hear it on the radio at the supermarket every day, I would probably hate that song.

EX: You're making the case against it very well. Why do you love nu-metal?

HK: Let me be clear here: I love it because it's great music. Don't mistake me on that one. It's like I said earlier in the interview, I can rip nu-metal like nobody's business. I can rip into it so hard that the person I'm talking to has to ask me to calm down.

But I love nu-metal because in its untalentedness, in its ungiftedness, it is a very honest expression. It's like we lift up these geniuses, these Bowies and these Thom Yorkes and these Bob Dylans. We lift these guys up as these gods, these untouchable geniuses, musical icons. Whereas when it comes to like your Fred Dursts, and your Jonathan Davises, and your Corey Taylors — these guys aren't geniuses at all. They just want it so bad. They want it so bad. And I think what resonates to me as someone that's getting up there in years, as a millennial, is like, I want it so bad. But I didn't have that moment when I was like 21 or 22, or whatever, where it all fell into place for me and I'm in GQ magazine and I'm, you know, my Instagram posts are getting billions of likes and I'm flying all over the world and — I don't know — I’m a fucking actor or a singer or something like that. I didn't have that like, precocious breakthrough moment. So I'm 30 now. I'm unemployed. I'm a fucking nu-metal guy full time. But I want it so bad. And I'm just gonna get after it the way that they got after it. I find that to be really resonant.

I also love nu-metal because nu-metal was the last time rock music went toe to toe with rap and hip hop and pop music. Just really fought it on its own terms, for innovation’s sake. Rock music became this incredibly regressive nostalgic thing so hard. Even like emo music, which did compete on a pop level with rap, hip hop, pop — emo was very reverential of the past. Nu-metal, for all its faults, was trying to make music that you've never heard before. You'd never heard a band like Korn before, no group put it all together like Linkin Park before. I would do anything to get that back in popular rock music: not slugging it out to be TikTok viral, or the algorithmic favorite, but to just try to make music that competes on a mass scale, as pop music.

EX: I am pessimistic about the return of rock music to that tier.

HK: It’ll never happen. People ask me that a lot. They'll be like, “Oh, do you think it's gonna make a comeback? Like, we'll be on the charts and stuff again?” No, no, no, no, no, never. That's just not how culture works. Things will never be the same. It'll never be like it was in 2001. You have to stay active. You have to stay attentive and stay optimistic. You got to stay open to figure out what it could be.

On the other hand, I absolutely deep in my heart, like, almost delusionally believe rock music can compete on a pop level again. Not at the 2001 level, but they can compete. It's just a matter of investment. Nobody's fucking investing in young bands. It's not like a generational thing. It's not like oh, back in my day. It's literally just nobody pays young bands to make music anymore.

EX: The little I know of how anything gets popular in music these days is that nobody knows. Because it happens on TikTok, and nobody knows how that works.

HK: I know how TikTok works exactly. I think about this all the time. TikTok rewards people for creating content that keeps people on TikTok. So you have your your song blow up on TikTok, you don't have like a hit song. You have a hit 20 seconds, five seconds. And that exists, then TikTok wants you wants to keep that five seconds in rotation because it keeps people on the app. It does not cause people to leave the app necessarily and go listen to the rest of the song. Even like seeing that female rap duo whose gimmick is like they run around places and rap their song. How does the chorus of that song go? How much of that song have you heard?

EX: [unable to do the chorus of that song]

HK: Yeah. Right. And they're trapped. They have to keep doing that gimmick over and over and over and over again. They can't do anything else because TikTok rewards the musicians on TikTok for keeping people on TikTok.


Looking for someone to listen to deftones while we bathe in our blood🥵 #deftonesenjoyer #emo #xyzbca #foryoupage #foryou #fyp

♬ Cherry Waves - Deftones

EX: However, one of the big data points of the nu-metal resurgence is the popularity of the Deftones on TikTok.

HK: Yeah, but I think that's different because they're an established catalog artist already, right? Like they don't have anything to prove. Whereas with a band that's trying to get a foothold now, it would be a gamble to go to your Spotify and listen to a full album of theirs when you're just chuckling at some clever TikTok trend. I don't know if it's curmudgeonly of me. But I think TikTok is anathema to making good music. It is a very destructive force when it comes to music. It's super entertaining, I go on TikTok every day, like, way longer than I need to. But I think that as something that the music industry looks to, to create artists, to create stars, it's destructive. It’s sent the charts into this absolute chaotic nightmare zone where everything you see that like, you think like, oh, is this a popular song doesn't feel like a popular songs, people aren't listening to it. It's just, yeah, you only get like that little bit of it. That matters.

EX: That brings us back to the first thing we were talking about, which is why I think a project like yours is interesting. Because I think advocacy and fandom is actually a more interesting thing to exist on the internet today than criticism. Everybody can listen to all music immediately now; they don’t need to be told what sucks. They need curation and advocacy — people who are saying “here’s a bunch of shit you might not know that’s dope.” Because at least one point of criticism in the first place is to say, here's the shit that we like. So even if Nu-Metal Agenda isn’t exactly critical, it is anti-algorithmic.

HK: Yeah, I think so, too. I think so too, like, what I fight to do when it comes to algorithmic stuff. I finally got a foothold on TikTok. I'm doing pretty good numbers on there. But it became one of those things where I'm looking around and it's like, okay, everyone that does this nu-metal shit on TikTok posts about Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, System of a Down, Korn, and that’s it. Those posts do blow up. But I don't like getting straight boxed in like that. So I'll post a discovery playlist on there. And I'll post like international nu-metal bands — Chilean nu-metal, Brazilian nu-metal, Canadian nu-metal, Japanese nu-metal, French nu-metal. Those posts sometimes will do a lot better than you think. Like I posted a band last night called 2X. They're from Chile. And that posted 3600 views, which is really good when it comes to a band with very few videos already on TikTok.

So that to me is a real relief. I don’t have to sit in that box that other feel like they have to be in to go viral over and over again. I need people to be able to look at what I’m doing and see that it’s more than just “haha funny meme.” That’s what was unsettling to me, when I was in the New York Times, they referenced me as a guy with a popular Twitter account. And I was like, “I think I’m doing more than that.”

EX: I wouldn’t call myself a fan of nu-metal, but I would say, diving into the Agenda, you’ve helped me develop an appreciation for it. It’s got an unmistakable funk to it, like a rare cheese. There’s no mistaking nu-metal.

HK: It's a style. It's a specific thing. It's this fucking neutron bomb of like cultural influence that everybody acts like didn't happen for a long time.

EX: One thing that’s strange is how distinctive so much of it sounds. Like the new bands you’ve tipped me off on all sound completely different.

HK: Isn't it just the most beautiful thing about nu-metal that all of the big bands sound so different?

That is what makes nu-metal “nu-metal” — the bands were swinging for the fucking fences.

EX: What ties them together then? What are the hallmarks of nu-metal?

HK: [Clears throat dramatically] “Nu-metal is any synthesis between funk, industrial, alternative, and rap-metal stylings with an eager and aggressive focus on accessibility.” And I think that accessibility is a huge part of nu-metal. I am not a metal fan. I do not like any other style of metal. I've never gotten into Metallica or Slayer. Any of those bands. I am a pop music fan. Beyond anything else, I love pop music. Nu-metal bands were big and active at the time in which you could and often did sell millions upon millions of records making uncompromisingly heavy music. So they're often very hook-focused. That is what makes nu-metal “nu-metal” — the bands were swinging for the fucking fences, man. They weren't pulling punches because they wanted to maintain some kind of credibility.

So much more than anything, what I want rock bands to be able to do again is to dream big. Every young rock band is hopeful that maybe their music can be a lucrative side hustle, and like they can sell some merch. That is the fucking ceiling for rock bands right now. It keeps me up at night. It really does.

EX: Is there anyone who you think is dreaming big right now?

HK: Right now in music and pop culture everyone's kind of backing off of dreaming big in general. With the emo revival and SoundCloud rap, the reason that those artists felt so vital was because there was a shitload of money flowing into that scene. So they were all really aggressively going for it. And right now, there is no money. Nobody is spending money on anything. And I know why. I don't want to get into that.8 But nobody's dreaming big because nobody can pay their bills with much in the way of like an artistic pursuit. 

So I'm optimistic. You know, maybe we can use this moment of uncertainty to stake a foothold for some of these heavy bands. When you say hey, is anyone really swinging for the fences? The reason I love Cheem more than any other band on Earth is because they write hooks. Their music is accessible and so much heavy music now is concerned with being as heavy as it can be. I was just texting a friend of mine in the Callous Daoboys about it. I was like, I need to hear some dynamics from these bands. I need to hear choruses. I need to hear hooks. I need people to write like they could sell out Madison Square Garden someday. You know what I mean?

  1. I actually edited an anthology of writing from the site, which you can read the intro for here, or purchase here.

  2. Korn, The Deftones, Limp Bizkit, and Slipknot.

  3. He is referring to me.

  4. The Discord server features tiers of users: Agenda Major, Agenda Sergeant, Agenda Lieutenant, and so on.

  5. I asked Kirk for an example, and he replied, “Orgy's makeup and outfits, Jonathan Davis and Fred Durst collabing on a song about wanting to fuck each other, Korn having an anti-homophobia song on their debut album.”

  6. After our interview, he successfully lobbied the nu-metal band Simon Says to resurface their albums on streaming platforms, a process that inspired the band to reunite and which Kirk says is “the proudest moment of (his) career”.

  7. Incredibly, this is true. According to, Chocolate Starfish has sold 10.5 million albums worldwide, and MCR's discography has sold just over 9 million worldwide.

  8. When I asked him why later, he replied, “The wealthiest have absorbed the idea that the world is coming to an end and are hoarding all their money so that they may maintain/improve their lifestyles after civilization collapses.”