90s Indie Rock Albums and Bands: The Flaming Lips' Parking Lot Experiment

The year 1996 found popular music search for a replacement for the dying alternative scene which it had about used up after cashing in on the immense popularity of the popular musical movement that has come to be synonymous with Seattle, Washington, grunge music, and of course, the recently defunct Nirvana.  The bands and songs receiving radio play had run their course, and as far as music representatives could tell, there was nothing creative on the horizon.  The years since 1996 have shown that nothing commercially viable was on the horizon, save for Beck’s Odelay.  Creatively, however, something was in the works.  The Flaming Lips, an eccentric and enduring band from Norman Oklahoma, of all places, was about to do something no popular band had ever attempted before.

They may be a bit older in this picture than in the video below, but these guys are the Flaming Lips.
They may be a bit older in this picture than in the video below, but these guys are the Flaming Lips. | Source

Turning over a new leaf in popular music was nothing new for the Flaming Lips in 1996.  In fact, ever since front man Wayne Coyne formed the band in his hometown of Norman in 1984, the lips had been quietly writing their own quirky and LSD inspired page in musical history.  By the time 1996 came around, however, the lips had set their sights on something more than just creating pop albums anymore.  The Lips, as they are known to fans, had released eight full-length albums by the fall of 1996.  Though these albums showed a love for pop sensibility as well as a Beatlesesque knack for experimentation with pop hits to subvert them into ambitions and at times confusing songs, the Lips were not satisfied.  They decided to experiment on an even bigger scale within their music.  The result was a blue postcard mailed out to the handful of people on the Lips mailing list that actually live in Oklahoma.  The post card gave a mysterious invitation to the parking-lot of an area mall on one Saturday in the October of 1996.  The invitation did not explain much, but merely requested attendees bring a vehicle with a working tape deck in it.

Watch Video of the Original Experiment Described in this Article!

The Flaming Lips are perhaps the only band to survive for over 25 years and still no one knows what to expect next.
The Flaming Lips are perhaps the only band to survive for over 25 years and still no one knows what to expect next. | Source

When the morning arrived, everyone who attended was asked to move their cars into a large circle with a diameter between thirty and forty feet.  The cars had to be far enough apart that they could open both passenger and driver side front doors without touching the doors of adjacent vehicles.  After the cars were arranged, Wayne Coyne then distributed a pre-recorded tape to each car and asked them all to play the tape at a certain volume level.  The reality of this experiment was not as confusing as its idea might suggest.  The cars were evenly spaced enough that a listener could stroll around the interior of the circle and listen to the complex mixture of around twenty, or so, different tapes of music and sounds which included some of the wackiest in the Lips history.  The tapes were as varied in style, sound and structure as the lips previous eight albums combined, only now it was all happening at once.  Only a few tapes could be clearly made out from any one spot within the circle’s interior.  The depth and disparity of the sounds somehow worked in a sequential presentation that, though it could not be properly called a song, was obviously a musical creation.  Most who attended agreed the experience was sublime.

In the year that was to follow this experiment, the Lips would begin a world tour emulating this setup, only using “boom boxes” instead of car stereos. This tour, and the whole experiment, became known as “The Boom Box Experiments.” The Lips, since that time, have enjoyed a far greater popularity abroad than in the United States as well, indicating the favorable international reaction to these musicians from Oklahoma. In 1997, the Lips released their ninth studio album, Zaireeka, which captures the essence of these multi-sound source experiments. The album contains eight tracks divided into four unique recordings stored on four separate CDs. To listen to this music, the listener must put the four CDs in four separate stereos at once and hit play at the time. As the album’s liner notes assure the listener, this process results in a truly unique listening experience each and every time the album is played. It stands alone, to this day, as the only such album to successfully implement four separate listening sources. In fact, many fans still have “Zaireeka listening parties,” where they recreate the original experiment all on their own.

The Lips entire career is filled with similarly odd experiments and achievements. Most notable of these is the “headphone tour” where half the stage signals were sent through the P.A. and the other half broadcast on an FM frequency that listeners could pick up through headsets passed out at the front gates. As creative and inspiring as these other wacky accomplishments are, none of them have the same intimacy and mysterious reputation associated with the first, “Parking-Lot Experiment.” Though there were only a few people there to experience it, the legacy of the Lips has never been the same since. It is this creative spirit and passion for ingenuity that have always made the Flaming Lips one of the most interesting and enjoyable underground bands of the last twenty-five years. Certainly they have not always been as successful in their experimentation, but their commitment to it has proven to be one of the most lasting and successful aspects of the band.

Here is another one of Wayne's "Big" ideas.
Here is another one of Wayne's "Big" ideas. | Source

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