As Riot Fest has continued from its humble beginnings as a multi-venue festival in Chicago, IL, in 2005 to the prominent destination to see bands you never thought would reunite, the organizers, staff, and attendees have made sure their image is still as “punk” as the festival once set out to be. Seeing the likes of New Order, Paramore, Cap’n Jazz, the Cribs, and Jawbreaker (!) on the same lineup was compelling enough to take an almost red eye flight with minimal legroom to the windy, rather warm, city to put it all in perspective.
On thursday night one of the first pre-party shows took place, and in this case it was Chicago natives the Orwells. Though I have interviewed them in the past, this was my first time seeing the band perform live, and the fact that it was a local show at a really cool venue, the House of Vans, made it, I think, the best way to see them. The sound was exceptional, the crowd knew every word, and the band was really, really drunk, so all around it was definitely worth checking out. Getting back into my Lyft to the couches we crashed on, I kept on imagining how the rest of the weekend was going to go, and I was really looking forward to waking up the next morning. But maybe I was the most excited to go to sleep. My flight was one at 4:00 am and I took NyQuil the night before thinking I was going to sleep early. Long story short, I ended up just staying awake so I would not miss the flight. Anyway, I digress.
Friday came along and we ventured out to Douglas park — much larger than I thought it was going to be. As media entered through the VIP entrance, we got to check out that area, and throughout the weekend it was apparent that, like, a lot of people thought it was worth the extra cash to get the upgraded tickets. The lounge got seriously crowded. To start the day off, Day For Night alum Tobacco was one of the first groups to take the stage, though I overheard them from the merch booth area where I was on the prowl for M.I.A. merch — to no avail, I may add. The group behind me were also into the set, if “that jam band is pretty cool” means the same thing. Right after them on one of the main stages was also DFN alumni, electro punks Liars. Just out of the studio with a new album, those songs made the bulk of the set. In all honesty I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t more tracks off Mess included in their set. But the contagious rhythm and undeniable energy of dress-wearing, mask-maker vocalist Angus Andrews made it all worth it.
Friday also contained the likes of Ministry, Action Bronson, and punk legends X and the Buzzcocks. Though I only stayed for a couple songs for each of these, it was apparent that people were into them, especially the Buzzcocks. Not including headliners (both DFN alum/current artists New Order and Nine Inch Nails), I made sure to catch the bulk of the Cribs’ set. Perhaps not as relevant to American audiences as others on the bill, 2005’s The New Fellas is one of my all-time favo(u)rite brit-rock albums, so to see them live is the closest I’ve felt to being at a festival like Glastonbury or Reading + Leeds. Their performance was so high energy, that most would not believe how sick vocalist Ryan Jarman was (as he told the photog and I as we got a quick shot of the band).
New Order took the stage later that evening and played all the hits that they have been doing for some time now. And while I certainly enjoyed seeing them, their performance was a bit weaker than I remember at DFN back in 2015. Nine Inch Nails, however, was a different story; they were even better than I remember them being at FYF Fest back in July. But maybe it’s because I’ve started to enjoy the Add Violence Ep a bit more now than I did when it was just released.
Saturday was probably the slowest day, but that’s not to say there was no good talent going on. One of my favorite artists on the list, Peaches, is always a definite entertaining, NSFW time. I’ve seen her four-or-so times prior to this, and I can say without a doubt that this one was her most raunchy, overtly sexual set she’s ever done, at least at a festival, to say the least. With new costumes and dancers to accompany her every couple of years, almost as if they were personas, she is one that is always willing to push the boundary that other artists won’t, and that’s what makes Peaches, well, Peaches. Other acts to take the stages throughout the day included the likes of FIDLAR, Gogol Bordello, Shabazz Palaces, headliner Queens of the Stone Age and punk royalty Bad Brains. To say I am a die-hard fan of the aforementioned bands would make me a liar, and to say that I caught any of these sets in their entireties would lead people to believe my pants were on fire. That’s not to say there is undeniable talent, but I really enjoyed checking out the other aspects of this punk festival instead, like the Hellzapoppin Sideshow Revue, whom I have caught back in Houston a few years ago at Revention. Them, Andrew W.K. and Gwar would be considered the “house groups” of riot fest, as they play every year going back some time now.
Oh, I forgot to mention that Danzig was there on Saturday. Haha. He performed Danzig III: How the Gods Kill in its entirety, one of a handful of artists playing entire albums.
Sunday brought some of the strongest bands on the lineup as an ultimate closer to a well-executed weekend. The first band to get things going was Beach Slang, who were definitely crowd pleasers, as they brought the crowd some donuts as a hangover cure. I guess things are different in Chicago? Anyway, no one is going to boo a band that provides free stuff, duh. Later on a set that made my priority “to-see” list was reunited emo, Chicago-natives Cap’n Jazz. They were another band I caught a bit of at FYF, but to see them a lot earlier in the day and to way bigger of a crowd made it an even better experience. The fronting skills of vocalist Tim Kinsella make it sometimes hard to believe that he shares his DNA with Mike, drummer and frontman of American Football.
As sunset began to hit, Dinosaur Jr. began and played all of You’re Living All Over Me, and it was amazing, though that’s unnecessary to say because Dino and bad show does not go together. I caught about half of their set before making my way to see M.I.A., and it was seriously a religious awakening. When talking to other people in media about her, it astounded me to hear that most have not seen her in 10+ years, but her ability to entertain would make you believe AIM is her debut and “Paper Planes” is just a cover song that she can happen to perform well. Jawbreaker ended the night/event with their second show in over twenty years. The way the festival hyped them up made me sure the crowd would be more into it. Perhaps not the smartest move, “Want” was the fourth-or-so song, and it was the one that a lot of people had any interest in hearing. I mean, they were not “bad” by any means, but I think it’s fair to say that emo teenagers are going to sound drastically different than people way older than teenagers reliving their emo days.
Overall, Riot Fest was a, well, Riot (had to do that at least once). If one thing’s for sure, it’s that their lineups are always sure to excite, and next year, and the year after that, will be no exception. This year certainly wasn’t.