Have you even looked at the line up for this year’s show? It’s an abyss. We know what you’re thinking. You’re saying outloud from the desk at your soul-crushing office job, “I’m flummoxed enough just trying to coordinate travel and lodging in Chicago. How am I suppose to navigate such a hodgepodge entanglement of entertainment?” Well fret no more. We’ve already determined which mosh pits are the most satisfying for you to plunge yourself little self into. Take notes because this is our list of top 10 artists to see at Riot Fest.
(10) The (Original) Misfits
Let’s not kid ourselves, kids. As much as concert promoters talk about creating a vibe and curating an eclectic event extravaganza that satiates the musical appetite of all concertgoers, the bottom line is that they have to move product. And that product is tickets. Before they sign any band to play at any festival, not just Riot Fest, the organizers have to ask themselves, “good or bad, will this band sell tickets?” With most bands, it’s a comfortable consensus on both fronts. They will sell tickets, but they will also be good. Really, the only time that this is not guaranteed to be the case is in situations like the Misfits where it’s a band everyone’s familiar with and likes, but band hasn’t done anything in a long while and it’s simply the name, reputation, and completed body of work that is the draw. In cases like these, the organizers know the name will generate sales, but it’s anybody’s guess what the actual performance will be like.
Our guess is that’s it’s going to be a debacle. Two years ago, Danzig rolled through Chicago on his Legacy Tour which included a Misfit setlist and an impossibly shredded Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein on guitar. As much of a sentimental chokehold it was to witness those classic proto goth-punk jams being performed live, the sentimentality ran thin about two songs in. Compound that with that one time we saw the Michale Graves-fronted Misfits open up for GWAR and it gives us the feeling we got when we watched Apollo Creed’s final match in Rocky IV.
(9) F’d Up
If you were to breakdown our Spotify listened-to-songs history, of all the bands playing Riot Fest, this one would occupy the largest percentage by volume. Not saying they would make the most appearances by tracks played. We’re saying that if you broke down all the music we’ve listened to on Spotify by actual minutes as a fraction of the overall total of minutes played, this Canadian hardcore stoner prog-punk would take the cake. And if it weren’t for them blowing through town every six months, they would would be higher on this list.
(8) Sleater Kinney
Remember the Riot Grrrl thing? At the time, the broads in the whole Kill the Rockstars scene seemed so rigid and puritanical. It’s weird that that unflappable backdrop birthed ½ of the cast of one the funniest and self-effacing TV shows in the last decade. Maybe Sleater Kinney mellowed out during that decade-long hiatus, or maybe they were just always cool, but it never properly came across. Either way, we dig their newest album, and can’t wait to see them bust out their no-bass brand of guitar rock.
(7) Leftover Crack
On Against Me!’s 2010 album White Crosses, there’s a song called “I Was A Teenage Anarchist” which Laura Jane Grace wrote about being part of, and ultimately expelled by, the anarcho punk scene. Even six years ago, the commentary on punk music seemed dated. Or maybe we’re just totally out of it. But in the age of Spotify, Interpunk, and Riot Fest itself, do people still care about whether a band has soldout? Is someone’s degree of punk credibility still directly correlated with their proximity to the poverty line? It’s our belief that in a period of less than a decade, the concept of punk integrity, and furthermore the entire crust punk faction, has gone the way of record sales, which is basically off a cliff.
Yet the crust is strong in a handful of anarcho holdouts. Specifically one dreadlocked, face tattooed, Mad Max extra looking drug addict whose name is not be confused with a member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Stza Crack selflessly carries the flag for an almost forgotten cause. And we are stoked to see that flag get planted in Douglas Park for what may be the last time.
(6) Death Grips
Of all the bands playing the 2016 Chicago Riot Fest, no act will loath the audience more than Death Grips. There’s about a 75% chance they don’t show up all, as was the case with their scheduled performance at Lollapalooza in 2013. While categorically more of a hip-hop ensemble, Death Grips’ G.G. Allen-pioneered flagrant disregard for fans, the media, the labels, and own self, are paradigmatic punk rock.
You know how some movies use this narrative device where they keep expanding the scope of something for dramatic effect? Like in Inception where it’s a dream inside a dream inside a dream, and then the melodramatic final reveal is that [spoiler alert] it was all one, even larger, more encompassing, dream. That’s how Ween seems to us, but instead of a dream, it’s an inside joke and instead of a movie, it’s their entire career and possibly lives. It’s like they started with “You F’d Up” as a joke, but that was revealed to be part of the larger joke that was The Oneness, but that was revealed to be part of the larger joke that was Boognish, but that was a revealed to be part of a larger joke about food, but that was revealed to be part of a larger joke about modern consumption of popular music, and on and on, which somehow leads us to a park in west Chicago on a Friday night in September.
Not to get all Buddhist or Nihilistic on you, but nothing matters. Not only will there come a time when you no longer exist, but it will be followed by a time when no one that ever knew you to exist will exist. And it’s not just you. There will come a time when no one alive knows who Steve Jobs, or Marie Antoinette, or Brendan Bauman were. There have been people and expansive civilizations that have controlled vast parts of the known world, like Cyrus and the Achaemenid Empire or Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin and the Triple Alliance that are totally unfamiliar to most people. So to has what was once one of the greatest rivalries in the history of popular music.
For the better part of a decade, an epic verbally pugnacious beef between two New York rap titans was at the forefront of modern hip hop. A line was drawn in the sand and fans had to choose a side and take a stand. Who was the superior MC? Jay Z (then Jay-Z) or NAS?
Hov eventually pulled out ahead. Then cemented his dominance by marrying Beyoncé, retiring, and then un-retiring. Ultimately, the very notion of “MC” has become dated as hip hop music has drifted away from traditional turntabling and b-boying into a world of auto-tune, DAWs and Snapchat updates. Spitting rhymes just doesn’t matter as much anymore. So while Jay may be culturally recognized as the superior rapper, in 2016, his skills are approximately as essential to crafting a hit song as Steve Vai’s fretboard work.
That being said, when it was a thing, we were in the NAS camp. Have you even seen the video for “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”?
(3) Hold Steady
A couple years ago, Jason Bailey published an article in The Atlantic where he argued that Quentin Tarantino’s success as a director is based on his ability to marry everyone’s favorite parts of cinematic styles into a single film, much like how a DJ marries everyone’s favorite parts of songs into a single track. The same could be said about the Hold Steady. They get sort of pegged as a bar band, but that’s probably just because, like a bar band performing covers, they’ve cherry picked all the best parts of the last four decades of guitar-based rock music and amalgamated them into a single harmonized offering of classic rock bliss. While all their records are excellent, this formula yielded the best results on 2006’s Boys and Girls in America. And since that’s what they’ll be playing from front-to-back, we can’t wait to sing-talk the lyrics back at Craig Finn while he sing-talks them to us.
Whatever, dude. We’ve been into Morrissey for forever. Yes, he’s kind of a tool, but that, in part, is why we love him. It’s an unconditional love. Which is the purest form of love that a fan can have for a musician, in a non-reciprocal, completely unhealthy, one-way relationship of single-sided respect and admiration. Honestly, Morrissey would be our #1 if there weren’t a 95% he cancels the week before.
(1) Brand New
It’s remarkable that Brand New are 16-years into their existence as a band, and it feels like they’ve really hit their stride and are firing on all cylinders. At least a decade past when the emo furor reached maximum saturation and burned out like Icarus flying too close to the sun, 13-years since their fan favorite album, 10-years since their best album, and 7-years since their last album, and Brand New are in top form. Incrementally releasing piquant bite-size nuggets off what we can only suppose will be their next (possibly final) album to keep our attention fixed.
Three years ago, back when Riot Fest was still in Humboldt Park, we stood in a sloshed-out brown mud trench and watched Brand New put on a show that was the highlight of a weekend full of highlights. Call us emo, but our tummies ache with anticipation for another opportunity to stand in an open field with complete strangers, and with tears rolling down our flustered cheeks, earnestly sing along to every word of songs about (what we’ve interpreted to be) girls that broke-up with us.