Since migrating from it’s Chicago birthplace, Riot Fest has brought to Denver some of the largest acts in music history; last year Riot Fest brought us alt-rock pillars Pixies and Modest Mouse, sided by rap deities Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube.
The festival has become known as a three-day long nostalgia trip harking back on the audience’s early days of walkmans and pixilated iPods, walks on the sidewalk and angst fueled rebellion railed against the expected, the norm, and the sleeping, smiley radio-pop with no incisors, and instead celebrating the apolitical, angry and bass heavy, boiling with quick tempo rails against the corporate machine and mentality.
Held in The National Western Complex, four stages spread across dirt, gravel and concrete, branching out from the sweaty hearth of the Denver Coliseum and into the depths of the American anti-movement.
This year’s lineup was no surprise, comprised of equal parts punk, rap and alternative-rock, complete with headliners Death Cab For Cutie, Sleater Kinney, NAS and, most anticipated, the 30 year awaited reuniting of The Original Misfits. The festival drew fans from all over the world vying to get a glimpse of Glenn Danzig and freshly paved moments in music history.
The National Western Complex quickly filled by 12:30 p.m. every day with Misfits tees, mohawks and black on black clothing, circles formed of both friends and strangers. The festival featured roughly a dozen different food trucks, offering vegan and vegetarian gyros and burritos, turkey legs, tacos and fried oreos, along with other typical carnival-esque exoticisms.
Beer and other canned cocktails were sold for $6 to $8; expected fare for larger festivals. The tap lines were pretty long during high traffic, but if you knew which tents to stake out, a beer could be sought and bought in under ten minutes most of the time.
Friday’s most memorable include Rogue Wave, Wolf Parade, Death Cab For Cutie, Jane's Addiction, Descendents and particularly, Suicidal Tendencies.
The intensity in the pit during Suicidal Tendencies was a steep and steady ascent; during the first twenty or so minutes I was pushing my way through the circle-pit and chanting “Institution! I’m not crazy, institution!” with the best of them. Eventually the gravel and grit feeling we were stomping around in pervaded into everything; the crowd felt big, not only in number but in size, and I, being short, dipped out to avoid getting my eyes pitted by the silver spikes lining the handsewn back-patches adorning many a homemade vest.
Mike Muir, frontman, recounted between two or three minute high tempo hits, “This isn’t a slogan, I’m not a politician! This is freedom!”, a direct reference to the foundation of the punk music, atheism and rebellion which incited fired enthusiasm.
After their set, I found a friend who I’d lost within the first ten minutes, missing her left Toms shoe, spotted with a stranger’s blood on her shoulder and grinning dazedly.
Saturday saw Meat Puppets, Danny Brown, Yo La Tengo, Vince Staples, Denver’s own Devotchka, Sleater Kinney, Julian Marley Performing Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Exodus, and Ween.
Danny Brown brought a lot of heat, spitting lyrics in quick succession, “And I smoke/ Blunt after blunt after blunt after blunt”, with his usual blur of obscenities and affable expressions.
I dipped out halfway through his set to see mid-nineties alt-rock staple Yo La Tengo who recently released an album Stuff Like That There (2015) which is pretty phenomenal. Their set was concluded with a ten minute long song with a single, simple bass riff decorated with Ira Kaplan’s animated guitar solo, some fancy footwork with his pedals, slaps of his fret board and 360 degree swings sending his guitar sailing around his body. The song inched into your mind like a worm, it’s steady vibration lulling you into a Yo La Tengo induced, genex, ethereal, bass-binded spell.
Sleater Kinney, a Feminist punk four piece including front woman Corin Tucker, bassist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss brought the crowd to their knees. The band was emanating bright energy; with impeccable lighting, a royal purple, gauzy background and fog machine, the women brought what can only be described as pure lady power. Playing hits off of The Woods and Dig Me Out, my first encounter with this band left me stunned and in total disbelief.
The third day of any festival is a feat in it of itself, and despite exhaustion and ear damage, the crowd turnout was larger than ever for Sunday’s lineup. The day began much like the ones before, only with more velocity, more Misfits tees, and more redbull fueled moshing. The lineup was noticeably more hardcore; Converge, Hatebreed, Murder By Death and Bad Religion filled up the earlier slots to prepare the crowd for The Misfits’ resurrection.
The most commonly asked question floated around like a virus: “So, you going to Nas or Misfits?” Whether the organizers intended to create the “Which set can I stand to miss?” anxiety and the inevitable friend group division that ensued, or they simply assumed that the crowds for each would split easily like a cell undergoing routine mitosis, the question served well as a conversation starter between strangers throughout the entire festival.
Bleached, L.A. an indie-pop-punk band headed by Mika Miko, drew a large audience into the Coliseum, with danceable, shimmeable pop and surf rock licks, a perfect band to make the September summer last just a little bit longer.
2 Chainz and Tyler, The Creator took on the Rock Stage back to back. Although 2 Chainz appeared twenty minutes after his scheduled slot, Tyler’s set was full and unimpeded. Tyler was literally elevated, (he got airborne) in the Mile High City, jumping from the stage repeatedly, bashing the crowd in his lyrics as to be expected.
Sleigh Bells came on next, with a full face assault; strobe-lights, heavy distortion and hard hitting bass, the crowd was wild for hits such as “Rill Rill” and “Kids”, intermixed with newer tracks off of the more recent Bitter Arrivals.
I tried to get a good spot for Misfits, and even though I left halfway through Sleigh Bell’s set, a sea of people had accumulated around the Riot Stage, flowing freely past the sound stage and into the food truck lines. Danzig and band installed an unbendable no photo rule, and thus he and the rest (Jerry Only and Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein) were much unseen, but man, were they were heard.
Although tension was predicted, Danzig was nothing if not nostalgic. He took breaks between songs to personally acknowledge Only, Frankenstein and the rest of the band present, eliciting cheers and chants. Much of their set consisted of the infamous album Walk Among Us (1982), one to two minute songs each inciting short lived circle pits and long lived pride from long-time Misfits fans and fanatics.
Danzig iterated, “This all started back in the early 80’s, when we dressed in all black; we didn’t look like anyone, we didn’t sound like anyone, and we were about getting people mad and getting people to party, and we got into trouble every single night,” before jumping into a rendition of the crowd favorite “All Hell Breaks Loose”.
A group next to me had driven the same day from Montana, just to see Misfits’ reunite. The crowd was both fighting against each other to move closer and united with camaraderie, a newfound kinship created in their mutual fandom.
After the Misfits wistfully exited, the crowd disbanded, smiling and dazed, astounded to have witnessed one of the most historic punk bands coming together again to play their most famous tracks.
All in all, this years Riot Fest was undoubtedly a success. We were given the chance to walk among the greatest of American punk history, to recount our youth and our nostalgia, and to gather together in mutual appreciation for all things anti.
A gigantic thanks to everyone who made it out to the National Western Complex and to those who assisted in the process. We have made it out to Riot Fest for many years, and we will continue to do so, giddy with excitement and ready to release our inner riot. We can’t wait to see what the festival will brew up for 2017 lineup, but we can’t imagine it will be that much different; we can always expect that somehow, the lineup will be better than the previous.
Words: Kendall Morris Photos: Robert Castro