Riot Fest and shine | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

Riot Fest and shine 

To see some of the best acts on the bill—including Downtown Boys, Invsn, and Fishbone—you’re gonna have to skip brunch.

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I'd hate to see what these two look like after their coffee. - ILLUSTRATION BY BALDUR HELGASON
  • I'd hate to see what these two look like after their coffee.
  • Illustration by Baldur Helgason

Don't use brunch as an excuse for getting a late start on your Riot Fest plans this weekend—not only because brunch deserves better (I think), but also because those coveted huevos rancheros will be on special in perpetuity to cure your hangover. Lug your corpse out of bed, submerge it in coffee, and drag it to Douglas Park by noon. It's easy to never mind the opening bands at a mega music festival in favor of the marquee acts—some of them inexplicably reunited, some of them Nine Inch Nails—but early arrivals can catch several of Riot Fest's most out-of-bounds artists, maybe even with elbow room to spare. Here are nine worth applying sunscreen to see.

Friday

What better way to begin a fest steeped in remember-­when punk than with a reclusive experimental electronic musician? Tobacco (12:35 PM, Riot Stage), aka the leader of Black Moth Super Rainbow, spreads clouds of sinister, smoky synth over his creeping, vocoderized vocals. It's dance music for a Francis Bacon painting, and as it melts into the air it leaves chemtrails in its wake.

Chase that with Invsn (1:25 PM, Roots Stage), fronted by Dennis Lyxzen of Swedish posthardcore powerhouse Refused. This project leans toward postpunk instead, and broods more than it sasses—Sara Almgren, a bandmate of Lyxzen's in the (International) Noise Conspiracy, is also a key member. Lyxzen is such a reliable performer, working the stage with a purposeful, reckless abandon, that his showmanship alone is worth a minute or ten.

Unless you absolutely have to watch all of Invsn, next you can see Warm Brew (1:45 PM, Rise Stage), a hip-hop trio from west LA who tip their Lakers caps to their G-funk godfathers. The 2016 EP Diagnosis (Red Bull Records) is a chill, percolating demonstration of what these self-proclaimed "Ghetto Beach Boyz" can do.

Saturday

Unlike many of the classic punk bands Riot Fest re­animates, English street-punk agitators GBH (12:55 PM, Riot Stage) have never stripped the studs from their leather jackets. Since 1978 the core of their lineup—vocalist Colin Abrahall, guitarist Colin "Jock" Blyth, and bassist Ross Lomas—has remained intact, releasing records at a fair clip (they have a new one called Momentum coming in November on Hellcat). Vintage GBH calling cards such as "Give Me Fire" still conjure images of bare-knuckle brawls between gangs of skins and 'hawks.

Next hustle over to Fishbone (1:45 PM, Radicals Stage), the Los Angeles conglomerate that helped birth a high-energy new strain of funk- and ska-infused alternative rock (horns included) in the late 80s and early 90s. Their volatile sound teeters on the edge of chaos, as each instrument seems to pull in a different direction, but the best songs—including the 1991 favorite "Sunless Saturday," which they might get to after playing all of 1988's Truth and Soul—bring this mayhem into line behind the power and magnetism of front man Angelo Moore.

To keep your adrenaline cranked, you'll want to catch at least a bit of local hardcore powerhouse La Armada (2 PM, Heather Owen Stage). They moved here from the Dominican Republic a decade ago, and their most recent EP, 2014's Crisis, explodes with grindcore-loyal blastbeats, dagger-sharp guitar squeals, and bilingual shrieks and growls. They'll brutalize every one of their 30 minutes onstage.

Sunday

Perhaps the most hyped early-set band at Riot Fest are politically outspoken Providence punks Downtown Boys (1 PM, Rise Stage), who just released Cost of Living (Sub Pop), produced by Fugazi's Guy Picciotto. Their music is raucous and eclectic (hello, saxophone), and Victoria Ruiz's lyrics, which alternate between Spanish and English, are blunt and in your face. Downtown Boys aim to challenge the regressive status quo, and their rising status ought to help them advance their DIY agenda.

Playing simultaneously are Upset (1 PM, Heather Owen Stage), fronted by former Vivian Girl Ali Koehler, whose straight-ahead mix of indie rock and pop punk ought to put a little bounce back in your step as you march toward Jawbreaker. Former Hole drummer Patty Schemel is in the band too, which is a fun wrinkle.

Both Downtown Boys and Upset will wrap up their sets before Culture Abuse (2 PM, Heather Owen Stage), who on last year's Peach (6131 Records) treat the sound of melodic 90s rock to better production than it often got back in the day. Catchy but definitely a little damaged, Culture Abuse fuses bits of Jay Reatard-­style garage to the heavy guitar thrum of grunge's heyday.  v

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