Why to get to Riot Fest early | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

Why to get to Riot Fest early 

If your lunch runs late, you’ll miss some great acts—including Mongolian metal warriors the Hu, “ugly pop” trio Skating Polly, garage monsters Drakulas, and folk-pop wild card Caroline Rose.

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The Hu play the Riot Stage on Saturday at 1:05 PM. - E. ALTANKHUYAG
  • The Hu play the Riot Stage on Saturday at 1:05 PM.
  • E. Altankhuyag

The Reader crew

Leor Galil Staff writer

Jamie Ludwig Associate editor

Andrea Michelson Digital reporting intern

Philip Montoro Music editor

Anna White Freelance contributor


Philip Montoro Let's dork out about some obscure bands and sleeper acts. Who are your favorites in the tiny poster type, way down on the bill? Let's try to steer the good people out there in some interesting directions.

Anna White Right off the bat, the tiny-poster-type band I'm most excited about is definitely Skating Polly!

Jamie Ludwig They're a sister-brother band that play kind of early-90s-style alt-punk.

Anna They're one of the youngest on the bill, if not the youngest; lead singer Kelli Mayo is 19.

Leor Galil I believe the members of local band Monarchy Over Monday are younger—they're all under 18!

Philip At the risk of picking on kids, are Monarchy Over Monday any good?

Anna Skating Polly call themselves "ugly pop"—I think they're a perfect pick for Sunday. They were mentored by members of riot-grrrl-adjacent Veruca Salt, and definitely have a modern take on that kind of sound. I think they'd appeal to the same kind of people who are coming to see Bikini Kill—I've seen them live, and they put on a great show.

Philip Did you know that my predecessor as Reader music editor, Jim Shapiro, is the founding drummer of Veruca Salt?

Leor Monarchy Over Monday show a lot of promise—they've clearly listened to the Misfits quite a bit. They're gonna open things Saturday, which is a great way for Riot Fest to invest in the newer generation the same way they did when they booked Twin Peaks for their first festival gig.


The Garden
Fri 9/13, 12:30-1 PM, Roots Stage

Caroline Rose
Fri 9/13, 1:40-2:25 PM, Roots Stage

Cleopatrick
Sat 9/14, 1-1:30 PM, Rebel Stage

The Hu
Sat 9/14, 1:05-1:50 PM, Riot Stage

Drakulas
Sat 9/14, 2-2:30 PM, Rebel Stage

Ganser
Sun 9/15, 12:25-12:55 PM, Radicals Stage

Dead Swords
Sun 9/15, 12:30-1 PM, Roots Stage

Skating Polly
Sun 9/15, 1-1:35 PM, Riot Stage


Philip Who are the other locals in the tiny type? I know Ganser, Kali Masi, Lando Chill . . .

Leor Ganser rules, and it's great that Riot Fest is showcasing a local band that strays from the style of punk I think a lot of people associate with Riot Fest—they make gloriously gloomy postpunk!

Andrea Michelson I was surprised to see Lando Chill in the lineup because he's a rapper.

Leor Riot Fest has done a decent job booking rappers the past handful of years, particularly as it expanded. It was the first local fest to book Post Malone!

Riot Fest in 2014 was the height of it investing in smaller bands and undercards, and bringing in acts from "punk adjacent" genres—I still think about how great it was to see ShowYouSuck command a huge crowd, on a stage that mostly showcased locals.

Skating Polly play the Riot Stage on Sunday at 1 PM. - MICHAEL HAIGHT
  • Skating Polly play the Riot Stage on Sunday at 1 PM.
  • Michael Haight

Andrea That's interesting that you mentioned Post Malone—Lando Chill's "Coroner" kind of reminds me of Post Malone.

Philip I believe 2014 was also the year Riot Fest got really goofy huge, with definitely too many stages.

Andrea Do you think Riot Fest tries to book a specific type of "punk adjacent" hip-hop sound?

Leor When Riot Fest announced this year's lineup, a lot of folks complained about the lack of hip-hop. And while I think they could've booked other rappers, there are some lower on the bill. Prof, for example, is an ace rapper, but I think too easily fits the mold for what Riot Fest wants in a rapper—he's a Minneapolis MC signed to Rhymesayers, which just checks off the right boxes.

I think Riot Fest likes to play it safe with the lesser-known acts, regardless of genre. You might not know Prof, but if you go to Riot Fest and have at least a mild interest in hip-hop, you know Rhymesayers, and the label's cosign carries great weight.

Jamie A lot of the bands who are perhaps lesser known on a mainstream level have huge followings in their respective scenes.

For example: Cherry Glazerr, Turnstile, and Turnover.

Anna I was surprised Cherry Glazerr was so far down the lineup! But that might illustrate just what you're saying.

Philip Same with Turnstile, given the way a certain subspecies of hardcore dude hyperventilates over that band.

Leor Which is funny, because they sound like 311.

Jamie I wasn't going to say it, but . . .

Leor Hey, I like Turnstile!

I'm proud to say they sound like 311!

Philip I was gonna mention Hot Snakes, but I don't think they're low enough on the bill to count as undercard. Still, if you're too impatient for Drive Like Jehu's artsy stuff but otherwise love them, Hot Snakes are basically the perfect solution. Obviously it's got two of the same dudes, so this is hardly an accident.

Jamie Riot Fest has had Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, and Rocket From the Crypt over the years, and though they are all incredible, I'd say the fest is playing to its fan base with those choices.

Leor With a few exceptions, most of these acts are big draws. Hell, Cursive are low on the bill, which is less shocking once you look at the rest of it . . .

Drakulas play the Rebel Stage on Saturday at 2 PM. - CECILIA ALEJANDRA
  • Drakulas play the Rebel Stage on Saturday at 2 PM.
  • Cecilia Alejandra

Jamie On that same page, one of the lesser-known groups this year that I am excited to see is Drakulas, with Mike Wiebe of Riverboat Gamblers and members of Rise Against.

Philip I just googled Drakulas, and they look like they go through half their budget in pomade and leather dressing.

Jamie They're longtime faces in punk and garage, but I think they're going to be a blast. A mix of high-energy garage and power pop, Buzzcocks influence, et cetera. Wiebe is a great front man too, if memory serves.

Philip That drummer, Ian Walling, has got some impressive wrist action. Real quick on the hi-hat, which helps this kind of rock 'n' roll sound extra frisky.

Anna Philip, you mentioned you're especially excited for the Hu? I looked them up, and they seem like they'll be wild.

Philip The Hu are a Mongolian heavy-metal band from Ulaanbaatar.

I don't know if their name is pronounced differently than "the Who," but if it's not, that's even better.

They use traditional instruments, most notably the morin khuur or horsehead fiddle, and Tuvan throat singing, especially the low, growly, rumbling style called kargyraa. But they're combined with conventional heavy-metal instrumentation—the galloping rhythms of Mongolian folk, often imitative of hoofbeats, suit heavy metal perfectly, as Iron Maiden proved centuries ago.

Leor They're playing the same day as Slayer.

Philip These guys don't have an album out yet—their debut, The Gereg, is supposed to drop the week of Riot Fest.

Jamie Anthrax and Testament are on that day's bill too, so I think we'll see a lot of old-school metal fans all day.

Philip I highly recommend the video for "Wolf Totem," one of the advance singles. First a horseman with a pennant crests a hill, and then . . . a whole bunch of badass black-leather Mongolian dudes on motorcycles! And one of the guitars—maybe the bass?—looks like a drawn bow, with the arrowhead as the headstock.

As a longtime Tengger Cavalry fan (rest in peace, Nature Ganganbaigal), I am pretty geeked out about this. Obviously.

Jamie I find their music super accessible, all things considered.

Philip I think a lot of their audience is just attracted to the novelty—I wouldn't be surprised if it's largely not metal fans. Either way, it's a ton of fun.

Jamie They're kind of an Eastern answer to Ghost in that respect.

Philip One big difference is they don't sing in English! Which makes their success outside Mongolia even more remarkable.

I suppose headbanging is a universal language.

Anna Are they the only band on the lineup that doesn't sing in English? There definitely aren't many others.

Philip I couldn't say! There are too many bands whose music I don't know well enough.

Jamie We've talked about emerging bands—what about lesser-known or sleeper groups?

Leor I'm looking forward to some of the undercards on Friday: LA rock weirdos the Garden, Turnstile-adjacent band Angel Dust, the ridiculously named Pkew Pkew Pkew, Philly rockers Thin Lips . . .

Caroline Rose plays the Roots Stage on Friday at 1:40 PM. - SARRAH DANZIGER
  • Caroline Rose plays the Roots Stage on Friday at 1:40 PM.
  • Sarrah Danziger

Philip Has anybody heard Dead Swords?

Jamie They are definitely an outlier, not just on this bill but in all Riot Fest history.

Philip I'll be honest, I had no idea who they were before the lineup announcement, but I looked them up on account of the name. Not bad! Heavy shoegazey drone-rock with a little doom and a little psych. Maybe a little emo for me personally, but the guitar tones are pretty sweet.

Anna I'll second the Garden! They're a drum-bass duo, and a lot of fun live.

Philip This isn't fair, but I saw the Garden's last album cover and I was like . . . no thank you. The one with the dude in a jester outfit checking himself out in a mirror? Honestly, ew.

Anna Oh yeah—aesthetically, they're totally a Burger Records band.

Jamie No one has mentioned Caroline Rose yet, so I will.

Leor Her last album has a strong Beach House vibe, which I can get behind.

Andrea I was also waiting for Caroline Rose to come up! I love her vibe, but I think she would've made more sense in the Sunday lineup.

Jamie She did an about-face from a more traditional folky thing to this weirdo pop hybrid with some synths and lots of sarcasm. I'm curious to hear her live. Kind of a wild card.

Philip Cleopatrick isn't bad—I get sort of a QOTSA/Big Business feeling. Two Canadian dudes.

Another band I looked up due to name.

Anna I'm kind of glad she's on Friday, though—they really stacked smaller women artists on Sunday (I assume because of Bikini Kill), and it's nice that there are at least a few spread out.

Philip There are pretty few women on the bill, period stop.

Andrea I like it when festivals organize daily lineups by subgenre for the sake of convenience, but it also lets audiences keep listening to the same music and avoid leaving their comfort zones.

Jamie Like the year Nine Inch Nails and New Order headlined one night, and the other days didn't have a whiff of those vibes.

Leor Exactly, Andrea. Which just makes me wonder: Is Riot Fest saying the Ergs! are aligned with . . . Ween? Or the Raconteurs?

Philip I know Leor didn't mean anything by "aligned with," but it's making me imagine a Napoleonic War reenactment breaking out in Douglas Park.

Leor Aaaaand scene!

Philip I reckon we've made a pretty good case for showing up to Riot Fest early. And if you decide we're wrong, well, go park your butt on the carnival rides till something you care about happens.  v

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