Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard Flaming Lips are playing Yoshimi all the way through at Riot Fest this year, and that Wu Tang have recently signed on for a headlining slot. The Chicago music fest has become well-known for curating anniversary shows, legacy acts, and sets by THPS soundtrack HOFers—not to mention unlikely reunions—in addition to the cavalcade of carnivalesque midday scenes from the likes of Andrew W.K. and GWAR.
But in case you didn’t notice, there’s plenty going on before, during, and shortly after Cursive’s criminally short 3:45-4:15 set, with an ever-improving early afternoon schedule being curated every year. This year being no exception, we’re highlighting a handful of the pre-midday nap acts certain to impress those of us whose moms had to drop us off at the fest early—or, those of us intentionally expanding our horizons after dropping an unreasonable sum of money just to see Chris Carrabba sing “Screaming Infidelities.”
From: Baltimore, MD
Most recent release: Pretty Buff
What they sound like: pop cow-punk; anti-folk-punk folk punk
Angel Du$t are comprised of members of Trapped Under Ice and Turnstile (who are also playing Riot Fest), and although they’re nowhere near as aggressive as either band, they’re just as much fun. Pretty Buff in particular excels at teasing crashing electric guitars without ever delivering, Justice Tripp’s energetic acoustic riffs taking precedence on every track. You’re just as likely to see bodies tossed around an AD pit as you are to be thwacked by a limb at a Turnstile show, despite the ungodly presence of an acoustic axe at a melodic hardcore gig.
From: New York, NY
Most recent album: Loner
What they sound like: The B-52’s, only way less so; Blondie, only way more so
Caroline Rose used to be a folk singer whose music featured very mainstream-country artwork. Now she sings power-pop songs about demented prom queens, packaged with an image of the artist smoking, like, twenty cigarettes at once. Not only was Loner easily among the top two albums of 2018 whose cover featured a songwriter doing something weird with cigs, it was also easily among the most inspiring stories of an artist injecting her unfiltered personality into all thirty-five minutes of her record. Needless to say, her Riot Fest performance likely won’t go unmatched by the energy she brings to her music and colorful visuals.
From: Chicago, IL
Most recent album: Odd Talk
What they sound like: Most of the adjectives in Wikipedia’s definition of “post-punk”
Ganser was handpicked by the City of Chicago as ambassadors to Riot Fest with the very realistic intention of drawing out-of-towners to the Windy City tourist attraction that is the Chicago’s DIY scene—an extensive community exporting such acts in recent years as Whitney, NE-HI, Lala Lala, Deeper, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, and Dehd. This, of course, is entirely untrue, but the post-punk four-piece will hopefully serve as an entry point for some tourists looking for a new city’s worthy of ace garage rock acts.
From: Los Angeles, CA
Most recent album: Black Ego
What they sound like: An oasis of Speakerboxxx in a Painted Desert of Come Shop Wit’ Mes
Yeah, they kinda got rap at Riot Fest. Along with disciple-of-Atmosphere Prof, the rapper born Lance Washington makes for a fine early opener to Wu Tang Clan on the Friday Radicals Stage bill. Signed to Mello Music Group alongside Quelle Chris, Billy Woods, and Homeboy Sandman, Chill makes for a solid kick-off to a punk-dominated weekend.
From: Atlanta, GA
Most recent album: Death Is a Warm Blanket
What they sound like: Kinda hard to tell anymore tbh
Microwave made macro waves in the emo community when they shared the first handful of singles from their forthcoming album (dropping the day before their Saturday set), the second of which notably pivots from emo verses (expected) to intimidating Marilyn Manson–like choruses (not expected). The band’s latest single, “Mirrors,” is plenty more things that could best be boiled down to “Mutemath with tons of shouting.” I’m really sorry about that “macro waves” joke.
PKEW PKEW PKEW
For a band that echoes the wake-bake-skate mentality of FIDLAR, while hailing from the same Toronto punk scene that wrought PUP and METZ, the all-caps moniker is about the only thing PKEW PKEW PKEW really has in common with any of these bands. While their lyrics are often skaterly, and their guitars often embody the icy winters of their homeland, PKEWx3 are a party band skewed toward pop punk—might wanna take a brief PBR break between Riot Fest Suckses for these guys.
With The Flaming Lips playing the former official state song of Oklahoma earlier in the weekend, Skating Polly will be supporting the band’s OK pride with a savage set of grunge-indebted punk sharing much more in common with Sunday headliners Bikini Kill. Kelli Mayo’s vocals border on satanic when the trio bump out “They’re Cheap (I’m Free)” to a live audience, which might be enough to convince you to skip church for their Sunday afternoon set.
From: Miami, FL
Most recent album: Hourly Haunts
What they sound like: East Coast Wavves; Southern Smith Westerns
Surfer Blood may seem like a no-brainer for some, but it just occurred to me that there are plenty of people in the world who weren’t in high school or college when Astro Coast dropped. ‾\_(?)_/‾
From: Philadelphia, PA
Most recent album: Chosen Family
What they sound like: Being OK with a breakup because your friends are really cool
Although their 1 p.m. billing is likely due to the size of their fanbase in comparison to the festival’s other acts, one could make the case for Thin Lips’ early slot being designated for the lack of angst permeating the band’s pop-punk riffs. While Chrissy Tashjian sings about loneliness, fear, and anxiety, she does so with such tranquility in her voice that it’s no match for Slayer’s nearby disruptive shredding. Rather, it might serve as the perfect warm-up for successive searing sets from Hot Snakes and Hot Water Music.
From: Louisville, KY
Most recent album: You Deserve Love (October 18)
What they sound like: The world’s best American band
If you don’t wanna travel all the way out to Rockford to see Cheap Trick play again this summer, pull up a chair (I don’t think you’re actually allowed to do that at Riot Fest) for White Reaper’s Sunday morning set, where they’ll be re-appropriating the band’s Midwest Coast pop rock and bubblegum hooks for a modern audience. On the cusp of their Elektra debut, there’s probably I-was-there-when bragging rights in it for you if you do.