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Riot Fest 2023 showed off alternative royalty

“Every band you see this weekend, in some way, has been influenced by the Cure,” says Davey Havok from his signature riser, positioned dead center on the Riot Fest’s main stage, as he looks over the mud-splattered crowd. When it comes to AFI, there’s certainly no argument to the contrary — frontman Havok has never […]

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“Every band you see this weekend, in some way, has been influenced by the Cure,” says Davey Havok from his signature riser, positioned dead center on the Riot Fest’s main stage, as he looks over the mud-splattered crowd. When it comes to AFI, there’s certainly no argument to the contrary — frontman Havok has never been one to shy away from eyeliner, and his Instagram page is consistently populated with pictures of Robert Smith. But after three days at Riot Fest, while not all pay tribute as vocally or visually as Havok, his assessment of the bill rings true. 

The Cure, the dark and brooding cherry on top of a rainy weekend, who played the festival’s final set Sunday night, have been a cornerstone of alternative music and culture — one of the first bands of its kind to break, before alternative had hit the mainstream — and a ringleader in the post-punk movement and founder of the gothic rock genre. Whether we’re talking about the first waves of emo or contemporary hardcore, the Cure’s adamantly nonconformist attitude, gut-punching basslines, and gloriously addictive whine with which Smith delivers such heartbreaking lyricism has left its mark, however indirectly, on those in the industry making their way outside of the mainstream. 

Read more: The Aquadolls embody style on and off the stage

All that is to say, when it comes to artists who refuse to be boxed in, Riot Fest is, year after year, replete with the best. And this year, from the Breeders to Death Cab for Cutie, Turnstile to Ani DiFranco — we were truly among alternative royalty, in every shape and form. Though the highlights are too many to include, we witnessed a slice of pizza crowd-surfed to L.S. Dunes vocalist Anthony Green — an homage to the slice he’d been surfed at a Circa Survive show years earlier — we were doused with rain and Faygo during an unruly and unforgettable ICP set, and watched Corey Feldman take notes from Bert McCracken, ripping off his holographic sequin shirt onstage. 

Album play was a theme for many bands on the bill this year, the Deal sisters performing the entirety, “even the weird ones,” from their band the Breeders’ Last Splash, Death Cab for Cutie and the Postal Service running through Transatlanticism and Give Up, Glassjaw’s Daryl Palumbo playing through 2004’s Decadence with his group Head Automatica. However, there was nothing trite or cute about these nostalgic moments — each band brought real heat, cementing their impeccable sound in both the past and present for an experience that was both deeply emotional, sonically impressive, and a huge reminder that though we’ve chosen to dive into the landscape of all things alternative, its truest depths are yet to be discovered. And we hope they never will. 

With Zach Hill’s immaculate drumming during the Death Grips set, High Vis frontman Graham Sayle’s sprightly hardcore high kicks, or 100 gecs’ ability to transport an exhausted, damp audience to another, far weirder and more wonderful place and time — this Riot Fest was one for the books. And though it might not be the stems of “Just Like Heaven” that ties a dedicated, incredible social activist and folk-rock legend like DiFranco to Dave Grohl, from set to set it was made evident that the thread tying each artist in Chicago together, just like Smith, refuses to be categorized — and rather, chooses to focus on honesty, authenticity, and never shying away from the darkness. 

Source: altpress.com

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