Last weekend Riot Fest invaded Humboldt Park. For the un-initiated, Riot Fest is a 3-day music festival/carnival that typically caters to the punk & alternative rock scene. Anybody that knows me at all knows full well that I wait all year for Riot Fest and this year was no exception. The line up was [in my humble opinion] considerably better than Lollapalooza and completely blew Pitchfork out of the water
*NOTE TO HATERS: I attended both those festivals as well and they sucked*
Riot Fest has a history of being able to book bands that [a] don’t necessarily tour a lot [b] broke up 10+ years ago [c] re-unite for the first time in the aforementioned 10+ years [d] maintain a cult following despite all of the above. I want to give credit where credit is due to the event coordinators, but this 'alchemy' that is performed in putting these epic lineups together requires an X-Factor and that’s what I want to talk about for a minute. How is it that a band that faded into obscurity in the late 90’s / early 2000’s can take a stage at a festival in Chicago and draw a crowd that gives ANY Lollapalooza performer a run for their money? Emotion.
Let me explain why this one-word answer is so important. At some point, probably in or around high school [at least for myself] we discovered music that we thought would shape the rest of our lives. It doesn’t matter if it was Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode, Mineral, or Nickelback - actually if Nickelback emotionally resonates with you, just…stop. ANYWAY, that was the music that we connected with; could have been right place/right time; could have been the lyrics, there are no right or wrong answers. My point is that there was a connection that went beyond having a crush on the lead singer and his too-perfect application of guy-liner…an emotional component. That component is what makes you feel like that lead singer is singing directly to YOU and that they’ve been through the things that you are/were going through - in other words there is a bond.
The emotional bond that is created between you and a particular performer, band, song, etc. is something that doesn’t go away. You may have ‘grown up’, but when that song plays you remember EXACTLY where you were the first time you heard it, why? Because that bond isn’t broken by age, time, distance, etc. That bond, although pushed to the back of the mind re-emerges, unbroken as soon as you hear the first chord of that one song - it’s just as powerful as olfactory [scent] memories. That feeling, that emotion is the X-factor that I’m trying to explain, the intangible that Riot Fest planners see. Once that connection is made, it’s nearly impossible to forget it - it’s the reason I was singing/screaming every word of every song during New Found Glory’s set. Do I still listen to them? On occasion, but I do remember that initial connection from my Freshman year at Wheaton North High School. The alchemy that Riot Fest has been performing is nothing more than bringing in bands that have been able to create those types of bonds with their fans - it does not matter in what year that bond was created because those fans REMEMBER and they will show up in droves [even in the driving, sideways rain] to collectively remember.
You can call me Emo. That’s fine, I definitely was [and still kind of am], but as an advertising agency, isn’t the goal to engage viewers/users in a way that resonates with them; a way that creates the kind of bond that these 'old punk bands' have created so effortlessly? Ask your clients, I’m fairly certain I know the answer. Perhaps there *is* something to be learned from punk rock & emo culture - two genres of music that are unapologetically geared toward eliciting an emotional response from listeners. Yes punk has become commercialized and yes emo is all but gone, but Riot Fest demonstrates one very important thing: we CANNOT discount the effect of emotions. These bands make what they make and they never gave a shit about who was going to like it. They sang/screamed [off key] with all their hearts and you know what? People connected despite the lack of polished, produced, sonic perfection. Maybe it’s time advertising got a little more punk.
Riot Fest 2014 Spotify Playlist