Getting rowdy at Riot Fest with Jazz Cartier, Rancid and Alexisonfire while learning that you have not lived until you can say, “I’ve had Wu Tang Clan spray champagne on me."

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Photo by Matt Forsythe

This year, Downsview Park welcomed the Chicago based Riot Fest to Toronto for the second year. The two day festival welcomed a plethora of metal, indie, rock and hip hop artists to perform on one of their four stages. Inspired by an antique carnival with rides and a circus sideshow, the theme gracefully brought together all the artists under the same pretext of having a riot and listening to some amazing music.

The first day began slowly as I wandered around evaluating the stage set up and food options. There was quite a large crowd outside this yellow and blue circus tent and with some time to kill, I entered the Hellzapoppin Circus Sideshow Review. As I walked in, a man wearing heavy eyeliner pulled a string from his mouth through his tear duct. I feel nauseous and absolutely amazed. The rest of the slideshow would include a performer walking across freshly broken glass and nails with his bare hands, a world-record holding sword swallower and a woman deep-throating a three foot balloon while a cinder block was smashed on her chest. Seeing such grotesque yet visually stunning acts would set the tone for the weekend and the sideshow continued to be a topic of conversation in the audience of every show I attended afterwards

The first show I caught was Toronto alternative rock group, Die Mannequin who exploded on the Roots Stage. Lead guitarist and singer Care Failure engaged with the audience and her soaring vocals carried easily over the harsher backing vocals, creating a depth and balance to their sound. A highlight of their set was a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cover that was dedicated it to Carlton. Following Die Mannequin, I caught fellow Toronto natives The OBGM’s, a self described “Thrash Rocking Ass Shakin’ Party in a band.” They arrived on stage absolutely lit and ready to get the crowd going. The audience on the other hand, had a different idea and their animated stage presence and crowd-pleasing hype tricks did not translate to the crowd, which led to some unenthusiastic fist pumping. They did however get the crowd going later that afternoon in Stubhub’s "#nomofomo" tent with their acoustic set. Surprisingly, the smaller venue and darker atmosphere was more receptive to their party hits.

I missed The Dead Milkmen as I headed over to get a good view for Gwar but I did get the chance to hear them scream “blister on my penis” from the Riot Stage, so that was nice. As I lined up at Gwar, my heart began to fill with fear because all I really knew about the band was that they wore weird outfits and used gore in their theatrical sets. An oncoming storm rolled in followed by torrential downpour which only added to my growing unease. They began their set spraying everyone in a weird blue liquid and playing fiercely through the rain which would later garner a shout out from Alexisonfire who applauded their efforts.

After taking a break to wring the water out of my clothes, eat some food and just try and get it all back together, I caught Echo and The Bunnymen. The British rock band delivered some classic rock, a highlight being a snippet of Lou Reed’s “Walk on The Wild Side,” with the accompaniment of the crowd. 

All Time Low played an incredibly fun set that included many throwback as well as songs off their latest album, Future Hearts (2015). They were playful and showed that having been in the game for about ten years now they have perfected their comical, witty stage banter saying things like, “We’re going to talk about some nonsense and play some mediocre songs.” Suffice to say, the crowd was brought back to their youth. Weezer followed playing Pinkerton (1996) in full, which I would never could have imagined experiencing. While the album was released almost a decade ago, it was warmly received with much of the audience simply revelling in hearing favourites such as “Island in the Sun”, “Pork and Beans” and the rarer “You Gave Your Love To Me Softly”.

Alexisonfire was definitely the most anticipated band of the festival, which showed as a crowd gathered filling the entirety of the main festival area. Following a couple of turbulent years during which Dallas Green focused on City and Color and the fate of the band seemed in limbo, they released a line up of a select few shows in 2015.  They addressed this by announcing that they were officially back together and wouldn’t put fans through that again saying,” we promise to never leave you again.” This prompted an eruption of emotion from the crowd, the aftershocks felt throughout their set. 

DAY 2

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Jazz Cartier/Photo by Matt Forsythe

The first act I wanted to catch was local rapper Jazz Cartier who was supposed to play at 1pm but was was pushed back to 2pm because Yelawolf had cancelled. Recovering from the disappointment that Yelawolf would no longer be performing was quickly forgotten as I was whisked into Jazz Cartier’s explosive performance. He stated that he has been asked to sign a waiver saying he wouldn’t start any riot’s which was exactly what he intended on doing. Jazz Cartier climbed the sides of the stage, poured about seven bottles of water on the crowd and attempted to walk across the sea of people. It was this embracive nature and no fucks given attitude that solidified him as the real deal. He overplayed his set time forcing his manager to tell him he had to get off stage as one audience member near me remarked, "if you are going to be a rapper you can’t get pushed around and be told what to do." I don’t know how true that is but by doing so he proved worthy of the growing hype around him.

Afterwards, I nearly ran over to the intimate “Radicals Stage” to catch another local Toronto rapper, Tasha The Amazon.  She gathered a smaller crowd but had them all jumping and screaming along by then end. What she lacked in the audience familiarity was made up in her emotive stage performance; her body language and facial expression matching the nature of her music. Bringing out the multitalented Cola of Wifetaker and also the drummer in The OBGM’s, they played their duet “Scallywag” which brought together the Toronto music scene in a festival comprised of so many locals.

Tyler The Creator put on an expectedly bizarre show and even admitted later on that it was his awkwardest show in a while. He wasn’t happy that the crowd wasn’t going crazier but that being said, his show still had the most crowd surfers out of any performance at the festival. He played crowd favourites including “IFHY,” “Yonkers,”  “Domo24” and “Tamale” during which audience members remarked that he seemed stupidly high due to his completely disinterested nature. However, despite his noticeable, uncomfortable pauses between songs, he still managed to deliver his material. I headed over to the main stage area for the first time in the day to catch Bleachers on the Roots Stage. They had a relatively large audience considering they released their debut album, Strange Desire (2014), just over a year ago. Showing specutacular musicianship, the band switched seamlessly through instruments and and places on stage in order to accommodate the wide range of instruments used.

I watched Rancid perform from a distance as I ate my smuggled in vegetables and hummus because what the festival lacked was anything reasonably priced. I had one woman try and sell me a bottle of water for just over seven dollars until I decided I would rather be dehydrated.

The last act I caught was Wu Tang Clan and it was obviously unreal. While they were missing a few members, dedicated fans didn't seem to mind as their onstage banter was a crash course in classic hip hop and its ability to bring people together. This was incredibly true in a setting where hipsters stood beside metalheads who stood beside hip hop aficionados who were next to basic white girls. Everyone was there for the same reason, to see one of the most influential hip-hop acts of all time.  It was a life changing experience with everyone jumping and proudly holding their hands up to form a “W.” You have not lived until you can say, “I’ve had Wu Tang Clan  spray champagne on me.”

When I got home I was still pumped, jumping around my apartment screaming profanities about the bands I had just seen at my roommate who was just trying to eat his perogies in peace. Any event that has that can generate that level of excitement is the type of thing that deserves recognition and I highly recommend you get yours when Riot Fest returns in 2016.

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Wu Tang Clan/Photo by Matt Forsythe

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