Wet Shoes, Full Hearts: Riot Fest 2015 – Day 1

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In the days leading up to this year’s Riot Fest in Chicago, I kept checking the weather app on my phone. Friday? Rain. Saturday? Rain. I thought maybe the forecast might change and we’d be able to enjoy the festival on dry ground for once. No such luck.

I arrived at Douglas Park early Friday afternoon wearing the black Chucks I bought last year to replace the black Chucks that were ruined in the mud at Riot Fest 2014. Before this year’s festival could even begin, the ground was already sloppy. The good news was that Douglas Park allowed for a much more sensible layout than Humboldt Park. At least if we were going to get covered in mud, we wouldn’t have to walk as far.

For me, the day truly kicked off when Every Time I Die took the Rebel Stage. Last year’s From Parts Unknown was a return to vicious form for the metalcore vets and their set did not disappoint. It’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off of Keith Buckley when he’s commanding the stage with his roar, but the rest of the band can be just as rowdy. The set ended with Jordan Buckley throwing himself through the stacked amps on stage, Kurt Cobain-style. It only seemed appropriate, especially after the band’s performance of Nirvana’s “Tourette’s”.

Against Me! took the Rise Stage immediately after and raged through an energetic set. That the band can still stand after a year of non-stop touring in support of Transgender Dysphoria Blues is nothing short of miraculous. That Laura Jane Grace can take the stage with such energy and emotion is a thing of beauty. The set ended with “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”, but the night continued later as the band played a secret show at Conchord Music Hall.

Although I’ve been listening to Coheed and Cambria on and off since 2003, I had somehow managed to miss the band in concert until Riot Fest. The performance was just as I had imagined it would be, however, with Claudio Sanchez singing in perfect tune from start to finish. I was delighted to hear the band play my three favorite songs of theirs (“A Favor House Atlantic”, “The Camper Velourium III: Al the Killer” and “Blood Red Summer”) all in succession. Clocking in at exactly an hour, the set felt like it passed in a matter of minutes.

The most surprising part of the weekend for me took place that evening as the sun set at the Rock Stage and Faith No More appeared. While I’m not as familiar with their music as I would like to be, my friend was thrilled to see the return of his favorite band. It was a sight to behold as the entire crowd sang along with the incredible Mike Patton, who showed off his vocal range in every way imaginable. The band easily had the most impressively tight set of the weekend, with every note sounding as if it were being played from the record.

Part of what makes Riot Fest so great is seeing newer bands like Real Friends get a chance at the big stage while legends like Faith No More are able to flex their muscles once more in front of giant crowds. I’ve said in the past that Riot Fest is like Warped Tour for grown-ups, but truly, it’s bigger than that. There’s literally something for almost everyone, and it’s impossible to leave disappointed or unimpressed.

At no point was this more obvious to me than when the night closed with Ice Cube at the Rebel Stage. I briefly caught a glimpse of No Doubt before making my way over to watch Cube rock the mic. After four of his solo tracks, he welcomed N.W.A. partners MC Ren and DJ Yella to the stage as the trio performed tracks from their legendary Straight Outta Compton release. By the time the crew launched into “Fuck tha Police”, the crowd collectively lost their minds. It was almost surreal watching the crowd unite for one of our era’s most important songs.

Yes, there is mud. Always. But in exchange for our wet clothes and soaked shoes, we’re given some of the most amazing reunions and performances we could ask for. Our clothes are muddy, our muscles are sore, and our stomachs ache from the disgusting food and copious amounts of alcohol – but our hearts are invariably full.

Read about day 2 here.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: Dr. Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack

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Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre isn’t the album we were waiting for. It’s the album we didn’t even know we wanted. Inspired during the filming for “Straight Outta Compton”, Dre walked away from Detox, an alleged forthcoming album over a decade in the making, to create what we currently have on our hands. Compton isn’t Detox, but it’s sobering in the best way possible.

Dre’s past solo work, The Chronic and 2001, are more than just landmark releases – they’re cultural touchstones that serve as definitive examples of hip hop sound for their respective eras. That Dr. Dre would release an album 16 years later that captures a disposition and dialogue that aligns so deeply with current events while simultaneously expanding on present sonic trends should come as no surprise.

You can buy Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre on iTunes.

You can buy Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre on iTunes.

It’s hard to boil Compton down to one particular theme, but it’s clear that this release appears to be Dre’s own personal retrospective on over two decades of west coast hip hop and its cultural impact on a city and the country as a whole. That’s a lot of weight for one release to carry, but Dr. Dre’s shoulders bear the burden alongside friends, both new and old. This isn’t unexpected – Compton’s voice is and has been a collective and collaborative one ever since N.W.A. took the scene all those years ago.

This time around, it’s hard to ignore the painful situational similarities. The L.A. Riots feel not as a distant historical event, but rather as an aching reminder of how little has changed and how much racism continues to plague our country. There is frustration and despair present on Compton to be sure, but there’s also hope.

To listen to Compton is to transition back and forth between time periods, both thematically and sonically, sometimes getting lost along the way. This creates for wonderful moments when verses from the old guard sound remarkably current and urgent. Listen to the way the tempo changes on “Loose Cannons” when Xzibit takes the stage or the throwback beat on “Issues” that makes room for Ice Cube to drop the line, “Today was a good day”.

As with every Dre release, though, blossoming voices get plenty of space to speak, and Compton is no exception. Unsurprisingly, Kendrick Lamar takes every opportunity to flex his muscles, defiantly spitting, “Still I got enemies giving me energy, I don’t wanna fight now / Subliminally sent to me all of this hate, I thought I was holding the mic down” on “Darkside/Gone”. Other up and comers like King Mez and Jon Conner get their chance to shine as well.

Dre spills some guitar riffs across his canvas on “One Shot One Kill”, providing a grimy beat for a confident Connor to spit, “I told my city, ‘Hold me down,’ now look how high they hold me up”. The track is a perfect backdrop and you can feel Dre’s ability to capture an emotion in the music. Just like “One Shot One Kill”, all of Compton is layered with an intentional feel for not only the individual rappers who appear on the track, but the message we take away.

“Deep Water” and its aquatic vibe is a perfect example. Here, the menacing beat offers Lamar an opportunity wrestle with his past and present experiences with his home city in a moment that feels like a spiritual extension of good kid, m.A.A.d city. “I’m a C-O-M-P-T-O-innovator, energizer / Inner-city bullet fly til that bitch on auto pilot” he spits before lamenting, “This is life in my aquarium”. As the track ends with a drowning Lamar gasping for help over the sounds of delicately placed horns and a clanging buoy, the imagery is excruciating.

When Compton isn’t meditating on the past turned present struggles of the city itself and the divide between a projected and actual reality, it’s reflecting on the musical movement it spawned. Both Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg contemplate on the genre they spearheaded and sneer at the fraudulent fallout on “Satisfiction”. And what would a Dre experience be without longtime sidekick Eminem losing his mind for 32 bars? Em spends his time on “Medicine Man” reflecting on his own journey alongside the Doctor, while predicting his eternal persistence as he fires, “And I hope my spirit haunts the studios when I’m gone / My picture jumps off a poster and just floats through the halls / And fucking goes through the walls like the ghost of Lou Rawls”.

In perfect fashion, Dre is able to tie the entire ruminating whirlwind together with “My Diary”. The closing track speaks deeply of Dre’s appreciation of his roots and his fond memories of friends in the lab when it all started. “I remember when I got started my intention was to win / But a lot of shit changed since then / Some more friends became enemies in the quest of victory / But I made a vow, never let this shit get to me / I let it pass, so I consider that part of my history…And don’t forget that I came from the ghetto”.

In just over an hour of runtime, it’s easy to forget about Detox. That album may surface one day, but it’s hard to imagine it having the same cultural weight that Compton brings to the table in 2015. It’s a record littered with violence – something that in the late 80s was a jolt from the comfortable confines of suburban safety for many. Now that violence bangs like a gong, resounding in the eardrums of indifference to racial hate and the brutality and death that ripple out of it.

For over two decades, Dr. Dre has been at the forefront of a movement that offered a glimpse into a reality that feels so foreign for so many, juxtaposing his storytelling against a backdrop of timeless music and sound. If Compton is the closing chapter for Dre as a solo artist, it’s an appropriate ending. Time will tell if the album earns the same cache as his past work and stands the test of time, but right now, it feels like a dose of the right kind of medicine.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.