Festival Review: Riot Fest Toronto 2014 — punking and punching

The Flaming Lips
Photo by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

Mud, plus 42,624 people, plus some of the most mosh-able, dance-able music still listened to by well-tuned ears? Obviously the first thing that should have jumped into your head was Riot Fest. This year’s celebration of the insane, wacky world that is music was at Downsview Park, a hop, skip, and a jump away from the congested downtown Toronto core with it’s lack of green spaces and excessively ridiculous noise restrictions.

Arriving at 3pm the first day of the festival, where well-trained security guards patted you down, meant arriving to Manchester Orchestra at one of the three large stages (and a fourth one that was rather small). The Roots Stage, adjacent to the Riot Stage, was already packed with bodies, but it seemed too early to see a girl strapped to an IV get wheeled away on a stretcher. But hey, to each their own. Alkaline Trio rocked the Riot Stage (while crowds rioted at the Rock Stage) and brought the overall theme of day one to a conclusion: punk.

Taking Back Sunday
Photo by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

The Rock Stage, far off in the distance, nestled by a hill covered with park-goers with the right idea, was where Taking Back Sunday took the thousands of people off on a rather loud adventure. As a venue located far enough outside the city limits, the noise restrictions placed on locations such as Fort York were non-existent, and the bass thrummed so loudly through my brain that my eyes liquified. Moshing and punching and throwing shoes were all present, and even when I got smoked in the face not once but twice by a beach ball, the festival was still shaping up to be a day full of interesting experiences.

AWOLNATION played their pop-rock-electronic music and catchy vocals to a burgeoning crowd, sounding somewhat like Nine Inch Nails on some mysterious combination of toxic chemicals. And Brand New implied a second theme of the day: high school. High school bands and cliques and emo kids with side swipe bangs and facial piercings, or cool kids listening to The Cure, were all present, except they were all part of the same clique and that one was recognizable by an overwhelming amount of band t-shirts.

Death From Above 1979
Photo by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

Death From Above 1979 played through the end of the Rise Against set, and those who had just watched Brand New moved en masse to the next door stage to watch. Cue intense flashbacks to MSTRKRFT, but instead of Jesse Keeler brooding over his toggles and switches, he brooded over his guitar.

There was a mad scramble to choose between the wax lips, hot lips, Flaming Lips, or Billy Talent, and the crowd divided. A flaming superhero costume complete with sinew, muscle, bone and a penis made of tinsel entered the stage flanked with mushrooms and backed by a rainbow. The psychedelic rock arrangements were bolstered by the band’s typically eccentric stage presence. All gold everything or all confetti everything/everywhere? A giant silver balloon with the words “FUCK YEAH RIOT FEST,” a tinsel coat and scarf, LED ropes hanging from the rigging giving us seizures, huge terrifying butterflies, a sun, aliens, a star man, and of course the famous clear crowd-surfing hamster ball, all made appearances, and it’s fair to say that the band upstaged The Cure’s mellow set that followed.

The Flaming Lips
Photo by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

Regardless, The Cure was probably the most well-respected (and ancient) band of the festival, with Robert Smith not only looking identical, but sounding as amazing as he did in the 1980s. Reeves Gabrels, known for his long-time friendship with David Bowie with whom he has collaborated, brought his exceptional guitar skills to the fore, and sending all the middle-aged women in the crowd into a stupor of ecstasy with his amazing solo.

Day 2 and the sun was out, the weather was hot, and the mud hadn’t dried out enough. But Die Antwoord, with their partial nudity and excessive hip thrusting, took the stage and terrified the crowd, including a group of older men and women who left shortly after the show began. The outrageous stage antics and somewhat offensive lyrics would prove too much for most people, and it’s true that even in an outdoor setting the sheer force of energy from Ninja and Yo-Landi is quite intimidating.

Dropkick Murphys
Photo by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

The Dropkick Murphy’s drew a large crowd, and regardless of their Boston roots, they did the Irish proud. The music was traditional and fun, banjos and tin flutes abound. Day 2 definitely brought a mellower vibe to the festival which had been so populated by punk music the day before.

After a quick trip the VIP section (not that fancy), there was yet another of countless treks across the mud fields of Downsview to the Rock Stage, where Stars dedicated a song to Metric’s Emily Haines and Jimmy Shaw, and covered an Alvvays song “Marry Me, Archie,” much to the delight of a select few insiders in the crowd.

Death Cab for Cutie, whom many people had flocked to see, took to the Roots Stage as I sat down for some well-deserved pizza. As with any band with an obscure name, the guys proved their worth by impressing their fans and winning over some non-believers.

The National
Photo by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

The National played next door directly afterwards and road off the coattails of Death Cab, while also attracting all the 40,000 people at the festival that day. Playing several hits such as Graceless and I Need My Girl, the group proved their mettle, and as a band with an unusual baritone lead vocalist, their effect on the crowd was noticeably calming, yet alluring.

Metric played a definitely sold out show, and were easy to see from atop a picnic table. All I could see was the moon (full? almost full?), the Colossal Onion, and Metric, where Emily Haines enchanted with her stage presence and incredibly charismatic dancing. Although they played more songs from their recent album, the band did play a few older songs, which the crowd loved and expressed with fervent cheering. It was also nice to see IV Girl looking alive and well with her mohawked boyfriend. Take it easy, IV Girl.

City and Colour closed down the festival, and though many people were waiting on tenterhooks for an appearance by Alexisonfire, which did not happen, the band was a mellow and impressive closer.

The festival ended anticlimactically for those who expected to see a guest appearance by Alexisonfire, and so does this article.

In all seriousness, Riot Fest’s 10th round of devastatingly amazing music ended rather well, and with the weather holding up it’s part of the bargain, the food filling various holes, and the music filling a space in our hearts that would only have been stuffed had Alexisonfire been there… I joke! Thanks for another year Riot Fest, catch you on the flip side, it’s been a slice!

Review by Emily Fox |

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