By Summer Sewell
Dec 9, 2006 - 1:30 PM
The 'Be the Riottt!' Festival brings the noise but doesn't cause a stir
The first ever Be the Riottt! Festival, held in San Francisco on November 11, exhibited the variations of all the beautiful people. Emo dudes swayed in their super tight black Levi’s to the indie grooves of the Wrens, who opened up the concert at 2 p.m. on the main stage with an energetic set. Off to the left, a more colorful assortment of hip hop heads bobbed their New Eras simultaneously to the beats of X-Clan. Saul Williams rocked a rainbow fro-hawk and spit poetry over metal mixes. MC Zion of Zion-I stomped around the auditorium barefoot, due to a sprained ankle, before rocking on stage with Amp Live, Deuce Eclipse, and the Grouch. Funk band Breakestra brought down the house, successfully merging all the happy followers to shake their asses to the funky brass, deep bass, soulful keys and raspy voices of Miles Tackett and Mixmaster Wolf.
While the entertainment definitely held up its end of the bargain with critically-acclaimed and diverse acts such as Busdriver, Explosions in the Sky, Sa-Ra, The Rapture, Girl Talk, and about 20 other bands and artists, the overall concept of the show went unfulfilled. The people behind the “Riottt movement,” as they refer to it, claim the purpose of the musical smorgasbord was to stick a big middle finger up at “the man” by inviting the variety of supposedly anti-mainstreamers to set an example to their fans.
Their website states: “Through your participation, a new paradigm will arise…to encourage the constant evolution of this movement.” The message that the Riottt pushes through its website is that “Mass culture has forced the majority’s subconscious into accepting a monotonous mindset pervaded by ignorance and inaction.” But does attending an event really prove that change has begun or that the message has been received and understood? Not when Scion, a very large, very mainstream company, sponsored the hell out of the event, making it hard to turn a corner without seeing a Scion symbol, ad, poster or merchandise booth.
The sponsorship was so blatant that Sage Francis, a political emcee from Rhode Island, opened his set with, “Hello, Planet Scion!” as all the kids in the audience giggled. He and most other acts, including Southern California hip hop collective the Visionaires and Minnesota punk-hopper P.O.S. started their sets with, “Fuck Bush!” or something close to it. Just because these artists announce their frustration with the president doesn’t mean they are playing this show to help the cause. When MC Zion was asked why he chose to perform at Be the Riottt, instead of a profound, “Well, I think the cause of the festival is unique,” or “Because I want to play shows for absolutely no money at all, just to prove that I’m anti-mainstream,” for a response, he just shrugged and said, “Because they invited us.” Most likely the rest of that thought ended with, “and we got hella paid.”
That’s what this whole festival seemed to be – a big, sad effort to not be exactly what everyone really is. But it is what it is people! It was a gathering of late teens to early twenty-somethings who all rolled out of bed, put on their $120 all-over print hoodies, laced up their Dunks and squeezed into tight pants that pinch their nuts but are essential to the cokehead look they’re going after, so they grin and bear it.
Another way that this fest failed to be anti-mainstream was by enforcing the no ins and outs rule of most concerts wanting to maximize their profit by trapping concert goers into the event and charging $4 for a bottle of water. Isn’t water a necessity for survival? And wasn’t this event supposed to be anti-mainstream, and therefore anti-capitalist? Guess not.
Not to say that this festival wasn’t a good time. It seemed like everyone was enjoying their $40 ticket and there was no violence, which is always a good sign. But let’s not claim that something is going to be different, and let’s definitely not claim to be a movement or to be creating “a new paradigm” just by throwing some indie artists on a stage at a corporately-sponsored event.
Summer Sewell is a staff writer for OH DANG!
Alex Shonkoff is a freelance photographer.