Be the Riottt festival

Sunday, 03 December 2006

Billed as a cultural exposé of sorts, encompassing the realms of music, art and fashion—the Be the Riottt festival, which took place at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in November, was never going to live up to its far-reaching intent, but it did put together a line-up that was pretty amazing. The top draw acts were a crazy mixture of the hip and the hip-hop: The Rapture, Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu, Explosions in the Sky as well as The Clipse, Sage Francis and Visionaries. The cultural aspect of the show, which seems more a noble intention than actual possibility, was a bit of a bust: unless the cultural revolution currently on deck can be acknowledged through ads for Scion on the jumbo-tron or in kiosks that allow you to drop old-school video games on your cell phone.

As for the joint itself, the Bill Graham Civic, it’s a notoriously cold venue. Cold, as in your upper body demands a sweater for thermal needs, not necessarily out of a desire to present geek chic. But also cold, as in dry and lifeless. Almost as if Kubrick designed a gymnasium. There is an air of raves-gone-bad in the place, like perhaps the bad trips of too many teenagers have been burned into the walls, K-holes that may have actually left permanent marks on the cement floors. But once you get over this—the lack of progressive vibe and the character-free housing, it becomes easier to focus on the actual music lined-up, which as mentioned before, is pretty damn good.

I don’t actually arrive at this thing until the early evening, jumping right into Weird Science’s set. This guy is just rocking solid beats for the crowd on one of the side stages, mashing up Depeche Mode gems, Arcade Fire and 2 Live Crew jams and even though it sounds like this might be too clever, this guy is really trying to keep people dancing and everybody is loving it and he’s got a bunch of dancers preening and looking aloof on stage and so everybody is feeling good about themselves.

On the main stage, Austin’s Explosions in the Sky humbly step to the front and despite the tenacity of breakdancers on the floor, quickly narrow the room down to those looking for that cathartic indie rock experience. Those looking to dance almost immediately exit stage right. Explosions in the Sky do their job mightily, reminding me that every generation needs their own Mogwai. The two guys next to me are practically punching each other each time the band go from loud to soft, wringing their hair and giving each other the, “can you believe this, dude?” look. They both appear to be about 14. It’s pretty great, and later I feel bad about trying to pick their pockets.

It should be mentioned at this time that this place is crawling with 14 year olds. It’s an all-ages show and it does indeed seem that each age (up until about 37) is represented, but those at that especially gawky age of 14 seem to be the majority. You can spy them stuffing their faces with red Mountain Dew and nachos in the hallway. Some appear to be drunk. It’s awesome.

Back in one of the other rooms, The Presets get on stage dressed like 90s e-loving techno punks, but bring on a noise that is like synth-pop with punk-pop energy. There are two of them and everybody seems to love it. I fail to feel anything. One song makes me think of The Killers and how well that whole thing turned out and then I realize that I should move on.

Saul Williams doesn’t sounds like I remembered. He’s onstage, possibly having technical difficulties, delivering his heated, sometimes hard-to-follow rhymes a capella with no amplifier. It’s almost scary. The sound kicks back in and it’s still scary. The guy is sickly talented and commands total attention.

Back over to the other stage, I pass some increasingly faded teens propping themselves up against the walls or making out in the stairwells. I imagine there is lots of chaffing going on in the balcony. But I’m pretty much chaff-free as I tentatively stand at the back, awaiting Xiu Xiu to take the stage. I haven’t seen this band for nearly five years. The last time I saw them, my friend was playing the gong. I brought another friend to watch them and we watched their studied dynamic unfold for a few songs before my other friend leaned over to me and said, “This is like a Ben Stiller skit.” I knew what he meant, so we left and drank ridiculous amounts of beer on the patio. But tonight, I’m slowly entranced. Jamie Stewart can make even the tapping of a cymbal seem pretentious, but I really am involved in his guitar sounds and his chunky brand of playing. And they have this drummer which makes them seem even more powerful and even more uncompromising. By the end of the show, I’m leaning against the front of the stage. Go figure.

Back on the main stage, I can’t tell if Girl Talk is a joke or not, because he looks like Bill Gates circa 82 hopping around his laptop, threatening to tear this place up, funk-wise. Then the music drops and everybody freaks out because this guy is cutting up big beats and guilty pleasures and his bizarre confident energy is really contagious. Faced with an extremely sliced and diced time-slot, he does a set which lasts about 20 minutes, but by the end of which, there are 200 people from the crowd up onstage and the crowd is bumping, swaying and generally starting to lose it.

I bob and I weave and I generally sidestep through wobbly crowd members in order to watch Visionaries do their conscious boom-bap rhyming. The beats are solid, the crowd is loving it, and the room is clouded in more smoke than those village shots at the beginning of Apocalypse Now. I stay for one round of throwing my hands in the air and I’m practically running out of the room, stepping on retainers and cracked plastic red cups with frosty pink glitter lipstick on the edges in order to get to see Deerhoof. My self-seeking eagerness is rewarded as the band sleepily step on stage and proceed to redefine the sort of noise that can be made with a trio. Sometimes they sound like a semi falling off of a mountainside, other times, they are so sugary sweet and cuddly, that you just want to throw up. But you don’t because Deerhoof have an unhinged power and sense of explosive dynamics and melody that makes them fascinating. They are spiritual, twee noise jazz rock at its finest. I fall in love all over again.

The place is seriously thinned out by this time, but the crowd around the stage for The Rapture is thick and kept rapt, but spaced out evenly. Why are they spaced out so evenly? Because people are dancing like crazy. Not just your simple, head nod and upper body shake with side-step, but we’re talking about both feet leaving the ground, getting low, both eyes closed, funky Egypt style freaking out. As I emerge from Deerhoof’s damaged rock circus, I walk into a group of indie rockers who are turning everything into the real basement disco party. And it sounds good, they are not as aloof as I imagined, and everyone is picking up on the feeling that it’s time to get on down, so the place goes nuts in a way I haven’t seen since I saw the Primal Scream Screamadelia tour hit The Fillmore. I am on the verge of yelling, “I love white people!” when it occurs to me that The Clipse are in the middle of their own closing set. I take my final detour of the night into a crowd of people in the adjacent hall who are deep into the crew’s minimal, solid funk attack. The sound-system does its best to keep the bass at larynx-rattling levels, but it’s not easy. It’s a good show, but it seems partly drawn for the fans’ familiarity with the old songs. A week later, I will be listening to the new album, Hell Hath No Fury and thinking it’s better than anything I saw this night, but that’s not the point. I roll out of this room as The Rapture are airing their last four-on-the-floor disco power punk track of the night. I can’t help but stop to and just feel the vibe and do a little hand-clap gesture, followed by some faux-accusatory finger-pointing dancing. Sure, the place is half-empty, it’s not even midnight, and there’s more than a handful of parents waiting out front to pick up their kids, but I am in the middle of a dance party for the faithful and no amount of thought about the empty threats of cultural empowerment spelled out in the marquee can stop me from loving life at this moment.

Comments are closed.