Music Festivals

The Twelve Best Non-Headliners at Riot Fest

Riot Fest runs this weekend, starting Friday, August 28, and going through Sunday, August 30, at the National Western Complex. The eclectic lineup includes respected and legendary bands like the Pixies, Run-DMC, System of a Down, the Prodigy and Snoop Dogg. But the early part of each day is filled with a plethora of bands worth catching. Here are twelve non-headliners well worth your time: 

Friday, August 28 

1. De La Soul | 5-5:45 p.m. | Roots Stage

De La Soul was a pioneering hip-hop band that incorporated a jazz aesthetic with psychedelic elements and surrealistic wordplay. Its debut album, 1989's Three Feet High and Rising, is considered a landmark of alternative hip-hop and jazz rap.

Death Grips | 6:30-7:15 p.m. | Roots Stage
Arguably the most experimental band of the whole festival. Somehow, Death Grips have combined hip-hop with prog beats and the force of a heavy industrial band. MC Ride is a force of nature as a frontman, and any time you get to see drummer Zach Hill in action, you shouldn't pass that up, either.

Testament | 6:30-7:15 p.m. | Rock Stage
Speaking of great drummers, Gene Hoglan of Testament is one of the top drummers in the world of thrash, if not the best. It's been said that if the big four of thrash could be expanded beyond Anthrax, Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, it would include Exodus and, of course, Testament. This band's music has helped define an era and an aesthetic as surely as that of the others.

Prayers | 8-8:30 p.m. | Radicals Stage
Prayers, the San Diego duo of Rafael Reyes and Dave Parley, has pioneered the electronic music-subgenre of cholo goth. Putting darkwave together with stark yet poetic depictions of street life, Prayers undermines stereotypes of what it means to be a cholo and what it means to be a goth, as well as the notion that the two subcultures are irreconcilable. The band's energetic live show has earned it a growing base of fans, including Ian Astbury of the Cult, who invited Prayers to open for his band on the California leg of its 2014 tour. 

Saturday, August 29 

Swervedriver | 2:30-3 p.m. | Riot Stage
Though lumped in with the shoegaze movement, Swervedriver rocked a little harder than most of the bands with which that genre designation was most often affiliated. Its 1991 debut album, Raise, established the group as an important act of the alternative rock era. It released an excellent new album in 2015 called Born To Lose You but will obviously play some of the classic tracks from a no-filler career.

The Dead Milkmen | 3-3:45 p.m. | Roots Stage
This irreverent band probably seems silly to many, but wasn't punk supposed to be irreverent? Despite its supposed shtick, the Dead Milkmen have some legitimate punk rock-power in their songs. This is one of the genuine can't-miss sets of the whole festival.

Drive Like Jehu | 7:45-8:45 p.m. | Roots Stage
Sometimes cited, along with Rites of Spring, as the missing link between '80s hardcore and '90s emo, Drive Like Jehu was massively influential on '90s post-hardcore and noise rock. If Rick Froberg's and John Reis's recent projects are any indication, this will be a set to remember.

Sunday, August 30 

Doomtree | 2:45-3 p.m. | Riot Stage
Doomtree is one of the most prolific and forward-thinking hip-hop crews going at the moment. Its latest record, All Hands, is its most musically daring to date. Everyone in Doomtree is an impressive artist in his or her own right, and together this outfit is a real force live.

Skating Polly | 3-3:30 p.m. | Radicals Stage
Skating Polly is simply one of the most original and interesting punk bands going. Its instrumentation is pretty minimal, but the duo makes an exhilarating racket and actually has poignant and poetic social commentary in its snarl. The Oklahoma City-based band's fans include Exene Cervenka, Viggo Mortenson, Sean Lennon the Flaming Lips. A punk band that covers Spacemen 3, Perfume Genius and M.I.A., among others, is definitely pulling from far more interesting places than many of its would-be peers.

Andrew W.K. | 3:30-4:15 p.m. | Roots Stage
Andrew W.K. will probably somehow turn his entire set into an excuse to bring everyone into the show in that inclusive way that only he and Dan Deacon seem fully capable of pulling off. His shows are always a fun, memorable and positive experience.

Babes in Toyland | 5-5:45 p.m. | Roots Stage
The word "ferocious" is tossed around a little too easily when it comes to punk and rock and roll. But it really does apply to this Minneapolis band, and singer/guitarist Kat Bjelland has a true gift for channeling primal energies through her voice. Live footage from performances since the trio reunited in 2014 prove that Babes in Toyland still has it.

L7 | 6:30-7:30 p.m. | Rock Stage
When Donita Sparks created an L7 Facebook page last year, she didn't necessarily expect the sheer enthusiasm with which it was met, including the sharing of pictures and the like by fans. That level of interest led to the classic lineup of the band coming together and being as great as it ever was, with frighteningly visceral live shows. 

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.

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