NOISE: I was almost the Riottt


What about that Be the Riottt press-list line?! Guardian intern Aaron Sankin got to sample it firsthand when he attended the music fest at Bill Graham Civic on Nov. 11. Here's what he thought:

Girl Talk explodes the Riottt; the one-man party-starter
made an appearance at the eventtt.

Call me a cynic, but it's tough for me to take seriously any concert that has its own manifesto. It's not that I don't think that concerts shouldn't try to affect social change now and again -- any time you can get many young-type people together in one place it would be stupid not to try to get them to get off their lazy, hipster asses and doing something positive for a change. But at the Be the Riottt music festival at the Bill Graham Civic last Saturday, I was having a tough time buying it. Here's the manifesto:

"When a multitude of forever-forward freethinkers unite in a finite space with the common goal of basking in the radiance of an empowered community, anything can transpire. Be The RIOTTT!, a quality culture expo, features the most cohesive representation of music, street fashion, and art in the nation. On November 11, 2006, prepare to take part in the supreme global manifestation of cultural diversity. Mixing an amalgam of premier music with an onslaught of emotive, culturally-relevant art galleries and streetfashion collective, Be The Riottt Festival engenders a progressive, genre-spanning throw down for the ages. The stage is being set and Riottt is printing and spreading the properpropaganda. From this event a community of change will be formalized; from this event, One Will Rise. The only question is: what size influence will you have in its unveiling?"

I have the same reaction to this as I do when I pick up an issue of Adbusters: it all sounds nice, in a hip counter-cultural kind of way, but I'm not all that clear on what exactly they want. There's a sort of vagueness to what is supposed to "rise" out of the Riottt that I have a sneaking suspicion is nothing more than a whole bunch of cool bands playing truncated sets and increasing the brand identity of Scion, whose advertisements appeared on nearly every available surface at the event. Sage Francis, the most subversive musician there, quipped, "Scion is the Red Bull of cars. It is fueled on hip-hop, like VH1 and lies." Touché, Mr. Francis, touché.

What would the Rapture think? The NYC band headlined Be the Riottt.

The fest could have just been a fun exercise for a concert promoter to dress up another indie-rock concert in pseudo-revolutionary clothes and have the all kids collectively shrug their shoulders and shake their angular asses to the Rapture. It could have been exactly what I expected and it almost was. But for about 10 minutes, 10 short minutes, I saw the Riottt, and it was infinitely better than anything I could have expected. In fact, it was too much for the people running it and they had to shut it down.

I will never understand why people who put on day-long music festivals like this think they can schedule acts back-to-back with no break in between. If Explosions in the Sky is supposed to go on at 9 p.m. and Metric is supposed to go on at 10 p.m. and everyone has an hour long set, it leaves no time for one band to get all their gear off the stage and for the next band to set up. Everyone who has ever been to a concert before knows this. Everyone with at least a casual understanding of how time works knows this. The only people who don't seem to know how to plan for something this brazenly obvious are the people who put on this concert and Donald Rumsfeld (nothing's more fun than kicking people when they're already down -- especially when they, you know, deserve it).

It was no surprise when, by 11 p.m. (when Girl Talk was supposed to come on), Metric, the band on right before him, was still playing. Girl Talk only came on at 11:30 and apologetically told everyone that there was a big time crunch and he could only play for half an hour. He didn't even play for that long.

For the uninitiated, Girl Talk is the nom de DJ of Gregg Gillis: biochemist by day, international superstar mash-up artist by night. His newest album, Night Ripper, is the party jam of the year. Playing with hundreds of samples, most of them uncleared (setting up what I'm sure will turn out to be a pretty fun little legal battle), Gillis plays musical hide-and-seek by putting Biggie, Pac and Ludacris next to Oasis, the Verve, and the Pixies. The result is an album that takes the concept of the party jam to the next level: it's 40-something minutes of nothing but payoff that'll put a big, dumb smile on your face every single time.

Luckily, Girl Talk had one of the minimalist stage setups I've ever seen so getting him ready to play after Metric went off was nearly instantaneous. All had was a single laptop on a small podium in the front of the stage. He seemed to just be playing a remixed version of his album because he only very occasionally did anything with the laptop because he spent the first couple minutes of his set running around wildly and repeatedly jumping into the crowd. After his third foray into pit, a couple people from the crowd came up on stage with him and started dancing. And then, a very strange thing happened. No burly security guys came onstage to kick the dancers off. They were getting away with it and obviously having a blast.

Once it was apparent that they weren't going to get in trouble, at least not right away, more and more people started streaming onto the stage from the crowd and from backstage. Gillis encouraged it saying, "Everybody get onstage!" Before anyone really knew what was going on, there were about 150 people up on stage with Gillis wildly dancing until the music was abruptly cut and a bunch of not-too-happy looking security guards "gently" ushered the revelers off stage.

This was clearly the Riottt. For about 10 minutes, this concert achieved exactly what it theoretically set out to do. For 10 minutes, the medium (music) was the message (transcending the boundaries dividing the self from the other and bringing people together is fun). I'm sure I would be giving the promoters too much credit if I said that this is the type of thing they were planning. But hell, maybe they knew exactly what they were doing. I'd also like to think that this could be Girl Talk's breakthrough moment, like when the Unicorns put a puppet show or when Green Day got in a mud fight, but that's still up for grabs as well. All I know is that I went to a rock concert and suddenly, unexpectedly a party broke out.