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32 essential songs by acts playing Riot Fest 2017

Riot Fest Chicago 2016 - Sunday
Riot Fest 2016 (more by James Richards IV)

Chicago’s Riot Fest begins Friday (9/15) — and the aftershows begin tonight (9/14) — and, as you may know, the lineup is ridiculously stacked. It has Jawbreaker, who are reunited for the first time in 21 years. It also has exciting reunions from Cap’n Jazz, At the Drive-In, that dog. and Bad Brains (classic lineup). It has classic albums performed in full by Wu-Tang Clan, Danzig, Dinosaur Jr, Built to Spill and Fishbone. It has other legends like Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Buzzcocks, X and New Order. It has Paramore, whose new album is among the best in their career. It has great rising bands like Downtown Boys, Beach Slang and The Hotelier.

We’re excited to see almost every single band on the lineup, so it was tough to narrow it down, but we made a list of 32 essential songs by acts playing Riot Fest 2017. Read on for the list and streams of each song (in no particular order), plus listen to a Spotify playlist with all 32 songs below.

If you’re going to the festival, check out the set times and be sure to download the Riot Fest app. You can still get tickets.

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Jawbreaker – “Jet Black”

The punks hated Jawbreaker’s major label debut Dear You but it’s become beloved and highly influential in the 21 years since their breakup. They never sound more powerful than on “Jet Black.” (Which Blake Schwarzenbach recently said is his favorite song to play!)

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Cap’n Jazz – “Little League”

Before members went on to form American Football, Owls, Joan of Arc, Owen, and other related bands, Cap’n Jazz wrote the blueprint for the wave of mathy ’90s emo that inspired the “emo revival” of the late ’00s. “Little League” has the band at their catchiest, most aggressive, and most quiet.

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that dog. – “Never Say Never”

Just in case you’re not familiar with that dog., you may want to know that bassist/backup singer Rachel Haden was a prominent vocalist on Weezer’s scrapped Songs from the Black Hole and Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. Like those bands, that dog. make instantly-addictive power pop, as heard on 1997’s Retreat from the Sun — home of “Never Say Never” — which they’re performing in full at Riot Fest.

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Wu-Tang Clan – “Bring Da Ruckus”

1993’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) remains near the top of the rap canon (and a soundtrack for incoming college students) because it truly never gets old. They kick off the album — which they’re playing in full at Riot Fest — with “Bring Da Ruckus,” and what better way to introduce the group than this song?

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Danzig – “How the Gods Kill”

A live set staple since Danzig’s truly great album of the same name was released in 1992, “How The Gods Kill” is a classic that delivers everything we love about the dark one, and the band’s original lineup. Glenn does some of his finest singing over the course of the six minute song that so perfectly transitions from soft to heavy and back again with the help of John Christ’s solid guitar work. Don’t get too comfortable during the 2+ minute intro; you can feel the anticipation building as the crowd starts swaying and singing along before the room explodes.

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At the Drive-In – “Pattern Against User”

Though they’re sadly without Jim Ward, it feels like a miracle that At the Drive-In are officially back and have a new album that sounds just like their classic stuff. For some of their actual classic stuff, dig into the spastic aggression of “Pattern Against User.”

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Bad Brains – “Sailin’ On”

Bad Brains recently played their first show with their classic lineup (HR, Dr. Know, Darryl, and Earl) in ages, and it also featured original bad Brains vocalist Sid McCray and special guest Randy Blythe of Lamb of God. Bad Brains are promising “all original members plus special guests” for this Riot Fest set, so this could be a very special chance to see them. They helped invent hardcore punk as we know it, and it’s clear how timeless their sound is from the first song on their debut album, “Sailin’ On.”

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Queens of the Stone Age – “No One Knows”

When “No One Knows” started showing up on radio and MTV rotations back in the early 2000s, it didn’t sound like anything else it was played next to. 15 years later and there’s still no band to fully replicate the off-kilter but tight-as-all-hell grooves of this song.

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Paramore – “Told You So”

After emerging as one of the leaders of mainstream pop punk in the mid-2000s, Paramore gave their sound a complete makeover this year with the new wavey After Laughter. It’s a great look and “Told You So” is one of its many highlights. Sharp lead guitar, an earworm hook, classic Hayley Williams shouts… what more do you need?

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Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure”

They started out as one the key bands of Long Island emo-pop, and their last album is heartland rock, but in between all that Taking Back Sunday wrote one of the catchiest alt-rock songs of the mid 2000s with “MakeDamnSure.” Count on 100% of the crowd screaming along to this one.

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Downtown Boys – “A Wall”

Downtown Boys may be the most empowering political punk band of the 2010s, with a live show that attacks racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and any other societal injustices. For their latest LP, they signed to Sub Pop and had Guy Picciotto of Fugazi produce it, and one of its highlights is this anthem of the Trump era, “A Wall.”

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Beach Slang – “Filthy Luck”

Beach Slang’s whole career has been filled with comparisons to The Replacements and Jawbreaker (both of whom they cover frequently), so if you’re going to the fest for the latter, you gotta see Beach Slang too. The band (fronted by Weston’s James Alex) knocked it out of the park on their first EP, which began with the banger “Filthy Luck.” Yeah, they do wear their influences on their sleeves, but when music is this life affirming, it doesn’t matter who did it first.

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The Menzingers – “Good Things”

With a sound indebted to bands like Hot Water Music, The Bouncing Souls, and Rancid, The Menzingers used to be “the new band that old heads liked,” but recent albums have earned them a passionate following of young kids too. Their super specific lyrics, singalong-ready choruses, and blue collar appeal is in full force on “Good Things.”

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The Hotelier – “Soft Animal”

The Hotelier perfected heart-on-sleeve emo-pop singalongs on their breakthrough album, 2014’s Home, Like Noplace Is There, and took on a more earthy, indie rock style on its 2016 followup Goodness. “Soft Animal,” which is on the latter, sorta finds the middle ground of both sounds, and it might be their best song yet.

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Vic Mensa – “U Mad”

Before getting ambitious and introspective on this year’s debut album The Autobiography, rising Chicago rapper Vic Mensa made a banger with hometown hero Kanye West that knocks as hard as anything on Yeezus.

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Action Bronson – “Actin Crazy”

Action Bronson’s ’90s-rap-meets-millennial-weirdness style comes across as strong as ever on “Actin Crazy,” which also has one of Bronson’s most undeniable hooks to date.

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Death From Above – “Romantic Rights”

Death From Above (who dropped the “1979” from their name) are back and in it for the long haul, with twice as many albums released in the last three years as they put out in their first decade as a band. Their drums, bass, and vocal sound rarely sounds better than it does on “Romantic Rights,” which really reminds you how heavy a rock band can sound without a guitar.

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Minus the Bear – “Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse”

There’s really no band in the world that sounds like Minus the Bear. At various times, they’re a little mathy, a little emo, a little metal, and a little dance rock, and they’re always way more laid back than you’d expect from that description. Their classic “Absinthe Party At The Fly Honey Warehouse” shows off every side of them, and it’s just so damn fun to sing along to.

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Gogol Bordello – “Start Wearing Purple”

You’re at a punk festival, maybe you’re drinking, and maybe you’re looking to meet up with some other sloppy drunk punks, toss your drinks in the air, and yell along to a three-word chorus. There’s no better song to do that to than the gypsy punk anthem “Start Wearing Purple.”

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Nine Inch Nails – “The Wretched”

Over the course of a nearly 30 year career, Nine Inch Nails have explored a variety of sounds, from the aggressive industrial rock they’re best known for to poppier stuff, to more atmospheric stuff, and more. They’re in the process of releasing an EP trilogy which has been very good (and very diverse) so far, but we’re sure they’ll play some classics at Riot Fest too. One of the songs we’re looking most forward to hearing is “The Wretched” from 1999’s The Fragile, which still sounds as sinister, frantic, and vital as it did when it was released.

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M.I.A. – “Bad Girls”

Of all the bangers in M.I.A.‘s catalog, one of the best is this anthem of female empowerment with an infectious, irresistible beat. It’s sure to keep the dance party of M.I.A.‘s live set going, along with classics like “Paper Planes” and “Borders.”

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Peaches – “Fuck the Pain Away”

Peaches’ breakthrough song is considered her signature for good reason: it’s a highlight of her raucous, explicit live sets, and performances of it sometimes include a giant inflatable phallus. Minimal accompaniment of blasts of bass and snare drums keep the focus on the frank lyrics.

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Dinosaur Jr – “Little Fury Things”
Dinosaur Jr’s sound as we know it now was basically born on 1987 single “Little Fury Things” with J. Mascis’ roaring guitars threaten to drown the poppy core of the song…but never do.

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Built to Spill – “Carry the Zero”
Sometimes you want a song’s music to be a juxtaposition to the mood of the lyrics — happy mixed with sad. Other times you want Built to Spill’s Keep It Like A Secret standout “Carry the Zero,” where wilting, tremelo’d guitars perfectly match its melancholy theme. It rocks, too.

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Ministry – “Thieves”
Al Jorgensen fully made his transformation from gothy synthpopper to industrial crusher of skulls on the opening cut from 1989’s A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, where metal riffs are forged with jackhammer drum machines, dot-matrix printers and samples urging us to “tear this motherfucker down.” Brutal still.

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Buzzcocks – “Why Can’t I Touch It”
Taking an early break from writing perfect, catchy punk songs, Buzzcocks channeled that romantic angst into a danceable left-field classic. There’s basically only one lyric and one riff which are repeated in variations for nearly seven minutes, but you wish it went on for seven more.

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X – “In This House That I Call Home”
A snapshot of John Doe and Exene’s home on Santa Monica Blvd — that served as a crash-pad and party central for some of the early-’80s LA punk scene X were central to — is brought to vivid, humorous, catchy life on this classic from 1981’s near-perfect Wild Gift.

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New Order – “The Perfect Kiss”
It’s all about the frogs. “The Perfect Kiss” has all the elements that make a great New Order single — the bass driving the melody, a giant chorus, an unexpected cowbell solo (!) — but it’s those eerie frogs in the song’s ethereal midsection that makes this “Kiss” their all-time best.

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TV on the Radio – “Wolf Like Me”
TV on the Radio were one of the most creative groups spawned from the early-’00s Brooklyn scene, but let’s not forget how much they rock too — as on this impassioned spin on the “you bring out the animal in me” theme.

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Liars – “Houseclouds”
Arty, menacing and usually ready to dance, Liars were at the height of their powers on their 2007 self-titled album, especially the great single “Houseclouds” that has them strutting like Beck’s evil twin.

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The Cribs – “Mirror Kissers”
Influenced by The Libertines and The Strokes, UK brotherly trio The Cribs quickly figured out their own formula that they’ve more or less stuck to ever since and is exemplified on 2005’s “Mirror Kisses”: charmingly sloppy guitars, a shout-along chorus and a good “Whoa-oh!”

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Fishbone – “One Day”
While David Khane’s very ’80s production of Fishbone’s Truth & Soul has not aged so well, “One Day” still shows off what an incredible, musically diverse band they were, mixing rock, soul, funk and a socially conscious message that is still relevant today.

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