When it came time to kick off Riot Fest 2018, festival organizers tapped returning rockers Speedy Ortiz to set the tone for the weekend-long musical extravaganza – held in Chicago’s Douglas Park on Sept. 14-16 – as the very first band to perform on the very first day. Armed with a collection of new songs off their 2018 album Twerp Verse – along with classic EP tunes and tracks from Foil Deer and Major Arcana – the four-piece unleashed a perfect balance of snarly riffs and mellifluous vocals to welcome fans to the festivities.
Rebellious Magazine got a chance to chat with front-woman and multi-instrumentalist Sadie Dupuis about songwriting, poetry, creating safer spaces at shows and, of course, performing at Riot Fest.
“It was sweet. People came out early, which is always appreciated,” Dupuis said behind the scenes as K.Flay performed on Friday afternoon. “I feel like the last time we played here we closed out the smallest stage, so it was fun to open it up on a big stage.”
“For Riot Fest we knew we wanted to keep the energy up. People are here to have fun and rock out. We didn’t want to have any slow burners on the setlist.”
“Necessary brattiness” is at the core of the Twerp Verse philosophy as Dupuis believes that an air of humorous defiance is all but mandatory in these divisive times. “Having that kind of – not necessarily strength – but the conviction to say what’s wrong is important. Sometimes it helps to make your life a little less sour to have a bratty edge and have some humor,” she explained. “I think that we all need to have spines right now. There’s so much f*cked up sh*t happening – not just in the government – but in our local businesses and professions as well. I think it’s very important to not be afraid to call that stuff out and not to feel concerned that you’ll be persecuted for it, even though you might be.”
On top of the release of Twerp Verse, Dupuis is also publishing her first book of poetry, Mouthguard, later this year. “I’m so excited for it,” she said. “It was written a few years ago, while I was writing the Major Arcana record and even the stuff earlier than that like the Sports EP and early Speedy stuff. I was really interested in like witchy things and magic things at the time.”
“Magic is my lens through which to talk about moving to a new place and struggling with all the things that anyone struggles with. It’s an older form of writing that I don’t tap into as much anymore, so it was really fun to go over this manuscript.”
Speedy Ortiz is currently on tour with fellow Riot Fest performer Liz Phair, an experience which Dupuis describes as “amazing.” “I feel like it’s fairly obvious that I’m a big fan – that like nerdy message board fan – so it’s cool getting to hang out with her and get to see her play every night,” she said.
Over the past few years, Dupuis – who brought her solo project SAD13 to the Beat Kitchen in 2016 – and Speedy Ortiz have been at the forefront of making show-going a better, safer experience for everyone in attendance. She explained that following Riot Fest in 2015, the group first came up with the idea to initiate a text hotline, which fans could use if they were experiencing harassment while in the crowd.
“We actually started our help hotline after we played Riot Fest last time, and it was partially because I experienced harassment when I was in the crowd here while watching something. I’m really lucky that I know how to get backstage and find security, but – while in the crowd – I looked around and didn’t see any security.”
“It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. I had this great experience playing this festival and it was so much fun that I wanted to be in the crowd. It made me think about what our fans are dealing with while we’re backstage,” she continued. “We had this idea that we could have a hotline and people could text us if they needed help and we could connect them with security.”
Speedy Ortiz’s safe concert-going initiative has evolved to include information for fans on de-escalation techniques and tips for clubs to ensure that they have measures in place for dealing with anything that may come up, from on-site harassment to making sure fans feel safe walking to their cars after the show.
“On this tour we’re raising money for a book called Making Spaces Safer [written by War on Women’s Shawna Potter], a guide for venues so they can train their staff on how to intervene in these types of situations,” said Dupuis, adding that she’s inspired that more bands, clubs, record stores and radio stations are also taking steps to make all aspects of the concert-going experience better.
“It’s been cool to see more people picking up that responsibility and spreading it around so more of us can help each other out.”
Twerp Verse is available everywhere music is sold, and Mouthguard will be released via Gramma Press on Nov. 1. Head over to SpeedyOrtiz.com for tour dates and more information.