If you don’t follow me on social media, then:
- You’re missin’ out.
- You are probably unaware of my slightly over-the-top love for Riot Fest.
This independent Chicago punk festival means a lot to me. Although I am not from Chicago, I’ve been coming here multiple times a year for my whole life to visit family. Riot Fest was the perfect re-introduction to the city when I moved here for college. Meeting people like Alex Fucking Smith and Sleep On It back in 2013 helped me become more comfortable with my longtime love for the punk scene which was admittedly at an All Time Low (I’m not sorry). I now directly associate Riot Fest with this city that I care so deeply for and I’d like to send a quick thank you to Riot Mike and everyone on the team that brings the festival, and the community, together.
I was fortunate enough to have the Graphic Designer for Riot Fest speak at Beyond The Music’s Industry Workshop last May. Monique Doron exemplifies all the good things about Riot Fest. She is supportive, hilarious, and sometimes brutally realistic about the way the world works. I was so stoked to sit down with her over a couple dirty chai lattes and chat about everything from creating the infamous lineup poster to Malort and Altoid cocktails.
So you freelance in graphic design. Did you do any of that before Riot Fest? Like for a job?
Monique: No. I mean the biggest thing was Manifest at Columbia [College Chicago]. And I think that’s why I got hired as an intern because I was the only one that had festival experience.
Connor: And Columbia does a million things. Not just with Manifest but their entire program.
M: They were like ‘Yeah you already know how to work with logos, and sizes, and print versus digital and all this stuff,’ that it’s gonna be easy sailing, but I’ve learned the most from Riot Fest than I had in any class. It was just a crash course; just continuously crashing and just buying a new car and crashing it again.
You just put out those greeting cards so it’s a good thing everybody else is sad.
M: It’s a good thing everyone else is heartbroken.
C: Do you hand-make each of those?
M: Well I hand-colored them but print them.
C: You created those with the intention of giving them to a crush, right? But people aren’t going to do that. They’re going to give them to their friends.
M: Right! It was actually really cute because people were giving them to their boyfriends and girlfriends and there was this one dude who DM’d me. It was super sweet. His boyfriend is in the Army so it’s long distance…and he wanted to send him a card and I’m crying like take all of them!
How did you get started at Riot Fest?
M: I interned in 2015. It was really funny because my first day was the day before the lineup went out; my first day as an intern. I walked in and-
C: -just everything was on fire.
M: Everybody was stressed and I didn’t really have an idea of what was going on and Dan, [the other half of the Riot Fest Art Department], was like ‘yeah the lineup goes out tomorrow’ and I was like ‘so… there’s a CVS should I go get a toothbrush?’
After the festival was over, I went in once a week while I was still in school. I was a sophomore in college and after that it was always periodical. ‘Hey we need your help for a week or two, do you have some time?’ and then I got hired for part-time work at some point. It’s all just a blur. And then I always kept in contact with them. I would always bring the office pies.
Alright. It’s December. When did you start working on the Riot Fest Christmas stuff?
M: So it’s usually at the beginning of November because there’s not really anything else to work with. It’s not like we’re working with a festival theme, it’s just holiday ideas. How are we gonna promote that through social media and marketing and then that’s when we do holiday merch. We’ve always had an ugly sweater so those promos start around Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. We also start thinking about stuff for December which is when the early bird presale goes up. There’s that cute holiday video and thinking about production for that and marketing for that. Last year was our first year doing Twelve Days of Riot Festmas, where there was something new every single day. We’re not doing that again.
C: That was a lot.
M: [laughs] Yes, it was a lot. It was so much. Yeah some of them were cool prizes.
C: What was that drink? Was it Malort and Eggnog?
M: Yeah it was Malort and a spoon of sugar and then Altoids.
C: Yeah that’s what it was! Oh god that’s so gross!
M: We drew straws as to who should drink it and I drew the short straw.
M: So we’re not doing that again.
Then you have a bit of time off for the holidays and then the new year kicks off. I am assuming a top priority for you once you come back is the poster. What do you do around that?
M: I mean it is a collaborative effort, of course, between the two designers that are me and Dan who are the Art Department. We usually stand out from a creative aspect because we are one of the only bigger punk rock festivals that is independent. It depends on what Dan is feeling as our Art Director and then what our boss is feeling…but it’s always illustration based. This year Dan did a bunch of ripped paper art, doodles and patterns and the year before that it was all hand-painted and scanned-in and my computer exploded trying to upload those files. I think Dan usually starts thinking about that some time in January.
Other than that, what are you doing?
After that it’s usually [like] Dan is deep with ad-mat stuff so branding, what the poster will look like and illustrations that happen. That’s usually what he takes care of in January, February, and then a little bit of March and that’s what is on his plate. I take up everything else so if we have club shows that we’re announcing or if we have anything else, I usually handle that. We have sponsorship materials that our sponsorship department takes care of and all that sort of stuff.
What’s your on-season, nine months out of the year?
M: I have Thanksgiving and Christmas, those are my holidays.
C: It’s not a lot of freedom.
M: I mean no. Every time we take trips it’s always obviously in the winter. And any time we want to take trips in the summer we have to bring our laptops with us. And I hate traveling with my laptop. I hate it so much but I have to. Yeah the on-season is so many hours in-office.
So, Riot Fest Crunch Time. What does that look like?
M: So we do our first release in like May…And with that it’s working with their agents, and saying “okay what are you also envisioning, what do you want to do, are you putting out a new album?”…I don’t really know what goes on there behind closed doors but it’s relayed to us. If it’s a big reunion like the Misfits, how are we going to pace that out so, first off it seems real, and secondly that people do get genuinely excited. Finding a way between keeping it mysterious but just giving out enough information on who it is…
It’s so interesting to hear that from a fan perspective because you don’t get any of that.
M: Exactly. You just get the final product.
C: And you’re like ‘Why didn’t this artist get booked…?’
M: Yeah and ‘why is there no Chicago date on their tour during Riot Fest weekend, they’re for sure doing Riot Fest.’ Like no, they just couldn’t get it.
C: They couldn’t make that stop on their tour, they didn’t have budget to do whatever. There’s a million reasons.
M: It’s insane. The closer we get to lineup stuff and the release, the more we check the Internet, check the Riot Fest SubReddit and all these dudes that have too much time on their hands. But it is kind of cool that people put in as much passion for what we do which is super cool and humbling, but it’s scary.
I know you’re not on the talent buying side but do you feel guilty sometimes?
M: I don’t give a fuck.
C: Right, okay. Maybe not guilty but it’s a weird feeling to be directly involved in such a small team for such a big thing on such a big stage.
M: Yeah we can all fit in one elevator. Maybe a big elevator. We have two dogs.
C: But you gotta feel the pressure.
M: Always. And I think that’s why most of us – talent buying aside – are relatively stressed out I think because we want it to be perfect but not perfect in the way we envision it but the way the audience experiences it.
C: So, perfect, not polished.
M: Yes; in that it doesn’t cater to everybody’s taste but when you look at it as a big picture thing it’s like ‘this is solid’…and since we are independent and so successful we want to keep on delivering that end product and making sure our fans are happy. Obviously, I wouldn’t have a job if people didn’t care about this festival. All of us wouldn’t have a job if people didn’t care about this festival. People that care about this music are the people that created this festival. At the end of the day, we’re all fans, so we want to make sure that music fans are happy. Which is why i’m like ‘oh god I don’t know if everybody likes my art…I hope people like my poster.’ Nobody gives a fuck about the poster. It could be Arial and written in Word and people are like ‘wow.’
Riot Fest officially kicks off. What happens for you?
M: Well most people onsite see that I do box office stuff. Which is super cool. People don’t think it’s a very important thing but the way I see it, it’s the first line of defense.
C: Yeah that’s where you get in or not.
M: You either get a ticket from us or you don’t.
C: So what are your typical tasks?
M: Verifying guest lists, making sure all of the guest lists are in order for media partners, and sponsors and brands.
C: When it gets to general guest list things, that’s when it starts to get terrible.
M: That’s when it’s the absolute worst.
C: Then for Riot Fest employees, it’s figuring out the people that you bring.
M: Everybody in the office is super chill like ‘ok here’s my- whoever.’ And we try to do that as early as possible and then if there’s any changes obviously we’ll make those changes.
During the festival – Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – I’m usually at Box Office. Thursday is like staff check-in stuff and prepping Box Office. Friday is the worst possible day for anybody to come see me.
C: Yeah because you’re in it now.
M: Yeah I’m in it and my personality does a pretty drastic 180 because I like to think I’m relatively nice but Friday…I’m still nice but I’m more likely to tell you to ‘fuck off.’ Friday’s super busy, super packed. We go through so many people, so many lines and then Saturday’s a little bit easier; still hectic but manageable and Sunday is relatively a breeze depending on who’s playing. Sunday’s usually the day I get to go out and enjoy stuff. We do get to go see bands. Just pick the ones you really want to see, but Sunday is usually the day I get to see bands that I really like.
C: Oh, that’s really good you get a chance to see some bands and hang with friends.
M: This past year I got to see all of my friends which is so cool and last year I think Paramore was playing on Sunday so I got to see them. I threw my walkie down and ran.
…and then the Monday after happens.
What does that feel like?
M: Part relief, part really, really proud of yourself because that’s when all the social media comments come in. ‘Had a great time at Riot Fest’ and at least for me personally it’s like the Great Depression. This year it was really hard for me because I love Riot Fest, and it’s the three days out of the year that I have all my friends in one place at one time doing the same thing because of a thing I did and it’s so great.
C: Just the best feeling in the world.
M: It’s like a birthday party for three days and then Monday all my friends are gone, the festival is over, I’m sleep deprived…So this year hit me pretty hard, ‘cause all of them were there and I didn’t get to see a lot of them.
C: Well there’s always next year. And then two weeks pass, you breathe and then you do it all over again?
M: Yeah. Breathe and then I do it all over again [and again].
Featured image by Daniel Wade