YUNGBLUD, Jake Hill, carolesdaughter and more talk mental health, art and college degrees at Riot Fest

By Amina Sergazina, Staff Reporter

Despite protests from Douglass Park neighbors in the days leading up to the festival, at times sweltering heat and long food and beverage lines, spirits were high as more than 100,000 fans converged over three days and nearly 100 artists took to the stages, thrilling the crowds at this year’s Riot Fest.

A mix of classic and up-and-coming artists from a variety of genres offered something for everyone at one of Chicago’s biggest annual music festivals Sept. 16-18.

The three-day festival riled up crowds and excited the performers, too.

“Every time I pull up to a rock ‘n’ roll festival in America, I just feel like home again,” said British singer and songwriter YUNGBLUD.

On Saturday, YUNGBLUD performed select songs from his new self-titled album for the Riot Fest crowd. He was jumping around the stage with high energy, even with a bleeding knee.

“It’s my most personal album yet,” YUNGBLUD said. “I went to places and I dug really deep. This album, more so than anything, it’s a setup for what else is to come, for the rest of my life. I opened a door that couldn’t be closed.”

YUNGBLUD said he believes that art should not be categorized or formulated and views studying music in college as valid of a path as any other. He said he wishes he went to college for art because “the best thing about art is being around other artists.”

“No matter if you’re big or you’re small, that doesn’t define you as iconic,” YUNGBLUD said. “I always say the Cramps are just as iconic as David Bowie, yet one played stadiums and one played clubs. Success doesn’t define art. Authenticity defines art, so just make something real, and that’s when it will be iconic.”

Jake Hill, an American rapper and songwriter, shared that performing at festivals like Riot Fest takes a big toll on his mental health — and makes his anxiety worse.

“When it’s my own shows [anxiety is] not that bad,” Hill said. “When it’s festivals and nobody really knows who I am, and I get on a stage in front of a bunch of people who are either waiting for the next act or just checking me out, I’m like, ‘Okay, f—, I gotta show them who I am, I got to make sure I’m real cool on stage.’ There’s extra pressure to make them remember me.”

He described the past month as “the roughest point of my life” and said he is dealing with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.

Hill said in these negative experiences he finds inspiration to make music, but it creates an unhealthy mindset, and he hopes to write more positive songs in the future.

“If I can write a song about what I’m going through, and somebody else messages me and says they’re going through the same thing, that helps me know I’m not alone, just like it helps other people know they’re not alone,” Hill said. “Maybe it’s not the healthiest thing to write about all the time, but I’m good at it because I know what it’s like, and I live it.”

Hill said to help improve his mental health he recently started doing guided meditation, eating healthier, taking vitamin D and doing talk therapy. Being mentally good is my biggest version of success because right now I’m so stressed out,” Hill said.

Lead singer of Mannequin Pussy, Marisa “Missy” Dabice, said she may enjoy a couple of drinks at an artists’ open bar after her early Riot Fest set on Saturday. But for her, it’s a rare occurrence; Dabice shared that on tour it’s easy to start drinking, and it took her a lot of time and discipline to realize that it just puts her into a state of depression.

“[I] make touring as much of a job as possible and have very little fun. You just have to not drink, and stretch every day, and do vocal warm-ups, and drink a lot of water and try to eat as healthy as you can,” Dabice said. “There’s a lot of restrictions, and you need to take care of your body in a very concentrated way to be able to have that energy every night.”

But Dabice said tours and festivals are not only about discipline, they also allow her to express herself through clothes in a way she can’t outside this context. On Saturday, Dabice wore heart-shaped sunglasses, black leather boots and a sheer black dress — with nothing underneath aside from the star stickers on her nipples.

“At festivals and shows you experience a completely different type of freedom to dress and express yourself,” Dabice said. “We’ve worked very hard to build a place where we’re safe to make music and express that with other people. You can’t just walk down the street, being very exposed and respected at the same time.”

Singer and songwriter carolesdaughter said before she started her music journey, she never went to shows or festivals and instead spent the majority of her time doing what she enjoys: writing. But after music became her profession, she said she started to feel more like being an influencer than an artist.

“It feels like 5% of my time is actually writing and making music, it’s so little of my time,” carolesdaughter said. “[The majority] is spent touring and promoting and making content. It feels like you’re just making throwaway content that is not lasting. It’s not pieces of art; it’s just like something to click on and something to get views, which don’t even translate into real streams, and people that go to your shows and actually love you and relate to you, so it’s all useless and the world is terrible.”

Carolesdaughter said she does not think a college education is necessary for artists, and even though people can learn interesting and technical things in college, no one can teach them how to make art. She added that there are a lot of “nepo babies” in the arts, referring to people who benefit from nepotism.

“If people already have that innate gift, and they go to an art college or whatever to go study that, and they perfect the technical side of it because there’s a lot to learn that can be taught,” carolesdaughter said. “But the real soul of it has to be there already.”