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Introducing THE RIOT, a voice for the unheard

They say that timing is everything. And yet, for Gold Coast-based genre-independent outfit THE RIOT, their debut single ‘Dog In The Shade’ – written two years ago – would prove to make an impact regardless of whether it was released a week or months after its conception. It just so happens that the message of unity that the trio embody is timeless, but unfortunately the flipside of that coin is that the sinister forces we need to unite against aren’t going anywhere either.

Speaking to Blunt Magazine about the band’s formation, vocalist JD dispels the notion that THE RIOT have spontaneously appeared out of thin air by tracing their inception all the way back to 2016. The most cynical among us might perceive a group coming together in the name of justice as a kneejerk reaction to the world’s downward spiral over the past year. Sadly, just because we started caring about enacting civil justice recently, it doesn’t mean that there was no one to stand up and riot for before then – graffiti over in Washington’s Lafayette Square offers that same thought, asking: “Why do we have to keep telling you black lives matter?”

“That name, the visual concept, everything you’re seeing right now is a high and defined version of everything that I’d thought about, we had thought about, as a band to this point,” JD explains. “So obviously, with the time that we released, it was pretty much when we had the most turmoil in the world: Corona, all the riots that you saw going on because of the George Floyd situation that caused an uproar in, everywhere, in everyone’s singing… So honestly, us coming out at that time as THE RIOT is again, another destiny thing, you know what I mean? [But] I knew people would be like, ‘Oh, you guys just came up with the name because of that.’” He continues: “We felt unheard for so long that we wanted to riot back then.”

The music that they’ve released to date tells that story, commencing with ‘Dog In The Shade’, which JD extrapolates is about overcoming a low by “standing up for yourself and having your therapy in any way that you please to have it.” It ranges all the way to latest track ‘See it Believe it’, written in the wake of the publicly released footage of the murder of George Floyd. The latter song grieves the light dying out of the context that we’re living in, but not without a sliver of hope that change can be enacted. After all, THE RIOT came together “to preach a message of unity and preach a message of self-awareness”, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to let pessimism burn out our chance at peace without inequality.

Flashing back to what “coming together” looked like for the three musicians, JD asserts that it was somewhat an epiphany; once he met bandmates Tyler and Scotty, he had complete conviction that they would be able to achieve the sound that blankets the ethos they wanted to share with the world together. The compulsion was so strong that they started working on music immediately, although life disrupted them once or twice along the way until they reunited last year. JD popped up one of the songs that they had worked on together on triple j Unearthed, and the rest is history.

“The fact that I called everyone years after, and we were still ready to do it,” JD notes. “My drummer was about to quit drumming and just focus on studying architecture. And Tyler was just going to stay gigging in pubs for the rest of his life and we were just brought together…So that’s really what made the situation so important and meaningful for us, because we knew that we worked so amazingly as a unit. We knew that with all three of us, there’s no way that we weren’t going to be able to send the message that we want, which is that unity brings everything together. And we need to fight together instead of fighting against each other. And that this is meant to be…you couldn’t really force it.”

Of course, some of us are incredibly talented with an instrument, while others re-work four guitar chords into an arrangement of endless possibilities until what they want to say resonates with enough people. But what of the rest of us? If we aren’t being specifically affected by civil rights injustices, what’s the role that we play? According to JD, the white and privileged among us don’t have to start bands to do something meaningful, but we can move beyond posting a black square on our Instagram pages. It all starts with, for him, “accountability.”

“It’s the racism that’s swept under the carpet, it’s joked about, it’s made to be a parody instead of a real [issue]. That you’re actually making fun of something that someone cares dearly about. I tell all my white friends, ‘Have a voice, because you guys will shock people when you’re able to stand up for things that you don’t need to stand up for.’ You know what I mean? That’s literally the smallest element of what you could do, which is: Be aware, pull up the people around you, don’t sit silently. And I think they hear it from us all the time and think we’re whinging, but I think when they see the general public and even white people just really stand together and be like, ‘No, we’re not going to just sit there and act like it’s all cool. This is not cool.’ So I think just speaking up. Yeah, speaking up.”

He recalls hearing a recent interview on triple j where a host asked whether someone had ever been confused with someone else. The person’s response was yes, with JD quoting the story behind the answer. “I went to the hospital and my girlfriend was sick, blah, blah, blah. And I spent a lot of time in the hospital looking after her, months there. So the canteen just automatically thought I was a doctor. Every time I walked in there, I was getting the doctor discount rates.”

He reflects: “I was like, ‘Damn, that’s so privileged.’ There’s no way I could walk around the hospital and someone’s going to think I’m a doctor. There’s no way.”

THE RIOT Live at Mo’s

Friday 23rd April
Mo’s Desert Clubhouse, Burleigh Heads
Tickets: Mo’s Desert Clubhouse