We often talk about artists who are able to blend different genres, or to hop from one to another at will. K.Flay, the Stanford-educated, genre-hopping artist from the outskirts of Chicago, glides from hip-hop to alternative and back again. Her compositions are connected by gorgeous vocal work and unmistakable emotional threads. She’s a synthesist who can pick up component parts that shouldn’t fit together and craft a beautiful collage.
This unique talent makes her a must-see act at Riot Fest, which takes place in Douglas Park on the west side of Chicago this Sept. 14-16. What better way to celebrate the artistic hotbed that the Midwest’s biggest city has become than by highlighting someone who makes songs that reflect our current lives into something foreign, something new and something irresistible.
K.Flay was born Kristine Flaherty and raised in Wilmette, Ill., a village just a dozen miles north of downtown Chicago. Proving just how varied the artistic and personal sensibilities of Wilmette, Ill are: it was also home to both Bill Murray and a founding member of Fall Out Boy. K.Flay’s late father, who inspired a considerable amount of her music — and, in part, her very pursuit of music — was an accomplished guitarist.
Her official career began as something of a joke, spurred on by a desire to parody the popular rap music of the early 2000s, which she found crass and formulaic. But by the time she released I Stopped Caring in ‘96, her stunning mixtape, in 2011, she had developed a voice that stood not only in opposition to other work, but in defense of her own identity.
In the next handful of years, she released a pair of acclaimed albums: 2014’s Life as a Dog, which peaked at No. 14 on Billboard’s rap charts, and Every Where Is Some Where, which was released last year to critical acclaim. Some Where also received two Grammy nominations, one for Best Rock Song — for “Blood in the Cut” — and one for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.
Riot Fest has the distinct feel that comes with the end of a long, hot Midwestern summer: it’s a mid-Sept. festival designed as one last gasp of freedom before the return to routine. This year’s lineup spans from emo rap pioneers like Atmosphere to overwhelming rock acts like Underoath, and covers nearly every thread of popular music in between. Despite the abundance of talent on the lineup, K.Flay sticks out as an unmissable act at this year’s Riot Fest.