Local Music Brought Anita Riot to Roller Derby

Anita Riot
Anita Riot

The coolest kinds of nerds are the ones that keep themselves preoccupied on so many levels that it's impossible not to be impressed.

Anita Riot is, by this definition, a cool nerd.

Far from being the reclusive, atrophied nerd-type, cross-eyed from spending too much time in front of a computer monitor, Riot stays busy, athletic and immersed in the local culture of Denton. Has been for years. That being said, she's also a confessed cave-dweller when time allows.

Still, she's long been a familiar face at both Cool Beans and Rubber Gloves in Denton, serving not only as a bartender, but first as a member of the behind-the-scenes crew for RGRS' now-defunct BS Art Fusion series. She painted, sold merch and was eventually brought into the braintrust of the show. This year, she helped out with 35 Denton, working with press and media, blogging and writing about the artists and whatnot.

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Now, in the world of flat-track rollerderby, Riot is one of the best skaters in Texas. In the derby world, she's a bit of a celeb, a fan favorite. She gets roaring cheers from the bouts' audiences of roughly 1,500 to 2,000 attendees.

You see, Riot is a "jammer" for the Dallas Derby Devils' travel team, Army of Darkness, a best-of-the-best crew from within the league that competes all over the country. A "jammer" is the equivalent of a wide receiver in the NFL; their job is to haul ass, break past the defense, and score a shit-ton of points. Riot kills it at all of the above. She's fast, very difficult to block and, from a stand-still, she can accelerate on skates at an impressive clip. Her accomplishments within the league have garnered her numerous awards, impressive stats, a stint as a team coach, and this year, a tryout for the Team USA World Cup team.

The league she skates for also contributes greatly to the local music scene, with area bands performing at some of their bouts and functions, often with Riot's (and really the whole league's) input. She's moved on from the bartending circuit, but continues to skate and support local music. She just started working full-time at Funimation Entertainment, as a copywriter for the anime world alongside a member of the band Record Hop.

In person, she's quiet, shy and a self-confessed wallflower. But her story has got "it" where "it" counts, with high points for girl-power and eccentricity. See for yourself after the jump.

Have you ever considered, involving yourself more directly with the local music scene? Managing, booking, etc.? Seems like you'd be a great help!
I went to college thinking I was going to become a music journalist. But I changed my mind after the first class, then ended up getting a degree in English and Secondary Ed. Still not exactly sure why, but I'd decided journalism wasn't for me. But I still love to write. I suppose I wanted to be the one to make the music, not document it. I found out about roller derby right when I was finally getting better at guitar. [Laughs.] I'd lived in apartment where a lot of music was recorded quite often, but I was so focused on school that I just didn't make time to be more involved in it. I think I lacked a lot of confidence in myself and mostly my music abilities at the time. I've booked a couple shows, and assisted in booking ventures, and even hosted a house show, but I didn't make any money off of it. I've never considered it something I could make a living off of. I believe in smaller, more intimate shows and to keep those shows as cheap as possible. I think the bands should make the biggest part of the money for playing, then the venue and the staff for hosting. But sometimes that's one and the same. Booking is tough and definitely deserves compensation, and I know some successful bookers -- and I don't fully understand all the ins and outs of it -- but I just never saw it as a plausible career. Oh yeah, and I tend to be pretty shy. I'd much rather design the album artwork or write press releases than have to talk to a bunch of people all the time.

I know you bartended at Cool Beans and Rubber Gloves. But on a local-music-support level, I know there was a lot more you had your hands in, yes?
I helped with BS Art Fusion at Rubber Gloves. It was a monthly live, collaborative art project with art supplies and various canvas or objects like toilet seats, plywood cut into surfboards, glass panes, or people in their skivvies provided to draw and paint on either at the same time or taking turns. Every one of these shows featured some incredible bands from the Denton and DFW area, and sometimes an oddball performance by BS friends and collaborators, like Brandon putting on a penguin suit, dancing on stage and posing for the artists. I was buddies with (BS Art Fusion collaborators) Bryan and Shep already, and I started coming out just to watch, and sometimes painting something or someone. When they had shirts made, they asked me to sell them at the shows. After that, I ended up becoming a part of the team and helped. Even got to play one with a band I was in, and the other band was the B Sharps. I helped with booking bands a bit, too. I think that ultimately helped me get hired at Rubber Gloves. I also volunteered once or twice, and gave a presentation at an Examined Life event at 1919 Hemphill in Fort Worth. Just helped clean up, stamped hands and took money at shows. I've also given them lots of my money by going to tons of shows there. Then, from about January through March this year I volunteered for the 35 Conferette, now called 35 Denton, the festival here in Denton. I did research on bands and wrote a press release, a short blog post and a couple of band blurbs/descriptions for the festival's program/handouts. I wrote a blurb for Violent Squid, aka Ty Stamp, and he saw me at Hailey's during the fest. He told me how much he liked my one-sentence description of his sound. [Laughs.] It's nice working in such a tightly-knit, music-driven community where the artists living in it appreciate other contributors just as much as their fellow musicians.

At RGRS, how many shows spring to mind that you attended or worked that would go into the "Damn, that was a great show!" category?
Oh, God. There are so many of them. I mean, there were either bands or a DJ every night I worked at Gloves. There were so many memorable nights. The first show I ever saw there was The Gossip when I was 18. It was my second time to drive to Denton in my entire life. I wrote about it in my zine a month later. [Laughs.] I suppose working on July 4 when the Riverboat Gamblers played was pretty memorable. The place was packed all night long. They're sort of considered heroes here, and they put on a fantastic show every time. I got to meet Mike Wiebe, and Fadi el-Assad gave me a Gamblers bandana when I bought a shirt. Swoon! This one's a little silly, but there was a Monday night that we heard that the actor Jason Lee was going to be in Denton and DJing a set at Gloves. So I got to give Jason Lee water and he tipped me a dollar. I thought that was pretty cool. I don't know if he ever actually DJed at all, but I heard he danced a little bit. I have to say, getting to play there was incredibly memorable. I got to share the stage with bands and musicians I look up to quite a bit, and they were all my friends. Stymie, Gun Gun, the Swedish Teens, Broadcast Sea, Scary Cherry and the Bang Bangs -- and there were so many more people in the audience than I expected. It was really an eye-opening experience because I'd wanted to be in a band since I was 13, and there I was finally doing it at my favorite venue.

How about at Cool Beans?
There's music on the roof at Cool Beans in the warmer months. I worked the deck bar while bands played quite a few times. Every time there was a big crowd and everyone was really into the grind, the whole deck would bow and shake under everyone dancing. You'd have to keep an eye on the liquor 'cause they'd slide off the shelves. You don't forget that. It got like that whenever Boxcar Bandits would play. Beanstock has become quite an event. It was conceived my second year there, and I believe it was in response to the final end of the Fry Street Fair. It's an annual one-day thing where bands would play all day, with live screen-printing for shirts and other fun stuff, like XCW Wrestling matches. It always happened on our league's season opener bouts in April, so my friend and rollerderby colleague, Ali Gorey, and I always had to work the opening shift, then go straight to the derby bout and miss the rest of the festivities. But not this past year! I saw Record Hop on the roof at Beanstock '11. Simply amazing.

I imagine there was someone in your family, or early on in your life, that had a major influence on the way you turned out. Am I right?
My sister, Lynn, had a huge influence on my music background, my personality and really everything. She's five years older than me, and we always shared rooms wherever we lived together. Everything she liked, I liked. I was the annoying little sister that insisted on clinging to her and asking her tons of questions. Her favorite bands become my favorite bands, easily. So I went through the Nirvana, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth phase with her. Then she turned on to some more obscure but amazing female-fronted bands like the Amps, That Dog and Babes in Toyland. Then it was the Breeders, Garbage and the Beatles. I was too young to go to concerts with her for a long time, but I got to read all her copies of Spin and listen to all her CDs. Then, when she had a boyfriend who was in a band, I realized that anyone could be a musician. She had one of her boyfriend's guitars and all I did was ask my dad to get me one -- and bam! I had a $200 Hondo -- a nice black and white Ibanez copy -- with a tiny practice amp.

My very first concert was ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd on my 15th birthday. I still have the Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt. Uh, that was a funny time in my life, the classic rock phase.

How about after that, in the school days?
Jeeze, high school. By the time I'd transferred to my third high school, the Internet had gotten more accessible. I'd figured out the Internet pretty well and started downloading music. It wasn't technically illegal at the time, but I'd be sure to go to the CD store and pick up anything by anyone I really dug anyway. I'd started to hang out on this website that was kind of like the precursor to myspace -- you had a profile and answer questions about yourself, and, if you were clever, you'd figure out how to embed a picture with HTML so people could see what you looked like. There were message boards for anything and everything, and I went straight to the metal music board. I first learned what real metal was after a good scolding, then ventured into the punk and goth music boards, and got really into goth culture. Then I met a boy in school that was the first and cutest punk rocker I'd ever met in real life. We made the cutest little ugly couple in school, in my opinion. He was in bands for the five years we were together. So I got into anything and everything punk -- mostly Black Flag, Minor Threat, the Misfits, Bikini Kill. But I liked the Cure, Pixies and Modest Mouse, too. And I still listened to the radio a little for stuff like the Beastie Boys. I was all over the place in taste. Still am.

That's when I started going to 1919 Hemphill and Red Blood Club in Deep Ellum quite a bit. I saw Jerry Only, Marky Ramone and Dez Cadena play a show as the Misfits in Arlington, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world. I was also quite interested in feminism and girl power and gravitated toward all-girl or female-fronted bands and powerful female musicians who've become matriarchs of rock 'n' roll and pop: Patti Smith, Tori Amos, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Blondie, Joan Jett, Kathleen Hannah, Ani Difranco. I still learn about more and more to admire on a regular basis.

For a brief period, you were a performer yourself, in Kanganomicon. What happened there?
My buddy Leslea, aka my teammate Weapon X, and I seriously wanted Kanganomicon to become something, but we knew we were just learning and just went where it took us. Our talented and sweet drummer, Jessica, graduated and moved away after we'd been together for a whole year. We managed to play four shows and even recorded three songs for an EP. I'm really proud of myself and of us for how far we took it, with only being able to practice about three times a month because of conflicting schedules. When we were practicing, we got shit done. No drinking, smoking or piddling around. We knew what we wanted to do, and that was play in a band that our friends would enjoy, and hopefully open some minds, and we did it. So I'm proud. I'd like to play in a band again, or one day make a solo record. But even if I don't, I'll get to say that I at least tried.

How about at your current job, immersed in the anime' world? Are there local music cultures inside the walls of that place?
Actually, yes! We have music discussions all the time at work. We share music all the time. We'll have email chains with links to music videos that have been inspiring us lately. The first time I was included in on this, I shared a Micachu & The Shapes song and then one of the motion graphics artists asked me if I had anymore of their stuff. Another guy asked me where I'd been all their lives. That certainly helps a new girl feel welcome!

The other two copywriters, Scott and Harlin, are pretty well immersed and involved in the Denton music culture. Scott [Porter]'s been in a lot of bands -- the biggest being Record Hop. Harlin's a behind-the-scenes guy, sometimes booking shows. Harlin just started listening to Fugazi recently, and Scott and I were both like, "Where've you been dude"? They both have a hand in some spoken word/live music events at Dan's Silverleaf. I'm going to try to get in on that, too. We also have two in-house composers that write a lot of music for trailers, feature clips and all sorts of other advertisements. It's really incredible what those two come up with for our trailers. They take the personality of the show and the direction of the trailer and always blow us away. And their stuff is heard in trailers all over the planet on Youtube and on Funimation's website.

Are there things about the Denton's (and really, wherever in DFW's) local music scene that you would change or improve if you could?
I really can't think of much. I know that it's easier to know about shows if you're on the Internet -- or Facebook mostly -- a lot and know the right people. A lot of the best house shows get most of their attendance through word-of-mouth -- especially since We Shot JR went down. That was the only site that I saw consistently covering house shows.

We're really fortunate that radio stations like UNT's and TCU's stations, KNON, KXT and even The Edge are playing lots of local music. Some fantastic music comes out of the Metroplex, so of course they deserve to have the airwaves. But I still feel like there's some kind of rift between those who know and pay attention to local bands and those who have no idea about these radio stations and the talented artists we have right here. It makes me sad. But then again, I like being in on the big secret, you know?

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