It’s 2017, and the Vans Warped Tour is still going strong. The lineup for the annual summer tour was recently announced all at once — and, like usual, to both cheers and jeers. So, the big questions are: Did Warped get it right? Did it go back to its punk roots? Did it bring out the biggest names in the genres of metalcore and pop-punk? Is Blink-182 playing this year? (I can already respond to the last one with a big fat “no”)
To answer those questions, I split up the lineup by genre and analyzed each of the seven categories. If you want to find out the grade for each category, followed by my overall grade for this year’s Warped lineup, keep on reading!
The Warped lineup this year is mostly highlighted by heavy acts, specifically in the realms or metalcore and hardcore. When it comes to the former, the bill is stacked with a mix of acts familiar to the festival and some up-and-comers who are slowly taking the scene by storm.
Of the recurring acts, the quality is hit or miss. Memphis May Fire is the biggest band of the genre playing Warped and arguably the biggest band on the lineup in general. However, with the staleness of their two most recent albums, it’s safe to say that we could’ve gotten better. This is also considering no one else of their level — for instance, We Came As Romans or The Devil Wears Prada — is playing this year. However, while lacking a colossal technical metalcore band like August Burns Red, you can’t go wrong with longtime genre pillars Dance Gavin Dance and Silverstein making Warped returns.
A few years ago, Hands Like Houses were considered the strongest of the new-ish post-hardcore bands to play the festival, but now that they’re a standard in the scene, it’s satisfying to see their name again. The same can be said about Blessthefall, though the combination of them, HLH, and MMF alone isn’t quite enough to make mainstream metal fans interested in attending.
In addition to DGD and Silverstein, appearances by Solid State Records staples Fit for a King and Silent Planet make for quite the post-hardcore/metalcore ensemble. Both have played the festival in the past, the former in 2015 and the latter in 2016, so it’s nothing too unorthodox for the tour in terms of younger bands. Of bands new to the festival, I Prevail is perhaps the most promising; though their sound is a tad generic, they thrive off solid hooks (“Stuck in Your Head” certainly lives up to its name) and consistent energy. Bad Omens reminds a lot of Bring Me the Horizon stylistically (assuring a sensible fit on the bill), but they showcase the vision and songwriting to someday become a genre mainstay.
The reasonably large metalcore lineup is rounded out by Fire from the Gods, Our Last Night, and Too Close to Touch, though they will be overshadowed by bigger and better contemporaries. Give some credit to Warped for going after a variety of artists in the genre, though, as it may have resulted in some weak ones but also some extremely strong ones. DGD, Silverstein, and Silent Planet are the obvious highlights in this category, and a day in the sun wouldn’t be complete without seeing at some of each of them. But beyond that, the typical attendee won’t have a problem finding a few more to see.
Hardcore isn’t quite as present in this year’s lineup as post-hardcore or metalcore, but Warped 100% delivered in the bands they selected from that genre. Most have played the tour in the past, but the name Hatebreed stands out for obvious reasons. A staple of the hardcore over the past 20 years, the group hasn’t played Warped since 1998, and their return is one that should garner excitement among many attendees — specifically longtime ones. Sick of It All’s in the same boat; a hardcore/punk band who dominated the ‘90s, they also will be playing the tour for the first time since that decade.
When it comes to modern hardcore, this is where Warped brought out the big guns. Beartooth, Being As An Ocean, Counterparts, Hundredth, and Stick to Your Guns are no strangers to the festival, and the fact that all five of them are playing on the same bill (and likely the same stage) will make for a slew of sweaty afternoons. They all make some of the highest quality music in the genre, and they back it up some of the highest live energy and interactivity as well. We know how much Warped advertises against moshing and crowdsurfing, but they’re delusional to expect anything but that with these bands.
Perhaps the only negative in this category is that the lineup only features one new-ish band, although it’s an extremely solid one. One of the top bands to emerge in the hardcore scene last year, Kentucky’s Knocked Loose should have no problem competing alongside their contemporaries.
Warped’s strong mix of old and new hardcore succeeds where its post-hardcore and metalcore lineup fails. Though groups like Counterparts and STYG aren’t as big as, say, Blessthefall or Silverstein, it’s hard to argue they aren’t some of the best bands to be included in this year’s lineup. Add some of the best of the best in old-school hardcore to the list, and you’ve got quite the handful.
Usually Warped provides a steady group of harder-edged metal bands on its lineups, but this year is a lot more divided than usual. Of course, it’s great to see The Acacia Strain and After the Burial on the list. Both bands have been playing in the realms of deathcore and progressive metal respectively for over a decade, and you know what you’re going to get from them. This year, too, we get a treat, as heavy metal veterans GWAR and deathcore players Carnifex will be both be playing the tour for the first time.
But the threesome of Attila, Emmure, and Sworn In is enough to cancel out the mix. Sure, they’ve procured their own loyal fanbases and are likely to attract large, attentive crowds for their sets, but Warped could’ve done so much better than these groups. If their generic hybrids of deathcore, metalcore, and hardcore aren’t enough to turn off attendees, their faux “edgy” attitudes — especially the frontmen of the first two — will. I don’t have to speak much more on them (you probably know where you stand already), but it’s important to note they’ll be avoided by a large portion of the Warped crowd.
Warped typically has a few quality bands in this category, but they’re usually limited. It doesn’t help that they have to compete with other major summer metal tours and international (specifically European) festivals, as After the Burial and Carnifex both played the Summer Slaughter Tour last year in support of Cannibal Corpse. The fact that Mayhem Festival, co-founded by Kevin Lyman, ended in 2015 should’ve helped carry some bands over. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t seem to have done so.
Still, Warped Tour isn’t known for its selection of metal apart from the more mainstream scene bands. That means the small group of acts in this category needs to be consistent in order to satisfy fans of death and progressive metal, and the sharp divide in quality this year makes for a weaker bill than usual.
You’d think that the lack of a standout modern pop-punk band would be a pitfall for Warped Tour, considering how much it’s known for the presence of that genre. But luckily, the acts included in 2017 are enough to keep the category afloat — and nearly flourishing at that.
The biggest pop-punk/emo bands on this year’s lineup are of the early 2000s variety, with The Ataris leading the bunch. Though it’s been nearly 14 years since their best (and most Goonies-inspired) album, So Long, Astoria, nostalgia has aged the Indiana natives well en route to their return. In addition, Bowling for Soup is climbing aboard to satisfy the inner middle schooler in all of us (“1985” probably just got stuck in your head as you read that). Their eyeliner-black emo-rock hasn’t lasted as well over the past decade, but Hawthorne Heights is still chugging along and — for better or for worse — will be present again.
Neck Deep is by far the most well-known of recent pop-punk bands, though that’s mainly because Four Year Strong, The Story So Far, and The Wonder Years are nowhere to be seen. The British quintet obviously won’t appeal to everyone since their pop-punk is more of the whiny, bro-centric variety. But if you can tolerate vocalist Ben Barlow’s plaid shorts in the featured image and/or like big hooks, you may find their set worthwhile.
The rest of the bands categorized as pop-punk or emo this year are all up-and-comers. Creeper and Movements are set for big years considering their increasing exposure and new recordings. The former recently put out their first full-length, which comes across as a unique (and tasteful) mixture of AFI, Misfits, My Chemical Romance, and The Offspring. On the other hand, the latter continues promoting its 2016 EP, Outgrown Things, which blends post-hardcore and pop-punk into a hearty package. Boston Manor, Microwave, and Trophy Eyes are also rising stars playing Warped this year, and each plays a sound categorizable as emo with hints of rock and punk. Topping off the list, female-fronted Bad Cop / Bad Cop and easycore outfit Carousel Kings are decent but not nearly as memorable.
The pop-punk/emo category isn’t close as potent as years past, and that’s due to the lack of headliner-type acts. It’s great to see a few older bands thrown in for nostalgia reasons, as well as a substantial amount of promising young bands. But without a mainstage pop-punk phenom or any of the sensational emo revival bands that continue popping up (apart from Microwave), most attendees will be satisfied without being blown away. It’s hard to argue Warped didn’t provide quality here, even if they needed a little more “oomph” to pump up attendees.
Every year, people cry about Warped Tour’s lack of great pure punk acts, considering it was founded on that genre and not the pop-rock/scenecore it’s become defined by in recent years. They’ll still be able to complain about 2017’s punk lineup, though they probably will every year until the Descendents and Pennywise front the bill again. But a fair amount of ‘90s and ‘2000s punk and ska groups help counterbalance some of the tour’s glitz and glam.
Anti-Flag and Big D and the Kids Table are Warped fixtures, and it’s hard to picture a lineup without at least one of them. Those who like the California punks more than the James Bond movie will also be happy to see Goldfinger returning to the tour. Another addition, The Riverboat Gamblers, will play for the first time since 2005, and Streetlight Manifesto’s playing the Salt Lake City date for some lucky Utahns.
Where the festival triumphed in this category is old-school punk. If you’re a fan of the Adolescents, CKY, Save Ferris, or Strung Out, you probably were jumping for joy at the inclusion of any of the four bands on this year’s lineup. All of them have played Warped in the past except for the Adolescents, who became a popular figure in the So-Cal ‘80s hardcore punk movement. Since the other three haven’t played since the ‘90s, it’s going to be a fun throwback to a whole different culture of Warped Tour. Hopefully some teens will find interest, but if not, it may end up bringing in some fans who haven’t attended in years.
Punk and ska have been staples of Warped ever since its origins, and it’s nice to see some older bands return to the lineup and diversify the typical mix. The Adolescents and Anti-Flag stand above the rest, but several other notable selections make for a reputable group overall.
By far the weakest category, the alternative rock and pop artists on this year’s lineup pale in comparison to those of other genres. It’s exemplified by the addition of a band with a major radio hit in American Authors. The feature of the band, known best for “Best Day of My Life”, is a failed attempt at incorporating quality radio-rock into the tour. It’s not unlike Warped to try and succeed, though, as Echosmith and MuteMath have played in the past. Instead, it comes across as a desperate pitch to mainstream pop/rock fans — one that could’ve been overlooked if better acts were around them.
It’s an odd year, so of course (and unfortunately) Never Shout Never will be present in 2017. Combine that with Black Veil Brides frontman Andy Black, who released a solo indie pop record last year, and the tour’s mired with pop-rock mediocrity. The festival could’ve at least gotten a spot for BVB in addition to Black, but the presence of these two pop-geared artists may separate attendees by those who are/aren’t into them.
Throw Courage, My Love, New Year’s Day, and former-Aiden-frontman-gone-industrial-artist William Control into the mix, and it’s not enough to save Warped’s pop/rock category. The three acts warrant positive attention, especially considering their varied gothic and hard-edged pop approaches. At the same time, though, they’re still far from high status, even with years of playing the tour under their belt. All in all, Warped’s pop and rock lineup this year can be described in one word: underwhelming.
The hip-hop/electronic category gets a passing grade alone for featuring everyone’s favorite spoken-word-performer-turned rapper, Watsky. The San Francisco native has been cranking out album after album of clever, tightly-written tunes for a decade now, and it’s always comforting to have him back on the tour again (he also played in 2014). Apart from Watsky, the standout in the hip-hop category is Futuristic, who is by far the largest rapper on the tour — and arguably the most talented as well.
Behind them is a less-merited-but-still-noteworthy tandem of Feeki and Sammy Adams. Both have 100,000+ Facebook followers, and that’s because they flaunt their slick songwriting, as well as their vaunted delivery. Both come from opposites sides of the U.S. and appeal to opposite spectrums of fans (Feeki a self-proclaimed Reno “redneck” and Adams a Boston prep and former college athlete).
While we’re stuck with a small pack of quality hip-hop/electronic artists this year, Warped did a good job of attracting top-tier talent without looking too big. Like the hardcore category proves, it’s much better to have a few really strong acts than a bunch of solid-to-decent ones. In addition, the amount of variety and personality within the category assures there’ll be something for everyone. We may not get Machine Gun Kelly or Mike Posner in 2017, but we do get treated to a handful of high-caliber rappers.
The Bottom Line
Hardcore and metal dominate this year’s Warped Tour lineup, so if you aren’t a fan of those genres, it may not be your favorite year of the tour in terms of music. The collection of rock, punk, and hip-hop acts won’t have you frothing at the mouth, as — unless you’re a big fan of Andy Black or Never Shout Never — most of the artists worth seeing in these areas are either up-and-comers or mid-sized talents. Even in the genres of post-hardcore and metalcore, there are only a few headliner-type bands (Memphis May Fire and Blessthefall), which is a bit of a departure from previous years’ plethora of household names. But the lineup does have its strengths across the board in terms of smaller acts, and it ends up raising this year’s grade to slightly above average.
Featured Photo Credit: Sadie Federspeil (Neck Deep), David A. Smith (Memphis May Fire)