As the first festival of the summer circuit, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival produced by Goldenvoice, which took place last weekend April 25-27, is where you’ll see a good chunk of the bands that will be doing the festival circuit this summer. It’s also the place where new up-and-coming bands, particularly in the indie rock genre, electronica, rave, and synth are showcasing for the first time in front of larger audiences, particularly internationally as a lot of these bands will hit up the European festival circuit later in the summer.
To get a sense of what went down, it’s important to realize that it’s full-on summer in Indio at this time of year with 100+ degrees, making the outdoor stages—which usually host more well-known bands, brutally hot, and the big white tents such as Sahara (intended for electronica sets and ravers) and Gobi (up-and-coming in this category) absolutely packed as people try to escape the heat.
So basically, the tented areas and therefore bands had massive audiences this year making it hard to actually dance in the dance tents compared with years before. Also, it seemed that some of the “older” bands went on at the same time as the new young bands so that there was this divided family of older people at the main stages and younger hipsters and dancers in the tents.
Top reunion bands were The Verve most definitely, Love and Rockets, The Breeders, and Portishead—all of which drew massively diverse crowds. Prince’s set was epic, and included Morris Day and Sheila E. on drums which was fantastic. Plus it was clear that he loves the guitar—watching him play, including his moves, is completely reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix and people loved this. Portishead had grainy black-and-white videos of their set on the screens which added to their moodiness, whereas probably the best video display (other than Roger Waters’ “Dark Side of the Moon”) was Kraftwerk. These guys are the grandfathers of the whole electronica sound and their displays included old school footage of the Tour de France (for the song “Tour de France, Tour de France”), plus iconic symbols of boom boxes, numbers, and mathematics, creating a sense of where the nu rave movement came from. Love and Rockets rocked the Outdoor stage which was a smaller area than the main stage, but it was packed with people intent on seeing what’s up with this old-new band.
Other stand-outs on the outdoor stages included the Raconteurs set which was incredibly blues inspired, rock-country and we can see this type of music—inspired both from Detroit and Nashville—continuing to push crossover trends. Jack White’s songs within this band of course got the most attention, but overall, the band was solid. Gogol Bordello had one of the most incredible sets in the hot heat as they rocked their Eastern European gypsy punk sounds to a massive audience that was dancing in unison like a pogo stick (me included). The Ukrainian lead singer Eugene Hutz, is also the main character in Madonna’s new upcoming film called “Filth and Wisdom.” Gogol’s violin player and girl cymbalist also kept the circus-type atmosphere together—I can also see Eugene’s purple and black striped Capri tights becoming a big fashion statement in the near future.
Metric also rocked the bells in the outdoor stage during a sunset show with Emily Haines on synth. Their performance was a stand-out moment not only because the band is tight, but also they’re one of the leading-edge musicians pushing sounds in new directions. They also had the full-on Silverlake/LA fanbase checking them out so it felt like being in a club.
Purists of dance and rave—and there were thousands—practically camped out in the Sahara tent. Appealing to a mostly younger crowd, as one 20-year-old attendee put it, “why go anywhere else?” This was the scenario especially for the Sunday line-up including Deadmaus (who was excellent), Bookashade, Danny Tenaglia, Modeselektor, Simian Mobile Disco, Chromeo, and Justice. There’s also an entire scene of relatively new bands and sounds coming into the forefront, such as Hot Chip, Does it Offend You, Yeah?, Cut Copy, Vampire Weekend, Sons & Daughters, Data Rock, I’m from Barcelona, The Cool Kids, Shoutout Louds, Cold War Kids, and VHS or Beta. In addition, Kate Nash held her own with an incredibly packed tent (and set) as well as MIA—you couldn’t even get into the tent during this performance. Other surprisingly hot performances and bands to watch for included 120 Days and Data Rock: 4 guys in red jumpsuits who all switched up playing instruments—and had an excellent drummer—making them the break-out band for Friday by far.
Overall, given how many acts go on at the same time, and the size of the venue, Coachella becomes a matter of prioritizing one’s choices which means that some bands we could only catch glimpses of such as Sasha & Digweed, Pendulum, Mum, Autolux, Fat Boy Slim (but he was late), Dimitri from Paris, Jack Johnson, Spank Rock (great performance but miss a key member), and Flogging Molly, which is unfortunate since they all had massive audiences.
However you can expect to see a lot of these bands this summer on the festival circuit, which is becoming far more popular than ever before as bands look to festivals now to promote themselves, yet be a part of a larger scene that draws in new fans from other bands. As musicians move towards making more from merch and live performance ticket sales than music sales, you can expect that festivals will continue to be the way to go in the music industry in general. This may also account for the limited number of outside clothing booths onsite compared with years previous. It was mostly band merch selling their wares. As per norm for Coachella, sponsorship was kept low-key: Heineken sponsored the beer garden and had a special area called the Heineken Social, Nokia, AT&T’s Blue Room, and Playstation were the only other sponsors.
Overall, Coachella which is now in its 9th year, was a massive success and showcased an excellent range of old school bands and new bands with incredibly loyal followings. Look for many of these bands to become the new cultural music leaders by the end of this summer.