On a yearly basis, I sacrifice my already sus street cred to attend Coachella; a festival so widely loathed by the discerning hipster that it insures a sell out within moments of tickets going on sale. As 10’s of thousands of people descend on the Coachella Valley for week 2 of the festival, I offer those that have stayed behind a look back on a Week 1that has far surpassed the past years of vacuousness and fuckboyery. I have been defending Coachella ever since it became uncool. It became uncool the moment Goldenvoice decided to stop selling single day tickets. The moment that happened, the festival became out of reach for most music fans and understandably, those music fans rail against the festival and it’s attendees at every opportunity. Afterall, the fact that Uber is now offering helicopter rides into the venue for the low price of $700 should be all you need to know about the setting for weekend 1 inside the Empire Polo Fields. Last year, I wrote an article called “Coachella: No History In Your Hate”. I’ve been to 11 out of the 16 installments of Coachella and it has created some of the fondest concert memories of my life but this year, I can honestly say that Coachella fatigue has set in.
This year, over 180k x 2 people will descend upon the retirement and vacation home communities that enclose opulent desert golf courses like some geriatric moat; a moat that protects white privilege and allows 100k gallons of water a week to maintain this recreational vice. Even as California is becoming dryer than a newly sober alcoholic in an A.A. meeting, it takes 400k liters of water a day to keep a desert golf course green and it takes 60k people on drugs exiting a venue at the same time to set Life Alert alarms off all over the Coachella Valley. These retirees hate the Coachella festival more than broke hipsters do. I’ve been staying at my friend Buzz’s house inside Rancho La Quinta, just a couple blocks from the polo fields for the past 3 years and the exponential increase in hoops one has to jump through at the guard gate reflects the rage of homeowners associations all over the valley. With the rise of AirBnb and Uber, retirees are seeing their communities invaded by more and more long hairs, fuckboys and side boob than ever before.
For the past few years, I have either been attending both weekends or just weekend 2. Weekend 2 is where it’s at if you are there for the music and music alone, folks. Weekend 1 is filled with celebrity dick suckers, just dying to share the VIP beer garden with Paris Hilton and Katie Perry. Weekend 1 is filled with attendees who still have the temerity to don their Native American head dress with cluelessness that is akin to those who say “All Lives Matter”. Luckily, I was able to score an Artist Guest wristband again this year which made it possible to skirt around some of the douchebaggery that is rampant on the polo fields during weekend 1 but in the interest of newsworthiness, I mistakenly opted to be one of the first to be privy to some of the surprise special guests of weekend 1, even though here I am rushing to get this piece done before the gates open for weekend 2 and most of our readers are the Coachella hating type, anyway. Fail all around.
In fact, the weekend was filled with self inflicted fails. So, while I vent on the finer points of my Coachella fatigue, almost every instance of impatience with the human race and Goldenvoice’s newly installed features of inconvenience could’ve been avoided with just the tiniest shred of planning on my part.
But what my poor planning was able to expose was the absolute cluster fuck that people holding GA wristbands have to deal with at almost every turn. VIP and artist wristbands have separate entrances and exits. On Sunday night, though, I inexplicably decided to stay for Calvin Harris to hang out with some friends. I was high enough on drugs to fail to recognize the festival and Calvin Harris’ DJ set coming to a close. I didn’t make the proper strategic movements to avoid what happened next. As soon as the last firework went off, I moved to say my goodbyes to the crew I was hanging with but it was too late. The ease of entrance and exit through the artist and VIP portals was completely blocked off by 60k people attempting to exit the venue at the same time. Total rookie move but give me a break, I was high as shit. I was stuck in the middle of a sea of people and my heart died a little each time, with each step that moved me half an inch forward. It wouldn’t be until 3 hours later that I finally made it back to home base. Is this really what people in General Admission have to deal with if they want to stay until the very end? Is Goldenvoice really selling and additional 60k tickets for next year? VIP wasn’t all that much better. The VIP beer garden near the main stage was overflowing with people. The people who actually paid nearly $800 to be a Very Important Person waited up to an hour to get a drink at one of the bars in VIP during peak headliner hours. Here’s an easy rule of thumb for promoters of these mega music festivals; if you have to wait longer than 2-5 minutes for an alcoholic beverage, it isn’t really VIP.
To their credit, it appears that Goldenvoice sinks a ton of money back into the production of the festival everytime their revenue increases. The main stage was an epic display of digital projection with a HUGE upgrade in the video screens that allow fans hundreds of yards away to see their heroes clearly.
I’m not one to rip into popular institutions just to be entertainingly cynical. I have fought the good fight against cynical hipster hate of The Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival for about 5 years now. I do think it’s time to acknowledge the fact that Coachella has finally jumped the shark. Too many socialites and too many mainstream DJ’s headlining the main stage.
All of this aside, there were still many memorable musical moments to be had in this year’s lineup. Even though I had seen LCD Soundsytem just a few days earlier at the Fox Theater in Pomona, James Murphy and crew offered us something sacred in their performance. It has been incredible to watch the ease with which LCD Soundsystem has navigated their reunion and the lack of any apparent rust in their performance. The highlight of their set was their cover of Bowie’s, “Heroes”.
Even with all the records sold, I still think Ice Cube is underrated in the discussions surrounding who is the best rapper of all time. Most of those conversations are irrelevant anyway because they typically only include the mainstream regulars like Tupac, Biggie, Kanye and Jay-Z but in that vein, you hardly ever hear Ice Cube’s name mentioned at all. Even though Amerikkka’s Most Wanted and Lethal Injection tackled topics that delve deeper in depth that are hardly ever mentioned in the Top 40’s such as deep dives into social and political commentary that are beyond the standard gangster “world around me” that became and continues to be a dime a dozen in mainstream rap. Ice Cube’s voice and lyrics gave me chills in my middle school malaise of awkwardness and it seemed attendees of weekend 1 felt the same as the packed in crowd stretched all the way back to the entrance of the venue. Ice Cube kept talking about “keepin it gangsta” as the audience of Beverly High alumni crip walked and Dougied all over the polo fields.
Another standout was Death Grips, as usual. The last couple times I’ve seen them at festivals, the audience was overflowing but this time, the Gobi tent was very sparse. It seems the buzz created by all the shenanigans of this experimental group of musicians that touch on the rage and disenfranchisement that is growing in our society has died down a bit and what was left was a group of hardcore fans. We had the same experience seeing The Damned, albeit with a different age demographic. As the “fad” of Death Grips passes, the group of angry, young white boys had the freedom to spread their wings and flail their arms to get fully noided at Coachella.
There has been much criticism of Coachella in past years being a big boys club that doesn’t book enough female acts. While that maybe true, three of the most memorable bands at Coachella this year were of feminine disposition.
At the time, Courtney Barnett and her band had the best set for a band not named LCD Soundsystem. The crowd was rowdy and kicked up clouds of dust as Barnett and band broke off a prodigious performance that stood out amongst the world class talent surrounding them. Savages also showed why they are one of the most buzzed about and exciting bands in music right now. The all female band blasted the festival with hardcore, post punk vibes that blew everyone who watched them away. The Kills were another female fronted band that set the tone for every other rock act that took the stage in 2016. When it comes to Allison Mosshart, The Dead Weather are more my jam than the Kills but The Kills had one of the more remarkable performances I’ve seen them play.
The Sahara tent was another area that received a major upgrade in production. It’s always one of the most technologically advanced stages at the festival but this year, it felt like being in the movie Tron. There were many standout performances in there such as Underworld but Vince Staples brought his A game and the visuals that occupied the digital cubes all around the stage and ceiling of the tent enhanced his performance beyond the usual skill and masterful flow by the Long Beach native.
It’s been fun to watch Run The Jewels work their way up the ladder of stages over the past few years. Once again, they delivered. As if being introduced by video by presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders wasn’t enough to get me and the crowd worked into an early frenzy, appearances by Nas and hearing Crown performed live for the first time was. El-P’s flow on Crowd is one of my favorite verses in the past few years and a little preview of a new track off Run the Jewels 3 made my day early.
With all the shit talked and jokes made at the expense of Axl Rose and Guns n Roses, the band delivered a MORE than believeable performance. I would rank Appetite for Destruction in the top 5 American Rock albums of all time and when the band opened with It’s So Easy and rolled directly into Mr Brownstone, it proved to be one of the more magical moments of the festival. Damn the torpedoes. I don’t give a fuck if some people thought otherwise. Seeing Guns n Roses was an amazing moment and both Axl’s voice and his disposition held up throughout the set. It was the antithesis of what Calvin Harris represented as the headliner of Sunday night.
From SXSW to Coachella, one of the most talked about up and coming artists in music right now is Anderson .Paak. And for good reason. I was able to catch his guest appearance during the Tokimonsta set earlier in the day but missed his main set.
My usual insistence and unwavering resolve to sacrifice friendship and intimacy to make sure I see exactly who I want to see no matter where my various groups of friends decide to go next was not as strong as it usually was. My typical early arrivals to the festival and desire to be on the polo fields no later than 2pm every day was also vanquished. The unusual Coachella fatigue I experienced this year led to a less memorable experience since many of the bands I’m excited about each and every year typically live in the small print on festival flyers and lineups. I have found that the more work I put into Coachella, the more fun I have but this year I missed Deerhunter, Beach House, Rancid, Prayers, Ex Hex, Grimes, The Dead Ships, Joey Bada$$ and others in the interest of either an extra hour sleep or an extra dose of friendship. It’s always a forgone conclusion that I will be attending this festival each and every year. I’m always willing to put in the hard work it takes to maximize my fun level at Coachella and this year, that willingness was gone and it had a direct effect on my experience. Of course, different people attend festivals like this for different reasons but my best memories at these events always start with the work I put into seeing all the bands I want to see.
I’m not sure if Coachella has really jumped the shark or if I just need a break. Certainly, the more mainstream acts that are added, the less interesting the lineup becomes. I took a break for a few years about 6 or 7 years ago and when I came back the subsequent years, it led to some of the best concert memories of my life. Like being strung out on expensive drugs, the high just isn’t as high anymore when your tolerance is built up. I think I need a Coachella detox and hopefully, I come back and get higher than I’ve ever gotten before.