“What did you learn?” my roommate asked me recently. About Coachella?
That’s a good question.
I learned that a large group of young, mostly American, people (10s of thousands) can congregate and enjoy life on a basal line for three-four days and forget about the world. The volcanoes spewing unfathomable ash, the earthquakes shaking it up and the man shaking me down can all be forgotten in washes of music and flashes of million-dollar lights. In this world where the “music” industry is supposedly dead and only urban music gets played on all the radio stations, there are some rock n’ rollers doing shit solo, supplying the high for those jonesing for niche genre kicks.
Part I || The Set-Up
The freaks came out to fuck off, as they do in large groups of people, and everyone was allowed their own style I explained to another friend through the following re-enactment:
I stood talking about lineups with a scarcely-dressed lad in a queue for the avocado stand’s braingoods when a woman came up to take his picture. ‘I’m a photographer and I’m capturing Coachella trends she said, can I take your picture?’ The boy in overalls, only overalls, said ‘yes!’ and scampered away with my carefully marked schedule, ‘I’ll bring this right back he said.’ I never saw the lad again, and as with all my printed, carefully marked, schedules they were lost or borrowed permanently. “The boy,” I said, “in response to your question about Coachella styles and manners, was doing what all did there: whatever they wanted.” To some that was classic kicks with shorts sans shirt plus body makeup, or feathers⎯or even fiber-optic enhanced clothing which is perfect for night time sets and great nighttime pictures. The fashion reflected the attitude which reflected the music, which is a reflection of the world we live in now⎯and this new place is fantastic.
Jay Z finished out the first night’s entertainment and Snoop Dogg opened the last act’s performance in a pre-filmed Gorillaz bit at the start of Albarn and co.’s set. Bands like Coheed and Cambria, Muse, and LCD Soundsystem played the large uncovered stages. But the side tents⎯in ascending size of Gobi, Mohave and Sahara⎯occupied the southeast corner of the huge Empire Polo Grounds event field in Indio and hosted the real goods. The covered areas is where Fever Ray, Sia, Ra Ra Riot, Yeasayer, Grizzly Bear, La Roux, Gil Scott-Heron, The Big Pink and Charlotte Gainsbourg, among many others, played their spectacular sets. Only a quarter of the polo grounds are festival space, the rest is the mammoth machinery behind the music and lodging of some of the people participating. Parking assist those descending on Coachella Valley like desert bats to swoop up the bugs attracted by the festivals bright lights. Huge campgrounds filled with RVs, tents and cars holding car campers hold the rest of the people who decide to fully immerse in the festival. The people live in rows on streets replete with signs and identities. But “Don’t camp in the tents. You don’t sleep in the tents,” a local businessman and past Coachella goer told me recently. And I’m glad I didn’t. Parties all weekend long keep people up 24/3. When they aren’t enjoying the music they’re fucking random strangers and painting non-toxic pigments on each other. That may be a grossly unfair generalization but it really is a fun atmosphere to enjoy some west coast air, world-class beats and the plethora of flesh on display⎯from afar⎯or in a sweaty sleeping bag.
Part II || The Acts
I’ve enjoyed this band for a few years now and my first time being able to finally catch them live was worth the wait. Sharin Foo is as gorgeous in real life as the album covers and her musical chops impress and inspire. The tent was well packed for this performance and rightfully so. This group lived up to the hype machine.
Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes
Featuring the former Ima Robot frontman, this was one of the few bands, along with Phoenix, who really did a stellar job at the Outdoor theater, the smaller of the two outdoor stages at Coachella. There are about 45 people in the group and they all do a great job being…magnetic. Mr. Sharp, Alex Ebert, is a great band leader and had the crowd singing along to well-known now-“classics” like “Home” from their debut album Up From Below.
Let me put on my hippy-hat (which was in fine company amongst other hippies that weekend) and say that this group engaged the audience with a unique energy rare among other acts at this festival. It could all just be “part of the act” but if it was, I’d like to see more bands adopt the positive vibes this group emit.
FlyLo, as he is sometimes known, entertained the tent with humility, tight energy and a magnificent set. Seeing this guy live was one of the definite high points of the crazy weekend. I’d had a chance to listen to his new album Cosmogramma (dropping May 5th) and hearing his live interpretation of one of this year’s best albums was out there man, super groovy. The lasers and awesome live video performance (courtesy some guy on the side of the stage) really added to the trippy dubstep-dance hybrid Flying Lotus is pioneering. Get his new album if you have a chance and want to expose yourself to new sounds courtesy guest artists like Thom Yorke and samples of ping pong balls, jazz and string hits.
Waiting for Gary Numan⎯who never showed up⎯and instead seeing Yann Tiersen is an interesting occurrence. I walked into the Mojave tent to a flurry of furious bow strokes of an excited Tiersen and his band of merry harmonizers. The Frenchman’s acking band did a spot-on job of hitting the right notes in the right mix for a really welcoming experience. However, the sound of Little Boots beckoned me next door, into the Gobi.
Victoria Hesketh, Little Boots, proclaimed “We flew through a fucking volcano to get here tonight,” referencing the Eyjafjallajökull glacier’s volcanic ash cloud that prevented several across-the-pond artists from landing in Indio. She said this as she ramped up the crowd with songs like “New In Town” a song I vaguely remember seeing a music video for. Her stage performance and lack of pants, combined with a British accent made for one of the more alluring of the British artists at Coachella. Her opening number, replete with Gypsy-inspired headware and dancing, made for some interesting contrast with the rest of her set, but a welcome one nonetheless. For the record, this lady has some really smooth keyboard skills—or she pretends to, at least.
The Big Pink
This set was one of the best performances I have ever seen from a British group. Listening to their latest album, A Brief History of Love, on the way to the festival through sobriety checks, getting lost in Barstow and running into the darkness of the Mojave made it all the more rewarding to see the group play the whole thing through live. In fact, this album played soundtrack to the whole experience, there and back. Seeing the group meld the oft-times un-meld-able elements of solid rock and the electronic was one of the highlights of this year’s Coachella.
The band also didn’t clear out the pit so I sat pretty close to the stage and a speaker that tried to rip my middle out with vibrations. This is where earplugs come in handy. The lights for this show, some blue and purple, but mostly just flashes of pure white and darkness contrasted perfectly with the driving drums provided by the cutest drummer I have ever seen (sorry Lindsay Heath, this was a perfect Asian rhythm master, something I’ve never witnessed before). See this band when you have the chance. You’re welcome.
“Heaven Can Wait “ played as I entered the venue that day and I aimed right at the Gobi tent to catch Charlotte’s set. That favorite song, from her new Beck-produced album IRM, made me feel right at home for my second venture into the world of light and sound. She sang some tunes from her Dad’s catalog and overall looked really stunning with shakers in hand and a finger or two on her keyboard.
This outfit from the UK did not disappoint me, not even a bit. The sounds from their debut album came through sparklyingly garage-y and was literal music to my ears. There was something about all the UK groups at this festival that made me yearn for just a biiit more shaking up in the American scene. Listen to their self-titled to really get a handle on this very important group.
Ra Ra Riot
Last time I saw these guys they were playing in a venue that most people think of as garage-sized aka Kilby Court. As I wrote in the review of that concert, they’re going places and they were. Their first album was widely hailed. And I still have a crush on their cellist. Damn.
Echo and the Bunnymen
Sometimes seeing 80s idols dragged from Liverpool, or wherever the hell they go to fade away, and dressed up for a stage can be disconcerting for younger audiences. Somehow the image in my head of this iconic group didn’t fit with their on stage performance. Maybe that’s how the band really was, I’m not sure. It helps that Ian McCulloch was pretty blotto during his set and said something along the lines of “This is the best rock song ever fucking written,” before they broke into the beginning of “Killing Moon.” Now that, is fucking rockstar, no matter what era you pronounce the statement in.
I had a curious fascination with the ska revival of the mid-90s and hung out with enough skankers (hold the ex-girlfriend jokes, please) in that era to really appreciate seeing some of the old-school fuckers do it proper. The Specials were really great, even though some of their members were sporting more than the usual amount of Coachella headliner-status grey hair.
Later, as I was wandering behind some of the stages looking for an elusive “Free Cigarette Tent” (a seeming contradiction, I know), I saw some overflow from the stages leaving and singer Neville Staple hopping into a van with the rest of The Specials. I said, “That was a nice set,” in a journalistic way with outstretched hand and the man said something back, as he gave me a soulshake⎯something I will never forget: “Respect. One Love.” That was all. It made me want to immediately smoke a spliff in honor of my third wave ska friends from high school and my own fascination with the genre.
Little Dragon swung through our town just weeks before landing in Indio for Coachella 2010 and they didn’t dissappoint at any of the venues I’ve seen them at. Though the surrealistic view of Yukimi Nagano backlit by the light bouncing off palms behind her really made for a perfect setting for their smooth tunes⎯trumping the black curtain that served as scenery at the last club I saw them in. I would marry this woman if I wasn’t against marriage and was really into Asians⎯she is that adorable.
Part III || The Arts Festival
On the way to Indio I took my preferred method of travel⎯automobile⎯and traveled as I often have on the stretch of highway between Utah and California (I-15) at 90 mph and above. My female companion/driver actually exceeded 100 mph, something I couldn’t pull off without fear after being pulled over by two California Highway Patrolmen and sobriety tested on the way out of Vegas. I had been using Tea Tree extracts on the way down, what for is another tale entirely, and they asked my companion as I was looking at a moving finger in front of my face if we had any “Pot” in the car. I guess the pigs were not well-versed in the difference between essential oils sourced from Australian trees and the smell of bud. Of course we didn’t have any Pot. Who the hell smokes Pot these days? Maybe 60 year olds, I suppose. Those coppers almost got us with that trick question! This incident, along with a snow storm on our heels, made the journey out of the mountains and into the desert a more interesting experience. Bits of metal spewing toxic air and speeding about beautifully-marred landscapes and Pigs in those same containers always sets me on edge⎯it’s still better than being in a airplane⎯and at the edge of the concert grounds I realized that all the intensity of the long drive was slowly fading as the strains of music and merriment floated, as it does⎯first into one ear then another⎯and my brain locked on a location for the mysterious noises. I followed them into a land of music and also Art. Instillations from artists ranging from Paris to Russia via San Francisco dotted the Polo Grounds, providing introspective glimpses into the mind of the modern artist corps.
Cubatron by Day
It is fitting that a town bearing the same name (Menlo Park, CA) as the place where Thomas Edison invented the light bulb (albeit in New Jersey) is also home to the creation known as Cubatron L5. This “opto-kinetic sculpture,” comprised of 5,000 colored LED lights, feels as innovative to the immersed viewer as witnessing Edison crank out enough power to fuel his original incandescent light must have to those first viewers, I’d imagine. These new school lights, courtesy artist Mark Lottor, drove those interested in extreme lighting effects in as a winged bug to a zapper. Zap! Zap! Zap, they went down in front, stunned by these lights forming moving lines, 3-D bubbles of changing color and whatever extra tracers that are formed by imbibed substances.
This is one of the coolest fucking things I have ever seen and I was stone cold sober when I saw it. I can’t imagine what people tripping were viewing. The display was also right next to what I call the “DJ Tent,” the Sahara, where people like Infected Mushroom, Benny Benassi, deadmau5, and Orbital were performing.
It was this kind of immersive experience that changes the weekend from mere music festival to ART festival. And art of the instillation kind⎯my favorite. It also happens to be easily transported art that wheels itself around to different festivals, sometimes literally…
The Reel Mobile
The Reel Mobile, a creation from some very kindly Russian artists from San Francisco is an example of an instillation that will see time at Burning Man this year and happens to transport itself around. A short bus with giant neon-LED-lit tape reels that turn in the night and also provide a nice area to chill around seems like a given when music and nighttime are factors. Also situated by the DJ tent, many “Cubatron L5-type” people were plopped around the area and basking in the otherworldly glow of the giant reeled creation that invited curiosity.
Co-creator Slava Leonov was kind enough to give SLUG a tour and an explanation, ultimately leading us to assume that there isn’t really any purpose to the vehicle other than what you see: a good time. One can only imagine what this vehicle looks like in the Black Rock desert of northern Nevada⎯a seemingly natural environ for this reeled-beast that roams about when it is free of the human tethers/viewers that the space limitations of Coachella imposed on it.
Video Of ReelMobile At Coachella 2010
Balloons, 50 LEDs and industrial line keep the most free-ranging exhibit I’ve ever witnessed floating in the air all weekend long. Several teams of people walked about with balloon-elevated lights (that occasionally got trapped in tents and in other rigs) and what can be described as “aerial art” their guide. It is still inspiring to know that artists can create something huge and expansive with an⎯apparently⎯relatively inexpensive system. This New York based collective of artists had a devil of a time not tangling but it was worth it for the inventiveness and well-executed display that resulted.
You can see the skyline display floating over the Do Lab dance venue in the Do Lab section below. See those little blue lights floating? That’s Skyline.
The Energy Factory Sweatshop Mixer
Courtesy The Global Inheritance
Seeing people power their own music is one of the most awe-inspiring eco trends I’ve ever seen. I’m a huge fan of this sort of thing and watching it live is great. Check out the video to see what I mean and visit their site for more info.
Notice the people on the bottom right of the video riding bikes to power the display.
The Do Lab
This group has been at Coachella for six years now providing a nighttime dance place and a day time chill lounge. Tons of cool DJs were spinning there like
The crowd also got misted as is appropriate for a place with the slogan “The Do Lab’s Misting Oasis. Water poured down from the ceiling and helped cool out the hot dance crew. It also provided a welcome oasis in the middle of the field.
Part IV || Coachella’d
As the sounds of the Gorillaz set¾the last performance of Coachella 2010¾played on my exit of the polo grounds I began the process of making sense of everything. I really had a lot to think about. One can’t just digest everything seen in three days that easily. I will still unwrap facets of bands/artists I was introduced to at the festival in the years to come, I believe.
Ultimately, if you’re thinking about a road trip to Indio, or any other summer time festival, plan right, make sure you have your priorities straight and above all––jump in, have a fuckin riot, and think later.