Coachella‘s prominence goes untested. The ultimate spectacle.
Critiqued by many and understood by few.
The festival has built a reputation around the flash and allure of larger than life bookings, prime-time selfie moments and fleeting moments of shock and awe (Tupac hologram, anyone?) Ask any of the festival’s attendees and they’ll tell you it’s the best weekend of their life.
Ask those watching from home and they’ll likely tell you it’s vastly overrated. This year’s headliners were almost an exercise in the current state of pop music: with two of the three fitting the current musical zeitgeist like a baseball nestles into a glove.
Not to mention, Beyoncé once again solidified the festival as having some of the biggest bookings in the US to date.
But alas, Coachella’s true intrinsic value — at least to those who are snide enough to call themselves “festival veterans” — likely lies in its unpredictability.
The niche aspects of the festival can range anywhere from the festival’s thorough underground dance programming via the Yuma tent to punk and psychedelic acts wreaking havoc in the festival’s nascent Sonora tent, which is still finding its footing.
Friday began in a frenzy, Greta Van Fleet rousing a storm in the Mojave tent to a heft crowd. The Led Zeppelin reincarnates had quite a bit to say about the state of rock music, despite the festival’s programming essentially confirming the genre’s demise.
Meanwhile, Kali Uchis cooked up sensuality in the heat of the Outdoor Theatre. Daniel Ceasar would follow with a mesmerizing journey into the depths of neo soul and beyond.
Vince Staples laid the groundwork for one of the festival’s most immersive hip hop sets to date, visuals ranging from a rogue savage twerking on someone’s grave to the more stoic presence of Martin Luther King and Black Panthers.
The War on Drugs saved rock and roll with their strung-out bouts of guitar frenzy, injected with Americana influenced soul twangs; it was enough to motivate even the idlest legs to spring into action.
There was a tangible momentum moving forward on Friday night, and once the sun descended below the horizon, it was time to discover Coachella’s nooks and crannies.
The night played host to a variety of flavors. First up, the injected subculture and funk influence of Detroit Love (aka Moodymann, Kyle Hall and Carl Craig). The trio paid due homage to the godfathers of soul; Sun Ra, George Clinton and other forefathers of the genre, as well as showcasing rave classics such as Eurhythmics “Sweet Dreams”.
Friday night also played host to an electrifying set from techno auteur Maceo Plex and one of the weekend’s biggest dance parties in Soulwax. Triple the drums, triple the fun.
Saturday’s showcasing of Beyoncé solidified it as the day of spectacle, but festival-goers found interesting pockets outside of the pop icon’s rare showing, as well.
David Byrne corrupted the crowd with intense grooves; Fleet Foxes lulled us with enchanting melodies and serene sonic landscapes; X-Japan proved to be the festival’s biggest rarity, hitting the Mojave tent with a palpable verve unmatched by any of the bands at Coachella this year. X-Japan’s showing was full of a wide range of pyrotechnics, holograms of deceased band members and even a daunting mosh pit near the end of the performance. For those seeking some out of the ordinary, it might have been the weekend’s most compelling effort.
Sunday’s highlights included breaks from the sun into the shaded Yuma tent for acts like Omar-S, Kölsch, Peggy Gou, Talaboman, and Motor City Drum Ensemble. All of which testified to their crowds that techno must evolve in order to maintain its relevancy, and evolve it has.
The evening concluded with stellar sets from stadium size acts like Miguel, Odesza, and Portugal. The Man, but with apt room for the nuanced grooves of The Drums, who had the entire Mojave tent dancing about to their saccharine candor.
Coachella is full of surprises, and weekend 2 is perhaps the only weekend to dig deep into the depth the festival has to offer. Without the hordes of selfie stick-wielding teens anxiously awaiting the next instagrammable moment, there is more room to breath, more room to explore. For music veterans seeking a tangible and jam-packed musical experience, it’s a must-attend experience.
All photos credit to Getty Images