Every April of every year since 1999, located in the desert landscape of Indio, California, one of the biggest, most popular music festivals is held and exuberantly celebrated by thousands. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. What makes this particular festival an attraction worth investing and planning derives from the fact that it hosts a multitude of genres. From hip-hop (both mainstream and underground), to various forms of rock ‘n roll, to soulful R&B, to electronic dance music, and to something you’ve never heard of before, or even fathomed to be possible (such as the Lucent Dossier Experience, a group which incorporates a Cirque-du-Soleil-type of performance with ambient, emotionally driven songs). Not only does the festival comprise of popular artists and bands, but also unknown talent primed for the breakthrough of their lifetime. I remember seeing Kendrick Lamar a couple of years back, in the early Friday afternoon on the main stage, performing songs off his “Section.80” album prior to the rise to fame and consistent radio play. Same with Disclosure a year ago, before “Latch” became a huge and well-known hit. While the majority flocked to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers rock out on the last day, I managed to watch them close out the festival in the Mojave tent, ending their set with the recently renowned, hit song and earning my love for their unique, soulful, and upbeat sound forever. I’m not trying to be one of those guys who preach about hearing a certain artist or group before they “made it big” and claiming to be a fan prior to their ascent to superstardom. Where I’m driving at is that whoever ultimately decides who performs annually at Coachella does an amazing job of assembling such extraordinary, musical talent. This year was no exception.
So here’s a review of this year’s Coachella (weekend one), from just one perspective out of many:
Day One began at the Outdoor Stage, where A$AP Ferg and his crew performed a hype-driven set as puffs of marijuana smoke rose like separate clouds to the sky above the head-bobbin’ audience. Drugs and music festivals go together like pigs in a chocolate chip blanket, and the security check-points I had encountered before entering the festival were very lenient, regarding pat-downs and bag inspections.
Although the heat wasn’t as ruthless as previous years, the desert sun was noticeable enough to have an effect when I was immersed with a large crowd. So my group and I made our way toward the Mojave Tent, where Aloe Blacc was slated to perform. Since we had to traverse all the way to the other side of the festival, I took the time to observe my surroundings and soak in the fact that this would be my home away from home for the next three days. Despite the amazing artists billed to take their particular stage this weekend, the artwork displayed and presented was awe-inspiring and riveting. A gigantic astronaut slowly meandered its way through the festival, built with remarkable ingenuity as its arms and fingers moved and contorted with life-like precision and it’s reflective face-shield changed every so often to different faces, including the universally known yellow, smiley face. A giant robot stood in the middle of the park, along with a colossal rainbow-colored lightweaver that looked like an enormously colorful infinity sign, an area of large mirrors which changed colors were assembled near the Main Stage, and much more. I mean, they didn’t call it The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for no apparent reason.
When we reached the Mojave Tent, I couldn’t help but move my feet and groove with the beat as Aloe Blacc passionately sung with a live band that was so funky even the groups of shirtless, buff bros didn’t know what the fuck to do but stand there and bob their heads. Of course, his commercial hits such as “Wake Me Up” and “The Man” drew fans to take out their cellphones to record some video footage and sing along with the artist, but his other ballads portrayed such positive and inspirational energy that you just couldn’t help but smile and dance. There was even a break during one of his songs, when he commanded us to hug those who you love and appreciate, causing everyone to affectionately show their particular group how much they meant to each other. A moment that encompasses a predominant theme that translates through all musical experiences whether their concerts or festivals, which is an experience that’s shared with the ones you love, forever.
Up next was Bastille, a London-based rock band which captivated the airwaves and sparked a rash of remixes with their hit, “Pompeii”. Aside from that song, I admit I didn’t do my research prior to watching them, but another side of me wanted to be pleasantly surprised. And holy shit, did they blow me away. Dan Smith’s powerful, yet soothing voice behind an intricately composed, melodic rock riffing sound delivered with such emotional power. Most of their ballads were sentimental, introspective pieces which turned down the crowd just a bit, Smith’s hypnotizing vocals had impressed me with his range capabilities and evoking a feeling relating to each song. Their second to last song was “Of The Night”, inducing the crowd into a frenzy and got the party started as the sun began to set.
The rest of the night was spent primarily at the Main Stage, positioning ourselves for the feature performance we had been anticipating since the lineup was released in January, Outkast’s reunion. Ellie Goulding delivered a flawless performance, while Chromeo rocked the crowd with their electronically funky sound (Boy, do I love me some talk box action). Girl Talk, a DJ who had played in past Coachellas and finally got a slate on the Main Stage, demonstrating an uncanny ability to blend various songs from different genres in order to create mash-ups that you never thought could be possible (The instrumentals of Cure’s “Melt With You” mixed with the lyrics of Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” like wow). Plus, attending Coachella meant being susceptible to numerous surprise guest appearances. Girl Talk did just that, bringing out Juicy J, Busta Rhymes, E-40, and Too $Short.
Alas, the moment we all had been waiting for finally arrived, as Outkast took the stage to end the night, kicking off their set with “Bombs Over Baghdad”. Of course, I was completely in awe, seeing Andre 3000 and Big Boi grace the stage together after being apart for almost a decade was something I didn’t think was imaginable. I felt like we were all inside of a time machine, as they took us down nostalgia road with their influential hits from “ATLiens” and “Aquemini”. What struck me as odd, and perhaps a hint of disrespect, was when people started to leave during their performance. Of course, the majority of these defectors were young folks on the brink of their twenties, and yes, some of the songs on those albums were introspective pieces with slow tempos. But, come on! These albums received an overwhelming amount of critical acclaim, being classified as genius and brilliant. Mind-stimulating hip-hop which touched the soul. Recorded artistic innovation. I couldn’t help but shake my head in utter disappointment as these kids walked out while Andre 3000 and Big Boi performed “Da Art of Storytellin'”. Fortunately, I wasn’t going to let their poor taste deter me from enjoying something historical. Outkast covered almost their entire discography, from Stankonia to Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Special guest appearances included the always dynamic and enthusiastic Janelle Monae and the rising star Future.
Day Two commenced with Kid Cudi, who is notoriously known for bad performances (i.e. Audiotistic 2010). With an elaborate stage set up which looked like a mix between Superman’s hideout and the Agro Crag from Nickelodeon’s Guts, he actually put on a good show. Being a huge fan of his “Man on the Moon: The End of Day” album, I was ecstatic when he performed “Cudi Zone” (as well as other tracks from the album and “Man on the Moon: The Legend of Mr. Rager”) and so were the people surrounding me.
We then trekked over to the Outdoor Stage, where a Los Angeles based indie pop group called Capital Cities was jamming out. Their rendition of “Stayin’ Alive” had a modern twist to it and with great emphasis on the trumpet, giving their overall sound some distinguished class and funk. And their hits “Kangaroo Court” and “Safe and Sound” got the crowd grooving until their set was over. On the same stage, the 17 year old, pop phenomenon Lorde was up next. She mesmerized the packed crowd with her captivating, powerful voice behind a minimalist, electronic pop sound. But during the middle of her set, I left and ventured toward the Main Stage. I settled on a spot near the right side of the stage in anticipation for Foster the People. After listening to their album, “Torches”, I instantly became a huge fan of their melodic, groovy pop and rock sound. And if you haven’t had a chance to see them live, do so immediately. Mark Foster, the group’s vocalist, has quite impeccable range behind his unique, vibrant voice. He also plays a number of instruments during his set, such as the guitar, the keyboard/piano, and also helps a bit with percussion/drums. Along with performing many hits from their “Torches”, which including long, drawn out bridges to feature solos from different instruments (pure awesomeness), they debuted a new song as well.
As the night engulfed the sky, so did strong gusts of wind. Similar to what I experienced during the third day of last year’s Coachella, but not as violent. Yet, not only had it greatly effected us, but also the artists. Pharrell Williams had to hand over his mic at the end of his set because his voice was being damaged by the sandy winds. But I have to give it up to the man, despite the nuisance (he even cursed it and blamed it for disrupting his performance), he arguable had one of the best sets of the festival. The live band sound definitely made the musical experience so much better, and so did the plethora of surprise guests (Nelly, Snoop Dogg, Chad (N.E.R.D.), Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Gwen Stefani, Diplo, etc.). Knowing how much Pharrell has greatly contributed to the music industry in regards to production, his set had firmly established his greatness. I couldn’t help but sing and dance to every single one of his songs, definitely recapturing the powerful feelings of nostalgia similar to what I felt during Outkast’s performance. And after attempting to sing and failing once again, he gave away his microphone and brought up a few lucky fans from the V.I.P. section to join him on stage to dance to “Happy”.
The final performance I decided to watch was Nas. Again, the wind had an influence. The video screen he intended to use could only be raised halfway. But despite the lack of cooperation from Mother Nature, Nas forged on. Jay-Z drove the crowd into utter hysteria when he made an appearance and performed “Dead Presidents”, talk about classic hip-hop at its finest. Even Diddy showed up for the heavy-hitting jam “Hate Me Now”. Both artists gave Nas much deserved credit for taking hip-hop on a whole different level, and he demonstrated it by delivering an incredible show packed with introspective, lyrically poetic songs derived from his career and life experiences.
The final day of the festival began with a Justin Bieber siting during Chance the Rapper’s set, mustering no positive reaction from me but confusion. But hey, that’s how much Coachella is well known in the music industry. Due to the amount of excess substances I had left, the majority of Day Three was spent at the Sahara Tent. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the Sahara Tent is the staple for all EDM DJs. It could also be described as a festival within a festival, just the line-up of this tent alone could be a great on its own. Inside of this tent, you don’t need to worry about the energy of the crowd because it will always remain at full throttle.
Showtek displayed their diversifying sound, from hardstyle to progressive house to bass-thumping electro. Krewella performed next, and wow, was I amazed. The group consisted of two leading ladies (Jahan and Yasmine Yousaf) and Kris “Rain Man” Trindl. Yet Kris was missing in action due to illness, forcing the duo to the take turns DJing while singing their songs. And man, did they bring it. They even changed the pace with an acoustic sound prior to closing out their set with another headbanger. If I had an opportunity to see another performance again from this year’s lineup, it would have to go to these lovely ladies. Following Krewella, was Alesso, who has become widely known internationally since breaking into the scene about a couple of years ago. He set included his hits, along with a new song featuring Ryan Tedder. He constantly spoke to the audience, enjoying himself and making his performance much more intimate. Clearly, the energy in the Sahara Tent was at max capacity.
The electronic theme of the day continued over at the Main Stage for Calvin Harris, who is now one of the most renowned and recognized DJs in the world, with multiple hits that constantly fill the American airwaves. It was insane seeing how much EDM has grown and influenced modern music over the last few years. I mean, just four years ago, Calvin Harris wasn’t well known in the United States. And now, he’s an icon. I would say there were thousands of people there to watch his set, and it’s always a pleasure watching that many people dancing their heart out at the same time. He mostly played his current hits, along with progressive beats and a few cuts of his old stuff (i.e. “Flashback”).
After wondering around the festival for an hour after Calvin performed, taking in the last few moments of a wonderful place which I called by home for the past weekend, I caught some of Disclosure’s. Special guests included Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith, who performed his collaborative hit song “Latch”. Again I was taken aback by how much popularity and recognition this group had gained over the years, like I mentioned earlier in this review. And then I migrated back to the Sahara Tent, and closed out the festival with Duck Sauce at Quackchella.
Overall, it was another magical and memorable time spent in Indio. I felt that this year’s line-up was packed more with great talent, since most of the artists I wanted to see performed in the early afternoon on each day. The diversity and unity derived from this festival is extraordinary due to wide range of musical genres. Perhaps like any other festival, you see the most beautiful people in the world gathered in one place. Also, watching how the artists performed and interacted with the audience, I could tell they were having a great time. Some even voiced their opinion, stating Coachella was the best festival in the world. And the amount of special appearances this year was spectacular, clearly it just gets better and better every year.
I’m sure your social media feed is filled with people experiencing Coachella withdrawals for days and weeks, that’s because it is that special.
Photo Source: craveonline.com