With more than 80 bands on the bill, sales figures shooting into the hundreds of thousands, and some of the greatest names in contemporary music in support, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has cast shadows over the Southern California deserts for the past eight years. For one weekend out of the year, music junkies from all walks and genres suspend their discomfort with 100-degree weather and $8 bottled water for the most immersive cultural experience music has to offer. The very elements themselves seem to conspire on the sun-sweltered fields into a survivalist challenge that Jack London himself could appreciate.
But even nature can’t stop insatiable Coachella fans, who declared their desire for more after last year’s festival, prompting concert coordinators Goldenvoice to tack on a third day to the usual two. Headlining that extra day? A little band by the name of Rage Against the Machine. Also headlining this year are Bjrk, Interpol, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Arctic Monkeys on day one; Red Hot Chili Peppers and Arcade Fire on day two; and, finally, Rage Against the Machine, Manu Chao, Air, and Paul van Dyk on Sunday.
But the headliners aren’t the only reason to get excited, since the side-stages and sub-headliners cater to fans of every rock genre. Dance-rock lovers will swoon for LCD Soundsystem; Kaiser Chiefs; the Good, the Bad, and the Queen; and Rapture. Reggae and dancehall fiends can find satisfaction from Manu Chao, Stephen Marley, and Jr. Gong.
My personal recommendations include Sonic Youth, Of Montreal, the Nightwatchman (Tom Morello’s side project, for anxious Rage fans), Peter Bjorn and John, Explosions in the Sky, the Decemberists, Tokyo Police Club, and Willie Nelson. And the list goes on. But don’t be put off by unfamiliar bands. In a year or two, the band names in microscopic font on the bill will likely turn into a wish list of headliners. One look at the lineups from years past will prove it.
For frontman Brian Molko of Placebo, however, this is nothing to get excited about. In his 10 years traveling with the alt-rock trio, he’s seen his fair share of festivals, and, though Placebo has never felt the Coachella grass beneath its feet, he and his band are confident about their scheduled third-day performance.
“It seems like an American Glastonbury,” came the sleepy British-accented voice over the phone, referring to the largest annual music festival in the world, held in Pilton, England. Recently awakened from a nap, the singer’s voice stretched and yawned, as if in defiance of the excitement surrounding Coachella. “Of course we’re excited to be playing. The only thing missing from the lineup is David Hasselhoff, right?”
Placebo continues to tour its latest studio effort, Meds, released just over a year ago. When the topic of new material came up, Molko was dispassionate. “We’re not really working on anything new,” he said, going on to comment on how the Internet piracy craze has the band’s members dragging their feet on recording new music. Placebo, it seems, is not immune to the detriments of downloading music.
“It doesn’t really affect my motivation to create music, but live performances have changed. The days of everyone experiencing an album together for the first time are over,” he said, recalling his own experiences with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. “Now, everyone has heard everything months ahead of time.”
There’s certainly no question whether piracy has removed some of the enchantment from the stage, but festivals like Coachella will always be around to put stars back in the eyes of the jaded. If you have it in you to endure the heat and the crowds, you’ll find the heart of music waiting for you. Sell an organ, break out of jail, or pawn your roommate’s laptop-just get there.