With the second day of music behind us, the world of Coachella continues to drift into focus. The vibes have been mostly chill, but most festival veterans have said that they detect an underlying aggression in this year’s crowd that feels new, making each journey through the sea of sort-of-sunburnt flesh a harrowing experience. Simply put, there are a lot of bros at Coachella, and a lot of them don’t like it when you step in front of them to take some pics.
That being said, even the most entitled white twentysomethings open up like lotus flowers when MGMT hits the stage — especially if they’ve had some MDMA. This all pretty much consistent with the festival’s (and pop culture’s) semi-resurgent flirtation with psychedelic culture; most of Saturday’s performers’ visuals featured trippy lights and swirls, from MGMT’s giant shiny shrimp-man to Foster the People’s tie-dye, primordial, pulsating, and ooze- reflecting imagery. All of this might beg larger questions about youth culture’s relationship to drugs, but those don’t really seem like questions that matter. The larger reality about Coachella, or perhaps its larger ethos, seems to have much to do with roles and access.
There are something like 620 different types of wristbands at Coachella, each with different permissions and access levels and bathrooms (or at least bathroom lines). The right wristband grants one access into a gated-off viewing area in the front of the stage (but to the side). Some wristbands get you backstage; others get you into a special beer garden. But despite the metaphorical velvet rope, everyone at Coachella sees the same sets, and experiences the same music, and frankly they all dress the same, too. (Yes, there are still throngs of dudes in tank tops in the VIP area.)
It is, ultimately, the music which is solely responsible for Coachella’s sense of unity or cultural one-ness, and at this point, it doesn’t make much sense to scoff at the notion that this is the best music festival in the world. And what ultimately proved this to me wasn’t the lineup, or the guest list, or the celebrity sightings (of which I had only one, that being the black guy from CSI). It’s the performances, delivered by artists who seem to truly believe that Coachella is the world’s largest stage.
Despite a disappointedly early set time, both Foxygen and Ty Segall gave Saturday afternoon performances that might’ve brought a tear to the eye of a guitar-music purist. Looking back on my notes, I can make out the phrase “This is what a music festival should feel like” under the words “Foxygen/Segall.”
Los Angelino Banks appears to have picked up some serious buzz, with the media tent all but clearing out before her set at the nearby Gobi stage. She was a good steward of her time in the spotlight, exhibiting a significantly improved stage presence and swagger since her set in support of The Weeknd at the Santa Barbara Bowl last summer.
Glasgow’s Chvrches were an utter delight, soaring through a large portion of their debut, The Bones of What You Believe, while also allowing producers Iain Cook and Martin Doherty off leash to deliver massive, beautiful dance beats and breakdowns. Meanwhile, singer Lauren Mayberry dispensed some od the day’s more charming between-song chats.
Heeding the advice of knowledgeable sources, a decision to watch as much of Future Islands’ set as possible before heading over to see MGMT proved an utter delight. After, the first few seconds of “Electric Feel” set the crowd massed at the main stage into a frenzy — before they almost all universally migrated back to the Outdoor Theatre to see Lorde for a variety of reasons. Said one concert-goer, “There’s going to be tons of basic bitches at Lorde”.
Pharrell would make good on the crowd’s tacit understanding that he’d make good with his main stage slot, facilitating a Hollywood Squares-esque performance that featured cameos by Tyler the Creator, Gwen Stefani, Diplo, Snoop Lion, Busta Rhymes, P. Diddy, and Nelly. It might have felt egomaniacal if he hadn’t simply been performing all of his largest singles. Notable exclusion from this list? A certain duo of French robots from Skateboard P’s performances of “Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance,” which makes this music journalist think that they will almost assuredly make a cameo next week (especially with long-time associate DJ Falcon also on this year’s line-up).
Nas brought out Jay-Z for two songs (“Dead Presidents,” “Where I’m From”), which seemed bizarre given the fact that they had a better song that they could have performed (“Black Republican”) and because of the somewhat lackluster introduction and reception he got. Also of note: Beyoncé also made an appearance, joining sister Solange on stage for a dance duet that made the crowd go insane — but only if you were already there to witness it.
Both Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s appearances felt like Easter eggs, rather than X Box releases, a refreshing phenomena no doubt induced by the lack of cell service throughout the polo fields. Interestingly, I’ve come to realize that there is such thing as “Coachela buzz,” and it’s often misinformed. Case in point: Apparently Miley Cyrus was going to make an appearance during Girl Talk’s already star-studded set. I just assume that means they’re saving it for weekend two.
Overall, Saturday felt entirely more organized than Friday, at least from a crowd management perspective, evidencing again that having the entire festival focused on OutKast’s set may have been a bad idea. Of course, there’s no way to see everything at Coachella, but I’m thankful for what I have seen. Queens of the Stone Age inflated my lungs with their hard-hitting rock goodness, and reminded me why we fell in love in the first place, and Skrillex brought a spaceship on stage, in turn creating some sort of post-apocalyptic mass media slaughter house. But I missed Beyonc Beyoncé, I missed more than half of Pharrell, and I missed Washed Out. The goal with Coachella, it seems, is to make it a weekend that’s entirely yours. If done right, it could feel like a romantic getaway between a music lover and music. I think I’m starting to get this now. And I haven’t even done molly yet.