Once upon a time, in a not so far away land, children reveled in laughter while trying to navigate the world and exchanged dreams like candy on Halloween. Our internal and collective happiness was less a choice and more a way of life where trials and tribulations disappeared into the infinite abyss of “the real world.” Time ceased to exist, while each day was approached with a childlike sense of wonder and amazement in search of what we could create and how we could collaborate. Social media meant knocking on your friends door and asking if they could come to play, writing on a wall was passing notes in class and instead of finding the right filter or caption to capture the memory, we were fully present – we had no option not to be; we marinated in the moment and savored every second.
Months, years, sometimes even decades would come and go but those little hopes that manifested into full on daydreams stayed as much a part of us as our arms, legs, head and toes. You could cover those dreams up – shove them into a corner of your brain and refuse to recognize them…you could dismiss them, refer to them as a lofty venture from a lifetime ago or the flippant figments of your youth. But that would be missing the point of life. No matter how big or small – those dreams of our youth are the backbone of our ethos, they’re the heartbeat that drives us and the underlying reason we care so deeply about what we contribute to this world and how we leave our mark.
Call your dreams by whatever name you want – but call them; call a spade a spade and a dream a dream. Call your dreams loudly and proudly in the name of manifesting your own magic in this dance we call life. Call them out loud because to not acknowledge your dreams is to cut your life short while you’re still living it. In a million different ways with a thousand different faces, from the artists and headliners, stage managers and photographers, videographers and lighting designers, writers, press and even festival attendants – Coachella is full of the evolution of the children who refused to let go of their dreams.
Boasting a vibrant history, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is the perfect place for both musicians and music lovers to see and be scene. Now in it’s 17th year, the festival stands proudly as a kaleidoscope of internationally acclaimed auditory and artistic talent for the tried and true audiophiles to the average music maven, on down to anyone with a single iota of instrumental inclination and a thirst for auditory adventures. In beautiful juxtaposition of musical memories in the making at Coachella, the entirety of Indio fosters a deep cultural history that reaches back somewhere between an epoch and an eon.
For at least the last 5,000 years, the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians has carved their community into the rolling desert landscape surrounding Palm Springs. At first glance a barren area, the Agua Caliente capitalized on the mystical and sacred hot springs, known in their native tongue as ‘Se-Khi‘ – translating into ‘Hot Water’, the original name for ‘Palm Springs.’ Sprinkled throughout the desert, the clean water from the hot springs paved the way for a dynamic life in an otherwise desolate location and provided the Agua Caliente with a connection to the spiritual world that was infused into the land.
A self professed math and science nerd, I admittedly was terrible with history, but even I know what happened next: the birth of a nation and the decimation of a culture; an unfortunate domestic history that we’re too quick to dismiss, about a community either blatantly appropriated or completely ignored (personally, I’m not sure which is worse – but I digress – and will save that diatribe for another time.) After spending four days immersed in Indio, it’s still beautifully apparent that the ethos of the Agua Caliente culture and community live on deep inside the land, offering a passionate pulse and gentle pull towards greatness that resides in each step and every breath. Fast forward to our present moment and a parallel, blossoming energy thrives in that same desert – shared by our collective consciousness and reinvigorated by the flame of each new encounter.
Back in 2011, this kitten right here purchased her first ticket to a multi-day music festival, not fully understanding the implications of her chosen life path; last year, work became play, and I returned to the Empire Polo Fields under the guise of new PR job with The Confluence and this year, I was blessed with the opportunity to dive in from the media angle – making for an unforgettable weekend with some of my favorite people. My fourth appearance at Coachella, this year marked my first time at Weekend 2 and I’ll tell you what – I’ll take it: less packed and more room, fewer A-list celebrities and paparazzi style press – unless you’re aweirdos that’s into that kinda thing – and an overall feeling of relaxation; a stark dichotomy with the go-go-fucking-go nature of Weekend 1.
From world class snackables, discussion worthy fashion choices and the musical soundtrack of this very moment, Coachella has manifested into much more than a hub of artistic talent – Coachella is a time capsule of pop culture, drawing on our modern amusements while capturing our creative spirit. Not a festival for the faint of heart, or heat, each weekend of Coachella crowed with temperatures reaching well into 90s and above – which, for people like me, paved the way for super breathable fashion choices and a whole lot of hydration (the key to a long and successful weekend). For any foodies, or all around fat kids at heart, the culinary choices at the festival were tantamount to the musical lineup – with mouth watering pressed juices, scrumptious corn dogs and the obligatory Coachella watermelon.
The West Coast’s Music mecca, the festival really does offer something for everyone in your squad. Originally a five stage, one day festival – Coachella has evolved to house well over 200 different artists. Not that any of us needed additional proof that EDM has evolved from a counter culture hub to a pop culture phenomenon, but instead of strictly dominating the Sahara Tent – dance music was dispersed onto every single stage: from addition of the Yuma Stage, the ever refreshing Heineken Dome, the Silent Disco back in the campgrounds, the Dispacio – a newfangled disco den and dual lineups for the different weekends at the Do LaB stage.
Depending on how acutely or loosely you define your genres, or more accurately: how much of a douche you want to be about them, it’s arguable that anywhere from 35% to 40% of acts the lineup have their roots in dance music, especially when most of the new stages only play dance music (I’m looking at you, Yuma). Whether you’re a technophile that refuses to acknowledge there are other colors besides black and feelings besides ‘robot’, a push-button EDM enthusiast who’s only mission for the weekend is to rage face while the bass drops, a live music lover looking to be moved by emotive vocals or flat out want to go where the weird turn pro – there’s a place for you…unless you’re a trance head, but hey – can’t win them all.
The Yuma Tent had thankfully been slightly reimagined since last year. But, when I say ‘slightly reimagined’ I mean that it’s still a mindfuck of a dimly lit disco den that I perpetually wish was a roller rink (wink wink, nudge nudge), the beds in the back were a great touch – and probably a wonderful refuge during the dust storms or the hot afternoons, but I was not a fan of the disco disorientation (disco-orientation?) of the building. I only managed to make it to a few sets and admittedly left not long after walking in, every time.
Tucked away in a corner of the festival is my favorite portion, a festival within a festival at the Do LaB stage. For those in the know, the Do LaB hosts their own festivals – Lightning in a Bottle and Woogie Weekend – and it’s always beyond me having to choose between great artists. I love hanging out at the stage during Coachella because it’s almost Desert Hearts meets LiB vibe, one love that’s felt in the heart of the dance floor one stage so you never have competing underground talent, one love – and a whole lot of booty shaking, feel good bass music that fills your soul, one molecule at a time. I consider the stage my personal safety net; like Linus and his blanket – the Do LaB stage can’t be described any other way except ‘home‘. It’s a conscious community dripping with delicious drops of water and a menagerie of music fit for it’s own festival – which is about to transpire at the end of the month.
After first finding our festival bearings on Friday afternoon, it was off to the races – and by races, I mean the water misters and friendly faces at the Do LaB stage. One of the best things about being at Coachella, regardless of the stage, is that you’re going to stumble across talent that’s either brand new, or brand new to you – and you could very well be discovering your new favorite artists; that’s exactly what happened when Melvv and Ekali sandwiched an epic, live set from Autograf – both artists went from 0 to 100 in my radar, real quick. Not to dismiss Autograf by any means, as they were actually one of my personal highlights of the weekend – dance music with live instruments and stunning live vocals? Yes, please! We planned on heading out right after their set, but then Ekali took the decks….and decided to hang out for a few songs, and then dance at the back of the stage for another few more before we were actually as cold as we thought we were and went to change for the evening.
After accidentally stumbling into Jayceeoh’s set in the Heineken House instead of Doctor P, we bee-lined over to the Sahara Tent we could fuck around and order more money with G-Eazy. I only recently got into him as an artist after one of my girlfriends, who’s basically self professed in love with him, kept posting his tracks – and I’ll be the first to tell you: that’s a live show worth catching. Plus, it was refreshing getting a dose of Hip Hop on the Sahara Tent. Heading over to the Outdoor Theater for Jack Ü, I kept wishing that we were seeing Diplo x Skrillex throw down in the Sahara. Maybe I’d had enough dance music for the day, but I couldn’t get into all of their bleeps and bloops and left slightly unimpressed by two artists I thoroughly enjoy. Bouncing back to the Do LaB Stage, we got our sexy groove on as Sweater Beats wooed the crowd. I’ve seen him a handful of times before, and this was by far my favorite performance – plus, everyone loves bubbles. Hippie Sabotage shut down the Do LaB stage with a high octane performance, and a whole lot of swearing. Last but certainly not least, we culminated our Friday night with the captivating acrobatics and eccentric theatrics of the electro-cirque performance troupe, Lucent Dossier Experience headlining the Sahara Tent. A group I’ve watched grow over the time I’ve lived in Los Angeles, it was breathtaking to see them headline the Sahara Tent – and they gave one hell of a performance to boot.
All of Saturday morning, I had it planned out – get to the festival in time for Gary Clark Jr, get to the festival in time for GCJ…I’d even talked to my mom about it that morning. But even the best laid plans at festivals seem to go awry as we walked in right as he was getting into his last song. But to her token, her taste in The Arcs, HEALTH and GCJ got me a whole lot of street cred while I was waiting in line to get inside for Day 2 (thanks, Lola!). After dancing our way past the Merch booth and food stands, we wound up front and center for Sacha Robotti’s epic Dirtybird Birthday set on the Do LaB stage. Craving more live music, we took a turn back to the Coachella stage for Run the Jewels and I spent about 30 minutes trying to enjoy the set. They brought out Travis Barker and DJ Shadow, which was pretty awesome, but it just….didn’t do it for me. So, we wandered and meandered, in the search of nothing novel, just something…else. AlunaGeorge’s put on a moving show in the Sahara, and the Hotel Garuda pulled out all the stops to throw one hell of a party. If Ice Cube wasn’t performing after, we would’ve stuck around for Cut Snake – but why deny what you feel inside? For the record, worth it: Cube reunited NWA for the first time in 27 years, that’s almost my entire lifetime! As we were on our way out to catch some of Rufus dul Sol, an act that hands down everyone I ran into said I had to see, our friend Sheldon heard the unmistakable rasp of Kendrick Lamar’s voice and we literally all sprinted back to the main stage, screaming ‘ We gon’ be alright’ – because you know, we are gonna be alright. Finally, we made it to Rufus dul Sol, and I’ll hand it to all those people – that was some phenomenal live music; I definitely cried some sappy love tears during Inner Bloom, frantically texting my fiance so I could steal a moment and a kiss. We missed Zedd’s performance, but he waved to us in the Rose Garden the next day – so, that was cool. Instead, we shook our tail feathers to the bone tingling sounds of the two special guests at the Do LaB for the evening – Claptone and MK!
If the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy warns you to always have a towel, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Festival will warn you to always have your bandanna handy – you never know when a rogue dust storm will hit. Which it did, several times. As I mini-tribaled my way by Rancid’s set on Sunday, the wind would pick up every so often and by the time I reached the press tent, I overheard what I can only assume was on-site production staff or Goldenvoice softly cackled about potential 70 MPH winds that could send tents flying and shut down the festival.
But no one seemed to know, notice or care – because the Sunday Funday game was strong, and the show most definitely went on. I finally made it through a full set in the sweaty Sahara tent for Tokimonsta – and was it ever worth it. According to MIC, this year Coachella has booked 44 female lead or co-lead bands, accounting for nearly a quarter of the lineup, a festival first – and stark improvement from 16% of the bill last year, and the historically dismal disparities in gender. However that’s on the main lineup, and doesn’t account for the lack of female artists on Dance Music stages like in the Heinekin Dome, the Do LaB stage or even the Sahara Tent – where Tokimonsta was one of the few female performers alongside Nina Las Vegas, Dena Amy, AlunaGeorge and the Lucent Dossier Experience. FYI, Festivals – this girl thinks it’s dope to see a dope chick do dope things.
After a jaunt by the food kiosks for just one more corndog, we were on our way back home to finish out the night with the Do LaB. Just As KRCW’s Jason Bently finished sweetly spinning the crowd into harmonic delirium, the Stanton Warriors and Kraddy brought the bass as they left their souls on the stage that night. Each artist brought the funky fresh dance moves, Prince tributes, and overall Sunday vibes to an all around high. I hadn’t seen Stanton Warriors since they played with Krafty Kuts back in 2009, and hearing their delicious breakbeats at peak volume was music to my ears. A former, and co-founding member, of The Glitch Mob – Kraddy threw one hell of a party, fully equipped with fan and fire dancers.There was only one way to top that closing lineup, and that was with an epic Surprise set from Diplo, Jillionare and Walshy Fire as Major Lazer took over the Do LaB for one hell of a closing party – and a completely different vibe than they had on the main stage. Sorry Calvin Harris, but this was my kinda party.
Even if it’s for just one second, we’re all itching to throw our real world cares away to revel and rejoice in what it means to be free from responsibility, work and familial obligation, cutting electronic tethers and ties and forging real connection – we’re left with a wanderlust mentality that only asks ‘Where to next, ol’ friend?’ There’s nothing quite like a high frequency, family reunion with upper echelon personalities – and that’s precisely what you’ll get, if you choose to seek it. When you’ve fully engrossed yourself within a festival like Coachella, when you come to a top tier event and are surrounded left and right by people that have passionately pursued their dreams to take the stage – you would literally have to go out of your way to not be bit by their bug of inspiration, to not take a drink of that success juice.
Growing in kind with the supply and demand of dance music, and the music industry in general, the landscape of Coachella is continually changing, from individual hours spent on the Polo Fields themselves to stage count and overall capacity. Over the last decade, AEG has evolved Coachella from a multi day festival to a multi weekend festival – and with the new advent of the Panorama Festival, a sister music and arts festival in New York this Summer, the Coachella brand has become bi-coastal and even more pop culture relevant, if that was possible; yes, it’s true – even your mom has heard of Coachella.
For all the good, there are definitely still some changes that could be made. With the influx of EDM artists to other stages, I was pleased to see the Sahara Tent do things a bit differently on Friday night; from the breath of fresh lyrical air bestowed by Bay Area native G Eazy, who brought out Lil Wayne, and duo Rae Sremmurd (Drummers Ear backwards, for those not in the know). And no one in their right mind could deny the collaborative genius of Ice Cube’s gangsta party on the main stage – bringing out MC Ren, DJ Yella and Dr. Dre for the first reunion of NWA in 27 years, The Game, and Kendrick Lamar just to put the cherry on top of that sundae. Add in A$AP Rocky and Run the Jewels with cameos from Travis Barker and DJ Shadow – and it’s a fantastic subset of Hip Hop culture – with subset being the operative term. For the vast amounts of overall music at the festival, Rap and Hip Hop account for an incredibly small sliver of the talent; if women could get equal representation on the lineup, that would be wonderful – though it would also imply equal representation in the music industry – which unfortunately doesn’t exist. Stagecoach is the following weekend I wouldn’t mind a few more Country Music acts on the bill as well – hey, I’m equal opportunity.
Then, there’s my 2 part PSA for the DJs: I wouldn’t go to a Drake concert and expect him to drop a verse like Kanye, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers – so why do we enjoy seeing DJs play someone else’s tracks? I want to hear your music and experience your creative prowess, not discover that you have a great face for radio. Also, no more cop sirens in songs – sincerely, me.
The live art at the Do LaB stage is such a wonderful idea, and I would love to see any of the other 7 stages follow suit; though, I think about all you could do in the Yuma is light painting and long exposures. As for the art installations – eh. The giant lamps were back, or maybe they never left – and did you see those big fucking chairs – or, BFCs -? Right, because you couldn’t miss them. Last year’s giant butterfly was astounding, and the corporate hippos were as hilarious as they were conversation starting…but all those BFCs did was actually piss me off. Just bring back the caterpillar next year and everyone will be happy, promise.
With as packed as the event already is, the impending threat of a 25% population increase makes my non-collegiate, claustrophobic bones shake – because some sets were difficult to navigate through, or even around. Does that mean that they’ll open up more of the festival grounds? Only time will tell.
Stay tuned for even more from Goldenvoice and AEG host to Desert Trip, or Geriatric Coachella, with Bob Dylan, The Who and The Rolling Stones back at the Empire Polo Club this Fall; tickets for Desert Trip go on sale Monday, 5/9 at 10 AM. Then, in 2017, AEG and Live Nation will finally threaten Los Angeles with a good time in 2017 with the impending Arroyo Seco Music and Arts Festival at Pasadena’s famed Rose Bowl.
For more on the latest and greatest on Coachella, including their impending sale of tickets for next year’s festival – head over to their website or socials:
Keep up with former The DJ List photographer Daniel Leist in his new venture at Getty Images, for more on Daniel head to his socials.