Going to Coachella is almost an extraterrestrial experience.
Somehow, in the middle of the desert in California, an oasis exists between the mountains. Lights, sounds, people, and life fill these grounds and cultivate this seemingly ambiguous valley into a landscape where possibility is infinite. It is here, that 100,000 people, and I, raged our faces off for three epic days.
The festival grounds are covered in obscure and weird art projects that look beamed in from outerspace. Littered, almost at random, across the grounds are sculptures, figures, and creatures that come alive although only made of plaster and paint.
As you roam, the mountains surrounding you act as a barrier to the outside world. In this world, professions and occupations are left at the gates, and carelessness takes precedence. The sky turns maroon and violet as the day turns to evening, and lights caress the dark hue of night.
Meanwhile, colossal stages allure you into their midst with pulsating bass and extraordinary lights. This is where the magic of Coachella occurs. Of course, the experience of Coachella is part of the reason to make the pilgrimage to Indio, but the music is what drove me. I’ve never been to such a stacked festival in my life.
Every day, I was hit with a Mortal Combat-esque punch combination of superb musicians. To not catch every band possible, and expand your mind’s musical catalog is straight-up criminal. From 12pm to 1am, everywhere you walk, there is music drifting through the air. If there is a better feeling than walking through a festival ground barefoot, underneath the bright Californian sun, listening to music all day- I haven’t found it.
The weekend began on Friday and the morning kicked off with Zipper Club- an impressive fusion of electronic indie-rock and nostalgic dream pop band with melodies that would make Matt & Kim head back to the studio immediately after hearing the song “Going the Distance.” Next, the Lemon Twigs rocked the Gobi tent with a vigorous energy that was infectious to everyone in earshot.
The British one-two punch of Stormzy and Sampha is a music fan’s dream. I never imagined a world where I would see either of these guys, let alone within 15 minutes of one another. Stormzy attacked the Outdoor Stage with so much fury that everyone forgot about the heat for just a moment. Instead, the crowd went HARD in the paint to “One Take” and “Big For Your Boots.”
Sampha was musicianship to the highest caliber. Seamlessly sliding from building synth freak-out jam to heartfelt and majestic piano ballad to electronic banger, this guy is the future. His lyricism and delivery and tone are just second to none, and his rapping skills are nice for a guy who mostly sings. Maybe if some things go just right, Sampha could give Drake a run for his money.
It was a treat seeing The Avalanches, speaking of bands I never thought I’d see live. The live show was spectacular, featuring two rappers and enough funky beats to shake a tail feather with zero shame involved. Hearing the songs I’ve listened to off their debut album Since I Met You for years live and in person was such a dope experience. Not to mention, the new songs off of last year’s Wildflower sounded stellar. My favorites are “Because I’m Me” and “Frankie Sinatra.” The only disappointing part of the show was that Danny Brown didn’t during the latter.
By 8:50pm, the sun had set and shit was getting REAL. UK easy listening and heart-destroyers, The xx played the main stage with incredible energy. For a band that matches moods like a chameleon, Jamie xx and crew glided through their set of sad songs with sauntering and steamy style. Each song dripped with swagger, passion, and just a little bit of lust. That’s not to say that these songs are not absolutely emotionally devastating to hear, especially live. It’s just that the band performed them so coolly that dancing felt more necessary than crying.
Radiohead headlined the day and shattered any and all expectations of how earth-shatteringly good a show can be. Every. single. song. was a hit. Whether it was a deep dive into the record crate for an OK Computer track like “Exit Music (for a film)” or a new masterpiece like “Present Tense,” each song sounded like it was meant to be played live. A Radiohead show is like eating Jelly Beans, if you liked every flavor of Jelly Bean. From hearing the first chord of a song, I would audibly go, “Oh hell yeah!” like it was my favorite one. Because they all were my favorite one. Seriously, go out and see these guys. At the Kansas City show a couple weeks ago, I met a kid who drove 8 hours to see them. Are you just gonna let that kid show you up?!
Sweet, blissful, outdoor sleep took hold of me at around three in the morning. This deep, much needed sleep was a gift from the gods. Believe it or not, 15 hours in the sun, walking from stage to stage, and dancing and drinking like it was my job, is pretty exhausting. However, the California sun waits for no man. I was abruptly woken up at 8 a.m. with an ultra light beam of sunshine to the face. Hey, I’m an optimist. The early start gave me plenty of time to drink beer before the festival opened.
By the start of Saturday, my body was ready for what was to come. However, my body was a filthy liar. More to come on that soon. Anyway, early in the day, a very #rare concert was popping off at the Mojave stage. The dynamic duo of Das Racists’ Heems and famous British actor and star of HBO’s The Night Of, Riz Ahmed, combined to make up Swet Shop Boys. Through hard-hitting beats and relentlessly tough rhymes, Swet Shop Boys painstakingly described their experiences as Muslims, both in America and Europe. To hear someone rap about difficulties being trusted because of their race, or describing the level of scrutiny they receive EVERY TIME they go to an airport- it just reminds me that we are far from being perfect people. There are perspectives we don’t get to see all the time, but thanks to Swet Shop Boys, these experiences, shared by millions of peaceful people, became illuminated to me.
Next up, Mitski absolutely crushed a mid-day emo rock set. Her band does an exceptional job bringing her sad, bedroom-sung, songs to life. In person, Mitski has just as much strength as is expressed on her albums. She relentlessly performs these songs with zero regard or holding back. I swear, when she sings the chorus on “Your Best American Girl,” it’s a battle cry that is seeping with emotional depth. It’s one of those fist-in-the-air/tears-in-the-eyes songs. She is definitely not an artist to miss if she comes to your area. She will impress you, make you move, and cause you to develop a crush on her. Oh Mitski, these guys from your songs don’t deserve you.
Car Seat Headrest followed, and they were without a doubt one of the strongest sets of the weekend. Riding high off their biggest song to date, “Drunk Drivers/ Killer Whales” the band seemed casually confident. Each song choice was on-point, and sounded like it had been practiced ten thousand times. Finally, by the time the band played the hit, the one we all wanted to sing along to, they delivered it so effortlessly. Everybody left that show a very happy camper.
Funk/fusion jazz/neo-soul/avant garde weirdo Thundercat played next and saying he killed it would be a vast understatement. With his remarkable band, he electrified the crowd with his awe-inspiring bass playing. I have never seen a bass played like Thundercat does. He truly and completely blew my mind. To add a level of intrigue, I’m going to stop describing him now. Not to mention that my words won’t do the real show justice. Just get to a show and see for yourself.
Alas, around sunset, it was time to get LITTY. King of the Club banger, Future, took the Coachella stage and performed hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit. Seriously, every song was a classic jam that I’ve rapped word-for-word at parties. So it was less of a concert and more of an hour of loud karaoke. Then came time for the grimy Hoover St. Bompton rapper and TDE affiliate, ScHoolboy Q. I’ve always loved his music, but I never expected how obscenely dope his shows are. These songs hit everybody in the audience right in the turn-up bone and causes them to riot. Every hand was in the air during “Hell of a Night” and “That Part.” It looked like Panama City Beach on Spring break. Litty.
My must-see band of the weekend, Bon Iver, wowed me 50 ways to Sunday. I was blown away by the new songs, I was teary-eyed to the old, For Emma-era songs, and I ascended to heaven during “8 (Circle).” If there was a show to fully dissolve yourself into the music to, it was this one. Justin Vernon and his band create sound in the most unique ways, and deliver these sonic masterpieces that will just leave you slack-jawed. Finally, to close the set, Vernon brought Sylvan Esso singer Amelia Meath for the dantiest and most fragile performance of “Flume” I ever could’ve imagined. It was so light and airy, there wasn’t a single breath audible from the crowd.
Lady Gaga was great! I don’t care what anyone says, I danced my ass off to “Bad Romance,” and that’s what I came for. Her voice is one to be admired by everybody, whether you love or hate her. On top of that, she makes great pop music, and even for an indie kid like me, I can get down with some catchy pop. Plus, I COMPLETELY forgot how great of a song “Alejandro” is. Gaga had big shoes to fill while taking over Beyonce’s headlining spot, but her hit-count and exceptional stage value definitely made for an even trade.
I woke up in a near comatose state on Sunday. Two days of sun, music, and partying caught up to me in a big way. I stumbled out of my stuffy tent at 8 a.m. again, except this time I was not ready to take on the day. However, this is where the weak and the strong are separated. I immediately reached into my cooler and pulled out a beer and an energy drink and double-fisted those suckers while I charged my long-deceased phone. Turns out, sleep deprivation is real, kids. You need to listen to your body when it says, go to the dark, air-conditioned Yuma Tent and nap for 2 hours while you wait for the first bands to start.
Skepta was one of those acts that I don’t believe I actually saw. Sure, I was front row and have photo evidence, but it seemed so surreal to see a British-grime legend, live and in person. He performed with a cocky attitude and a cavalcade of bangers to ring out to an eager crowd. Most of the kids in the crowd were there to turn up to the next rapper up, and wondered “who is Skepta?” before he took the stage, after a couple songs, there was little to wonder. Skepta is the hardest British rapper alive.
Then came who all the kids and hypebeasts came to see, a young Philadelphia rapper named Lil Uzi Vert. Uzi is admittedly not a rapper, he is a self-proclaimed rockstar, and after seeing his show, that is the most accurate description of him. He bounces around the stage and takes on the crowd like he’s a punk singer. He delivers his lyrics with intensity and urgency, unlike most rappers. Also, he decided halfway into his set to launch himself into the crowd and perform the rest of the show from the moshpit. That’s pretty rock and roll.
Future Islands solidified one thing for me during their set, and that is this: I will travel miles and miles to see these guys perform live. I will not pass up an opportunity to watch them play. They are that good. Their songs are so dancey and full of life. Sam Herring’s voice is filled with passion, angst, intensity and fire. He battles his way through songs like a valiant warrior going up against an entire army- no fear, no repress, just sheer devotion to the cause. Each song was better than the last, and most importantly, everyone got to sing and dance their butts off to “Seasons (Waiting On You).” However, it was the two anthems off their newest album The Far Field, “Ran” and “Cave” that stood out to me. Somehow, the band has managed to elevate their sound to even higher heights from the last album. These songs are more powerful and catchy than anything they’ve ever done. Future Islands are on an ascension into fame that cannot, and will not be stopped. They said on stage that they have performed over 1100 times as a band, and that is entirely evident in their show. Catch these guys on their world tour, and you won’t regret it, I pinky promise. If you don’t dig it, you can punch me in the face.
HANS ZIMMER. I don’t think I have any other words for this performance except EPIC. I never thought I would see a 40 person orchestra and choir perform some of the most legendary film scores of all-time at Coachella at sunset. The music that set the scenes in The Dark Knight, Inception, Lion King, Gladiator, and Interstellar soared through the nigh sky and into the stratosphere. These songs are truly so massive that they could only be captured by a full band and conducted by a master like Zimmer. At every other show this weekend, dancing and singing was encouraged, but at Hans Zimmer, nobody knew what to do with their hands. For me, all I could do was close my eyes and allow the music to fill my entire being. I could hear every cymbal crash and every fluttering violin as the songs brought back memories of that movie, that scene, that feeling of seeing it for the first time. This show was absolutely and 100% better than any replication could ever be. It was one for the history books.
Closing out the festival was the man everybody came to see. Fresh off the hottest album in the country, Kendrick Lamar was easily the most heavily anticipated show of the festival. His crowd was absolutely massive and filled with every person conceivable- young, old, girl, boy, raver or hip-hop head, black or white. We were all there to see the greatest rapper in the world do his thing on the Coachella stage. K Dot kicked off the set with “DNA” an undeniable booming jam from his latest album DAMN. From there, the party lifted off the ground, literally. Kendrick at one point was performing hits like “Money Trees” elevated on a glass cube above the crowd. This performance was Kendrick’s way of definitively proving that he is the best and most fearsome rapper in the game. With his arsenal of hits, his sheer impact on rap, and furious performance, he can truly no wrong. He has created four masterpieces- Section 80, Good Kid Maad City, To Pimp a Butterfly, and now, DAMN. “Humble” was more bone-crushing live than it was when I let it ring out full volume on my car speakers (nearly breaking them.) Kendrick literally used his words to defeat a ninja attacking him with a sword- a call to the famous phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He dressed up as a samurai himself, while matched his new Kung Fu Kenny persona. After performing an intense onslaught of bangers, K Dot came back to the stage for an encore, playing “GOD” from his new album. It was an ending to a festival that is too much for words. All I can say is that the walk away from the stage once the lights turned on and Kendrick left the stage was a painful one- and not just because I was on my feet for almost all of the 72 hours I was there.
‘Coachella is more than a music festival. It’s an experience, it’s a hashtag, it’s a humble brag, and at its simplest, it might be the best damn music festival in the country. They do an exceptional job setting a lineup of incredible artists with something for everybody. There is no doubt in my mind that the Coachella Valley is a magical place, because I have seen magic there. I saw the biggest rock band, rapper, and pop star in the world play a desert filled with spaceships and 100,000 of the friendliest aliens I’ve ever met.