Coachella didn’t change overnight. There has been talk of change for years, as fashion and celebrity culture collide with intense musical devotion in the California desert just a couple hours from Hollywood, but it has always seemed overstated. The intermingling of musical milestones, from returns in previous years of bands like Kraftwork or At the Drive-In or My Bloody Valentine, to career defining sets from Arcade Fire or Dre & Snoop, has always prevailed, even as the musical landscape appeared to change.
But has it changed? It is easy to look at the bill and see an emphasis on EDM (both Girl Talk and Calvin Harris would appear on the main stage this year) and mainstream radio fare (Lorde, Ellie Goulding, Lana Del Rey, Bastille, and Pharrell all would be given prominent sets) and think it points to a change in the music world, but Coachella could have always billed more radio-friendly acts. While Muse and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have been deemed as worthy to play to both radio and festival crowds, other acts like My Chemical Romance or Rise Against or Sublime are not. While we get Lorde and Lana this year, we’ve never seen Beyonce or Rihanna. Madonna’s one appearance came in her dance-music phase in a tent. In short, Coachella chose to stay away from the mainstream in a lot of ways, and that stance has softened more and more over the years. Perhaps the inclusions of Social Distortion last year and AFI this year say more than anything that the change isn’t so much in musical taste, but who Coachella is trying to appeal to.
On Friday, this change in the Coachella attendant had never been more apparent. Neko Case performing at just before sunset on the Outdoor Theatre showed the festival’s enduring commitment to allowing acclaimed, long-established artists a platform that speaks to their history and esteem. But the alt-country songwriter played to a mostly empty field, while Ellie Goulding receiving an exponentially larger turnout for her younger, more energetic and upbeat Coachella stage set (which was also excellent).
More disappointing was the lack of attendance for a rarity like The Replacements, a once-in-a-lifetime booking that saw the band on fire in offerings of deeper cuts, alongside a few favorites like “Androgynous” and “I’ll Be You.” The young Coachella crowd simply did not care, much happier to take in the familiar and contemporary. And so, it was artists like Bonobo, Girl Talk, and Outkast, in their first show of reunion that will see them visit every nook and cranny of the country.
Outkast’s success depends on who you talk to, with the decision to have both Big Boi and Andre 3000 offer up extensive solo runs was a favorite amongst longtime fans but found less enthusiasm amongst the more fickle Coachella attendant. Set guests Future and Janelle Monae were solid, but the rumor of Prince coming out hung over the set and made anything less than a Prince appearance feel like a let down.
Though it seemed like you needed hit songs to get much of an audience, one nice element to the day was the shrinking gap in male versus female performers. Kate Nash, complete with FIDLAR scratched into her bass, brought an all-female backing band on a day that saw a continuous stream of female performers playing what has been a boys club for far too long. This move may show progress, but the overall direction of the event does not. Ideally, Coachella wouldn’t just cater to the masses, but would maintain the festival spirit that gave The Knife the third best spot on the bill in terms of timing and stage size.
Check out Chris Garmon’s photos from day one at the festival in the gallery by clicking above, and stay tuned for coverage from day two.
1 of 27
2 of 27
3 of 27
4 of 27
5 of 27
6 of 27
7 of 27
8 of 27
9 of 27
10 of 27