Archive for June, 2013

It’s been almost six weeks since I arrived back on South African shores, and yet the memories from my American adventure have not faded in the slightest.

 

The Eagle himself, standing on the hallowed ground of Coachella

The Eagle himself, standing on the hallowed ground of Coachella

 

For those who followed my trip on Facebook and Twitter, you were fortunate enough to be kept up-to-date on my comings and goings across the United States, and although I’ve updated other parts of the site (such as Portfolio and Coachella) with my professional output, I’ve yet to do a personal blog post on this wondrous journey that I embarked on.

 

As a music journalist, I believe you have to be objective yet passionate about what you’re reporting on, and I guess that attending the 2013 Coachella Music Festival under the circumstances I did was a true test of whether I was going to be able to mix business and pleasure. When you’ve thrown everything you have into pursuing a dream – time, effort, money, sanity – and it finally comes true, you’re usually ready to carry that weight of responsibility. It’s sort of like how pregnant mothers are physically prepared for childbirth, their bodies slowly readying themselves over the trimesters. Back on that Tuesday night in late January, when through a click of a button, I became the holder of a ticket to a massive festival on the other side of the world, I had next to no idea how I was going to follow through with this bizarre plan. Fast-forward almost three months later, and I found myself on that Californian field of dreams, watching some of my favourite artists playing right in front of me. Although I had the time of my life over the weekend of the 19th to the 21st of April, I never forgot why I was really there, and what my duty was as a journalist and as a South African one.

 

I actually found that I appreciated the experience of the festival probably a lot more as a reporter than if I had attended just as a fan. It’s in my nature to swim in the intimate details, to analyse and dissect the moment, and through taking comprehensive handwritten notes and capturing hundreds of photos, I solidified my memories of Coachella better than any other music event I’ve been to. Yes, I had put a lot into the trip, and knew that I had to make the most of it, but that synthesis of evidence continues to fulfil me personally, as well as make my job of reporting back on the festival a hell of a lot easier.

 

Upon my return to South Africa roughly three weeks after the festival, I began sorting through all the photos from my trip (which included many other stops along the way – more info to follow in another post) and making sense of these furiously scribbled notes. I had made sure to take down every set list and leave enough lyrical clues to work out the missing pieces, which proved to be a quite a wild goose chase, especially for some of the artists whom I had never listened to before! It was a lot of fun transporting back to that weekend through those anecdotes, trying to remember the sound-bites that I’d picked up onstage (FYI: the Palma Violets bassist really loves to exchange banter with the crowd). After doing some background research, I realized that there is a dearth of information relating to Weekend 2 of Coachella this year, with most articles and reviews focusing on Weekend 1’s antics. This makes the anecdotes found in these pages all the more useful and special. With there being no official live video feed of Weekend 2 , it is up to people like me who were there to inform readers about what went down in the desert.

 

These handwritten notes really helped the writing process of my reports on the festival

These handwritten notes really helped the writing process of my reports on the festival

 

Although I wasn’t able to put an entirely full-time effort into writing over the past few weeks (on the account of me starting to help out with the family business), I steadily finished each festival day’s report, and last Friday, wrapped up my five-article series with a final summary of the Coachella experience. All these articles are now on this site, and any further coverage that I’ll be receiving for my trip can be found on the Coverage page (which will be updated as it comes in). Part of this coverage offered up a new experience for me: radio interviews. Dylan Culhane and Ace Swart, hosts of the Rock ‘n Rollercoaster Show on Assembly Radio, invited me onto their show once before my trip (8th April), and once after my return (10th June), and I was incredibly grateful to be exposed to the world of radio in just a small way. I’ve received copies of those appearances, so if you didn’t catch it all live, they’ve been posted on that page to be enjoyed in your own time. I’ve also made my Coachella photos publically available on my Facebook page here, here, and here.

 

Moving forward from an experience like this is probably going to be as bewildering as going into it. The Eagle’s Flight To Coachella was such an important milestone in my life, and proved to me that if you work smart, you can also play hard. I’ve learnt a lot from the planning and organization of this trip, and know how to approach things for future festivals and events. It can be done, and by a relative small-fry too.

 

I’ll delve into the rest of my trip in a later post, which included some musical pilgrimages, meeting an actual Golden Eagle, and visits to big American cities. But for now, The Eagle has returned to normal life, forever changed by his American adventure.

 

Onwards and upwards to the next one,

 

Kurt
 

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article is a final summary of the festival experience. It is part 5 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. Although it is a summary, certain topics or festival features mentioned in previous articles are not brought up again. All photos are my own, and are publically available here, here, and here).

 

Looking back at the whole Coachella experience, right from those tentative moments purchasing a ticket online in South Africa back in January, to standing on that sacred Californian landscape in April, it feels like a continuous tapestry, woven together with inspired touches of belonging and associating with the festival brand.

The devil is in the details, starting with the official souvenir box, shipped out to all ticketholders in early March. It is primarily a vehicle for delivering the hallowed wristband that ensures entry to the Empire Polo Club grounds, and the box succeeds on that front, but also immerses you in the quirky Coachella lore. In addition to the extensive welcome guide to the festival (which highlights the many fantastic features to be found, functioning as a useful to-do list before and during the event), one is presented with a mini calendar stand, complete with cardboard cut-out objects to create a Coachella diorama. To allow one to further marinate in the marvellous Coachella history, the eye-catching photo cards used for the calendar (running from April to April – a personalised move) showcase festival line-ups from yesteryear.

 

 

Looking past the do-it-yourself toys, the festival’s first point-of-contact (apart from the online interface) is an immediate connection with what the event embodies, making a first-timer or five-time veteran feel at home. All this pageantry helps serve two greater purposes: security and authenticity. The event wristband is a complex little beast, engineered to ward off scalpers and guarantee personalised service and interaction. The first feature is a cunningly simple piece of plastic that functions as a form of Chinese finger trap, since the organizers are well aware of the tricks used over the years by sneaky festivalgoers to slip off wristbands and bracelets. Basically: once it’s tightened, it can’t be undone at all, which actually warrants an extra how-to guide in the festival booklet.

The second feature of the wristband is the RFID chip contained within it, which when registered online, opens up a plethora of opportunities to connect with Coachella. Before the event, you can browse the extensive Frequently-Asked-Questions, create a personalised line-up, sort out your travel plans and accommodation arrangements, as well as access the message boards to get some tips and advice. This functionality also proves useful when inside Coachella, where the strong influence of social media is catered for by having dedicated check-in boards dotted around the grounds (particularly on the boundaries of the stages and tents), and the swiping of your band can automatically update your Facebook or Twitter account to where you are, even down to the stage.

Whilst the Hollywood elite may lounge around vacation homes and mansions in nearby Palm Springs over the Coachella weekends, or snap up every hotel suite in the surrounding area, the best way to feel a part of the festival is to camp on-site. According to Coachella Project Manager Justin Ferreira in the free Camp magazine handed out at the grounds, since on-site camping began in 2006, the amount of campers has grown from a few hundred tents to thousands of cars, totalling more than 40 000 people in 2012. Being right close to the action 24 hours a day is clearly quite a draw card for many, but how does one keep the logistics in order for such a multitude of people without the situation devolving into chaos?

In getting to the festival, carpooling is greatly encouraged by Coachella organisers, and what better way than through a competition? Carpoolchella is an attention-grabbing lottery that primarily links fellow festivalgoers, builds a community and reduces traffic. The most rewarding part, aside from flexing your creativity with your crew to decorate your car, is the jaw-dropping lifetime VIP Coachella festival passes that are on offer to be won.

 

 

With hopefully less cars coming into the grounds, organizers can better manage the vehicular mass. Parking is arranged in named-and-numbered ‘streets’ on specifically demarcated campsites, which proved incredibly useful in wearily finding one’s way home through the assortment of lots after a long day. The abundance of activities available in the campgrounds themselves, such as yoga and Pilates classes, an art studio, and a silent disco, keep the dedicated campers entertained; enough so that Ferreira declared, “I’m convinced some people camp at Coachella just to play dodge ball”. The fiercely competitive team game pits friends and strangers against each other for glory or, on the odd occasion, the rights to a VIP shower. In the searing desert heat (where the mercury reached higher than 35 degrees Celsius), the little luxuries do matter.

 

There are a plethora of activities and services to be found in and around the campgrounds

There are a plethora of activities and services to be found in and around the campgrounds

 

A big part of Coachella’s quirky constitution is artistic expression, and it was surprising to find out how explicitly that is manifested, proving that the term is not just for show. Not content to just be confined to an ‘art section’ of the festival, the massive installation art pieces rose up all over the desert plains like statues, thematically linking the campgrounds and festival grounds with their humourous and inventive style. Some of these pieces didn’t like to keep still: a giant snail named ‘Helix Poeticus’ sneakily manoeuvred its way around the ground, leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake for delighted followers, whilst a truly epic kite-like chain of balloons over 500 metres long had to be monitored by individual wranglers. But most were of a more stationary nature, such as the stately ‘Mirage’ (a mid-21st century modernist retreat, evoking the architectural style of the Palms Springs houses of that era), Recyclasaurus Rex (a scary 12-metre high sculpture made of recycled materials, who is ready “to chow down on every bottle, can and gate-jumper he can find”, according to the official festival guide), and the hilarious Coachella Power Station (run by wacky hippo-suited scientists performing a series of checks and experiments day and night, offering an ‘inside look’ into how the Coachella engine is kept running). With over 300 artists initially submitting proposals for these stunningly original installations, Coachella’s creative spirit can be found onstage and amongst the crowds.

 

 

Throughout the weekend, you’re likely to encounter that warm atmosphere of inclusiveness (not to be confused with sunstroke – stay hydrated, kids). The festival is an all-ages event, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see some children and teenagers roaming the grounds, but access to the designated beer gardens is suitably strict and implemented by various ID checkpoints, which provide you with an additional ’21-years-and-over’ wristband. A quick visit to the merchandise tent and its neighbour, Zia Records, in between sets is also one for the music junkie’s bucket list. If you’re not content with just buying your favourite band’s t-shirt, a healthy collection of vinyl records are available for sale, and wildest dreams come true when some of the artists performing at the festival host signings at various points in the day for those dedicated fans who purchased records. Nothing brings fanboys and girls together quite like meeting their idols.

 

 

Establishing tradition takes time, and prominence often goes hand-in-hand with that process. Coachella has reached the point where it has become a way of life for some people, and will most likely continue to be (as seen in the Camp magazine’s ‘Coachooser’ section, where a 10-year-old interviewee proudly stated that he has attended the festival a whopping seven times thus far). This transition from a relatively underground affair to a global mega-event came through a careful cultivation of culture, subtly and steadily pooling together a rainbow of music fans from all walks of life. Diversifying hasn’t diluted the Coachella experience; it has enriched the event with an array of perspectives, and as utopian as it may sound, if you arrive bearing peace, love and a wristband, there’ll be a place for you under the palm trees in the Coachella Valley.

If you’re looking for the blueprint of a successfully integrated, innovative and immersive music festival: this is the one.

 

There's a place for everybody under the palm trees of Coachella

There’s a place for everybody under the palm trees of Coachella

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article focused on the final day of the festival – Sunday 21st April 2013. It is part 4 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. All photos are my own, and are publically available here.)

 

Being at Coachella is very indicative of the Californian experience. There is staggering natural beauty & weather, the place is populated with the chic, the creative, the consumerist, and the health-conscious, and its environment is both trend-setting and expensive. If you aren’t careful, you’ll get sucked into the tantalizing Hollywood lifestyle.

 

The state of California, home to the Coachella Music Festival

The state of California, home to the Coachella Music Festival

 

Wandering through the Farmers Market on Sunday morning was a cautionary financial tale. Nestled in the expansive campgrounds, the market serves up a smorgasbord of appetising food and beverages, its tents and stalls daring you to try their delectable delights. With breakfast and coffee being the main points on the agenda, an all-you-can-eat buffet of morning treats from Roc’s Fire House Grille and an iced cappuccino with horchata (cinnamon and vanilla-infused milk) dealt with the hunger pangs. Window-shopping on a full stomach made the rest of the ramble through the market easier to manage, passing by delis, dessert stands, smoothie shacks, bakeries, and organic fruit stalls with the virtue of a nun.

 

 

Early afternoon saw The Gaslight Anthem deliver a stirring set of their New Jersey blue-collar balladry to the main Coachella Stage, with Brian Fallon’s growl guiding the gathered masses through a medley of Bruce Springsteen-meets-punk proclamations. Like The Boss himself, Fallon & Friends trade on earnestness and heartfelt, nostalgia-tinged poetry, no more evident than on set-opener ‘Mae’ (“stay the same, don’t ever change, ’cause I’d miss your ways, with your Bette Davis eyes, and your mama’s party dress”). Their raw punk roots have been relatively refined over time (this set featured no tracks from their boisterous 2007 debut Sink Or Swim), but a melodic modification to their tightly-constructed sound should not be seen as a sacrifice for intensity, or a lapse into mediocrity.

 

 

Catchy hit-single ‘45’ and the title track of 2012’s Handwritten kept the fire of the band’s youth burning, as did rousing set-closer ‘The Backseat’. ‘The Queen Of The Lower Chelsea’, however, was slow-building and tranquil, but left one humming along to an infectious guitar line, and the peppy ‘Old White Lincoln’ ensured the same. Rounding out their varied set were two covers: the obscure ‘Once Upon A Time’ by Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise, and Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘Interstate Love Song’ (described by Fallon as “a song we really love from the 90’s”). Although the band holds their influences very close to their heart, they still produce fresh and exhilarating music.

Lots of guitar feedback at a crushing volume began to emanate from the Outdoor Theatre later in the afternoon, and the source of this howling cacophony was Dinosaur Jr., the avant-garde alternative rock ancestors. Their trademark sound is a bizarre hybrid of styles, meshing strains of classic rock, hardcore punk and noise rock into an intriguing, distorted behemoth, which foreshadowed the direction alternative and grunge music would take in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

 

J Mascis, lead singer and guitarist of Dinosaur Jr.

J Mascis, lead singer and guitarist of Dinosaur Jr.

 

Guitarist and lead singer J Mascis’ droning vocals swayed in and out of the maelstrom, overshadowed by his dazzling guitar parts, which set-opener ‘The Lung’ particularly highlighted. Bassist Lou Barlow took over vocal duties on ‘Rude’, a punky take on 50’s rock ‘n roll, and again on ‘Training Ground’, a searing rendition of a song originally written by him and Mascis whilst in their first band together, the now-defunct Deep Wound. Not all their output was designed to rattle the eardrums; the comparatively melodic ‘Feel The Pain’ had the crowd mildly bopping along to its mid-tempo verses, before the epic chorus kicked in with gusto. Towards the end of their set, Mascis sarcastically heralded the arrival of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ (a song which yielded them their first UK hit in 1989) with “this is not a Cure song”, which was partially true, as the band brought their token weirdness and amped-up audacity to the beloved new-wave gem.

The highly-acclaimed aural alchemy of Tame Impala turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival, and the Australian psychedelic rock project (led by mastermind Kevin Parker) showed why they deserve such praise with a sprawling, transcendental set at the Outdoor Theatre. Songs warped and expanded to dizzying depths, such as the reggae-influenced interlude between the swaying swagger of ‘Elephant’ and the dreamy ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’, with a swampy, dubstep rhythm Parker dedicated “to those heading towards a hangover”. Elsewhere, the tumbling grooves of latest single ‘Mind Mischief’ were stretched to Saturn and back with an extended remix, and fan-favourite ‘Half Glass Full Of Wine’ already had the delirious masses crowd-surfing before its slick, danceable extended finale.

 

 

One could see that the band was enjoying the sun-drenched atmosphere (populated with a sizeable Australian contingent), as their previous weekend’s set had been plagued by a sudden dust-storm. This time, the audience was only mentally blown away by Parker’s sonically massive performance, where swirling layers of sound camouflaged his introspective and isolationist lyrics (clearly evident on set-opener ‘Solitude Is Bliss’ – the lone track from their 2010 debut Innerspeaker). For a shy guy, he sure knows how to connect with a crowd, as well as conduct a well-oiled machine onstage, with his free-floating John Lennon-esque vocals resonating into the stratosphere and beyond.

Coming down from the high of one great act and moving onto another is tantamount to any Coachella tale. Starry-eyed festivalgoers swim from stage to stage, with diehard fans pushing for a spot closest to the front amongst the teeming thousands. Even settling for a cosy corner many rows back from the main Coachella Stage did not diminish the viewing experience of Vampire Weekend. A less claustrophobic perspective allowed one to take in the elaborate and striking stage design, which included large framed mirrors and floating white Roman columns. The chic, preppy indie pop-rock of their first two albums complemented the mood, and the unveiling of tracks from their upcoming Modern Vampires Of The City showed a breath-taking shift towards a more varied, epic sound.

 

 

First of these was the zany rockabilly stomper ‘Diane Young’, with lead singer Ezra Koenig making clever use of pitch-shifting on his vocals, turning them impossibly deep then high in the space of just a few words. Another new track, the slow-building ‘Ya Hey’, showcased a more stately electronic side to their sound, and the experience became more engrossing with each song, as the band slipped between the quirky, perky wit of ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Oxford Comma’, and the percussive power of ‘Giving Up The Gun’. When the Afro-pop influenced ‘Cape Cod Kwassa’ sailed in to close off their memorable set, the crowd had been exposed to a wide spectrum of smartly-crafted pop songs.

The mood dramatically deviated into very dark territory as the gothic gang leader Nick Cave seized control of the main Coachella Stage, and held court with his band The Bad Seeds. A two-time performer over the weekend (his garage rock side project Grinderman also made an appearance on Friday night), Cave’s frightening stage persona was one part rambling preacher, one part demented poet, and his deep baritone vocals violently led the Seeds and stunned crowd through six of the band’s best-known hits from their 30-year career, as well as two new songs.

 

 

Taken from 2013’s Push The Sky Away, the recent tracks (“Jubilee Street’ and the title song) showcased a mournful, operatic side to the Bad Seeds sound, and the latter formed part of a glorious finale, which featured backing vocals from a children’s choir from Silverlake Music Conservatory. But what Cave does best is weave together twisted tales and equally perverse music, best seen and heard on the profane ‘Stagger Lee’. Whilst second-in-command Warren Ellis, the heavily-bearded violinist, haphazardly scooted around the stage with villainous glee, Cave took to the crowd, getting up close and personal for the tense confessional ‘The Mercy Seat’ and spooky ‘Red Right Hand’. It was a consummate performance from the legendary Australian rocker, bathed in the melodramatics and shock value that he has become well-known for.

Coachella’s final day had seen talent that had traversed all the way from the East Coast of the USA, and across the seas from Down Under, but veteran local funk-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers brought some Californian love to the proceedings, headlining the festival for an incredible third time. Although long past their prime, the band knows how to constantly adapt and evolve, weathering through a turbulent history of drug abuse and a revolving door of guitarists. The 2009 departure of the iconic John Frusciante, and subsequent addition of Josh Klinghoffer, signalled new phase in their fascinating career.

Whilst 2011’s I’m With You attempted to rebuild the band’s studio sound from the ashes, incorporating Afrobeat and piano-based influences, the Chili Peppers’ live show has now morphed into a tour de force funk fiesta that few groups can match with experience or skill. Delving into a treasure trove brimming with 30 years’ worth of hits, there’s always a guaranteed retreading over past classics, but the band has plied their trade long enough to be able to shake things up and provide fresh, exciting interpretations of their material. Frequent jams and improvisations blurred the lines between songs, with the band content to feel their way through the moment (such as the exhilarating extended intro to ‘Can’t Stop’).

 

 

As expected, the set was heavily weighted towards the successes of the early 90’s and early 00’s, with only set-opener ‘Monarchy Of Roses’, ‘Factory Of Faith’, and ‘The Adventures Of Rain Dance Maggie’ featuring off of their latest album. Klinghoffer has ably slotted into the fold, after being a touring guitarist with the band since their 2006 Stadium Arcadium Tour, bringing an elusive, textural approach to the guitar attack (most notably seen on their live staple ‘Californication’, twisting the dirge-like music to further match the social commentary). The rhythm section still boasts two of the finest players of their crafts in Flea (bass) and Chad Smith (drums), with the latter receiving a boost in the percussion department in the form of Mauro Refosco, who spices proceedings up with an assortment of bongos and exotic instruments.

Red Hot Chili Peppers will always be young at heart, despite singer Anthony Kiedis’ relative onstage mellowing and lack of banter compared to Flea, who is still the soul of the group, bursting with passion, silliness and technical proficiency. After a five-song encore, which included a group of lucky fans dressed in UV-painted white jumpsuits joining the band for vigorous set-closer ‘Give It Away’, the bassist breathlessly blurted out “I love me some California!”, before going on to list a number of the state’s locales, drawing rapturous applause with every city.

When paying a visit to a town or city, it is considered good traveller’s practice to sample the local sights and sounds, as it hopefully provides an insight into local culture. For a truly international event, Coachella still feels confidently Californian: a holistic Hollywood haven of music, art, food, and entertainment; a desert retreat revelling in the cut-throat intensity and excess of the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

But maybe this juxtaposition highlights the success of the phenomenon of vicariousness known as ‘Californication’. Anthony Kiedis said it best in the song that bears its name: “Everybody’s been there, and I don’t mean on vacation”.

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article focused on the second day of the festival – Saturday 20th April 2013. It is part 3 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. All photos are my own, and are publically available here.)

 

Friday had mostly been a rollercoaster ride of rock, taking corners with reckless abandon (Palma Violets’ beastly bash in the Mojave, complete with hoots and hollers), or with long climbs and mammoth drops (The Stone Roses’ trance-inducing nostalgia trip on the Coachella).

But as the second day of Coachella dawned, an exploration into more experimental territory would be undertaken, populated with dance rock, indie pop, acoustic folk, and pop rock. The festival offers a wide variety of exotic locales to visit, but one soon realises that as a dedicated fan, your schedule has been booked in advance, and might offer little leeway to venture into unknown lands. The rise in popularity of EDM (electronic dance music) in recent years has highlighted this divide, or opportunity, depending on which way you look at it. Although Coachella was a forerunner in catering for that bulk of genres, those stages and tents are now sizeably populated and a festival unto themselves, with the capital to be found in the monolithic Sahara Tent, home to a raging party with high production values from noon till midnight. Elsewhere, the enclosed Yuma Tent and Heineken Dome offered more EDM excitement, whilst the DO Lab, an outdoor arrangement of tall multi-coloured, Dr Seussian tents around a central dance floor, doubled up as a shady retreat from the daytime desert haze.

 

The monolithic Sahara Tent, home to one long EDM party

The monolithic Sahara Tent, home to one long EDM party

 

Coachella offers the same line-up for both weekends, but occasionally an artist pulls out from the second instalment. One such disappointment was the highly-anticipated Biffy Clyro; the leftfield lunatics of alternative rock who have slowly earned a stadium-sized reputation over the past five to six years on the other side of the Atlantic. After a ragged appearance on Weekend 1, the band bowed out from the rest of their US tour, with lead singer and guitarist Simon Neil suffering severe respiratory problems brought on from the relentless promotion of their first UK Number One album, ‘Opposites’.

This unfortunate loss to the Saturday afternoon line-up meant that there was an opportunity to discover some other highly-recommended acts, starting with singer-songwriter Ben Howard’s laidback acoustic folk at the Outdoor Theatre. With much of the crowd seated or reclined on the grass, Howard’s troupe flitted through his soothing repertoire, with highlights including ‘Old Pine’ and ‘The Wolves’.

 

 

Moving to the Mojave, the alluring indie pop of Bat For Lashes melded tribal rhythms (“Horses In The Sun”) with a synthpop aesthetic (“Daniel”). Natasha Khan (real name) gave an impressive performance overall; seductively sashaying across the stage in time to the jittery beats, her powerful voice evoking a young Kate Bush on the exquisite “What’s A Girl To Do?”. After the stunning ballad “Laura”, Khan acknowledged the blistering heat (“I want some of that spray, it’s bloody hot”), but pushed on to the most intriguing song of her set. ‘The Haunted Man’ (the title song of her highly-acclaimed 2012 album) saw her make use of an old transistor radio as an instrument, with her triumphantly holding it up to the mic at the climax of the song.

At the climax of 'The Haunted Man', Natasha Khan a.k.a. Bat For Lashes brought this old transistor radio up to the mic

At the climax of ‘The Haunted Man’, Natasha Khan a.k.a. Bat For Lashes brought this old transistor radio up to the mic

 

A voyage to the main Coachella Stage via one of the eight food vendor areas is a gastronomic adventure in itself. With a total of sixty vendors plying their trade at the festival, there is an array of international options, including Mexican, Greek, Korean, and Italian (it’s considered a festival right-of-passage to have at least one gigantic slice from Spicy Pie Pizza). Portable outlets of some well-established Los Angeles eateries also find their way into the Coachella melting pot. Feeling fed and well-nourished, it was now possible to make it through the marathon run of the last four acts of the day at the festival’s sprawling focal point.

First up was the electronica enchantment of Hot Chip, whose energetic, quirky, and danceable set focused heavily on their latest album (2012’s In Our Heads) and creating beat-driven improvisations of their hits. The rave atmosphere brimmed with excitement; the sweet ode to monogamy ‘One Life Stand’ being spiced up with live steel drums, the heavy slabs of bass and galloping drum line on ‘Over And Over’, as well as the staggering synthesizer solo on the call-to-arms ‘Ready For The Floor’. The band’s slinky sound even moved into ballad terrain (‘Look At Where We Are’), but never lapsed into laziness, as evidenced by the beautifully programmed live synth-and-drum combination on set-closer ‘I Feel Better’.

The Postal Service was in business next – an ostensibly imaginary band that only recently regrouped for the tenth anniversary of their one and only debut album Give Up. Despite the irony of that nomenclature, the group (featuring Death Cab For Cutie’s vocalist Ben Gibbard) were well-received and remembered, as their lone album a decade ago was a critical and commercial success. Their forward-thinking, twinkly new-wave melodies have aged well, triggering crowd sing-alongs (such as on set-closer ‘Brand New Colony’) as Gibbard’s lead vocals were given a delicate backing by the redheaded Jenny Lewis of fellow indie poppers Rilo Kiley. Interpreting these songs live led to some interesting moves onstage, as Gibbard dashed across to a drum set to give the magical soundscapes of ‘We Will Become Silhouettes’ some added percussion. Soaring magnum opus ‘Such Great Heights’ (the soundtrack to many a commercial or television series in the intervening years) was also given a great rendition for the crowd, whose enthusiasm for the group had clearly not waned over time.

 

 

Captivating and cool, The xx’s hauntingly beautiful indie pop was a bold choice for the main Coachella Stage, something which guitarist and singer Romy Madley Croft confessed to (“3 years ago, we were at the Outdoor Theatre next door. We could never have dreamed of being here”). For a group that trades on hushed, intimate confessions between lovers, it was a rare peek behind the veil. Croft’s spiralling guitar lines mesh fluidly with Oliver Sim’s throbbing bass grooves, whilst sonic architect Jamie xx completes the mysterious trio, whose subtle and sparse stage setup echoes their mellow choice of sound.

 

 

Opening with the woozy ‘Try’, the mood shifted effortlessly between melancholic (the propulsive ‘Crystalised’) and romantic (the steel-drum-inflected ‘Reunion’). The spectral duets between Croft and Sim were gorgeous to behold, whether it was their serpentine sighs or their forehead-to-forehead, heart-to-heart instrumental passages. Fan-favourites ‘VCR’, ‘Intro’, and ‘Islands’ highlighted the group’s taut chemistry, and the undulating, danceable numbers from their recent album Coexist hinted at their R&B roots. Surprisingly, they closed off their emotive set with the minimalist (even by their standards) ‘Angels’. Not surprisingly, the crowd sang along, echoing Croft’s every word. The xx’s claim for the main stage had been confidently validated.

The hot topic of conversation over the course of Weekend 2 was “do you think Daft Punk will show up?”. The revered French DJ duo had released a teaser trailer the previous weekend to rapturous response, apparently causing a sudden mass exodus to its screening at the main stage. For those wishing for that cameo appearance, their best hope seemed to be with Saturday headliners, fellow Frenchmen Phoenix. The eclectic pop rockers had their own trick up their sleeve on Weekend 1, bringing R&B superstar R Kelly to the stage to blend his own ‘Ignition (Remix)’ with their hit single ‘1901’, but no such star-studded sideshows were in order second time around.

 

 

They did, however, assuredly and earnestly cement their headliner status, jubilantly opening and closing the set with their irresistible new single ‘Entertainment’. The upcoming Bankrupt! was to be released the following Monday, and the band took the opportunity to reveal a plethora of new material, showcasing their style evolution from the laidback and endearing indie rockers of 2000’s United and 2004’s Alphabetical, to the stadium-sized synth scientists of their breakout success, 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. In addition to the crowd-pleasing past hits ‘Liztomania’ and ‘1901’, hot-off-the-press new tracks that were revealed included the bouncy ‘Don’t’, the new-wave niceties of ‘Trying To Be Cool’, and the expansive electrohaze of ‘Chloroform’. An exquisite stage setup, an acoustic rendition of ‘Countdown (Sick For The Big Sun)’, and a lengthy remix of two instrumental tracks (‘Love Like A Sunset’ and ‘Bankrupt!’) all rounded off an impressive and immersive extravaganza. But lead singer Thomas Mars was not finished just yet: on the reprise of the euphoric ‘Entertainment’, he launched into the crowd, surfing his way towards a lighting rig far from the stage. Clambering up the scaffolding, Mars then surveyed his faithful flock, and knew that it was a job well done.

Nowadays, big-name festivals such as Coachella are not just about the music; it’s about the experience. In a matter of days, places like the Empire Polo Club are transformed into mini-communities, which the regular concertgoing experience would struggle to match in scope or variety. Whether you exalt the excellence of EDM, profess your passion for pop & rock, or just follow the crowd, you come to a festival seeking to be entertained.

Each time Thomas Mars leaped into that chorus, singing the high falsetto of “Entertainment, show them what you do to me”, thousands of exuberant voices didn’t realise that they were providing the evidence.

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article focused on the first day of the festival – Friday 19th April 2013. It is part 2 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others. All photos are my own, and are publically available here.)

 

After Weekend 1’s bizarre weather, which included a sudden cold snap and dizzying dust-storms, it was a relief for Coachellans attending the festival’s second weekend to be able to bask in the desert heat (and then promptly find the refuge of some shade).

The experience of attending one of the world’s largest and most ubiquitous music festivals as a South African leaves one a little bewildered, intoxicated with wide-eyed wonder and disbelief at the scope and organisation of this mega-event. Your Third World cynicism makes you expect logistics to unravel the festivities at some point, but everywhere you go, Coachella has got it covered. Security, camping, technology, food & drink, and most importantly, the performances: the organisers of this event made sure that you as the festivalgoer were able to forget the rest of the world for one weekend, and immerse yourself in Coachella City, estimated population of 90 000 per day in 2013.

 

Passing through Line-Up Lane on the way to the main festival grounds

Passing through Line-Up Lane on the way to the main festival grounds

 

Even passing through the campgrounds to the stringent security check before the festival area, the Empire Polo Club reminds you of its legacy, placing the official line up posters of all previous incarnations en route. Coachella wants you to be part of its history, and to share it with your fellow festivalgoers. Stopping by the Fruttare Hangout (where two free ice creams are given to each person entering the air-conditioned den), promoters take photos of you to share on social networks, and the chalkboard walls offer opportunities to leave messages to anyone and no one in particular.

 

Seeking relief in the air-conditioned Fruttare Hangout

Seeking relief in the air-conditioned Fruttare Hangout

 

Choosing to proudly drape your country’s flag across your back also helps garner attention, and spark off some conversations whilst wandering through the wonderland of entertainment. Mobile phone charging stations dotted throughout the grounds are a hive of activity, creating opportunities to bring strangers and their cultures together in what is truly an international event.

Friday’s frenetic line up exemplified the global influence on Coachella, and this year, the British had staked a large claim for attention across the six stages and tents. After alternative hip hop artist Aesop Rock pleaded for the crowd at the Outdoor Theatre to “take the brain out, leave the heart in!”, the iconic indie rock god Johnny Marr launched into an exhilarating solo set in the Mojave Tent, coolly playing through his recent debut album The Messenger. Just to remind the crowd of where he made his name first known as a spellbinding guitarist and hit maker, Marr dusted off three covers from The Smiths’ back catalogue: ‘Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before’, and the twin fan-favourites ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ & ‘How Soon Is Now?’.  Although the ghost of Morrissey’s croon hangs heavily over those three hits, Marr’s vocals, whilst not being particularly showy, held up adequately nonetheless. His guitar work was exceptional however: hard-hitting and lively on the up-tempo ‘Upstarts’ & ‘Generate! Generate!’, and truly mind-bending & effervescent on the infectious ‘The Messenger’.

 

 

Moving from the melodic master in the Mojave to the Gobi Tent next door was quite an interesting change in scenery. Canadian garage rock duo Japandroids laid siege to the stage with their sweat-drenched and noisy take on classic rock and punk, soldiering on through a broken string in the middle of their first song ‘Adrenaline Nightshift’. Seemingly nothing could stop guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse from assaulting the crowd’s senses, as they gleefully powered through hits such as ‘Younger Us’ and ‘Night Of Wine And Roses’ from both their studio albums. King announced the arrival of ‘Wet Hair’ with a breathless “this wasn’t played last weekend!”, highlighting the two-weekend format of the festival, and attempting to provide a unique experience.

 

Brian King of Japandroids in the Gobi Tent

Brian King of Japandroids in the Gobi Tent

 

As is the case with such an action-packed festival, you have to keep your wits about you, make some sacrifices, and keep on moving. Rushing back across to the Mojave, genre-defying Alt-J was already done with starters, and had moved into the juicy main section of their set, rattling off tranquil ‘Matilda’, breath-taking ‘Bloodflood’ and hit-single ‘Breezeblocks’ in quick succession. For a band that only released its debut album in 2012, Alt-J received a rapturous response from the packed crowd, and this bodes well for their headlining appearance at South Africa’s own Rocking The Daisies Festival later this year.

 

Alt-J onstage in the Mojave Tent

Alt-J onstage in the Mojave Tent

 

With the sun hanging low in the sky, Passion Pit then took to the main Coachella stage, bringing its gleeful and sugary indie pop sound mixed with a strong dose of acerbic lyrics. Lead singer Michael Angelakos’ highly-publicized struggle with Bipolar Disorder has been a particular point of interest since the release of their magnificent sophomore effort Gossamer last July, and the band seemed revitalised, knowing the battle that often goes undocumented behind the scenes. Their set reflected this reality, opening with the sobering ‘Take A Walk’ (referencing a man at wits’ end trying to earn his keep despite the downturned economy), and moving onto the more personal ‘I’ll Be Alright’ and ‘Carried Away’. Not that the crowd would have noticed, judging from the mood that Angelakos and his merry men created – strictly light-hearted and life-affirming.

 

Passion Pit on the main Coachella Stage

Passion Pit on the main Coachella Stage

 

Friday’s dark horse came in the form of scrappy, up-and-coming British indie rockers, Palma Violets, whose freewheeling ‘sun-set’ in the Mojave kept the relatively small but dedicated crowd enthralled. Ringleader and bassist ‘Chili’ Jesson wildly cavorted about onstage, interspersing breaks between songs with attempts to get the crowd to wave their fingers in the air to ‘hold up the setting sun behind you’, and letting them offhandedly know that they – the band or the crowd; it’s hard to tell – are ‘heaps better than last week’. Even arriving a few songs in didn’t detract from the rambunctious mood, as the London lads ripped through their first three singles from their recent debut album 180 (‘Best Of Friends’, ‘Step Up For The Cool Cats’, and ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’), and began a glorious, crowd-surfing finale of ‘14’ and ‘Brand New Song’. It was like seeing a cross between a young Rolling Stones and The Libertines in their prime – a heady cocktail of swagger, chaos, and fun.

 

Palma Violets in the Mojave Tent

Palma Violets in the Mojave Tent

 

Twilight beckoned, and the polo grounds slowly morphed into a kaleidoscope of colours. The large pieces of installation art strategically placed in between the stages came to life, dominating the evening skyline along with the gigantic Ferris wheel – a hallmark of Coachelladom. On the Outdoor Theatre stage emerged the mysterious Beach House as silhouetted figures through the smoke. Victoria Legrand’s ethereal vocals drifted over the crowd, backed by Alex Scally’s enchanting guitar lines amidst a stunning backdrop of long glass-like chandeliers hanging from the roof of the stage. This pungent romantic atmosphere perfectly suited their shimmery indie pop: the rhythmic pulse of opener ‘Wild’, the wordless sighs of ‘Lazuli’, or the nimble, cyclical riffs of ‘Wishes’. The rest of their set strung together an intoxicating mix of hits from the two recent albums that brought them mainstream success (2010’s Teen Dream and 2012’s Bloom). When Legrand declared that “it’s night time this year. Night is better, it’s more forgiving”, it was evident that the cloak of darkness was only to maintain the aura, and not mask any technical shortcomings when performing live.

 

 

This mastery was acknowledged by the cheerful Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses, whose crew was next up on the same stage. “We love Beach House!” he declared, “We wanna collaborate with them!” Although his band occasionally dispenses beautiful ballads, such as fan-favourite ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’, Bridwell and Co. primarily dealt in soaring rockers on the night, opening with the appropriate ‘The First Song’, and bringing a light-hearted mid-song breakdown to ‘The Great Salt Lake’ (“Mama’s little baby loves shortcake!”). The mood careened between triumphant (‘Is There A Ghost’) and easy-going (‘Laredo’), as the no-frills South Carolina quintet gave the crowd a much-needed jolt of energy.

 

Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses at the Outdoor Theatre

Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses at the Outdoor Theatre

 

Friday night’s headliners switched around from the order of Weekend 1; a move that’d seemingly been planned and agreed upon all along. So the controversial Stone Roses – both in their history and the organiser’s decision for them to headline the festival – were on the main Coachella Stage first this time round. Despite lengthy gaps between their pair of albums and a 15-year breakup, the band’s pioneering impact on British alternative music is unquestioned, but for a predominately American audience at Coachella, the question on many people’s lips before the festival was “who are The Stone Roses?”

 

The Stone Roses' kaleidoscopic light display on the main Coachella Stage

The Stone Roses’ kaleidoscopic light display on the main Coachella Stage

 

That question was answered quite emphatically in the Led-Zeppelin-length live rendition of ‘Fools Gold’ near the beginning of their set. Magically mixing classic rock riffs with the groove and sensibilities of late 80’s rave culture, the foursome showed off their technical wizardry and interplay to an intrigued crowd. Mononym maestros Mani and Reni kept the loose-limbed rhythm section in check on bass and drums respectively, allowing John Squire to concoct a seemingly endless supply of guitar licks, frequently indulging in marathon solos and improvisations. Ian Brown’s vocals were mostly unremarkable and buried low in the swirling vortex of sound, but the anthemic ‘She Bangs The Drums’ and ‘Waterfall’ were well-received (the latter being followed by ‘Don’t Stop’, a trippy reversal of the song, complete with impressive attempts at live backmasking). A mesmerising drum solo from Reni added to the psychedelic atmosphere, before the antagonistic ‘I Am The Resurrection’ triumphantly closed out their set. Whilst it may have been a little risky to place the Roses at the top of the bill, their musicianship made up for their relative obscurity.

Over in the Mojave, Foals’ groove-orientated sound had locked their fans in, and cuts from the indie rockers’ latest crossover success in the States, Holy Fire, showed a sublime, soulful and funky band finally hitting top gear. They were equally at ease with spacey epics such as ‘Spanish Sahara’ and ‘Late Night’, or the fiery bombast of new hit single ‘Inhaler’ (where Yannis Philippakis’ yelp turned into an awe-inspiring howl). The lead singer and guitarist had a lot of fun on stage, encouraging those assembled to “have a nice weekend, and don’t act too…sane”, as well as diving into the crowd, surfing above the faithful with trusty guitar in hand.

The task of closing off the eventful first day was given to Britpop barons Blur, whose set on the main Coachella Stage traversed the band’s discography, from jaunty ‘Parklife’ (from the 1994 album of the same name, with a cameo spoken word appearance by actor Paul Daniels) to the soulful ‘Tender’ (from 1999’s 13). Backed by a three-piece horn section and extra vocalists, the sound was suitably lush, and at times, the mood dipped into melancholia and experimentation (‘This Is A Low’, ‘Caramel’). Blur achieved moderate success Stateside in the 90’s, unlike fellow headliners The Stone Roses, and closing their set with the lo-fi mega-hit  ‘Song 2’ was a smart choice, shaking the somewhat sleepy crowd awake after a string of quieter tracks.

 

Britpop barons Blur closing off the day on the main Coachella Stage

Britpop barons Blur closing off the day on the main Coachella Stage

 

Past 1am, the official festivities wind down in the musical mecca of Coachella, leaving festivalgoers to either continue the party on their own in the massive campgrounds, or get some much-needed rest and sleep. With two full days left to spend in this glittering oasis, choosing the latter was a no-brainer.

(From the 19th to 21st of April 2013, I attended the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California, USA. More details on this trip can be found here. A number of South African media sources provided me with coverage for the event, and this article constitutes an introduction to the event and my trip. Each written source received a version of the article tailored to suit their website/newspaper, which has been presented here generically as “The Eagle’s Nest”. It is part 1 in a series of 5 articles, and should be seen in conjunction with the others.)

 

Nestled in the Coachella Valley of the California Desert is a glittering oasis that springs to life every April. Music and art are celebrated and expressed amidst the baking heat, bringing together pilgrims from all over the world. And the author will be one of the many making the exodus.

In its short 14-year history, The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has established itself as one of the most highly-attended music festivals in the world. Evidence of this impressive reputation was seen in 2012’s edition, where over 80 000 people per day passed through the Empire Polo Club to get a taste from Coachella’s musical melting pot. By combining acts from multiple genres, ranging the mainstream right through to a more alternative flavour, the festival has built a strong, diverse following over the years.

And it’s not just the music that brings people there en masse. The event brings out the best that rock, indie, hip hop and electronic music genres have to offer, as well as sculpture and installation art from the visual arts community. Across several stages dotted around the polo grounds, fans can experience live music, ranging from the main Coachella Stage, and Outdoor Theatre, to the smaller Gobi, Mojave, and Sahara Tents.

Coachella is known for showcasing musical artists that are popular and well-established, as well as emerging artists and particularly, reunited groups. With the emergence of electronic dance music, world-class DJ acts have also found a place in the Coachella chemistry, increasing the popularity and diversity of this exciting festival.

Every April since 1999 (except for 2000), the Empire Polo Club grounds in Indio, California have played host to alternative and indie music’s desert royal ball. The likes of Radiohead, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, Beastie Boys, Arcade Fire, Rage Against The Machine, Kings of Leon, and The Black Keys are but a few of the many past headliners of the event, with each year providing a smorgasbord of support acts, numbering 190 by the 2012 edition.

 

The Empire Polo Club – host to the Coachella Music Festival

 

This year’s event will continue that tradition, with the iconic Red Hot Chili Peppers in a headlining role again, along with French indie rock band Phoenix, and the legendary Stone Roses. Due to increased demand over the late 2000s, the festival now rises up from the desert soil for two weekends per year, offering the same stellar line-up each weekend. Friday features British greats Blur and Johnny Marr, as well as exciting North American talent in Passion Pit, Band of Horses, and Japandroids. Saturday has the likes of The xx, New Order, Franz Ferdinand, and Biffy Clyro up its sleeve, whilst Sunday shows no signs of slowing down, placing Tame Impala, The Gaslight Anthem and Wu-Tang Clan on the bill.

Coachella offers onsite camping facilities for each weekend, allowing festival-goers to immerse themselves in the three-day experience. These facilities include showers, general stores, mobile phone charging stations, and an internet cafe with free Wi-Fi – all features to make the festival-going experience a thoroughly modern one. Sustainability initiatives also form part of the festival makeup, as organizers involve employees and attendees alike in reducing Coachella’s carbon footprint through recycling facilities, carpooling, and education on energy reduction.

The Eagle’s Nest will be receiving on-the-ground coverage during and after this year’s edition of Coachella, specifically the second weekend from the 19th to 21st of April. Readers will get a proudly South African perspective on a truly global festival, and how its cutting-edge, forward-thinking initiatives compare to our country’s current festival scene. Summaries of live performances from each of the three days will allow readers to vicariously enjoy the festival experience, and to discuss and share moments of musical magic.

Once again, this oasis will emerge, accompanied by gorgeous weather, beautiful scenery, and high-quality live music acts. This intrepid music journalist will soon be arriving in the Land of The Cactus and The Chorus, and it goes by the name of Coachella.

 

The Coachella Experience – coming soon to The Eagle's Nest

The Coachella Experience – coming soon to The Eagle’s Nest