In the early morning hours last Friday, I made sure my sunscreen was packed and set off from LA to Indio to attend Coachella for the first time in over a decade.
The weekend kicked off with a Brainfeeder pool party at the Ace Hotel, where Ras G, Samiyam, Jeremiah Jae, and Mono/Poly spun killer sets. The Gaslamp Killer hit the turntables next and kept the vibes high before turning the booth over to Radiohead’s visionary frontman, Thom Yorke. The remainder of the night saw GLK, Thom Yorke, and Flying Lotus going back to back with an eclectic mix of music. At the heart of it all was the love of music…of creating it, discovering it, sharing it, losing a little bit of your mind to it for a few blissful hours.
This love was apparent again on Saturday in the Gobi Tent as Flying Lotus played to an affectionate audience. Two young women seemed astonished as they exchanged words: “Look at his smile!” “I know, he’s so happy!” The joy was infectious. The level of intimacy in the tent was more like a house party full of dear friends than an expansive and expensive festival. At one point, he gave the audience a head’s up as he announced that things were “about to get real emotional”. Not a problem for this crowd who went straight from dutty whining into soft swaying.
The sun finally faded, and the weathered desert dwellers congregated together in front of the main stage for Radiohead’s performance. Even fans at the outskirts of the enormous crowd were treated to beautiful visuals coming from giant tilted square screens set up above the stage. Particularly striking were the extreme close ups of Thom’s left eye, fragmented into quarters.
He was playful as he propositioned the audience to a cup of tea with some mushrooms in it. Eerie and not without humor, much like the entire set. From the first note to the last, the show was euphoric. They played rare tracks with lyrics that reflected just how much and how little has changed in the world since the last time they headlined Coachella in 2004. What remains constant is the band’s singular ability to turn all the ugly affairs of the world, the beautiful feelings between people, the emotions that we all feel into songs that cut straight through. Songs they played for two straight hours. A pregnant woman sat beside me, rubbing her belly calmly. How perfect, this was truly music for the womb.
Sunday found a resilient crowd back again for more. Thundercat, the unconventional alter ego of South Los Angeles native Stephen Bruner, brought his brand of funky spacy bassy soul to the Gobi Tent. He played tunes off his debut The Golden Age of Apocalypse and had the crowd chanting for an encore. It felt wonderful to see somebody who is a disciple of their instrument go in with reckless abandon. Thundercat’s fingers hit the strings and we immediately felt the resulting bass in our gut and beneath our feet.
Following Thundercat was the Gaslamp Killer, who started his set with a nod to Radiohead, playing “Rabbit in the Headlights”. For a moment we saw a reserved sensitivity behind the musician who regularly calls upon death and destruction. The quiet before the storm, if you will. GLK was in touch with his audience and gave them the crazy they came for. For the next hour he played a three-part set, displaying reserves of energy that could only come from pure passion. It took over five signals to the sound guy to turn all levels up before he was happy with the way the sound was reverberating through our bodies. The third part of the set featured new and unheard tracks off his upcoming full-length album.
Company Flow and DJ Shadow wrapped up the weekend in the Gobi Tent and were the perfect precursor to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Company Flow’s performance was bittersweet, as it was the final show they would play together. Thanks to the heat and classic beats, I was struck by memories of the San Fernando Valley in the 90’s. Sitting in the homie’s car, listening to Funcrusher Plus and Endtroducing while trying to get the most out of a busted air conditioning vent.
And then there were Dre and Snoop. Two characters who get love from every kind of person in this world. Even self-respecting women like myself couldn’t help singing along to raunchy lyrics with smiles on our faces. After “California Love”, a sharp comedown clued us in to the appearance of Tupac’s ghost. There was a slight uneasiness you could feel on the fields. To see such a lifelike rendition of a fallen icon was jarring. But the minute the music to “Hail Mary” started, it was easy to focus on the words and sounds that made him such a loved figure. Indio collectively put one in the air for him that night. The rest of the night slipped away into a haze of green smoke, which is probably still billowing over Coachella Valley right now.
Snoop and Dre: