Coachella Status Update

[Editor's Note: While Coachella's two weekend desert jammer has generated tons of photo and video for us to experience via remote, air-conditioned laptop stations, this year we wanted to enrich our point of view from a Commenter perspective. So we called on Stereogum comment section denizen/underscore enthusiast Michael_ to provide intrepid reports from his three days in Indio. This is his story.]

Last year, I broke my streak of five years and didn’t attend Coachella. The lasting impression that 2010’s edition left on me was a damaging one, defined by the now-infamous and unruly gatecrashing crowd which turned the lush Empire Polo Field and one of the most beautiful festivals in the world into a litter-heavy hipster Hell. Aside from battling way too many partygoers in neon war paint no matter where I went, even the little conveniences I had taken for granted were no longer there (most problematic, the shower lines on the campground were unbearably long to bother waiting through and I went three gross days without bathing or shaving after being covered day in and day out in sweat, dust and grime. A petty thing to complain about as I’m not high maintenance by any means, but a perk of Coachella for non-roughin’ it suburban types like myself is how they’ve managed to make the camping experience a joke by giving you all the amenities you have at home in festival campground form.) Coupled by last year’s lack of reunion acts and rare gets, I thought it might be a healthy decision to see how the following year played out before doing it all over again. In 2012, I returned to the polo field thanks to the promise of seeing three of my personal favorites reunite. And this time, I wisely booked a hotel…

Day 1, Friday
On paper, the Black Keys were the day’s headliners, but there was one last minute addition that ended up stealing the show and throwing the day completely off course: The weather. I’ve been going to Coachella since 2006, and not once have temperatures ever dipped below the high 80s during the day, with nights dipping into temps that might require a hoodie at most. Being slathered in sunscreen, covered in a film of sweat and in some cases, wearing next to nothing are something Coachellagoers expect as the norm environment in Indio over the three day period. As I raced off to the Gobi to catch Abe Vigoda just as the festival had kicked off however, I found myself battling against high winds and knew Mother Nature would be putting on a spectacular for Weekend 1’s crowd. By the time EMA took that same stage at 3:15pm, the temperature was in the low 70s at best, grey clouds ominously billowing behind Ms. Anderson and actually working to her benefit as her angsty, solemn songwriting fits much better in that context than when stuffed inside a hot, sticky tent with a couple hundred heat exhausted listeners (unlike Neon Indian later on the Outdoor Theatre whose brand of synth pop would have melted in nicely with layers of sunshine, but alas, it would not be.) Once I stepped outside the Gobi, things told a different story. I had actually bothered to check leading up to the day and knew well enough that shorts were probably not a smart wardrobe decision while “bro” types who walked into the festival grounds oiled up shirtless with their female companions strutting around in neon bikinis could be seen running for cover as a dash of sprinkles and wind gusts blew non-stop throughout the polo field. The rain would be sporadic throughout the rest of the day, reappearing quite romantically just as Mazzy Star would take the stage, but as a lifetime New Englander, it was somewhat comical to see attendees donning winter coats and scarves as I joined The Hoff to catch Madness on the Outdoor Theatre’s sunset slot (note: There was no sunset.) Aside from the weather, Day 1 was best defined by its enormous offerings of huge reunions and rare acts. If you told me a year ago, I would be seeing Madness, Pulp, Mazzy Star and Refused in a span of six hours, I would have probably decked you for attempting to toy with my emotions. (Refused, by the way, were arguable the night’s true musical headliners and the day’s best set overall, followed closely behind by Death Grips’ high-impact, mosh pit-worthy debut filled with 15 ft. inflatable pills crowd surfing alongside a sea of young punks.) The only casualty of Day 1 was M83 who became an unfortunate victim of when poorly conceived set times and location bookings happen to good bands. Goldenvoice apparently didn’t get the memo that Anthony Gonzalez and company are kind of a very big deal right now thanks to a Victoria’s Secret commercial and cross-over appeal with the Skrillex crowd who probably don’t even know Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts exists (the best comment I heard en route was, “Wait, M83 is like, a band?!”) Yet, they still stuffed the French electronic makers inside the festival’s second smallest tent, the Mojave. This is an important lesson in learning to choose your battles wisely while attending a festival, my friends. As I found myself quickly being packed inside with little to no room to breathe, I made the wise decision to watch M83 from the outskirts so I could leave early for an ideal spot at Refused. This oddly enough is when things got ugly. As I watched the Mojave quickly swell over-capacity, it didn’t deter revelers adamant to get up close for “Midnight City.” Many went as far to jump barricades on the sides and force their way into space that didn’t exist. People were shoving their elbows against others jaws and at one point, I saw a heated argument go down when a group of chicks attempted to hop the divider only to be blocked away by an angry “bro” yelling there was no room. Do you think that stopped them? I kept my distance for three songs until myself and some strangers realized the set wouldn’t be enjoyable, collectively proclaimed M83’s crowd a microcosm for the worst and disrespectful type of people a festival of this size can offer and went about watching whatever was left of Explosions in the Sky. My faith in humanity was restored when not one, but two dudes during Refused apologized for blocking my line of site. The day ended with a post-midnight Horrors nightcap.

Day 2, Saturday
After a tiring marathon run of 12 straight hours of probably the best top to bottom daily lineup I’ve ever experienced at Coachella, I wasn’t too eager to get Day 2 rolling along right off the bat. That was no skin off my back really, as Saturday was for the most part a day stacked heavily with enormously popular and critically acclaimed soft-sided established artists (i.e. Radiohead, Bon Iver, The Shins, Feist) who I respect but probably wouldn’t otherwise go out of my way to see if they weren’t offered up via Coachella’s silver platter. That said, I made my way into the polo field just past 5pm to catch punk rock originals Buzzcocks in the Gobi tent, who I should add look old as dirt, had the most energy out of all the weekend’s veteran acts and had no issue connecting with a young audience who were more than willing to form a circle pit while enjoying their classics. That would be the day’s sole energy high, as the festival became quietly invested in careful listening practices just as the sun fell behind Jeff Mangum on the Outdoor Theatre. The Neutral Milk Hotel frontman’s rare performance was easily the weekend’s most beautiful and ideal for this stage setting for the mere fact it was one of the few moments during Coachella completely devoid of any theatrics. Mangum, in typical recluse fashion, requested no photography or video to be taken as he played while the two giant screens on each side the stage went black. For 50 minutes, it was just about Mangum’s music without having to worry about the person in front of you holding up their phone trying to Instagram the moment instead of actually appreciating and living in it. After fumbling my way through Feist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor marked a subtle transition of a nature more my speed. It was also during their sat I sadly realized many of the reunion / nostalgia bands whom I deemed “must-sees” and important throughout the course of the weekend (beginning with Madness, Pulp and Mazzy Star on Friday and carrying on here) were not held in the same respect through the eyes of my fellow Coachellagoers, as the Mojave tent’s crowd with ridiculously thin. Sucks for them, because GS!YBE’s dark, rumbling post-rock owned my heart on Day 2. Even Radiohead’s space-age stage show directly afterward wasn’t enough to steal the win that night. Then again, it was also the exact moment when a combination of sleep deprivation, my body still operating on Eastern Standard Time and nighttime temperatures again dipping into the 50s that had me caring a little less about what Thom Yorke was doing on the main stage and more focused on catching some z’s.

Day 3, Sunday
Coachella was feeling more like its normal self on Sunday with temperatures surpassing 80 degrees for the first time since its start. My day also got off to a sizzling start on the main stage with Santigold who stacked her singles at the very start, making it easy to justify leaving her set after spending a half hour baking under the Indio sky to be cooled down by Real Estate’s breezy seaside pop inside the shaded Gobi. Things again heated up soon after in a much different and disturbing way during Wild Flag’s sun soaked slot on the Outdoor Theatre however. Friends, allow me to share with you yet another pitfall to seeing a great band in a festival setting, and this one had nothing to do with the band immediately set to take the stage. Standing just several rows away from the front of the stage, it became apparent early on that barely anyone around me looked like typical Wild Flag listeners (whatever that may be) but rather, were a combo of dolled up young ladies (you know the type – They cut their way to the front of the stage linked by their hands, take more pictures of themselves inside the crowd than whomever is playing and have carefully plotted the day’s outfit – or lack thereof — months in advance) and “bros” (they’re everywhere!) trying very hard to get up front. Had Carrie Brownstein and her band mates managed to conquer a younger mainstream demographic with their brand of female-empowering punk rock?” I asked myself. While I could only hope, it turns out these kids were merely readying themselves for the following act, The Weeknd, and doing so with their sharp, manicured nails out. Aside from draining the energy out of a space that could have otherwise been preoccupied by people who actually wanted to see the indie rock supergroup, these kids were downright cutthroat in their bid to get the spot for Abel Tesfaye’s American debut. It’s not earth shattering that manners tend to go out the window in live music settings, but what completely killed it for me was when two chicks up front nearly came to blows over god knows what midway through Wild Flag’s set, prompting security to get involved and resolving the issue by sticking a non-partisan “bro” in between the two hellions. The lesson learned here is that, unlike Friday night’s M83 debacle, it isn’t always the band’s actual fans that can ruin the vibe, but rather those of whoever is waiting in the wings afterward. The ridiculous part is that once Wild Flag stepped off the stage, these people had to wait another 40 minutes until The Weeknd emerged. That’s either pure dedication, a poor use of time and / or what separates real music fans from fashionable ones (I’ll go with the latter for the mere fact that I watched these same people flee The Weeknd’s set as soon as Gotye and Justice’s appearances approached, cutting the massive Outdoor Theatre crowd well under half by end. The Weeknd, by the way, absolutely met all expectations in his highly anticipated Coachella debut with a sultry mix of all the best from last year’s mixtape trilogy.) From there, I wandered over to dance party U.S.A., otherwise known as Justice on the main stage. Did you know that Justice is more popular than Radiohead? They are if comparing both acts crowd size says anything. As a listener with punk, hardcore and indie-leaning tendencies, I personally don’t get this ongoing phenomenon and was worried for a bit that these wild ravers might not leave the main stage once Justice clocked out (possibly in hopes of snagging a good spot for Dr. Dre) and getting in the way of my beloved At the Drive-In reunion. Luckily, there was a mass exodus that made a bee line to Girl Talk and Calvin Harris, and I got my hassle-free At the Drive-In reunion with another small yet dedicated crowd in tow. The El Paso post-hardcore quintet (alongside Refused) had no problem taking my vote for Coachella’s top honors by sounding great on the large stage act and being fully energized despite what the week’s early warm up gigs had suggested. Wanting to end the weekend on a high note, I called it a Coachella as soon as ATDI made their way to the back and walked out of the polo field wondering if this was my last rodeo. Coachella has always to me been about the music and the music alone. This year, I was fortunate to experience three of the last reunions I’ve been holding out for all in one weekend with Refused, Mazzy Star and At the Drive-In. As Coachella’s core audience continues to get trendier, dancier and more Status Update-obsessed with the well running dry on bands worth flying across the country for, I don’t know how many more aces Goldenvoice has left up its sleeve. I’m not complaining – I just know where to choose my battles. Right now, the FYF and FFFF Fests are looking like two very formidable replacements to fill the void.

Comments (53)
  1. Nice dispatch, Michael_. Carrie Brownstein spoke to much the same experience, albeit in <140 characters.!/Carrie_Rachel/status/191651824808370176

  2. As most of my life is spent living vicariously through other people’s descriptions of experiences of their life I really enjoyed this!

    I had the chance to see ATDT in Dallas last week but I was in NY for the Videogum party, my friends called me up telling me they got a ticket and were mad – still are, a bit – that I wasn’t there.

    Great writing!

  3. Even though I am more of the dance music persuasion, I certainly understand your feelings about the direction Coachella is heading in. I’m glad you survived the bro-pocalypse to turn our your report. I also find it hilarious people were bundling up at 70 degrees, and I grew up in South Florida.

  4. Thanks, Michael_. Always an enjoyable and insightful read. While I’ve never been to Coachella, I’ve frequented Bonnaroo a number of times, and my feelings toward the shifting demographic of fellow concert goers has lead to me to a similar conclusion as yours. I have nothing against the age, personalities, or appearances of the crowd at festivals. Having a wide variety of attendees completes the festival experience for me. But when those people interrupt and distract my attention from the shows, and act genuinely disrespectful toward one another, I ask myself if festivals are worth it for me anymore.

    • Same goes for Lollapalooza these past few years that I’ve been there. It seems that larger festivals are aiming more towards the EDM crowd and it can attract some crowds that are younger, and more inexperienced at how to behave at shows.

      • I went to Bonnaroo for the first time last year and I had no bad experiences. Maybe I got lucky, I guess….because everyone i came across was pretty awesome. It seemed like a majority of people were respectful of those around them, and everyone was really just having a great time and enjoying the festival.

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  6. What a great surprise!

    Logging in to see our very own Michael_ given us the blow by blow of Coachella Weekend 1. I love that you focused on the crowds because as great as set times look on paper, it is the crowd that can often make or break a show. The M83 recap frightens me as I plan on seeing them for Weekend 2.

    Especially since I Refused to watch the M83 set on the livestream. I will say, that Refused set was INCREDIBLE. They were so cordial and simply left everything out on the stage.

    BTW, Coachella’s Livestream experience this year was mighty impressive. Even though I’ll be walking in Michael_’s footsteps in mere days, I feel like I’ve already gotten a taste. I focused on watching bands I knew I’d have to miss due to conflicts or just lack of preparation. The benefits of a two weekend festival are slowly starting to show themselves.

    Great review Michael_! YTMND!

    • The ball is in your court, Michael Hanna.

    • M83 was outstanding live, and although I agree with Michael_’s assessment that it was very crowded and kinda terrible to put them in the smaller venue, it was completely worth it. Everyone was dancing and it was a great time all around.

      Although the complaint that it was tightly packed and hard to move is legitimate, I hate to break it to everyone, but all big shows are like that. I was lucky enough to get very close for The Shins – Bon Iver – Radiohead trifecta, and I was unable to move for all three of those concerts. Although not enjoyable, it is something festival goers will need to get used to: The closer you are, the most squished you will be.

      TL;DR See M83, they were amazing, simply amazing.

      • Thanks for this post Alex!

        It has given me the confidence needed to withstand the M83 crowd. I’ll be at The Rapture right before, hopefully people were dancing up a storm to them as well.

        • I caught The Rapture from the back, and it was a great time. Also, if you are looking to get your dance on, I hate to admit this, but Girl Talk was ridiculously amazing live. My friends and I are not into mashups at all, but that concert was a giant dance party.

          Have fun an Coachella 2!

  7. Nice work, M_

    Just you guys wait until Stereogum asks djfreshie to host his own column: “Deconstructing Deconstructing: a Postmodern approach to critiquing a feature whose analysis is not a deconstruction, but rather mostly an overwrought self-satisfied look at which female artists are empowered or not empowered, based on the author’s own semi-archaic opinion of what constitutes empowerment in music, while never addressing anything actual musical, like whether maybe the female artists empower themselves by, oh I don’t know, being good at music? That or a really weak twitter study of Lil B.”

  8. Very happy to see you all enjoyed my ramblings. I look forward to returning to regular comment section action on Wednesday, but until then, I’ll be enjoying what’s left of my vaca with a small shopping spree at Amoeba while hoping the sight of glow sticks embedded into my retinas will soon begin to fade.

  9. Fun Fun Fun Fest really is shaping up to be the most consistently awesome festival in terms of bands, location, size, and the crowd in general

  10. While I have also never been to Coachella (one day…) I had a similar experience at RockNess a couple of years age, where some people clearly had no idea the sort of stuff that went on at a Crystal Castles show. Sadly that festival caters almost entirely to that crowd now.

    • They do, and people did some awful things like leave bands the instant they played their hit song (90% of the Gotye crowd left after they played “Somebody That I Used to Know”), however I have to say people were just so happy to be there, and with the slight exception of crowd surfers (I am 6’4″ and get kicked in the head every time….every time) I thought the crowd was great for almost all the shows. To be honest, the Real Estate crowd was 10x better at Coachella than any other time I have seen them in SF. Now that I think of it, maybe SF just has a really shitty concert scene….

  11. But what did you think about Tupac????

  12. This article really underscores Michael’s exemplary efforts in the comment section here. Kudos.

  13. The complaint about the showers on the campground couldn’t be more valid. 2010 was my only Coachella and they shower situation was rediculous. We decided to get a hotel around 5:30 on day one. The demo at the campground is so young too, I was 26 when I went and it was probably the first time in my life I felt old.

    • This is starting to bring back memories…

      Pretty sure that Coachella overbooked the camping grounds. My friends were coming in on Friday and were not allowed entrance (they had camping passes and wristbands). They had to stay parked in a ditch outside the festival ground for… 8 hours? I think 8 hours. Missed LCD Soundsystem and such.

      They eventually got them in by turning the “Checkpoint Station” into campgrounds. My friend said they were pitching their tents over broken glass from bottled beer that was confiscated/destroyed.

      I wasn’t aware of “Gatecrashers” in 2010, I believe it, but I think a lot of it had to do with Coachella selling too many camping passes. The campgrounds were MUCH smaller in 2009, although that was the last year they had “Normal Camping” (read: not car camping).

      My guess in 2010 is that they didn’t estimate properly how much more space car camping was going to take up. *shrug* I’m not defending em, fuck em, but I think there is a more rational explanation than 10,000 people gatecrashed. Makes it sound like none of them didn’t have tickets.

    • This was my first Coachella and I have to say that camping was not bad at all. There was never a long wait for a bathroom (although they were disgusting to say the least) and the longest I waited for a shower was 20 minutes (the line was in front of yoga, so I can’t complain too much). Although the showers were not clean, they were far from bad, and had cold water, which was pretty damn refreshing in the heat. I am currently 25, and there are definitely younger people there, but I did not feel old, just really out of shape….

      After reading through this post, it occurred to me that I come off as a sad, out of shape man, with low standards…. I am going to reevaluate my life now.

  14. ???

    The shower situation at a three day rock n’ roll festival is less than ideal?…….Holy shit!

    I thought it was all about the music, dude……

    I thought your piece, which made strong, insightful observations at times, suffered overall because it reeked of (“suburban?”) annoyance and judgement.

    Really. The world wants to know.

    How annoyed were you?

    • I’ve been to six Coachellas now, with this being the first I stayed at a hotel. I’m not sure if you were at Coachella 2010, but it was estimated that tens of thousands of people crashed the gates and campgrounds throughout the weekend and made for a somewhat dangerous logistical nightmare. Organizers also attempted to make several drastic changes to the campground area that year by expanding the campground area and centralizing the shower area, which for some reason was cut down to a fraction of the size from previous years. As plb102′s comment above states, it was an issue. Yes, I understand it’s a rock ‘n roll festival (Well, these days, it’s becoming a stretch to call it that…) but many people pay the $85 just to camp each year for the small perks like the availability of a shower. Keep in mind, Coachella weather is normally in the 90s (next weekend is forecast to be near 100 degrees), there is a ton of dust and dirt around, you spend your day in a mask of sweat and at the end or beginning of the day, some people just want to wash it all off. I can’t confirm since I haven’t been back to the campground since, but I believe the situation is back to normal, yet to point out and criticize that anecdote in regards to my experience this year doesn’t really make much sense.

      Secondly, I wasn’t annoyed at any point during the great weekend and have trouble seeing where I came off that way during my post. Not being able to see M83 (quite literally, albeit) wasn’t a huge loss in my book since I’m not the hugest fan of M83 to begin with, and so I made the executive decision to leave and find a better way to spend my time. Several others around me made an exit for that same exact reason. I didn’t do so just so that I could say I was better than anyone in the crowd. I did so because I paid several hundred dollars to be at Coachella and wanted to make the most of my time there. Likewise, attending Justice was fascinating from my eyes because I don’t listen to that much EDM music, and given its massive popularity right now, I’m happy that I experienced it even if it didn’t turn me into a dance music fan. I wasn’t making any complaints during the set or being rude to anyone around me. I merely observed and let the kids dance, just as I would have liked someone to do for me if they were in my position during a band I enjoyed which they knew little about. To say I was annoying and judgemental would be to liken me to The Weeknd fans standing in first five rows from the front booing Wild Flag as they played, paying little to no attention to the performance, looking at their phones the entire time, complaining that they just wanted it to end and and making passive aggressive remarks / nearly starting a physical fight with the people whose views they were blocking as they pushed their way toward the front. That said, I’m all about the music whether I agree with someone else’s tastes or not, and my anecdotes were a defense to keeping the live experience fair to everyone. It appears to me that you’ve taken my criticism on common crowd courtesy to mean something against people’s tastes in music, and that just isn’t so.

      • People were BOOING Wild Flag?

        Fuck teenagers.

        • Sadly, given how crowded festivals are, it is difficult to see a band up close unless you watch the previous show. To be honest, I arrived two shows early to see The Shins/Bon Iver/Radiohead (Radiohead up close is a life changing experience), and even then I was still 10 people back. With that in mind, some of my favorite shows from this year were the ones I actually went to for the next show. Although I did not know the songs, I did dance (hopefully that helps).

          • I recall in 2006 Tool fans booing Massive Attack.

            I just… I can’t… I don’t even.

          • Seems to be a theme for Tool fans. They also booed My Bloody fucking Valentine in one of their return shows at All Point’s West. Mind you, this was during My Bloody Valentine’s reunion tour. I don’t mind the band, but Tool fans are the worst.

        • they were saying BOO-urns, right?

      • M_, I agree most of your observations, and even if one should expect some of this behavior from a growing number of festival goers I’m not sure it makes it any less obnoxious. I gotta say though, you do overuse the term “bro”. And yes, I do know what you mean, but it can make you come off a little judgemental. I’m not sure why classifying people as bros is ok when lumping people together as hipsters has been considered lazy for a while now.

  15. I remember Michael_ back before he was a big shot Stereogum contributor.

  16. Many thanks for this dispatch, Michael_. I really enjoyed reading it.

    I just have one issue, though: you said the Weeknd “absolutely met all expectations in his highly anticipated Coachella debut with a sultry mix of all the best from last year’s mixtape trilogy.”

    I know I wasn’t there, but I watched the live stream and Mr. Tesfaye sounded very uneven vocally throughout the whole set. Did you not notice this? I’m really surprised that there wasn’t a stronger reaction about his performance. Not that I wanna be a Debbie Downer for the folks who liked his set, but are we really past the point of expecting singers to be good at singing?

    • I get what you mean, but then again, I’m not looking for perfection when a band plays (and I personally didn’t notice an unevenness with his singing from where I stood.) If the band sounded awful and there was a total lack of on-stage energy, I might have thought otherwise, but my expectations may not be as high as others’ in the vocal department.

  17. This is kind of funny to me because when I was in college all I wanted was to go to Coachella. Now a few years on, and reading live reports from attendees over the past few years, and I think Coachella would be the most god awful experience ever thanks to the crowd and people showing up. Just watching the coverage from this past weekend, it seems like its turned into a commune for rich, annoying assholes; whether it be about what celebrity partied where, who Gerard Butler was fucking in a porta-potty, or whatever other nonsense was happening around the place.

    I’m so glad there are a bunch of smaller festivals popping up (or growing up) around the country like Fun Fun Fest, Neon Desert, and LouFest.

  18. All I gotta say is this

  19. I saw Tune-Yards and St. Vincent last night in one of those shows in between the Coachella dates here in Tucson. they both were amazing. St. Vincent definitely brings out a totally different side to her songs live.

  20. Refused were fucking amazing. This lil reunion of their’s might single-handedly bring punk hard-edge punk BACK…and i hope they keep going.


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