Courtesy of Coachella: Photo by A. Osborn
WHAT IS COACHELLA
Equidistant from San Diego and Los Angeles, Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California is one of the most celebrated music events on the planet. The festival opened in 1999 with 25,000 people in attendance, losing money in its first year ($800,000 dollars reportedly). It sold out for the first time in 2004. Now, it is the largest festival in North America, spanning two 3-day weekends across eight stages. It boasts over 125,000 guests per day and is also one the most profitable festivals in the world, earning more than $114 Million in 2017. It was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, but now… Coachella is back.
The festival has headlining acts across every genre of music. This year, some major headliners from electronic dance music included Swedish House Mafia, Louis the Child, Flume, Disclosure, and Jamie xx. From international disco to deep house to folk music to punk rock to drag core, Coachella really has it all.
There are enormous art installations and experiential exhibits dotted around the festival grounds, all within the backdrop of a beautiful desert mountain scape. There are food options ranging from vegan burritos to pizza to pho, and beer gardens near every major tent. Apparently, Timothy Chalamet was walking around with his nipples out. This. is. Coachella.
Coachella features 8 tents. The Main and Outdoor stages are next to each other with the most grounds space and feature the most popular acts. Similarly the Gobi and Mojave stages buddy up, and feature more niche groups. Then there are the Sonora and Yuma tents, which are completely enclosed, air-conditioned, and feature seating couches, full bars, and state of the art lighting systems. While Sonora plays punk and rock, Yuma is for the house-lovers. Then there is the Sahara stage, which is a massive archway that also plays house and other big acts.
And last but not least is the DoLaB stage. Which is kind of like its own festival within a festival. DoLab is known for putting on Lightning in a Bottle every year (which takes place next month). And that stage is always circulating with fresh DJs playing songs that “pass the vibe check”. The stage has workers with mist guns cooling off the crowd, and has the most open air and shade of any of the stages. They also are pretty good at bringing on surprise performers and keeping it secret up until that moment. VIP sections hang on the outskirts of many of the stages; in the rose gardens and bubbling fountain areas of the polo fields.
Tips, Tricks, and Survival Tactics
The climate is no joke at Coachella. It is the desert after all. High highs, low lows and big dusty winds are all things you should prepare for. Plop and relax for the hottest part of the day in a cool shady place… you’ll have energy to do more later. The record high for the festival is 106 degrees during the day and a record low of 43 degrees at night. Sheer head scarves seemed to be the best trick to beat the heat and the cold. During the day you could wrap it around your head to protect from the suns rays, and at night use it as a a shawl to beat the wind while walking between stages.
And if you don’t have a fan already, get one. Nothing beats moving some air around in a hot tent of dancers. Sunscreen, bandanas (masks) and electrolytes in water are also a must. And remember, if it’s windy, you might feel cooler but you are still sweating. So stay hydrated!
Surprise surprise to find that there is free parking at Coachella! There was never any problem getting in if you arrive before 4pm. You can save time by laying out your outfits for the weekend ahead of time (This is LA after all). But, if you’re trying to get in right at noon, the gate almost never opens exactly when it’s supposed to. When it does though… be prepared because there will be a mad dash of patrons sprinting for the merchandise tent. The line is usually a standard 2-hour wait minimum. But if you make the mad dash, you can get all the swag you desire.
Getting there early is also useful if you’re interested in taking part in the experiential art installations. This year, there is a giant igloo dome that takes you through an air-conditioned 3D psychedelic experience to Odesza’s new tracks. But you’ve got to get in early or you’re in for a long line.
The typical music set runs about 45-60 minutes at Coachella. So, if you’re trying to cram and see as many artists as you can, you may want to rethink your strategy. You might find you only catch 15 minutes of each act as your sprint in the heat from stage to stage. Consider narrowing down your list, or committing to an area for some time, and being a little kinder to your feet and legs (because trust me, your dogs will be barking by Sunday). Make decisions, factor in the walking, and the crowds… it’s a lot.
There and Back
And as for leaving, that’s the hardest part. It’s a long dusty road with austere white lights and no music. You have two choices, you can either get out early to avoid the traffic, OR, you can take a nap in your car when you eventually find it (good luck finding your car). Otherwise, it’s another 2-hours sitting in traffic as you try to get back to your AirBnB. The festival also has camping options and paid priority parking that take some of the edge off but… just be ready.
Luckily, Coachella has a lot of options for restoration and recovery while you boogie down in the desert. This year, Sameday Health put on a popup with HBO at the Ace Hotel in the heart of Palm Springs. They had a spread of healthy Acai bowls, fresh fruit, and wellness shots all before a team of Registered Nurses and Doctors of Acupuncture. The services available ranged from 24-Karat Gold Ear Pinning to Cryo Facials. You could get a massage and take a yoga class. Or you could even get a vitamin B12 shot, and hook up to an “Get up & Go IV bag” infused with B Complex and Amino Acid to help burn fat, restore energy and improve performance in the harsh desert climate. And trust me, by Sunday, you’ll be glad that you did.
Keep an eye out for Sameday Health popups, as they are expanding rapidly across the United States. They plan to have an active presence in the festival communities around New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. And at the rate they’re growing, IV bags at festivals will soon become a regular thing. Their staff is personable and professional. They certainly added much needed love, care, and rest to the Coachella weekend (where everything is happening all the time all at once).
This year Coachella also featured a section of the festival devoted to ‘Everyone’. It was a safe space for people who were overwhelmed by the sensory overload of everything happening. ‘Everyone’ offered trained clinical psychologists who could sit and talk with people who had fallen out of balance. These rooms were all quiet, contained, and air conditioned. This is probably the best idea I have ever heard of being carried out at a festival.
For many festival goers, it is simply too hot to spend the heat of the day in an open field. Some people don’t get to the festival until the major acts start performing at 7PM. And if you are one of those people who likes it poolside, you got options! There are a plethora of hotels that feature day parties with pools and musical acts all over the Palm Springs region. It can be a great way to relax and stay cool while the desert sun beats down on the dusty festival grounds.
I went to Day Club Palm Springs to see what the fuss was about. This party was at the Hilton in Palm Springs. Upon entry I was offered a free towel, sunscreen and a wild berry popsicle with naturally infused citrus water. I sat on a swinging crescent moon chair while I watched the crowd begin to fill in for the TOKiMONSTA and MADEON DJ sets that were to play from Noon to 6PM.
There were cocktails, and VIP lounges with canopy beds and champagne on ice. There was a glitter station, and a bubble machine creating a vibrant atmosphere to relax, stay cool, and dance a little before the main event later that day. Coachella is more than just a music festival, the whole area comes to life to serve the festival goers. I would highly recommend getting at least one pool party in to break up the weekend.
The Breakout Stars of Coachella
Imagine for a moment that you are a festival producer, and you need to slot artists in tents at times that you think will best match their fanbase and popularity… Now try doing that with two years of zero live performance data.
Every year there are quasi-known artists at smaller tents who have a buzz about them. And when they start playing they catch fire and people come from all directions to revel in the madness of their set. This year, L’imperatrice and Fred again… were the ones that caused such perfect chaos with their impeccable artistry.
Incidentally, I have a thing for French Pop, and been a fan of L’imperatrice since 2019. And luckily, I was able to interview them the day before they caught fire at the biggest music festival in the United States.
The French Nu Disco group L’imperatrice presents with an eclectic warmth of color. There are 6 members all from different backgrounds. And to step in to the trailer with them is like relaxing on a couch with a bunch of friends who have known each other since forever. They welcome you amongst them with no reservations. In answering questions in conversation, they all have an unspoken fluidity of who is speaking, and who is listening. They share the room so beautifully and this all translates into who they are as performers. No one is the star and no one ever holds the lead for too long. They are an amorphous unit that wants desperately for you to join them, to share in the love and music that they have so expertly created. You’re invited! All you have to do is listen and boogie down to their funky bass lines and ethereal francophone vocals.
Coachella is L’imperatrice’s first major festival performance in the United States. Their shows are currently selling out all over the country. It seems Americans are finally ready for this type of French electronic-infused disco. If Polo and Pan are any indicators of history repeating itself. L’imperatrice will be headlining festivals within the year.
When the group began, they were purely instrumental with a fascination of synthesizers. The group’s founder, Charles de Boisseguin, was a big fan of space and cosmic disco. So their old stuff feels almost like it could be from the disco soundtrack of the X-files. When they introduced Flores Benguigui, the vocalist of the group, the sound shifted toward a “French Spy Film” vibe-in their first full length album, Matahari. Their most recent album Tako Tsubo (which means Heartbreak Syndrome in Latin), takes some influence from Japanese Cinepop, but stays true to their French Funk roots. It features a Miyazaki style cover art that depicts the three Greek fates who cut the strings of our souls and hearts (Remember Disney’s Hercules?). The group is constantly collaborating with artists to create album art and produce music videos, and they welcome second interpretations of their creations. This is art thriving.
L’imperatrice describes their process as “music first”. The bassist (David Gaugué), guitarist (Achille Trocellier), drummer (Tom Daveau), and keyboardists (Hagni Gwon and Charles de Boisseguin) all jam and experiment to create the sound. Flores then takes the feeling of that sound and uses it to write melodies and lyrics that overlay and fit. While the track list expands in production, the album reveals itself. To L’imperatrice, the music is the boss, and they are just trying to conduit the feeling as it grows so they can share it, rather effectively, with their fans.
To watch them perform is to watch a masterclass in showmanship. They share the stage as they share the room, feeding off one another and giving it back to their audience. They bird-bob their heads in unison, and choreograph simple slide steps and crouches in a fashion that isn’t really seen much these days. The Gobi tent, which was half full when they began performing, was overflowing back to the food courts with patrons jumping up and down in the joy and reverie of the music. L’imperatrice even dropped a never before heard song to close out the set. The bassist hopped on the triangle and yes, there was more cowbell. Melt my heart and stomp my feet.
So if you’re going to Coachella, and you’re going for the music, you simply cannot miss L’imperatrice.
Another artist the people couldn’t stop talking about, was Fred again… The people who attended his show mentioned how they felt like their lives were changed forever. Fred again… is a solo act. He got his start during the pandemic and produced an album that featured normal people saying beautiful and haunting vignettes of words, all to the danceable beats. There has been growing hype around the shy London based performer, and in the year since his first album released, he has sky-rocketed to fame.
There is a sweetness, a humbleness, and a precious nervousness in his stage presence that makes you want to root for him. His smile is infectious and when his music hits you, you’ll probably get emotional, and dance-cry as you rethink your entire life. His attention to detail is unparalleled, his set was cathartic, grounded, and that was all reflective in the reaction of the audience, which quickly filled beyond capacity. Every individual I interviewed about their experience of his show was the same.
There is a wonder in Fred again… considering that in the span of a year, he went form being locked-down, alone in his apartment, to performing a sunset time slot at the largest music festival in the United States. Where will you be in a year? So much can happen, and Fred again… reminds us of that. The set included longer clips of his samples, which came from simple voice mails, phone calls. It called upon the shared pain of the human experience, and offered hope that things will get better. It is a reminder that art is everywhere. Once again, if you’re going for the music, this is it.
Room for Improvement
As with all things in life, nothing is perfect. And Coachella certainly has a lot that it could do to make its event better for everyone.
There is a circle of phone thieves at Coachella and they like to strike in crowd bottlenecks at major acts. Someone tried to take my phone out of my pocket while I was navigating out of a tight Main Stage crowd. I literally grabbed him by the throat and asked him if he just really tried to steal my phone. And I have a first hand report that one festival patron caught a phone thief in the act, and brought him to a security guard, and the guard said he couldn’t do anything about it. This is not acceptable and Coachella needs to make an improvement in this regard.
There was also collective complaint about the enclosed Yuma tent, which held the house music. There was a winding line that often took more than an hour to get in to the tent. People were forced to throw away or chug water in the blistering heat before entering. And many of the emergency exits were closed off because the indoor bar ran perpendicular to the entrance. Intentionally dehydrating and preventing safe exits for your festival goers? Really Coachella?
It also feels like there was a missed opportunity to get more art installations on the grounds. There is so much wide open space and it is so hot. Everyone’s phone is either dying and overheating. Having more shade and more unique meeting points will only be an asset to this large sprawling festival. These installations could be integrated into the long and grueling pathway that connects the parking lot to the festival grounds. More shade would be nice. And could you imagine if they had smaller acoustic acts that helped you ride the music wave back to your car. Enough of this desolate wasteland walk back home! Make the experience a wonder from beginning to end.
Lastly, there were some technical difficulties that I was told “always happen” weekend one of Coachella. First, artist on the rise NIKI, lost power for five minutes during her sunset performance on Friday. Lane8 had a 30 minute delay due to melted equipment from the extreme heat. And worst, the closing act, Swedish House Mafia was delayed for 40 minutes. This festival is the most profitable one in the country, how about we put some of that into making it smoother too.
One of the greatest parts of festivals is the artists that you didn’t know you loved. When you’re walking by a bumping tent on the way to the bathroom, and the sound hooks you in. All of a sudden you’re a fan, and dancing with strangers. You’ll see the super fans who are in love with the moment. It’s infectious and heart warming. You have no clue where your friends are, and couldn’t care less. The serendipity and chaos of festivals allows you to be your best self again and again. It is an opportunity to discover who you didn’t know you could be.
And if you see a guy who is sitting on a blanket staring into space, sit down and offer him water, and hold his hand while you walk him back to his friends. Ask the young couple in line at the merchandise tent, who just graduated from Cal Poly, and are so excited to be at their first festival—about their lives, and who they are most excited to see. And when the poor, tired girls with blisters on their feet stop and beg you to get into your car at 3AM, say ‘yes‘; and drive the extra 10 minutes to get them home safe. This is what festivals are all about. It is an exchange and an opportunity to interact with humans who you might have never met, and who you likely will never see again.
Living in the greater Los Angeles region, we are all so isolated in our little lives. We have our jobs, and our friends, and our neighborhoods; and because of the traffic, we hardly go outside those comfort zones. Coachella is a rare opportunity for the Southern California basin to come together and mix. So please, go to stand at the rail for the surprise set at the Do LaB. Wander through the campground to the after hours silent disco. Find some booty-clappers and go get freaky at Megan Thee Stallion. Coachella has gifts for you. There are gems hiding out there in the desert, waiting for you to find them.
Stay tuned for Part II, from our correspondent Matt Sierra, who will feature reviews of the headliners and an in depth look at the DoLab.