Electronica Coachella Style
October 2012 – We made it from Florida abode to Indian Wells, in the great state of California, in just less than 12 hours (detours in Colton and Redlands to find and purchase 2 bottles of Laphroiag and a single bottle of Rangpur, with tonic and fresh limes). Calder Calhoun Wilson, photo-journalist, and his father, on a mission of music. The boy had arranged it all, the all-access passes, the tent by Safari, the premium ticket, all, of course, at my expense. We parked the car off entrance 12B and were taken to Tent 58, amongst 100 neatly arranged others, all glowing white in the sun, and privately at the end of a row, near toilettes, with wi-fi, and about 100 yards from a quite adequate shower. Car thermometer when we stepped out said 108 degrees. We poured gin drinks, added lime and tonic, girded loins and headed in to the madness at 5PM, piloted on golf carts by very pleasant folks who kept pushing bottles of cold water; first look at the ridiculous private security that sanitized this whole experience. This begins a bit of a confused wander, looking for various contacts and checking out where and how you can drink. At one point, three waifs come up to me and ask if they can take my picture, I say sure and the girl proceeds to take a number of shots with a very expensive Leica while one of the boys takes my contact info. Calder tells me when they leave that they are from GQ Magazine, so we’ll see if the scruffy old hippy in headband look is coming back.
We finally take an extended sit under a huge piece of bamboo sculpture while watching the vibe and groove energy being put down in the Mojave tent by Madeon, some 17-year old DJ phenom from France. All these DJ’s are visual artists also (or at least run a team), and this guy was painting mostly in reds. Since a wee child, and perhaps because of his brother’s long fandom, Calder has been a huge fan of Amon Tobin, and it was the primary goal of this journey to CA that we see the AT show, which started at, hmm, midnight. We got there a few minutes early and walked right up to the middle-front of the stage, where a number of very hard-core Tobin fans were already parked. One “Steady”, from Asheville, and his lovely wife Andy, were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. Just before the show began, Steady pulled out a veritable cigar like I’d never seen, explaining that Tobin had blown his mind last year at an event and that he had been planning his return, here, since then. In his latest incarnation (the ISAM Project), Tobin works from within an enclosed cube (he reveals himself with interior lighting only briefly at times, it’s just about the music and visuals) which is part of and in the middle of numerous offset cubes of various sizes stacked across the stage and on top of each other, askew, serving as the deep screen for an unrepeated machine-gun like array of lights and shapes which are linked with his music. The latter (traveling lightyears since the early years of Kraftwerk) is made of some melodies, captured patiently, or hammered thoroughly, and then ripped apart by unusual sounds (many of them highly industrial and electrical, you feel like you are inside a brain factory), punctuated by bass lines and explosions that you feel from head to toes. First time I have had my esophagus just shaken for an extended period, never mind what was happening to my balls. C had fitted me with some state-of-the-art earplugs, which allowed me to hear well this morning (although when I close my eyes, the colors go on). This was almost 60 minutes of raw sonic power and visual throbbing, and one of our friends at the front of the stage, Carolina, was actually crying at the end of it, shaking my hand and hugging me, telling us that she was just so glad to have been there with us. We exchanged similar feelings with Steady, who was obviously in a state he had dreamed about for awhile, mission accomplished. The adoring crowd was just blown away, and Tobin emerged from behind the set during the ovation and came down to take his own picture of the crowd. C, it turns out, has gotten some spectacular shots. On the way back to the tent, he too told me that he has choking back tears during the performance, the music tugging at many memories. I myself had just tried to stand as straight, steadfast and still as I could, feeling that I was in a high wind. People had been delirious all around us. We walked most of the way back to the tents and, after taking a bit of sustenance in the spacious lounge tent near our quarters (full of rugs, hip furniture, a DJ coolly spinning, mac ‘n cheese, and complete with the tattooed drummer, Tommy Lee), fell into our large beds around 2AM, with clean white sheets.
First time I have had my esophagus just shaken for an extended period, never mind what was happening to my balls.
Up Saturday around 9 and it’s a far better fate we deal with than many others. It’s close to 100 degrees already, and it’s so bright in the tent that you feel like you are on a movie set. But we live in relative luxury, and have coffee available at the lounge tent, and showers, bathrooms and then breakfast are close enough. It’s not till after noon that we head again into the heat and music. And both are full blown. Whereas Friday we were less than efficient, or at least less than dedicated, to seeing a lot of acts, today we flew from venue to venue, using the all-access bracelets to maximum effect. Stuff like Destructo, the Vaccines, We Were Promised Jetpacks, We Are Augustines, Childish Gambino, the Big Pink, Jacques Lu Cont (more Frenchy DJ!), Firehouse, the Kaiser Chiefs, the Buzzcocks (these old guys (the bass player looks like my most senior partner) still knocked it up), and as the afternoon got hotter, the very hot tUne-yARDs (Merrill Garbus, ukelele sound and all, does rock). Crowds were relatively light this afternoon, the heat obviously, but it’s the electronic tents, mostly Mojave and Sahara, that are consistently packing the people and enthusiasm. These DJs don’t have a message other than “let’s go!”, just a cranking beat that plays with the lull then climax again, and then again, accompanied by dizzying visuals and, today, large black men misting the surging audience down with pressure washers. I do appreciate the abundance of bikinis that appear and, back stage, take lots of pictures of the millions of dollars worth of equipment that has been assembled out there in the desert.
We have more than a pleasant buzz going when we return to tent 58 around 6:30 to collapse and regroup. (A thrill for the boy around this time: He had sent some of his photos to Amon Tobin himself last night, and has received an email from his management, saying that they loved his images, want to use them as part of the publicity for AT’s upcoming South American tour (Tobin hails from Brazil). This is like Keith Richard’s people getting back to me. By 7:30, we are cleaned up a bit and move back to the crowd. What’s been fun is our habit of moving quickly and deftly through the shifting masses. It entails keeping not only an eye in front of you to determine the openings in the crowd currents (I feel like a salmon), but also your eyes directly below you so that you can avoid the many bodies lounging just about everywhere. There’s nobody puking or anything like that (Coachella, I tell you, no bikers either), but there apparently is no obstacle to just collapsing into a fetal position, particularly next to whatever small piece of equipment, or under an array of balloons, that can provide some little shade. So we glide swiftly from Sebastian Ingrosso, the remarkable band, Kasabian, back to the hugely popular DJ, David Guetta (who did cook and looks good doing it), and then to the absolutely unique and ear-altering LIVE band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor (a bunch of LIVE musicians that seemed to gather around a fire and conjure up strange and extraordinary music, I can’t keep my eyes off the female violinist thatseems to direct their energy), to the Swedish band, Mike Snow. About 5 minutes before show time, we snuggle up close to the main stage for Radiohead, who came, I tell you, with just a bit of equipment. I can’t recite the set list, but suffice it to say they combined new numbers with enough deep retelling of highlights from Kid A and Amnesiac to gladden the heart of this old fan. I notice, a number of times, that they had three drummers at work, and I realize my fascination for drummers all weekend may largely be a result of the incredibly profound sound systems they all enjoy. We slipped out toward the end of the encore and, most remarkably, were met by a golf cart that delivered us back to the lounge tent for some cheese enchiladas and perfectly sautéed portobello mushrooms, just enough to fuel a night of sound, sound sleep, that may not have ended unless the sun and desert had failed to appear, which they did, with a hot vengeance, soon enough.
Sunday’s forecast was for 111 degrees. We breakfasted and then C worked some on his photographs and I did a yoga routine. Sure enough, a little before noon, the occasional thump, thump, thump turned into the now familiar booming drone, meaning that all stages had cranked up. Because of the heat, we resisted an early entry, but curiosity got the best of us soon and we headed in. Having honed our skills yesterday, we started with specialty gin drinks in the rose garden, and nursed the canteen of Rangpur, as we boomed from stage to stage, not lingering unless the performer was extraordinary. Noisia and Band of Skulls were amongst those of some interest, because of our backstage perspective, and I particularly enjoyed seeing the big computer arrays (ah, there’s the wizard!) supporting the sound and visual shows of the electronic artists. Although these guys are performing – they rally and enthuse their crowds – they really aren’t making live music. This is a romantic, ancient fogie criticism. But after seeing enough of it, I longed for some musicians engaged in the more instantaneous conjuring, and soon got it with Seun Kuti and Egypt 80. Seun is the youngest son of the Nigerian revolutionary and veritable founder of Afrobeat, Fela Kuti (now dead from AIDS). He is a young lion of a man, and Egypt 80 were his father’s men, with an old drummer who dynamically grooved, and guitarists and hornsmen who mesmerized. Standing next to us, I’m pretty damn sure, was the jazz musician Esperanza Spalding, who is just drop dead gorgeous, and was in constant eye contact with the band. When they ended, I got to shake the lead guitarist’s hand and tell him he was the best.This band was my highlight. We then ran and took a quick look at the interesting performer, the diminutive Santi White (a/k/a Santigold), but Calder then led me wisely to Beats Antique. Two drummers, a bass saxophone/ clarinet option, violin occasionally, and Zoe Jakes, an exotic belly dancer who straps on a marching drum (I understand she was a former member of the Extra Action Marching Band, the renowned San Franciscan troupe). Quite the entertaining show. And we weren’t finished. We maneuvered quickly over to another stage where Carrie Brownstein’s supergroup, Wild Flag, played some hardcore rock’n’roll, and then to the large “outdoor” stage where the venerable Swedish band, The Hives, were about to come on. Standing back stage, we were right next to them (large men they are) as they entered wearing their trademark formal black tuxedos, this time with long tails and top hats, and proceeded to rip through a few songs that had their fans just going wild.
Coachella is tricky, not a country for old men.
Around 7, we headed back to 58, checking out Dada Life on the way, before again finding our golf cart buddies. Calder took some more shots around the compound, while I enjoyed a longish shower that re-energized the soul. I donned the white linen suit, complemented by my new Wild Flag t-shirt (but an awfully hairy man amongst the thoroughly shaven masses), re-filled the canteen with copious Laphroiag and slipped back in to the festival. Good fortune allowed us to run into an NYC based friend of C’s who stated that this had been the best weekend of his life (an extraordinary statement from this very successful young man). The crowd, which because of the heat had been somewhat subdued during the day, was now surging (probably around 90,000 folks reportedly), but we found some space, pulled out the canteen, and just had us a little party, feeling the whole vibe. The musical surge was to come. We made it over to see Calvin Harris (he of less than glamorous name) who had the big DJ experience going in the Mojave tent, which was packed. I’m still trying to fully articulate my judgment here, but, in the end, there’s no denying the enthusiasm these artists generate and it’s the news of the musical moment as far as I can tell. A nice highlight here is that we found ourselves next to the core of Beats Antique. Calder immediately started chatting with their lead dude, David Satori(?) and Zoe Jakes herself, and we gave them high kudos (and there is even a picture out there with my arm around Ms. Jakes, a lovely young lady). Speaking of musical moments, there was, even more than previously, a real dilemma as to where to go next. Many options (including Aviici and Modeskeletor), but I convinced Calder that Florence and the Machine might offer the best visuals. Florence Welch, you know, has been generating quite the musical and fashion buzz and she indeed cuts a figure. So we made it up close. But, instead of flowing neo-gypsy magic, Tuareg jewelry and the like, Flo had on a long black, glossy piece, with sparkly stuff on her shoulders, looking very Las Vegas all in all. And the music matched. I saw no reason to stay for much, and after a last stroll taking in the whole gorgeous night scene, joined the very anxious crowd awaiting the appearance of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog, the rap establishment figures. Although we got up fairly close, this crowd was tight. At first, we were chatting with some obvious musical types (the drummer of the British band, Nirvana and his friends, an obvious producer or promoter, their women, etc), but we were soon overcome by a more boisterous assemblage. Dre’s in good shape, he’s lifting, and, I suppose Snoop is too, although the latter looks like he rides hard. The latter proceeded to smoke so much ganja on stage that we later speculated that it must not have been real (I’ve been corrected on that subject). If you were into this genre, this was the stuff. Not only did they do the old school, Long Beach stuff, but Wiz Khalifah (am I spelling this right?), 50 Cent and then Eminen all came out and did collaborative efforts (actually Eminem did mostly his usual solo, angry thing). They gave us the “mutha f-in’” this, and the “mutha f-in’” that, thoroughly. The climax if you will was the “hologram” appearance of long dead Tupac Shakur. We were so close that we kind of saw if from the side, spoiling a bit of the effect, but I must say that I started laughing out loud when Snoop was jammin’ next to the conjured figure, smoking a very large joint, and appearing to look at the projection as if they were both on another planet. People around me thought they were on another, more heavenly planet. I just held my ground again, enjoying the spectacle.
Esquire, Rock & Roll fan
When the act was finished, it finished, surprisingly no encore, but it was after midnight on Sunday. We worked ourselves back across the polo fields, now littered with thousands of plastic bottles and numerous exhausted youth. I wonder how many actually tried to make it home that night. We ended up walking all the way back to 58, being delayed at one point by a large metal gate that had “automatically” closed. There was food and cold drink back in the lounge, and we partook heavily. The sole had come off one of my boots. The wind, interestingly was picking up, and when we tucked in to bed, the tent was already flapping. After just a few, I woke up to much more flapping and decided our 5:30AM wake-up time, for our 10:20 flight out of LAX, may be a little too nonchalant. I roused the boy earlier, and we actually got on the road at 5:30. It was an heroic drive, if only observed by us. Oddly, a fog and mist came up at the same time as the sun was supposed to, and made the drive into LA’s high-speed traffic madness all the more ominous. But it was without incident that we found a route through the rush hour, got gas for the car, checked in the rental and boarded on time. It was long flight home.