Six things Coachella’s dance fans won’t shut up about
One of the inevitabilities as you stumble out of Coachella, caked in dust and broken from the desert marathon, is that you missed some great performances. Such is the nature of the beast: with three days, six stages and hundreds of sets, it’s impossible to take it all in. It’s a festival where you can start at Nick Cave, pass Wu-Tang Clan and end up in a heaving sea of bodies at Eric Prydz.
On weekend one, there were two dedicated hubs for the inthemix-inclined: the vast Sahara structure and the intimate Yuma dome. There was, however, room for dance acts on the other stages too. It’s testament to Coachella’s smart programming that you could find Booka Shade following Janelle Monae, or Simian Mobile Disco slotted between Grizzly Bear and Franz Ferdinand.
Throughout weekend one, inthemix witnessed some standout electronic sets, from the mellow to the bombastic. As regular life resumes for Coachella’s bedraggled hordes, and preparations begin for weekend two, here’s what the buzz was all about at the Polo Fields.
#1 NON-STOP SAHARA RAVING
Some Coachella ragers inthemix spoke to were planning to stay stationed at the Sahara stage for the full weekend. Inside an arched hangar reminiscent of Ultra Music Festival’s Mega Structure, a battalion of production came into its own as darkness fell. The boxed LEDs onstage framed the DJ podium, as lighting fixtures pulsed overhead and lasers shot across the expansive dancefloor. Given the scale of the space, the music had to match.
On Friday night, the prime sunset slot went to Skrillex and Boys Noize as Dog Blood, who recreated the madness of Ultra Music Festival with a set that jerked all around the BPM range, from acid techno to thundering bass. As the man who sells more tickets in North America than any other dance act, Bassnectar was the right name to close day one, and he filled every inch of the arena with a blistering set (then it was on to Vegas to bring some bass to the bottle-service set at Surrender).
On Saturday’s scorching afternoon, Baauer got Sahara bustling early, keeping it bottom-heavy right up until the expected Harlem Shake moment. The viral hit wasn’t confined to its creator’s set, either, with Major Lazer and even Jurassic 5 among the acts who gave it a run. The one-two punch of Fedde Le Grand and Benny Benassi was all about slick build-ups and hands in the air, before Moby stepped up in all-out rave mode. It was then down to Knife Party to bring Saturday home with a relentless parade of ‘seizure music’, after which a sea of dazed faces staggered out to find an after-party.
While on most dance stages, 20 minute gaps between sets would compromise the vibe, it made sense on the Sahara stage to reset the energy. Case in point, Sunday’s line-up, which travelled from Paul Kalkbrenner tweaking his machines to Coachella regular Paul Oakenfold in big-room mode to star of the moment Hardwell in his debut at the Polo Fields. It all built to an epic send-off, and we’ll get to that later…
#2 GREAT MUSIC (AND LONG QUEUES) AT YUMA
Stepping inside the close quarters of Coachella’s new Yuma dome – air-conditioned, dark and decked out with disco balls – the desert felt far away. Then there was the immersive PA, brought in by Hollywood’s SOUND Nightclub, who curated a distinguished line-up across the weekend.
Given the names on the bill – including made-in-America stars like Seth Troxler, Richie Hawtin and DJ Harvey alongside Ibiza darlings Jamie Jones, Loco Dice and Maya Jane Coles – dancefloor space was at a premium. If you weren’t buzzing about the sets inside the dome, you were probably grumbling about the lengthy queues to get in.
#3 HOLOGRAM-FREE HIP HOP
Thanks to California’s medical marijuana program, hip hop heads were well-prepared for weekend one. While Blur and The Stone Roses did their own throwback sets on the mainstage, Friday night at the Outdoor Theatre saw a different nostalgia act taking us back to “original beats with real live MCs”. A pungent fog settled across the crowd in the minutes before Jurassic 5 arrived. While the return of both Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark was a welcome sight, it was the four frontmen who commanded the next 50 minutes.
The turnout seemed split between Jurassic 5 devotees rapping along to every lyric and punters who’d missed the group’s early-2000s dream run. (Amusingly, whoever was controlling the live video feed on the side-of-stage screens often missed the arms in the air, instead catching blank, stoned faces.) While rusty in parts, it was classic J5, each voice still on-point and the between-songs banter as slick as ever.
The fug was back for Wu-Tang Clan’s 20th anniversary set on Sunday, this time accompanied by a dust storm. The crew’s all-in, occasionally shambolic energy was in full effect, with an hour of hits bouncing from Protect Ya Neck to Bring Da Ruckus to Triumph. As Raekwon announced, looking out through the swirling dust, “We came to steal this shit tonight.” It was a set with enough galvanising moments and knockabout energy to distract from the biting wind whipping through the crowd. Almost.
#4 “LIKE GLASTONBURY, WITHOUT THE MUD”
While the UK braces itself for another bitter winter, some of its finest electronic exports stole the show on Coachella’s weekend one. On the mainstage, Hot Chip’s streamlined festival playbook accompanied a brilliant sunset, peaking with I Feel Better.
Later that night, a more plaintive group of Londoners, the xx, took the stage for a mesmeric set. The view from the Coachella mainstage – with palm trees lit up in vivid colours, a crowd that stretches for miles and the towering Ferris Wheel behind it all – is as iconic as they come, and it suited the xx perfectly. Solange Knowles brought some brightness to the all-black stage for a cover of Aaliyah’s Hot Like Fire, but it was the clarity of the lead voices over that crisp Jamie XX backing that lingered. (In fact, festival sound techs could learn a lot from Coachella – from Nick Cave to James Blake, remarkable voices sounded at their best through the festival’s speaker stacks.)
As Sunday’s dust storm picked up, James Blake and his bandmates had a view over the heads of the packed-in Mojave stage crowd to the Ferris Wheel framed against an orange-tinted sky. Blake seemed awed to be there and the 50 minutes onstage favoured new material, with Retrograde a powerful closer. Next door on the Gobi stage, the closing set went to another slick act from across the Atlantic, Disclosure. With the dancefloor spilling out the sides of the tent, the brothers consummately built the set right up to Jessie Ware’s Running cameo.
Elsewhere, the Yuma tent hosted a trifecta of buzzed-about UK names, Jamie XX, Julio Bashmore and Four Tet, while New Order took the Mojave Stage back to the halcyon days. One of the festival’s sleeper hits, though, came from Simian Mobile Disco on Saturday. As the duo’s set built, so too did the crowd, reeled in by the propulsive, festival-geared four-four.
Standing either side of their bank of machines – vintage analogue synths, outboards and other gear geekery – James Ford and Jas Shaw didn’t need to get on the mic to hype the crowd. It was heads-down warehouse business, transplanted to the desert.
#5 THE DAFT PUNK NO-SHOW
While Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter were spotted watching The Stone Roses close out Friday night, that much-rumoured surprise set was, perhaps not surprisingly, nowhere to be seen. Throughout the weekend, it seemed as if Coachella was waiting for the robots to pop up just about anywhere.
Wandering the Polo Fields on Friday night, we passed the empty Gobi marquee where Hudson Mohawke and Lunice were due to play as TNGHT in 15-odd minutes. Suddenly the screens flared with the Daft Punk logo, then the sight of Pharrell Williams jamming with the robots while that same familiar hook used in the pair’s earlier Saturday Night Live teasers played. Cue screams from all directions and within minutes, the tent was full with punters raising the false alarm, calling friends – “IT’S HAPPENING!” – and jostling for the best spot. (All this, despite TNGHT’s logo already displayed on-stage.)
The real money though was on a repeat of Phoenix’s trick at Madison Square Garden: an end-of-set Daft Punk cameo. You didn’t have to wander far in the sprawling crowd to hear someone espousing the certainty of the next best thing to Tupac reincarnated. What we did get was a rousing, sing-along set from the Saturday night headliners with Thomas Mars serenading the front row and crowd-surfing from the sound desk, but the secret guest was instead…R Kelly.
Once the lights had gone down on the mainstage and the roadies scurried on, there were some crestfallen faces around. You’d think that’d be the end for the rumours, but a last vestige of hope was pinned on a surprise finale after the official Sunday night headliner Red Hot Chili Peppers, a long shot if ever there was one. Daft Punk’d again.
#6 ALL HAIL ERIC PRYDZ
“It’s going to be great, especially as I’ll be playing after the sun has set,” Eric Prydz told inthemix before closing the Sahara stage on Sunday night. Having relocated to L.A. to focus on the booming U.S. market, this is the Swede’s first year at the iconic festival. Needless to say, he rose to the occasion.
Tasked with taking Coachella out on a high for dance fans as the Chili Peppers did the mainstage, Prydz went epic without resorting to easy wins. He’s one of those DJs who can command a massive space while side-stepping the Beatport Top Ten (unless of course you’re talking about Power Drive, his recent #1). With a no-expense-spared laser show and huge weapons like his Personal Jesus remix, it was a triumphant set for the big-room don. Weekend two, we wager, will be just as storming.