I kicked gratuitous amounts of ass this weekend at the Coachella Valley Music Festival. For the unenlightened, Coachella is a steamingly hot music festival in the middle of the desert. You spend two days engulfed in music, overpriced chicken sandwiches and snobbishly beautiful indie girls, and all you can think about is how anyone finds time to shower. One needs a cattle prod to contain all the awesome music the promoters herd together. There’s something for every smiling face: a dance tent with progressive DJs, a collection of famous mainstays on the main stage and a smattering of attractive and brilliant Daily Nexus reporters attending. This is the new Woodstock, the new corporate-rock attempt at peace, love and togetherness. And, you know what? It works.
My most memorable experiences of Coachella 2005 shall now be summarized in two paragraphs. Begin. Nine Inch Nails played “March of the Pigs,” and much like ants on roadkill, I was enveloped by tattooed meatheads. I still have bruises on my solar plexus, but it was worth it just to see Trent Reznor self-destruct up close and personal. The Arcade Fire was equally violent, and two of the musicians used the stage itself as a percussive instrument. In terms of groovin’, there was much to be had. The Chemical Brothers danced the white boy out of me, and M.I.A. conquered initial sound difficulties with club hits like “Galang” and “Pull Up the People.” At this point, block rockin’ beats were exuding like sweat from my skin.
New Order, however, was surprisingly morose, as singer Bernard Sumner swore at photographers and annoyed longtime fans, playing mostly new material. Four identically dressed metrosexuals rubbed shoulders right next to me, hitting on indie rock girls in vain. I watched bemusedly, a participant-observer in a strange new world. On the other end of the spectrum, there was Wilco, whose keyboardist nearly smashed a xylophone. Props to singer Jeff Tweedy for the worst hair of the festival – imagine a mop covered in dog hair, rubbed in formaldehyde. And the always-enjoyable Weezer played a classic set, with a new cut, “We Are All On Drugs,” serving as the theme song for the festival. Although my bank account dwindled, my heart lost itself in musical rapture.
The key to this festival is diversity. Indie music is separated into small, wimpy sub-sects nowadays, which makes for less enthusiasm and more arrogance. Music journalism is part of the problem. Reporters tend to categorize bands into a genre or fad, which marginalizes the musical community. Yes, I’m a reporter myself, and I see the irony. But I do it because I love musicians, for all of their idiosyncrasies. With Coachella, the weird and the odd become the expected norm, and pretentious journalism goes out the window. Every act brings something distinctly “theirs” to the table. This ain’t no cheesy radio summerfest.
See, music festivals have become less and less lucrative for the industry. It’s easy to see why, as mainstream promoters continually promote the same turgid acts over and over. Rob Zombie has played Ozzfest at least three times in the past eight years, and Rancid plays the Warped Tour nearly every other year. Concertgoers get bored out of their skulls, and they turn to more productive activities, like casual sex or changing the bongwater. If you want to make fast cash, then fine – place a bunch of homogenous radio groups together, and call it the Fuckface Festival. I’m sure you’ll sell a lot of tickets, mostly to fans of “Friends” and the “Partridge Family” (shudder). But if you want to create a long-lasting musical venture, you gotta challenge the public. Coachella definitely challenged me, and it was better than casual sex. How’s that for an experience?