Don’t be tardy for the party. That was the last text message I received at 5am Monday morning after the 11th annual Coachella Music Festival — also known as “Three Days in the Valley.” It was another cataclysmic cacophony of epic proportions, highlighted by lows and highs, like the landscape surrounding it. I’m not sure of the actual turnout numbers, but a Heineken billboard read: “share a beer with 75,000 of your friends.” Simultaneously breaking the 7 words on a billboard-advertising rule, encouraging behavior that would lead to heat stroke and dehydration, as well as creating slight salivation on my palette. The next billboard on the highway read: “Child Abuse, It happens to boys too”; dark days indeed.
I arrived in the dusty haze of a sun almost set behind the snow-speckled mountains that looked down on this bacchanal with a timeless arrogance. The water trucks that circle the sandy parking lots to keep the ground from lifting into the sky and throats of concertgoers were not finished yet. Girls in bikinis and high-tops, body paint, grown men dressed like hot-dogs and glow stick/LED assisted clothing began to appear as the line of cars steadily marched towards the polo grounds. It was day one and the weight of expectations filled the air as well as an uncertainty of the future that began to show on the people’s faces as the giant spotlights and colored interactive sculptures took over for nature’s sunset.
Would someone in the group do too many drugs and get ushered away in a stretcher on the back of a golf cart with flashing lights and a blaring siren? A most uneasy predicament for someone experiencing hallucinations brought on by LSD, I presume. Was there a way to sneak into the VIP areas? And why? Did anybody know where the good pre, after, and during parties scattered about the 40 miles of planned communities, ranches and golf courses were going to go down? How would they get in? Would any of the bands sound good? What was the surcharge at the ATMs? Would they find a special someone in the crowd to connect with? Could any or all of these questions be answered on day one?
I’m not a music critic and am perfectly content to waltz about any metropolis without headphones in my ears limiting contact between me and other people. I even know one man in Venice Beach who wears unplugged headphones every day to avoid being haggled for change. But I will mention certain acts of note that captured the attention of such an eclectic group of people.
I did a half-jog over to see Gil-Scott Heron, who had a surprisingly young audience and mused on being sampled, and sang in an imperfect and raspy rap speak to the applause of all that bear witness. LCD Soundsystem paid homage to the pioneer in their set later in the evening led by an ever humble and enthusiastic James Murphy, co-owner of the DFA Records label. I don’t care so much for live rap so the Jay-Z fan-fare and hype was averted to Deadmau5‘s jaw-dropping set in the Sahara tent, as a dance party of legendary proportions erupted.
Parking closest to the exit during large public gatherings has always been a theme for me. So it was off to the “Oasis,” which was close enough to the venue not to be annoying. Techno and lasers filled the air as stumbling, half-naked, half-wasted people filled the pool and house areas, transforming the Merv Griffin house into a wild rager that lasted until 4:30am.
I awoke to a triple espresso and a mandatory drive up to the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, where the East Village Radio party was being held. It is an unparalleled take on 60’s mod décor and motel culture in the desert with all the trappings of modern luxury. There was the Anthem party, a Spin party, Jalouse Magazine house, Sophomore NYC and Lacoste house. But with so much traffic and so many bands it is hard to get your priorities straight when traveling with a group. It’s like trying to ski with a family of 12. So I did the only thing I could do. Took off on a solo mission.
On Saturday the rumors began to spread. Like a massive game of telephone they were often wildly distorted by the time they got to you. Daft Punk playing Sunday night? False. Secret Arctic Monkeys show in Joshua Tree? True. Beyonce shutting down the Jay-Z party because of Lindsay Lohan? Jury’s still out. Justin Bieber sightings? False. A stumbling and wasted Kate Moss being carried through VIP? False. After all the speculation and hearsay I had to get to the actual venue as soon as possible to see it unfold first-hand.
I snuck into artist parking behind the main stage and slipped on a loose fitting Jupiter wristband in order to enter the VIP area of Coachella. It was my first bite into the upper crust of an event, which tries to bring everyone together under one tent. There are 4 tiers of VIP access here and all clearly defined by the reactions of partygoers that either glare or scoff at the colors on your wrist. In these areas the high heels come out, more shade is provided, shorter lines at the bars and the crowd in general was a bit more Hollywood.
After Major Lazer, Die Antwood, Muse, and 2 Many DJs closed out the night, it was time to pick an after-party. This is the point at which most people “hit the wall” of the Coachella experience and the flight or fight instinct takes over. Dehydration, drug abuse, lack of sleep and Sunday’s line-up all factor into the next few precious hours. There was the legendary designer Jeremy Scott’s toga party at the Frank Sinatra house, but I headed to the 944/Bolthouse Carnival themed bash at an airplane hanger. It was like a scene out of the movie GO. Enough lights, rides, food games, drinks and music kept the attractive crowd going until the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Completely burned out on Sunday, I decided to head back to LA. Sadly I did not stick to this decision.
Another bourgeoisie poolside lounge day led me back to the hallowed polo fields for a final evening of music. Thom Yorke of Radiohead, The Big Pink and Little Boots turned more spectators into believers. Club 75 combined the forces of Busy P, Justice, Cassius, Justice and DJ Mehdi into an all white French fracas of electro. Spoon and Pavement did not disappoint the die-hards and Phoenix flew away with about 40 percent of the overall crowd’s attention. Gorillaz closed the festival in a dreamy, dance hip-hop and instrumental tempest. Dub-step heads were still writhing around the makeshift trees like something out of Avatar. Engorged pupils and long hugs were prevalent as the lights began to dim.
I noticed throughout the entire festival there was an extreme lack of any political or anti-war messages. Nine years later, it seemed like this was a chance to forget rather than rally around any particular cause. Hopefully a sign of better things to come rather than pure complacency on our behalf. Usually places and spectacles like this are a platform for politically active students and artists. But this was more $10 cocktails and free cigarettes for all than shocking displays of free speech. It was the triumph of the pill over sheer will power.