If culture is the summation of the beliefs and activities of this or that group in a given environment, then I don’t know if it’s appropriate to say that the attendees of Coachella 2013 (myself included) were participating in merely “bro culture” or “drug culture” or even “white upper-middle-class youth culture.” I think these labels are too limiting because I can think of few things more Amerikan than Coachella, the casually libertine music festival characterized by racism, capitalist consumerism, and hideous clothes. I’d like to think that, like 2 Chainz, by being critical of the event I can somehow distance myself from it. We all have our pipe dreams.
Not to sound bitter about being the odd queer out at a very LA event. I’m glad I went, though I don’t know if I would again. Seeing so many amazing artists perform was well worth the hefty fee of attendance, but I’m not big on camping in scorching deserts (though I will say that people are making the dust storm out to be worse than it was. I don’t like being covered in grit, but it sounds like a picnic compared to the weather at Burning Man).
Nevertheless, had I known just how bro-y Coachella was going to be, I probably wouldn’t have gone broke for a ticket. Jacked str8 white men in “No means yes” tees aside, just three days of the heavy gender-policing required of all general attendees — everything from bathroom lines to festival entry are separated into “male” and “female,” at the discretion of security, of course — was more than I like to willingly subject myself to. Still, it behooves me to acknowledge the privilege it takes to go to a swanky music festival in the first place, and to more or less blend in as one of the many white people paying to be entertained.
It was formerly a proven fact that I only get goosebumps for Whitney Houston. And then I saw Janelle Monae.
My friend, whose musical tastes rarely intersect with mine, was skeptical when I dragged her to the Gobi Stage, but neither of us expected Monae to blow our gotdamn minds. I still haven’t recovered from her, in her brilliant white jodhpurs and andro-bouffant, and her power and range, her ability to manipulate the crowd like giddy puppets. Her co-performers played as hard and with as much electric joy as she sang. Their cover of “ABC” by the Jackson Five was a highlight for me. The video really doesn’t do it justice. I made my friend feel my arm to confirm that the goosebumps were indeed there.
I have had a big kawaii soft spot for Claire Boucher, hipster goddess of the whispery high-register, since I saw the music video for Oblivion. Otherwise known as Grimes, Tumblr Incarnate charmed us all with her Adidas sandals and self-deprecating pixieishness, but reports that she was the standout performance over Janelle are all full of baloney. And I say this as a fanboi who screamed and twirled for “Be A Body” (as well as for her babely backup dancers, though I think it’s worth pointing out that two brown womyn voguing behind the white Boucher kept with the festival’s theme of cultural appropriation and the pop-ularity of for white artists to attach “vague ethnic allusions to coolness without context“) like the drugs had actually kicked in.
Exhausted from a long second day in the vast, windy hinterland of the Empire Polo Club, we collapsed on the lawn to rest for New Order’s satisfyingly nostalgic set. Flanked by my ex-girlfriend and her partner, we listened to “Bizarre Love Triangle” while struggling to stay awake.
What I would have given to see Eric Northman in the flesh.
And no, I didn’t see even one celebrity and I was out pounding sand all day long.
They aren’t kidding when they call Coachella the “repository of pop memory.” Like New Order, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Violent Femmes, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were one of the many well-established acts to play, but there’s no arguing that Cave remains the most obscene of the old men still rocking. Clad like a 19th century mortician, his white pate gleaming as he hurled himself into the crowd of iPhones and basketball jerseys, Cave was nothing if not diabolically energetic, roaring through “Stagger Lee” and “From Her To Eternity” like a demon inspired. But each lewd thrust of his hips made me a little more uncomfortable, as much by his fragility in the arms of the crowd as by the anachronism it created of him.
I left the set about halfway through. I wasn’t the only one who, for one reason or another, drifted away — or didn’t show up at all — to the Bad Seeds’ performance. From one review:
“Major main-stage acts also continued to suffer from attendance anemia. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ evening set there rocked with both tortured abandon and expansive grandeur (he was backed up by a string section and children’s choir on tracks like the lush title track from his new album, Push the Sky Away) – yet hardly anyone was there to notice.”
I went straight from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to see the Wu-Tang, but there were so many people crowding to see them that you couldn’t call what we did “watching.” It was like listening to “36 Chambers” on a radio hidden behind a bunch of tall white dudes.
You know white people love the ruckus.
No one knows from whence came the rumor that Daft Punk would be this year’s Tupac hologram. However, had I been smart enough to go see the Phoenix show, I would have been more than happy to settle for R. Kelly instead. I heard the Ignition x 901 remix from the shower trailers, which I had discovered were usually empty after midnight. Drip drip drip.
Apparently, technical problems during Pusha T‘s set bothered a lot of people, but I didn’t notice them. I enjoyed it, too. Both he and 2 Chainz performed “Mercy” on the same day. Plus, his constant exhortations to God kept things delightfully weird.
So do I recommend it for those who are considering Coachella 2014? Maybe. Word to the wise: if I attend something, it’s probably already over. And by “over” I mean “no longer fashionable.” It — whatever it is — is not cool anymore if someone like me hustled their bones out of bed and shelled out too much moolah for drunken sunburns in LA.
And that’s the truth.