Coachella: A Live Stream Recap

The first of two identical weekends of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival just wrapped up – you might have been hearing about it around the place. For anyone who doesn’t know, Coachella is a pretty big deal.

Located in the California desert, it’s arguably the most culturally-significant music festival in the world. Estranged bands reform to play there. People fly in from different continents. LIL B chose Coachella as the place to announce that his debut album would be called I’m Gay. Things happen there.

This year my involvement in Coachella went past drooling at the lineup – I was asked to livetweet the event for a blog. This was despite the fact that I wasn’t going to Coachella, or even in the same timezone. Coachella is the only music festival to offer a free live stream on the Internet, so you can save thousands of dollars and Visa headaches by watching from home. So basically, I sat in Melbourne, seventeen hours ahead of Indio, California, tweeting witty bon mots about the YouTube channel I was watching.

In a way, I feel like I was there. Not at the same Coachella as the people who actually bought tickets, but a different festival, an imagined global music event that millions of people attended via Facebook or Twitter or Google+.

Here’s some notes, thoughts and clips from that festival.

  • Firstly, the stream itself – superb. Amazingly good. I was skeptical coming into this, but it delivered all it promised, and then some. High quality video and audio, three channels to cover the array of stages, and a variety of camera angles. Every festival in the world should do this, except then I guess people wouldn’t bother going to festivals anymore. The only gripe you could have was that only certain acts were selected for streaming, meaning you couldn’t catch, for example: GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR, ARAABMUZIK, or JEFF MAGNUM.
  • The music blogosphere exploded with chatter about the holographic TUPAC stealing the show from SNOOP DOGG and DR. DRE on the final night. I think it did steal the show, in a literal sense. Lost amidst the hype over an admittedly-impressive technical achievement is the fact that SNOOP and DRE orchestrated the set of the festival and are maybe the best headliner set I’ve ever seen, with or without the hologram. It was a nonstop ride through twenty years of monster hip-hop hits – “The Next Episode”, “Gin And Juice”, “It Ain’t No Fun”, “Nuthin’ But A G Thang”, “Still D.R.E.”, “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. Guest appearances from EMINEM, 50 CENT, KENDRICK LAMAR, WIZ KHALIFA, WARREN G and, yes, TUPAC, kept the set electric with an air of unpredictability. And say what you will about SNOOP DOGG, but he’s a festival natural, effortlessly rocking a gigantic crowd while smoking a baseball bat-sized blunt.

  • GOTYE’s king-making set on Sunday was unfortunately cut from broadcast due to technical difficulties. While his omnipresence here is taken for granted, I was surprised to find that until this morning he was sitting at number two on the US charts with “Somebody That I Used To Know“. While I can say I’d be fairly happy never hearing that song again, I wish him all the success he can momentarily steal from ONE DIRECTION.
  • There were two huge reunions of the “pigs might fly” variety – AT THE DRIVE-IN, and REFUSED. When I was fifteen I loved those pioneering punk bands almost as much as I hated homework, and maybe it was nostalgia working but they didn’t disappoint. AT THE DRIVE-IN were anthemic and energetic enough to make me almost forget about the MARS VOLTA, while REFUSED’s experimental brand of anti-capitalist rage sounded huge, especially considering their last gig was in a basement in front of forty people.
  • To fill time between acts, the channels would screen short crowd interaction segments or backstage interviews. It turns out watching college kids screaming, “WOO! WE’RE AT COACHELLA!” prompts a sensation in the brain very similar to the frustrated boredom you feel when waiting at a hot festival for the next band. The interviews varied in terms of insightfulness, but they were all laidback and casual which I guess reflects the vibe of the whole thing. My favourites were the BLACK LIPS drunkenly rambling about absolutely nothing, and NOEL GALLAGER speaking frankly and outrageously about the music industry and fans (“Fuck the customer. Customers are fucking idiots. Not my customers, though. My customers are brilliant”).

  • It was a good festival for sad R&B dudes. FRANK OCEAN had a great spot on the first night and made the most of it with an assured performance. THE WEEKND made their US debut on Sunday, and somehow their nocturnal despair sounded fine backlit by a gorgeous sunset.
  • RADIOHEAD are now a band that deliver the transcendental with a routine consistency. Even with a set leaning towards their newer, more challenging material, they were clapped back for two encores. I don’t think anybody was complaining. Except about Thom’s ponytail.
  • “Acts I only caught for a few minutes” round-up: M83 were like a spaceship taking off; FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE asked the “ladies” in the crowd to get up on people’s shoulders in the most polite way possible; MODESELEKTOR made me feel like I was on drugs; ARCTIC MONKEYS have gone from nervous teenagers to swaggering rockers; REAL ESTATE are the best band in the world for a sunny festival afternoon; AZEALIA BANKS covered “Firestarter” briefly and I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it hadn’t been 8:45am Melbourne time.
  • If I don’t go to Coachella next year, it won’t be for lack of making impulsive promises to myself over the past weekend.

Words by Matt Nielson.


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