Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2012

Three days, 33 acts

April 19th - 22nd, 2012

This week I attended Coachella for the first time, and it was my first music festival since Reading 2008. To provide some brief history, Coachella is branded as a music and arts festival in Indio county, South California. It is in the middle of the desert, held on a series of polo fields (bizarre, I know), and has been running since 1999. My interest was piqued when I saw the line-up; along with festival greats such as Radiohead, Justice, Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian etc. there were also an anomalous quantity of lesser known or reunited bands, that I had been pining to see for years. Swedish punk band Refused, Texan rock band At The Drive-In and Brit-pop band Pulp fell into the latter of these categories. All were bands I never thought I would get the chance to see, all are bands I have now seen. This augmented with the fact that Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg were making a rare dual appearance and my two favourite post-rock bands, Explosions In The Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, were there, meant that this was not an opportunity I could not knowingly pass up. Anyway, below I will include a day by day account of how things were.

Friday, April 20th

Performance of the day: Refused
Honourable mention: Pulp
Pleasant surprise of the day: Breakbot/Grouplove
Disappointment of the day: Nothing!

The day began with the unrelenting sun beating into our campsite at 7am. It felt like it was already 30 celsius, which wasn't far off the truth. This was our first true indication of what camping in the desert for four days would be like. I did not let this thermal alarm-clock abate me and cracked an ice cold Coors lite from our cooler After pumping some tunes, making some day plans and sinking a few beers some socialising was in order. An old friend of mine, now a post-doc at Duke, was camping within the vicinity. We caught up, hung out for a bit and by this point it was approaching time to enter the festival.

The Sheepdogs 4/10. The first set of the festival for us was The Sheepdogs, a band from Canada that play southern rock style music. Watched from beer gardens, very non-offensive music. Every song sounded very similar however, we discovered we could sing the chorus from the previous song to the new song without having to change tempo.

Other Lives 4/10. Checked these guys because they had been supporting Radiohead over the first leg of their 2012 US tour. Decent music, nice harmonies. Sat and chilled at the back for 30 mins before heading to Breakbot.

Breakbot 8/10. I had checked out some Breakbot videos beforehand and he was one of the EDM acts I was looking forward to the most. Equipped with long hair, beard and sunglasses Denys referred to him as the 'techno Jesus.' He played an hour of seriously funcky music, some great red and orange visuals and had the Sahara busy and dancing - impressive for such an early set. Furthermore the lack of huge bass drops and no playing of Levels or Save The World meant a lot of the Sahara frat-bros left. Big bonus. Felt like the true beginning of the Coachella music to me.

James 8/10. Like many other people, before the lineup came out the only song I knew of James' was Laid. Which is an amazing song. After doing some research I found they had a formidable back catalogue of great early 90s pre-Brit pop music. The singer, Tim Booth, has an incredible live voice. With all his audience participation and quips he made for an excellent entertainer. His dancing is also amazing. The show was stolen by the trumpet player, however. Resplendent as ever in a full dress and wig he wailed on the trumpet and climbed into the audience, commanding the crowd. Highlights were Out To Get You and, of course, Laid. Standing in the 40 degree sun whilst singing and dancing had never felt so easy.

Gary Clark Jr. 7/10. In the 30 minute gap we had between James and Grouplove we swung by Gary Clark Jr in the Gobi tent. I had heard a fair amount of hype, some even describing him as a blues-infused Jimi Hendrix. The tent was packed, I stood at the back and listened to him wail for 20 mintues and his guitar chops were impressive. However, coming in over halfway through the set it is often hard to integrate with the music, particularly during an extended jam.

Grouplove 7/10. I knew a couple of radio hits from these guys but not much more. I went to this set to pacify a friend I had was dragging around for the rest of the day, in the end I was delighted we didn't miss this. This band were just really high on life, and clearly loved just being there and playing. They came on to some heavy gangster rap, which made their segway into hippy-pop tunes all the more fun. I enjoyed them live more than on record, as particularly the male singer pushed his vocals (i.e emphasised the odd shout) more and the energy they put into their performance was more notable. By the time they covered Whitney Hosuton's 'I want to dance with somebody' the whole tent was dancing. A lot of fun. However by this point I was getting a little bored of acts all saying 'Happy 4-20 everyone, blaze up a huge blunt' etc.

Death Grips 6/10. Experimental hip-hop acts always get my attention. What these guys do is unique, fascinating and awesome to see. The noise (/music) these three put out is frightening and intriguing, in equal measures. Came in 20 minutes through, so like Gary Clark Jr. it was a little hard to just pick it up, but definitely an act I want to see again.

Arctic Monkeys 6/10. Watched from the beer garden. Always found their albums a little vanilla but the music is punchy and tight live. They drew a big crowd that obviously seemed to enjoy it. This began the friday evening of British acts.

Madness 6/10. Always a band I had wanted to see. I had to split this set as they overlapped by 10 minutes with Pulp and I wanted a reasonable spot, so I stayed for 35 mins then left. During that time they only played two songs I knew - One Step Beyond and Out of Space, but their performance was enjoyable and listening to a bit of ska was the ticket after rocking out all afternoon. They backloaded the set with hits, so I missed Baggy Trousers, Our House etc. but I was ok with that.

Pulp 9/10. What a show. The moment the lights went down and the opening keyboard drone of Do You Remember The Frist Time was audible my excitement was palpable. The band, in particular Jarvis, sounded much better live than on recordings I had watched and the set list was excellent. I would have sacrificed a few body parts to hear Help The Aged, but the fact they included Like A Friend almost made up for this. A highlight was This Is Hardcore, the volume and light show really gave this song an edge.

Mazzy Star 5/10. Ten minutes from the beer garden and ten from the stage. Hope's voice and the blue lights made for an ethereal atmosphere that worked quite well. However her painfully shy stage presence (and again, coming in half way through) meant I never quite got emotionally involved with the show.

Explosions in the Sky 7/10. I was tiring by this point so might not have been in the ideal state of mind for Explosions. They put on a good show but it wasn't the magical experience I was hoping. The first 45 minutes left something to be desired (for me, at least); there was the odd moment of brilliance but nothing mesmerising. Yet. When I heard the opening notes of The Only Moment We Were Alone I woke up somewhat - this was a perfectly chosen closing song and by the time the finale kicked in, the lights went crazy then just stopped... well, it was amazing. The whole time I couldn't help but feel sorry for the bassist - the three guitarists all had spotlit areas at the front of the stage, while the bassist was rocking out behind them standing in the dark between two of the amp racks.

Refused 10/10. One of the main reasons I so desperately wanted to attend. Everything I had hoped they would be live and more. The music was tight, the crowd were rocking out, everything was perfect. The band seemed very humble, which I like. When Dennis spoke he was so grateful for the crowd and his words were all very well realised. The soft timbre of his speaking voice and his gratitude made for an amazing contrast with his screeching vocals once the songs kicked in. I liked his description of the other acts, 'Thanks for coming. I appreciate there aren't many other acts here like us - just a bunch of dudes with laptops and a few rock bands.' Which is true, and in light of this I was glad they had such a good number in attendance, especially as they were up against some big names.

Amon Tobin 7/10. Watched for 30 mins, cool music, amazing stage. A better spot would have nice but it was an experience just seeing the size of his stage show. That being said, next time I see him I would probably prefer music more like Bricolage, even it means less of a stage show.

Saturday, April 21st

Performance of the day: Kasabian
Honourable mention: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Pleasant surprise of the day: Kasabian
Disappointment of the day: Some of Radiohead

The day began with the unrelenting sun beating into our campsite at 7am. It felt like it was already 30 celsius, which wasn't far off the truth. This was our second true indication of what camping in the desert for four days would be like. We were told on Sunday that today had been the hottest in Coachella (festival) history, peaking at 107 degrees (42 celsius.) It sure felt like it, in the morning the Australians adjacent to our camp very kindly gave us an ice cold shower. We then picked up some ice to replenish our beer coolers and met up with some Stanford guys.

Destructo 5/10. We were in early for Jetpacks so cruised through the Sahara. This guy laid down some fairy decent dubstep for the most part, then he dropped some Skrillex (scary monsters and super freaks, or whatever that song is called) and ruined everything.

We Were Promised Jetpacks 3/10. This set was more amusing than anything else. The actual music was fine, generic scot-rock, very little stood out from the set. Clearly a young band - the guitarist's dancing / rocking out needs a lot of working on, but they can play. However, take an over-weight scotsman to the south-Californian desert in 107 degree heat and he will struggle. And struggle the lead singer did. He got through it though, so props to that.

Azealia Banks 8/10. Considering she only played three discernibly different songs, Azealia Banks made her 35 mins on stage work remarkably well. She also proved that she has some pipes on her, as well as being able to rap, by covering The Zutons' 'Valerie' mid-set. By the time 212 came in the tent went crazy, she rapped along well and had some interesting stage dancers. A sudden segway into The Prodigy's 'Firestarter' at the end was unexpected, but a fun to finish the set.

Kaiser Chiefs 7/10.

Buzzcocks 7/10.

Noel Gallagher's High FLying Birds 7/10.

Squeeze 6/10.

Kasabian 10/10.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor 10/10.

Radiohead 8/10.

Sunday, April 22nd

Performance of the day: The Hives
Honourable mention: At The Drive-In
Pleasant surprise of the day: Le Butcherettes
Disappointment of the day: Some of Dr Dre and Friends

The day began with the unrelenting sun beating into our campsite at 7am. It felt like it was already 30 celsius, which wasn't far off the truth.

Noisia 6/10.

Oberhofer 5/10.

Le Butcherettes 9/10.

Fitz and the Tantrums 5/10.

The Hives 9/10.

Gotye 6/10.

Justice 6/10.

At The Drive-In 9/10.

Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem, Warren G, Kendrick Lamarr, Wiz Khalifa, Kurupt, Tupac (hologram) 8/10.