The release of the Coachella lineup every year is the alternative music fan’s equivalent of the NCAA March Madness bracket announcement. The West Coast’s premiere festival is serious business, and an artist’s placement on the poster can be concrete acknowledgment of their ascendency (see: The Black Keys), a confirmation of a reunited band’s legendary status (Pulp, Refused, At The Drive-In) or a wake-up call to iconic figureheads of rock who have since fallen on harder times and lesser side projects (Greg Ginn, this should be a sign that you and Henry Rollins need to make up right now and tour behind Damaged again). Music nerds quarrel about the lineup’s predictability and diversity and ultimately assess all other summer festivals in relation to Coachella, which has been deemed the measuring stick thanks to Lollapalooza’s concessions to commercialization and Bonnaroo’s hippy-infested campgrounds. I’m not saying that this is a fair way to earn such a status, but it’s how the proverbial cookie has crumbled.
As music fans are wont to do, they have taken to the Internet with the sort of aplomb and indignity only befitting of a demographic that has obtained a significant portion of its entertainment conveniently and illegally. While I undoubtedly share some of the harsh sentiment, I feel that it is important that these complaints be dismissed in long form, so that everyone can just shut up and move on with their lives.
Complaint #1: Where are the Stone Roses? The Stone Roses’ absence from Coachella is somewhat bemusing to many, as they fit the bill for Coachella’s yearly indie reunion special that gets music bloggers’ pants feeling a little tighter. Their self-titled debut is often cited as a turning point for British independent music; John Squire’s intricate guitar work and Ian Brown’s cocksure stage presence combined with rave-influenced beats to help bring white kids onto the dance floor again. They opened the door for both the growing critical appraisal of electronic dance music and the insertion of a much-needed working-class masculinity into British independent pop music (of which Morrissey, gladioli in hand, had previously been the de facto spokesman). Their absence is likely not any sort of oversight by Coachella’s booking agents. The Stone Roses, if you hadn’t noticed, are kind of egotistical. They’ve written songs with titles like “I Wanna Be Adored” and “I Am the Resurrection.” They likely command a huge price tag that isn’t quite worth it for the audience they’d garner in the United States (many reading probably are reasonably asking, “Who are the Stone Roses?”). Furthermore, Coachella has its own reputation to look after: The Roses are a notoriously terrible live band, a fact that can primarily be blamed on Ian Brown’s tone-deafness (Mr. Squire and Reni, on the other hand, can more than hold their own). Britpop fans will have to hope that Lollapalooza gambles on these Mancunians, or else they’re going to have to fork over serious cash to catch them in Europe.
Complaint #2: Too much electronic dance music. Where are the real musicians? Firstly: Dad, stop reading my column. Secondly: forget everything you know about the stereotypes. Forget the fist pumping, forget The Situation, forget the pacifiers, forget the neon clothing and forget the drugs. Then turn on your computer, hit up YouTube and watch a video of Avicii doing “Levels” or Swedish House Mafia do “Save the World Tonight” or David Guetta doing “Titanium.” Watch them performing live. See how the crowd goes absolutely bonkers when the drop hits? The sheer Bacchanalia that goes down when the bass goes “boom”? That’s why they’re performing at Coachella. To be frank, the rise of these DJs is entirely linked, in my opinion, to the individualization of music consumption. Because of the bevy of genres, microgenres and niche audiences, everybody’s music collection is completely different. The music we’re forced to agree on, then, is the music we listen to collectively. Lots of collective music listening occurs at parties, so dance music, with its pounding 4/4 beat, pulsating synths and epic drops, is the obvious favorite among people looking to have a good time. It’s rage music, and, for those about to rage, we salute you. If you wanna sit in the sand at Coachella and cry along to Bon Iver songs, be my guest. I’m sure the kids absolutely losing it during Afrojack’s set won’t mind the extra space.
Complaint #3: At The Drive-In? Really? You mean the Mars Volta guys? Okay, perhaps I’m an apologist; I grew up on Long Island and have a soft spot for some emo and hardcore. But before everything became about the haircuts and the double bass blasts, there was a group of Texas teenagers with afros, unprecedented angst, cryptic song titles and a lead singer who sounded more Ronny James Dio than Ian MacKaye. And they kicked ass. These future prog-superstars gave us furious live performances, winding guitar passages, appropriately heavy blast beats and a disarming mastery of loud-quiet-loud dynamics. While Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and company have gone a little off the deep end recently, At The Drive-In’s discography, especially their 2000 release (and arguable masterpiece) Relationship of Command, rightfully deserve some revisiting. Give yourself a primer (start with “One-Armed Scissor”) and jump on into the pit.
I’m sure there are plenty more complaints to be had, (La Roux and Florence and the Machine on the same day? That’s going to be confusing) but Coachella’s set the bar high with a diverse, fun, left-of-center lineup as always. Unfortunately for those of you just joining us, passes have sold out. Much ado about nothing, I suppose.