This is the word that must be uttered the most each year at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. I said it a few times during this past weekend, I’m sure. However, I have a small confession to make — I wasn’t really that excited about this year’s lineup. I bet you could have even sensed that bit of apathy in my prior post announcing the lineup. You know, this was my 7th Coachella and I was just thinking that this wasn’t going to be great. Wow…was I wrong!
Coachella 2011 had a little bit of something for everyone. As usual, there should have been no question that the good folks over at Goldenvoice would deliver a lineup that would be both entertaining and memorable. In this post, I’ll make it a point to try and detail our group’s overall experience at this year’s Coachella. Importantly, nothing was reviewed here that a member of the NEMzy crew didn’t see — we only review things that we saw, which means that you can get a pretty good perspective as to our collective taste in music (read: This is the only mention of “Kanye West” you will see in our review).
Arrival – Thursday April 14 – Camping
We arrived at camping this year a bit later than we usually do. There were a few lose ends that we needed to tie up (including the purchase of an extra ticket). From last year’s car camping search experience,we expected a long search and some difficult security guards. To our pleasant surprise, the searches were very expeditious and the guards were pleasant. We were into the camp by about 3pm and got a wonderful site right along 11th street in lot 8. Our neighbors (Cory,Pedro, and Derrick) were fantastic, which is always makes for a much nicer overall experience. I felt bad for the people a little ways down from us who had “less than desirable” neighbors (at one point in the weekend, two of them getting into a fist fight). Oh well.
I think that we were all surprised by the lack of specific early bird camping activities (last year there was a late-night disco). However, the setup of this year’s campground was fantastic! Notably, the shower lines took very little time. Whoever decided to put the showers back in their dispersed throughout camp locations again deserves “employee of the month” over at GoldenVoice.
So, the rest of this review is based on the main part of Coachella — the music! You can find the reviews organized by time of the day. Enjoy and please feel free to engage us in a conversation!
Friday April 15, 2011
Alf Alpha – We started the weekend early with Alf Alpha. This little gem was a bit of a surprise, and frankly we only stumbled upon him because he was right before Tokimonsta. Upon arrival at the Sahara, we saw a very sizable crowd for pre-1 PM on Friday. Mr Alpha definitely came prepared to bring the beats and start the weekend off right. The Sahara was jumping to his old school style ghetto techno and was a fantastic surprise.
Tokimonsta – One of the only disappointments of the weekend was Tokimonsta. We had been looking forward to her since discovering her on the night of the initial lineup release. She has a lot of really downtempo, almost ambient tracks that she has released, and we were curious to see what she would play at the festival. She started off with one of her tracks, but shortly after that ended up just playing remixes of gangsta rap. Our recommendation would be to check out her stuff online if you are into downtempo, but probably skip the live shows.
Hurts – Without a doubt the best up and coming band of the weekend was Hurts. We discovered Hurts a few weeks before the event; and after downloading the album, decided that it was a must see. This synthpop duo from Manchester is probably the greatest band out there that you haven’t yet heard of. They blew up last year in Europe after opening on the Scissor Sisters tour, and proceeded to sell out their entire headlining tour. Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson expertly picked a supporting band to come with that included a classically trained Opera Tenor. The result was dancey, dramatic, and downright amazing. Our hope is that someone in the US discovers them and they don’t just remain one of Europe’s best kept secrets, and our prediction is that they will return to Coachella in the next couple years as they had a very full, very excited crowd for so early in the weekend. Check out their debut album Happiness on RCA.
Brandt Brauer Frick – Another pleasant debut act was Brandt Brauer Frick. This lovely trio does something that we have been predicting for years: the combination of classical acoustic instruments to make amazing techno sounds. This was definitely something to be experienced live. While their debut album, You Make Me Real available on !K7 Records, is definitely made up of some deep house grooves; to see it being done in front of you with acoustic instruments takes it to a whole new dimension. For their shows in Europe, this German trio has expanded into a full ten-piece ensemble. Here’s hoping they skip across the pond with that show sometime soon! If deep house grooves are your thing, Brandt Brauer Frick is for you.
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – One of the stranger events of the weekend was Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, better known as the front man and mastermind of The Mars Volta. We had high expectations for this show, even though it was a little unclear exactly what he would be doing. With his penchant for strange sounds and interesting ways of using instruments, we were definitely excited to see what was in store for us. What we ended up seeing was Mars Volta Lite. He even had several prominent members of the band with him. As always, the music was very well done, and his vocals are unique; but this kind of epic rock is really something that you need to be familiar with in order to fully enjoy. In our opinion, this was his chance to shine in a new unfamiliar way, and instead it seemed that he just wised the Mars Volta was playing.
Ozomatli – They have played Coachella at least one time in the past, but this was our first time seeing them (due to prior conflicts). They put on a very high-energy show that really had the entire audience on their feet dancing along. The Los Angeles based group clearly soaked up the privileage of playing on Coachella’s main stage (despite the fact that they were on at 3:35) and even brought out James from the Pogues to help them out with their famous song Como Ves. Here is an official video from Coachella:
The Drums – Brooklyn based indie group The Drums were another of the better surprises of the weekend. They had rated a strong maybe in the ranks of what to see, but turned out to be charismatic, catchy, and downright fun. They played to a completely full Mojave and had the crowd dancing the entire time. Though founding members Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham have been lifelong friends the group in its current format did not come together until 2006 and their debut self titled album (Moshi Moshi) was not released until last year. If you’re a fan of the New York dance indie scene, its well worth a listen.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – One of the bigger surprises of the weekend was The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, from New York City. In our research prior to the festival we had rated them a very slight maybe, but due to their time slot we ended up being able to catch the entire set. Suffice it to say we are now converts. Our quick listens before the show erroneously made us believe this was just another postemo band, but quite to the contrary they are actually a really fun quasipop indie band. It is quite difficult to place them into any sort of musical genre but if you like fun dance indie, we recommend buying Belong out on Slumberland Records.
Ms. Lauryn Hill – One of the acts that we were most looking forward to was Ms Lauryn Hill. Dating all the way back to the Fugees, continuing on to her solo career, we have always been fans. The best way to describe this performance was lackluster. Ms Hill started twenty minutes late, and her show was cut short to 35 minutes. While doing many of her hits from “Everything is Everything” to “Ready or Not”, the songs were barely recognizable as Ms Hill decided to rap her way through the set. We would not go so far as to say it was a disappointment, but it was definitely lackluster, leaving us wishing for more.
Marina and the Diamonds – She started off a little late due to technical problems but she totally apologized and made up for it with an outstanding performance! I quote: “I would never keep you waiting on purpose, we were having technical difficulties. BUT WHO GIVES A FUCK, CUZ WE’RE HERE! And tonight I raise my vodka to you!”Marina was a natural with a stage presence like a pro. She really had a way of working the crowd and getting everyone excited. For only being 25, you’d think that she had been doing this a lot longer. She played her hits such as “Are You Satisfied?” “Oh No!” and “Hollywood.” As well as a new song entitled “Jealously.” Marina was a great addition to the Coachella line up because she really loves what she does and it shows. Hopefully this performance will help her gain more recognition in the U.S. because she really is extremely talented and truly deserves it!
Cut Copy – While half of our group saw Marina and the Diamonds (above), the other half of our group went to see Cut Copy. Their clean and simple techno sound made for a perfect start to an excellent evening. The entire tent was crowded and for good reason. They were just another one of the Aussie Invasion acts to take over Coachella (not that any of us were complaining, as ALL of the Aussie electro was fantastic this year). Check out their new album Zonoscope on Modular Recordings.
Crystal Castles – One band that you can always count on for a wild and crazy time is Toronto based duo Crystal Castles. They first came onto our radar when they played the Sahara in 2009, and the show was absolutely insane. Vocalist Alice Glass is known for her onstage antics which very often consist of climbing the rafters and diving into the crowd while producer Ethan Kath lays down the hard techno video game inspired beats. After seeing them last month in Seattle in a much toned down show, due to Glass’s broken ankle, we were unsure if they would be able to rival their 2009 performance. While Glass still had a cast on her foot, she didn’t let that stop the theatrics. She literally fell off the front of the stage at some point and proceeded to still scream the lyrics into the mic, laying in the pit, all the while being shown on the big screen. As usual, they rose to the challenge of being one of the craziest acts of the weekend. Grab Crystal Castles (II) on Fiction.
Kings of Leon – In our opinion, they really got mistreated by many die-hard Coachella fans (need an example? See Here). A few of us got to catch some of the Kings of Leon’s set and have to admit that they were a very solid act. As far as Coachella headliners go, they were good (come on…Jack Johnson 2008? Really?). But, I have a feeling that most people were waiting patiently for the closing group that evening — the Chemical Brothers (see below).
Robyn – Same hair, better music. Robyn has definitely outgrown her 90’s bubble gum pop star persona and has matured into a raving party animal! Her urban electro pop sound is all her own with a beautiful voice to top it off. Oh and did I mention that she had TWO drummers??!!! The Mojave Tent was turned into an instant dance party with hard beats, robotic sounds, and seizure-inducing light shows! An added bonus? She busted out with Royksopp’s “The Girl and the Robot!!”
The Chemical Brothers – I love Chems. I always have. This was one of the few acts that our entire group waiting and watched. When the lineup was first released, many of us were concerned that the Chemical Brothers wouldn’t get scheduled on a stage that would give them their full ability to put on a show. When the set times were released indicating that the Chemical Brothers would be closing out the main stage on Friday night, we were all excited. Due to some technical problems, they were about a 1/2 hour late, but that didn’t keep them from playing an additional 30 mins or so. They played a good deal of old Chem classics along with a few songs from their newer album Further (if you haven’t purchased this album yet, do it! It is really a masterpiece). Seeing so many people dancing their butts off into the night at the Main Stage to the Chemical Brothers was truly special. I actually felt bad for the people who saw Boys Noize (nothing against him…he is fantastic, but you can see Boys Noize anytime…The Chemical Brothers live is a special event). Need some proof? Check out this fan video:
Saturday April 16
Freelance Whales – We started the day off with Freelance Whales. I think we were actually all in the same room when we first saw this talented group on some YouTube video performing live at SXSW in 2010. It was that point that we all realized they would absolutely be a Coachella pick. Not only were they a pick, but they were a good one at that! These five produce a tremendous amount of music and all of us over here at NEMzy are in love with them! They will be big. Check out their appropriately-titled album Weathervanes on Mom & Pop records.
Gogol Bordello -Emerging from relative obscurity after playing Coachella and Bumbershoot in 2007, Gogol Bordello has defined themselves as a world class festival band. They have even played many festivals multiple times since then. This hasn’t happened by chance. This group of New York City based ragtag immigrants from all over the world brings a raw emotion to the stage that is unparalleled delight. Every time we have come across them, they always have the entire audience dancing midday. This is one band that anyone would have fun seeing live. Trans-Continental Hustle is available from American Recordings.
Erykah Badu – Oh, we were all waiting for her to play Tyrone. Needless to say, we were collectively disappointed when she didn’t. Alas, she still put on a fantastic and soulful performance. There were clearly some sound problems during her set that she wasn’t too pleased about. But, from her flipping off the crowd, to her creative use of tuning forks, and the massively-large airplane ring on her finger, Erykah was a perfect mid-day main stage act. She alluded to the fact that she is working on some new songs (in fact, the 2nd song she played was a new one that she “was still working on”). We would absolutely love to see her come back. Unfortunately for her (and for us), she went over time by about 4 minutes and was kicked off the stage by the sound folks (they cut her microphone). She left the stage cursing and flipping off the soundtech. Oh Erykah!
Shpongle Presents the Shpongletron Experience – Oh, this was truly an experience!! The elusive Shpongle didn’t perform their full and complete live show (which, I think they have only done that once in recent memory (2008 in London). If you haven’t purchased the DVD of that performance, DO IT NOW! Anyway, even though we didn’t get the full Shpongle experience, Simon Posford’s “DJ Set” was fantastic. He had dancers, a large erected Shpongle-Tron and an hour of the best Psybient (psytrance/ambient) music that you could hear at Coachella. This was a Sahara highlight! Of course the best part is that we all got Shpongled!
Empire of the Sun – How have we not heard about these people before Coachella? (Well, to be fair, we have heard of them…they just aren’t as big as they could be here in the US). The duo of Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore clearly understand the concept of “putting on a show.” Between the dancers costumed from, what appeared to be, a horror movie to the native and aboriginal themes in their performance Empire of the Sun was both entertaining and talented. Check out their 2008 release, Walking on a Dream. We are eagerly awaiting their next release.
Arcade Fire – Oh, Arcade Fire! Watching Arcade Fire blossom over the last 7 years has been a tremendous experience. Each time they have played a festival, they have been given a bigger and better slot, culminating in headlining this year’s Coachella. Pre-festival press kept hinting that it would be a night not to be forgotten, but no one could have guessed how amazing it would be. For the finale, they dropped hundreds of inflatable white beach balls that contained individual lights which were tuned to change with the music. At first, everyone just thought they were plain white balls, but once they began lighting up the show really started. This year’s Grammy Award winners for Album of the Year (The Suburbs) did an excellent job of showcasing all three of their albums playing the hits and deeper tracks from each. Seeing every single person in the audience raise their arms and sing in unison to “Wake Up” was truly a religious experience and will go down in Coachella history. Check out this video for proof of their fantastic performance!
Sunday April 17th
Green Velvet – Okay, don’t get mad at us…we started off the day a bit later than the other days (it was hard to get to sleep back in camp after everyone talking about Arcade Fire’s performance). But, we decided to start the day off with some “retro” electro. Yah, most of the Sahara was dancing to the peculator. It’s hard to say if this show was fantastic or tragic, but it was a show! Curtis Jones (aka Green Velvet) sang most of the time and had some interesting dancers. Check out the Sunday photos in the Coachella 2011 gallery to see what I am talking about.
MEN -The only negative thing we can say about MEN is that it was a travesty that we were only able to catch the last three songs due to a conflict with Green Velvet. This collaboration of the former members of Le Tigre and Hirsute is pure gay dance punk happiness. Lead singer JD Samson proudly proclaimed before the last song, “We are proud to be queer radical punk feminists”, and the crowd erupted in applause. Don’t classify their debut album Talk About Body (IAMSOUND) along with the rest of the New York dance punk, because this is taking that sound to a whole new level. Since Coachella, this has become one of our favorite albums.
Off -One of the more interesting experiences this year was seeing OFF! If punk rock is your thing, then was history in the making for you. Fronted by Circle Jerks/Black Flag singer Keith Morris and backing with various other punk rock legends, this performance transformed the Gobi into one giant mosh pit, albeit definitely the nicest pit we have ever seen. When one mosher fell down, three other guys stopped and helped him get back up. Though they don’t officially have a full length album yet, you can get your hands on First Four EPs (Vice).
City and Colour -Every year at Coachella there is always a performer that you can recognize is truly talented, but it just isn’t right at that moment. That performer this year was City and Colour. The recording alias for the front man of Alexisonfire, Dallas Green; City and Colour is incredibly beautiful folk music. It was very relaxing to chill out and relax while laying the grass for a half hour; but in the extreme heat in the middle of the day, we soon had to retreat to some cooler shade. We would very much like the opportunity to see City and Colour inside sometime. Look for Little Hell (Alone) to be released on June 7.
Angus and Julia Stone -Speaking of beautiful folk music, another Coachella find this year was Angus and Julia Stone. Best known for their single “Paper Aeroplane”, this charming duo from Sydney had a packed house for their only US tour stop. Most of the set was amazing, until the bass from Wiz Khalifa on the main stage began to drown out the soft melodies in the Gobi. Unfortunately, a lot of people began leaving at this point, but it allowed us to get a closer spot and be able to finish out the set. Down the Way is available now on EMI.
Health -Los Angeles based noise band Health is very difficult to describe. By definition, they really are a noise band. However, they somehow manage to convey melodies and harmonies that may bands classified as noise bands simply are missing. We were a little unsure whether this would be amazing or terrible, but it definitely ended up being amazing. The band seemed as mystified as these reviewers that the front of the crowd turned into a pretty crazy mosh pit halfway through the set. Our guess is this may have been a first for them. Their live show is filled with energy and charisma and we highly recommend them. Grab Get Color available now on Lovepump United.
Trentemoller -Without a doubt, one of the shining stars of Coachella 2011 was Danish producer Trentemoller. We expected this to be good, but we had no idea it would be life changing. Words cannot even describe the feeling that came over the audience as the sun set into the background and the numerous instruments on stage, including a harp, continued to build and build into an unbelievable apex. Starting off slow and nearly ambient, the musicians Anders Trentemoller expertly put together expertly built layer upon layer until the whole tent was verging on exploding with tension. Then, it really DID explode. Every single person in the overfill crowd was jumping up and down, many people In tears. After 6 Coachellas, we have seen a lot of the world’s best acts, and this was definitely among the top 5%. Into the Great Wide Yonder is available now on In My Room.
Duran Duran – We were not surprised to see Duran Duran’s name on the bill this year, especially after the success of their 2010 release All you Need is Now (produced by Grammy award-winner Mark Ronson). Their stage presence was as great as ever, playing all of their major hits and even a few surprises, especially in this video with special guest Ana Matronic (from the Scissor Sisters).
Chromeo – Yes, we were all waiting for Chromeo! The Dave-1 and P-Thugg duo had a fantastic setup on the outdoor stage, adorned with their sexy-leg keyboard stands and all! Everyone was a bit surprised to see Ezra Koeing from Vampire Weekend come on stage to perform a song with Chromeo. Coachella has a way of creating those special memories.
Leftfield – Live electronic music has come a long way from the days of the late 1970s synth-sound, but one of the groups that can be attributed with being a mover and shaker in the electronic world is Leftfield. While their official start was in the early 1990s, Niel Barnes and Paul Daley have been producing fantastic music for quite some time. Many would claim that Leftfield usually gets third billing in the Orbital – Underworld live electronica category, they really do know how to put on a fantastic show. At NEMzy, we realized that Leftfield would be one of the “dark horses” or unexpected acts of this year’s Coachella, but we didn’t realize how powerful their performance was going to be. From their opening numbers to the live performance of Afro-left with Djum Djum, their show was incredible. In fact, the Theremin performance by Djum Djum was too good to do justice with a YouTube video (if you missed it, sorry!). Although they don’t get out to the U.S. very often (or, really, ever), we hope and pray they will be coming around and giving us more than just a one-hour set. America needs more Leftfield!!!
The Presets – We decided to end our review with the last act of Coachella (for us…remember what we said earlier?). In fact, The Presets left such a mark on our weekend that we decided to name our review after a song of theirs. The energy in the Mojave tent that evening anticipating the Australian Duo’s set was too much to handle. They were late, but still played their entire set. Hearing and feeling the packed Mojave sing back the lyrics for Talk Like That was truly a fantastic end to an excellent Coachella 2011. We are still waiting to see some new stuff from The Presets, but we know it will be great. Want some proof? Watch this! We truly were locked up with all our people.
Coachella 2011 – Final Thoughts
Well, first thing is that the festival is called the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. We here at NEMzy would be remiss if we didn’t report on some of the excellent art at this year’s festival. Most importantly, the Creator’s Project put on a variety of unique installations including the changing of the Main Stage into a giant light show a few times each evening, the installation of some incredible visuals in the Sahara tent, and the development of a light installation titled “Untitled.” On top of that, a variety of excellent art installations were all over the Empire Polo Fields. We were especially happy to see the return of the Tesla Coils.
Most of us here at NEMzy have attended (what seems like) far too many Coachella Festivals. The general consensus was that 2011 was the year that surprised everyone, in their own way. For some, the music was better than anticipated and for others the festival was much more well organized (with the exception of some timing issues) than previous years. No matter who you talk to, everyone at Coachella had fun (in one way or another). Tickets for 2011 sold out very quickly (record time) and with all of the added improvements this year, we are certain that the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival will also likely to sell out. The worst day of Coachella is Monday, since it is the longest we have to all wait until next year…but, until then…see you in 2012!!