COACHELLA 2013 – A Musical Mirage in a Desert Dream
APRIL 19-21, 2013
by Alexis Murine | Photographs by Natasha Dangond
“Your destination, on the right,” drones the monotone woman in the GPS. Its 9pm. Warm wind pours in through one open car window, and through the other side. To the left of us, a Circle K and the right…
“I don’t think our motel is on the train tracks.”
My two teenage companions called the Western Sands Motel for more accurate directions, and after circling a seemingly unending loop of Presidential streets, we finally arrive at our destination. The Motel looked like the setting for a typical horror movie, up-lit by florescent bulbs crouching in the weeds, aimless uniformed men wandering through the buildings, televisions blaring through the paper-thin walls. We had thought about how nice taking a night swim would have been while we were on the road, but as we inched forward to find our parking spot in the back alley, we decided that might not be the wisest choice after all.
The refrigerator smelled of something long since passed, and the sheets looked in need of prompt bleaching. The bathroom was passable, yet only had one bath towel, a hand towel, and a couple washcloths, which would make it a little difficult for three girls.
The dirt rose up around us like steam as we tread through rows of cars with painted windows. The afternoon sun was beating down on our exposed shoulders, but an occasional breeze helped to soothe them from the 97 degree heat, carrying the distant scent of coconut sunscreen, hot grass, and smoke. The mile walk from the day parking lot to the front gates was punctuated by three security checkpoints, passing by fenced off car-camping sites and shuttle bus drop off areas. We had to empty out our water bottles prior to entering, but were informed of the multiple free water refill stations located throughout the grounds, as well as new bottles only costing $2. Also, if you brought 10 empty water bottles to the recycling booth, they would give you a new, cold bottle for free.
Lined up in rows to scan their wristbands, girls wore crowns of flowers, high-waist-ed cut off jean shorts, crop tops or bikini tops, boys generally in tee shirts, shorts, or bathing suits, and once funneled out into the fairgrounds blended together in a sea of skin. We determined that the rusted metal contorted into the shape of a T-Rex, the “Dinosaur” sculpture would be the designated meeting place in case we got separated.
We explored, drifting from one stage to the next, would listen to a few songs from one band, then seek refuge in the shade lying on the grass underneath one of the tents. The great thing about festivals like these is the ability to hear music from a few different bands playing at the same time, so you can almost be watching multiple bands simultaneously, catching overlapping snippets of each one.
There were two large stages, Coachella Main Stage and the Outdoor Stage, and all of the tented stages were named after different Deserts: Gobi, Yuma, Sahara and Mojave. The “Do Lab”, located in the center, hosted different DJ sets. During the day, it was like the set of a typical teenage fantasy music video: Girls in wet t-shirts and bikinis on stage hosing down sweaty dancing boys. We would wander in from time to time to cool off and boogie down. In the evenings, an acrobatic fire-dancing troupe entertained the gyrating mass of people below.
We got to see Metric, Stars, Purity Ring, and Local Natives, and as dusk started to fall, we caught pieces of Band of Horses, Modest Mouse and Yeah Yeah Yeahs as we ate. There were multiple rows of food vendors throughout the grounds, some serving healthier versions of typical fair food, such as veggie and turkey corndogs or gourmet garden burgers, as well as more exotic Vietnamese, Jamaican and Spanish cuisine. The prices were high, as were expected, but everything I ate was worth it.
The grounds transform at night, everything that lies dormant comes alive. Giant iridescent inflatable snail glowed pearl pink as it skimmed over the ground. The Praying Mantis Crane lifted up into the sky with bright white prismatic eyes. Lady Buggies, golf carts adorned with glittering shells buzz by. Neon sharks on remote controls swim over the grass and electric butterflies glide through the sky. What looks like a white modern sculpture by day, turns into a projection house: white walls replaced by simulated brick, a blank floor now a swimming pool illusion. The Coachella Power Station draws passers by towards the glass like moths, watching people dressed in lab coats and hippo masks pressing buttons, pulling levers, setting off giant tesla coils, shooting purple and pink jolts of lightning hissing through the air, while music notes bend and break off into the balmy indigo sky like glowing embers.
Worn out from a sleepless night, a packed day, and lungs full of dust, we headed back to our car, unfortunately missing Tegan and Sara. Despite having decked our ride, with the swirling word “CARPOOLCHELLA” and doodles, trying to find my black Suzuki Forenza in the dark with no remote lock seemingly took forever, but eventually we made it back to the motel, grateful for the beds we were so skeptical about the night before.
We decided that we would try and “sleep in” since it was going to be the most packed day as far as bands we really wanted to see. Unfortunately, we were all awake by 8am, and starving. We found a mom and pop café down the street named “Scramblez”, and had delicious, filling meals, like thick-cut French toast with bacon, for less than $10 each.
Now, since we came the second weekend, most of the street style photographers had since come and gone the first weekend when most of the celebrities attend. But, seeing as Coachella has come to be such a style and cultural influence, I made sure to bring outfits that were going to be comfortable yet show off my personal style. Granted, since most girls weren’t really wearing clothes to begin with, it made those people actually wearing clothes stand out even more. But, I was happy that three different people asked to take a photograph of me in my 80s red and white striped romper, red hair bow and clear cat eye sunglasses, most notably of which was Timeout LA for their “Weekend Two-Day Two Highlights” section.
We were much more focused on our schedule for the day since it was the most “full” day in terms of bands. Unfortunately, since there are so many bands on multiple stages, you have to make compromises. For example, I really wanted to see Grizzly Bear for the dreamy vocals, yet they were playing at the same time as UK electronic band Hot Chip, which my father introduced me to back when I was in high school. I ended up choosing Hot Chip, because of the nostalgia and that they don’t play as often in the US as Grizzly Bear does, and went to the performance alone, promising to meet back with everyone at the Dinosaur afterwards. It is a strange and liberating feeling going to see a band by yourself. It was certainly easier to weasel my way towards the front of the stage alone, rather than trying to snake 4 or 5 people behind you, whipping through an irritated crowd. I was able to dance to the infectious beats and sing along with the concert-goers around me, allowing myself to get absorbed in the rhythm.
Major Lazer and Benny Benassi were a couple of acts I was most looking forward to, yet most of their sets were mostly “hype” and little substance. The XX and The Postal Service played on the Main Stage and The Outdoor Stage, and their music blended beautifully, soft-spoken vocals and guitar riffs melting together. We were able to catch bits of Franz Ferdinand and Yeasayer, while heading to Phoenix. I am always so impressed when bands are able to replicate the exact sound of their recordings, and I was not disappointed by Phoenix. The uniquely French tinged vocals were spot on, and the quality of the performance was very polished. Having missed the opportunity to see them a few years ago at the Hollywood Bowl, I was happy I got to see them in a crowd that was so eager to sing and dance along with me.
After the last major band of the evening, people heard towards the exits, tired feet trudging through the loose dirt, making the air a chalky white. Some people were smart in bringing bandanas or even breathing masks to avoid inhaling it, but we just had to hurry our way through the milky abyss back towards the parking lot, the lights from the Ferris Wheel illuminating our path.
Even though it was the last day of the festival, we decided to wait until about 3pm to make our way to the grounds, saving ourselves from the sun and heat for a few hours, since the previous two days were starting to take a toll on us, and we wanted to be energized and prepared for the rest of the day.
Grimes was our first stop. We arrived during the end of Thee Oh Sees set to wiggle our way closer to the front. Her stage was empty except for two synthesizers perched in the middle, leaning into each other, adorned with plastic roses and stickers. She walked out looking like a living manga character, bright orange hair with brown roots, Japanese schoolgirl skirt, black tights and plastic slippers. Her two backup dancers wore all white with fairy wings, grooving along to the songs and blowing bubbles. She paused between songs to graciously thank the audience, sincerely happy that so many people are dancing despite the heat of the day. She seems so real, immediately you want to be her friend.
We listened to Tame Impala’s psychedelic guitar riffs, Dinosaur Jr.’s punk musings, and Vampire Weekend’s Ivy League pop, as night started to replace day. I had to make a choice between The Faint and OMD. I had loved The Faint for a long time, and had seen them in concert before, so I knew how much fun of a show they put on, but OMD is another rarity that should be taken advantage of if given the opportunity.
Luckily for us on this occasion, they were located two tent stages right next to each other, so it would be easy to go between.
The Faint had just started, when we wove through the loosely knit audience towards the stage, base thumping and synthesizer humming. The screen morphed between different brightly colored collages, mash ups of seemingly irrelevant images and video, yet in conjunction with the song started to make a jumbled sort of sense. Song after song, our bodies kept moving and jumping with the undulating crowd around us. We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave until the end of the set, but were able to catch a few OMD songs on our way past.
Red Hot Chili Peppers closed out the festival, commanding the largest audience, spanning so far in each direction you couldn’t see where the group ended. Even though I thought I didn’t know very much of their music, I ended up knowing almost every song they played, and laughed along with my friends at Anthony Kiedis and Flea’s banter, recorded in high contrast black, white and red.
There is something surreal and whimsical about sitting against a wire fence, underneath a gigantic metal praying mantis, eating a churro, while listening to Wu-Tang Clan in the distance. And that is the beauty of Coachella. Seemingly disparate genres of music, art and people coming together for a shared experience. I saw women with grey hair and well-worn fanny packs standing in the water refill line alongside tan frat boys in neon board shorts, and couples carrying toddlers with oversized noise-reducing headphones. I overheard people talking about traveling for days from Canada, England, Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and all over the US just for the weekend of Coachella. Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival has become one of the most prominent influencers in modern popular culture, and even though the ticket price might sting initially, the experience is one not to be missed. Once you are submerged in the dream, the musical microcosm, where your only real concerns are food, water, and which bands to see next, reality seems like a distant memory, a past life buried in your subconscious. When you leave, what seemed like a week was really just a weekend, vivid as the blur of a bright car flashing by on the freeway, and lingering in ringing ears and on sun-kissed shoulders.