Coachella 2012 has been announced, and it’s the best fucking festival concert ever! Actually, that’s not true at all. Why did I say that? I don’t even know where that came from. If you are an avid reader of “The Internet”, and I am, then you probably got that crazy idea from there. At about 3 PM yesterday, every music fan and journalist in LA had their collective and predictable group orgasm as the Coachella 2012 lineup was announced. The overreaction and hype to Coachella has become a part of its mystique over the years- an integral part of its rise to the top of festival-lore. While Coachella 2012 is not a bad lineup, its definitely not what everyone wants you to believe it is.
It’s ironic that an indie music festival in the desert has gotten the LA “we can make anything pretty” treatment- but it has. Everyone sit down, take a deep breath, and let’s take a real look at this thing. It’s a little too early to be drunk, but if you are drinking the Coachella-Hype, you are already wasted.
The original festival in 1999 featured the likes of Beck, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Perry Farrell, Morrissey, The Chemical Brothers and Underworld at the top. Now maybe I am a sucker for great 90s and 2000s bands, but at least four of those artists and bands are a headliner over The Black Keys at most festivals. But not at Coachella. There is no denying the star power of Radiohead and Dr. Dre and Snoop. Radiohead has received the crown of automatic-headliner. Whenever and wherever they play, they are a headliner. Whether that is deserved or not, years of the media calling them one of the best bands ever will do that. Now The Black Keys are a good act, and wildly popular especially after the release of El Camino, but from many accounts they put on a mediocre performance last year about three slots away from the headline spot. Maybe everything has changed, but The Black Keys as a headliner just isn’t cutting it for one of the biggest and greatest festivals in the world. Let’s hope the other festivals in 2012 don’t get any of the same crazy ideas as Coachella on this one.
Coachella used to be the place where bands we really cared about got back together- remember when Jesus and the Mary Chain, Faith No More, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Roger Waters, Prince, and Paul McCartney all returned to the stage at Coachella? Don’t get me wrong, Refused and At The Drive-In are significant, but to say At The Drive-In is an almost headlining reunion is revisionist history in action. If the Mars Volta didn’t become what it is, At The Drive-In is a mid-day Coachella act.
Now maybe you really do believe David Guetta is the #1 DJ in the world, and that Florence + The Machine are the second coming of PJ Harvey or Janis Joplin. But let me lay down a few bands or acts that would have truly made Coachella what everyone wants to call it- special.
Black Sabbath – Recent news is that legendary guitarist Tony Iommi has been diagnosed with lymphoma, which may delay plans for the Sabbath world tour. Regardless, they were never slated to make their big reunion at Coachella. It’s probably better this way, the Coachella crowd wouldn’t appreciate it.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – A new album, the pride and joy of LA, and somehow they are not playing LA’s biggest stage? Yes they have two dates at the Staples Center, but a stop at Coachella would have been fitting. I’m not a Chili Peppers fan, but this would work for the crowd.
Soundgarden – Remember when everyone thought they would be the secret band of 2010’s lineup? They went over to Lollapalooza instead for their reunion. It would have been keen for Coachella to get them for the end of their tour, but that title goes to Voodoo Festival.
Jane’s Addiction – Booked already for Lollapalooza in Brazil, but once again Coachella is missing out on one of LA’s favorite bands who just released a new album this past Fall. With only two days of acts, Lollapalooza Brazil’s lineup might be better than Coachella’s three day lineup.
X – The Los Angeles punk band that has influenced more rock and punk bands in LA than maybe anyone, just played Goldenvoice’s 30th Anniversary shows. At no point did anyone from Goldenvoice muster up the courage to ask if they would be willing to play Coachella? Why not? Is punk really that much of a scary thing to bring to Coachella?
Mastodon – If heavy metal had a crossover hit right now that could actual work at a festival like this, it’s Mastodon. Their 2009 Coachella performance with MSTRKRFT was one of the highlights of that year. Can’t bring them back after their phenomenal 2011 release The Hunter? Fuck, bring along their buddies in The Dillinger Escape Plan and now we are really talking.
How To Destroy Angels – They wouldn’t be able to get Trent to do it anyways, but damn that would have been awesome!
The Beach Boys – The biggest misstep of all. California’s prodigal sons announce a 50th anniversary reunion tour with Brian Wilson and the whole gang back. The Beach Boys ARE California music. Instead of playing Coachella, they are kicking off the reunion at the Jazz Festival in New Orleans in April. This would have been that big, special reunion that Coachella always wants us to believe they have. This would have been something different, something special and unique. And if you are one of those younger concert goers that doesn’t think The Beach Boys sound good high and stoned, you are wrong. Just ask your Dad.
And the truth of the matter is, none of what I said really matters. Media outlets are starting to report that the first weekend of Coachella is already sold out before the general on-sale even got a chance to get going. The second weekend will surely sell out as well, and everyone involved will make a crazy amount of money- most of it before a single band was announced. But that’s just it, Coachella is more about the experience than the music these days, but it didn’t start that way back in 1999. Is it one of the biggest and most successful music festivals in the world? Absolutely. Is it the best? Not even close. Funny part is, I probably will go for the first week. The goal is to find some of those mid-day bands that you have never heard of, bring their music and experience back to you, and hopefully we can all celebrate in the joys of finding great new music. I also won’t complain about getting to check out Kasabian and The Hives- two of my favorite overseas acts. But if we are truly being honest with each other, I’m really going to party and hang out with friends. Aren’t you?
UPDATE: Our writers and correspondents have spent the better half of today trying to work out which weekend they will cover. Many of them are choosing which weekend to go based on what weekend their friends are going, and everyone is split up already. So far, the two weekend experiment is failing for “bringing people together”. Obviously more people will see the show, but everyone won’t be experiencing it together this year. My only hope for this working out was that maybe the Coachella bands would play small and secret shows in the LA area during the off week- not a chance. Radiohead has already scheduled two dates in Mexico City for the week between the two weekends, which is a clear sign that the Coachella promoters have put a pretty wide restriction on where bands can play shows during the off week. Ya, Mexico.
I have to agree with a lot of what you said, but I take issue with this statement: “Don’t get me wrong, Refused and At The Drive-In are significant, but to say At The Drive-In is an almost headlining reunion is revisionist history in action. If the Mars Volta didn’t become what it is, At The Drive-In is a mid-day Coachella act.”
The Mars Volta became what they did because of the fame of At The Drive-In; fans clung on to what they could after ATDI called it quits, which helped propel Mars Volta to their fame, not the other way around.
Every year, there are hundreds of how gripes and could-have-beens about the Coachella lineup among music writers and fans. I get why, and every year I experience pleasant surprises and disappointments too, but I’m not really understanding the foundations of some of your more broad criticisms here.
Mainly, there’s the implied accusation that Coachella has gone too mainstream (with the line re: the alleged LA-ification of an “indie music festival in the desert”), but that can’t really be — a few of the headliners in ’99 were pretty huge at the time, and as you noted, the Black Keys don’t seem to be big time enough to hang with the other headliners in 2012. And yet as an alternative to the current headliners you’re proposing, for instance, RHCP who, not to denigrate their talent, are as much of Top 40 mainstays as any modern rock outfit have been.
Also, I’d argue that Coachella has always been about the experience (which isn’t inherently in competition with “the music” as you’ve written here.) I don’t really get how they were more “about the music” in 1999 than they are today. It seems to me that the lineups then and now both pretty accurately reflect the music scene of the time and, if anything, 2012’s lineup covers a much wider array of genres (which is actually a good thing, and a definite benefit of greater cash flow) AND has a pretty good number of “nostalgia” acts.
It does also have David Guetta, though, so, you know. Win some, lose some.
I agree with you on the Chili Peps side. I’m not a fan, but there is no denying that they are more of a “headliner” than The Black Keys. I really have no problem with The Black Keys playing or being close to the top of the bill, but I think it highlights the fact that the festival is void of two or three killer headlining acts you have to see- and even better if you can ONLY see at Coachella. Think if Black Sabbath started their tour at Coachella, or someone like Soundgarden ended their reunion there. Now those are big acts, but the show matters and has that “special” feel to it. Anyone can see The Black Keys pretty easily during their Spring tour, and have been able to throughout the years. Props to them for making it to the top of the Coachella bill, I’ll give them credit for that.
And finally, yes, it is about the experience. All music festivals are. One of my all time favorite festivals was Sasquatch 06. I’ll never forget seeing The Constantines and Flaming Lips perform in a hail storm with the gorgeous canyon as a back drop. The experience will never leave me, but the music was the reason I was there and the core of those memories.
Coachella is an indie festival, and nothing changes that. I’m just not as stoked on the line-up as some people in the media are- and I haven’t been in a few years.
Sure, Coachella’s line-up this year may be over-hyped already, but I have to disagree with everything else you said. Perhaps you should start your own nostalgia festival and you can get all the 90’s bands you like to play it. Coachella started 13 years ago, times change, get over it.
Would you come to my 90s Nostalgia Fest? Here are my headliners:
Black Sabbath – reunion kick-off
Jane’s Addiction – new album
X – classic LA band
With co-headliners each night of:
Deadmau5 – the hottest DJ right now
The Black Keys – they deserve it
Queens of the Stone Age – gods in LA
Fill out the rest after that with Kasabian, Wavves, Electric Flower, Skrillex, BRMC, Portugal. The Man, Noel Gallagher, etc. and we are good to go!
Hey Ronnie and Eli, Bonnaroo’s lineup also has Radiohead but pulled in Beach Boys, RHCP, and Alice Cooper! Nostalgia? Maybe. Better headliners (likely) than Black Keys? Definitely.
Didn’t even think about Alice Cooper, that could be pretty great.
Still booked for Coachella week 2 because it is more about the experience than anything else. I’ll see everyone in the Sahara tent!