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Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller


Photo by David Brendan Hall

Festivals are changing. When Coachella released their lineup on January 2nd — their earliest release to date — the news was met with a collective yawn. In fact, an “I’m Underwhelmed” thread in the festival’s sub-Reddit received nearly as many up-votes as the lineup announcement itself. And naturally, other major lineup announcements that followed didn’t fare much better.

As industry gatekeepers like LiveNation and AEG continue to snatch up one major festival after another, the once-thrilling concept of traveling far and wide for these experiences is becoming more and more passé. After all, why should anyone trek across the country to see a flock of performers they can likely catch closer to home?

The solution for festival goers is simple: think smaller.

Boutique festivals are becoming increasingly thrilling amid today’s vapid festival climate. By providing a thoughtful alternative, they’ve begun to satisfy a seasoned music vet’s desire for something extraordinary and something risky. While their long-term future is always uncertain, their commitment to a singular identity is key to their success.

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Photo by Jaime Fernández

Desert Daze, for instance, has carved themselves out a niche in the festival sphere by cultivating an experience around the Joshua Tree’s trip-inducing visual aesthetic. Each turn is host to a new burning-man-esque art exhibition, and the festival’s signature programming gives life to the location’s supernatural aura — though, not without its share of struggles.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher to have a unique lineup,” says Desert Daze founder Phil Pirrone. “Look, I’m in a band, too, so I get it. It’s almost impossible to make money as a touring musician. I get where agents are coming from. I get the mad dash for cash. But, it does make it increasingly difficult to have a unique lineup when you’re in Southern California.”

Like many festivals of its size, Desert Daze jostles with a number of larger festivals in close proximity for big gets. Pirrone competes with So-Cal-based, Goldenvoice-produced festivals Coachella, FYF Festival and Arroyo Seco for bookings. “I have real envy for festivals that are in a market where they’re the only festival,” he says. “You’re not always going to get the dream lineup together because there’s so much competition. You basically have to have a lot of backup plans.”

As Prionne suggests, artists have become increasingly reliant on major festivals such as Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Agents are in a rat race to secure their clients the best possible billings at the most possible festivals.

Adding fuel to the fire, festivals are, now more than ever, willing to offer up the same headliners as their competition in order to move units. Multifest deals mean talent is often contracted for a cheaper booking price to play a string of festivals. Remember Chance the Rapper’s whopping 11 appearances at American music festivals in 2017? This year’s festival darling? Eminem. These instances aren’t simply coincidence but, rather, the deliberate efforts of production companies working the best deals possible.

jf cp desertdaze 2017 0111 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Jaime Fernández

From a business perspective, such programming is sound logic. Music festivals are high-risk ventures, and things can turn south quickly. Sasquatch Festival, for instance, had its attendance drop by 50 percent in 2016. That same year, Bonnaroo’s attendance dipped by a reported 45 percent compared to its peak in 2011. It makes sense that those with a controlling stake would want to play it safe.

Other fests like Pemberton, Karoondi, Summerset, and Mysteryland have met similar fates in recent years, and, especially considering the bad taste the Fyre Festival left in the mouths of investors, independent festivals often disappear faster than they emerge. An Austin staple, Sound on Sound Festival (formerly Fun Fun Fun) was cancelled this year, with organizers citing “several recent roadblocks outside of [their] control.”

Such failures have caused companies like Live Nation and AEG, as well as investors, to constrict their business models. With the signature touchstones of festival culture falling out of existence, promoters have begun to think twice about experimental bookings in their top lines. The result? Different permutations of the same product.

As we’ve seen this year with Eminem, The Killers, and Jack White fronting a plethora of festival bills, promoters are more than wary about who they offer as headliners. As they become larger and competition threatens to cripple them, festivals have undergone a loss of identity: no longer can one guess a festival by its headliners alone.

jf cp desertdaze 2017 0352 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Jaime Fernández

Organizers are flailing to find a solution to the festival problem. But if industry executives continue to treat our cultural gatherings like dollar-churning machines, little room is left for innovation, and we’ll likely continue to see more of the same. Still, boutique festivals like Desert Daze stick to their mission, despite the overwhelming threat of saturation bumping them out of the market.

“In an oversaturated world, we still somehow found a little nook,” Pirrone says. Last year, he hosted the likes of Spiritualized, Velvet Underground founder John Cale, doom metal trio Sleep, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s only festival performance supporting their collaborative album, and the king of punk himself, Iggy Pop, who headlined the festival.

Such programming feels urgent, even unmissable, and for hardcore music fans, the lineup demands attendance in cult-like fashion. This is an itch that boutique festivals have begun to scratch, however, satisfying the avant-garde live niche once occupied by Coachella — and Desert Daze is hardly alone.

Elsewhere, a number of boutique festivals have disrupted the status quo with engaging interactive exhibits. Houston’s Day For Night does exactly that, fostering a rare curatorial experience that weaves visual and sensory exhibits into the festival’s programming. For 2017’s installment, art curator Alex Czetwertynski showcased more 15 large-scale visual installations and hundreds of hours worth of digital programming.

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

“Festivals themselves are done,” says Day for Night founder Omar Afra, who believes that curation is pertinent to the attendee’s experience. “We’re on the precipice of seeing this model become antiquated, right? [Even though] many festivals are still working within a festival construct, it’s the experience that’s changing, and that’s where the focus is. You can’t say, ‘We’re an art and music festival’ if we put a giant dragonfly in the middle of our stages and say, ‘Look, it’s art.’ When you say you’re an art festival, you have to fucking mean it and put the love and the time behind it, because people can tell the difference.”

Day for Night’s emphasis on visuals is a huge diversion from traditional festival model. Dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into visual production is a tremendous risk yet few exhibit the level of curatorial excellence that Day for Night touts each year. Whether it’s showcasing the mathematical glitch-work from Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda or the “attack of epilepsy” from light pioneer Matthew Pioneer, the festival proves that thematic identities can work as a festival model.

“You can’t imitate other people, and you can’t imitate yourself,” says Afra. “That’s probably the worst thing you could do!” The question, though, is whether or not emerging festivals will continue to pave their own paths, or will they fall prey to industry homogenization.

dayfornight2017 day1 davidbrendanhall 04 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by David Brendan Hall

The idea of discovering new and emerging artists is another avenue for festival organizers to explore, though also not without its share of risks. Austin’s own South by Southwest pioneered the concept in 1987, and since then, several other music conferences have followed. Driven by proprietary algorithms, Emerge’s Rehan Choudhry wants to provide a forward-thinking curatorial conference featuring the highest tier of next generation talent.

“We’re looking to create an entirely new category of experience.” Choudhry eagerly tells us. “There are a lot of traditional festivals out there. The first thing we want to do is avoid having to chase the same talent based on touring availability, and who’s decided to do festivals this year like everybody else is.”

Emerge’s programming features a plethora of artists that haven’t quite reached mainstream recognition. The concept behind the festival is geared towards showcasing names that music listeners and promoters will more readily recognize and adopt 18 to 24 months from now. “We’re very forward thinking and that’s for our musicians, our speakers, partners etc.” says Choudhry. “What I like about it is that it promotes discovery.”

But discovery comes at a cost. “It’s definitely more difficult to do,” Choudhry admits. “[It’s] more difficult to sell tickets like that. More difficult for the attendee to be able to sift through it.” This is opposed to the typical contextualization of festival lineups, where wide-eyed readers are lured in by massive stars at in large-scale fonts.

emerge Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Such an experience sheds light on festivalgoers’ contextualization of lineup announcements in terms of font size. Coachella largely pioneered this process with their one-of-a-kind poster: a cultural statement about the current state of music that now largely determines the future asking price for tour musicians. The massive text is eye catching and does well to sell thousands of tickets in less than a few hours.

“The [usual festival] hierarchy allows for a very simple decision-making process,” says Choudhry. “You look at the top line and ultimately you’re making your decision based on location timeframe and the top three lines. Is this something you want to invest in or not?”

Scanning the font hierarchy on Coachella’s lineup is simple: gawk at the big names and move on from there. But what happens when a festival gets rid of font hierarchy altogether and focuses on crafting their experience around discovery? Choudhry discusses the potential pitfalls related to programming a festival like Emerge.

“Here are a bunch of names I may or may not recognize” he says, citing the synthesis between algorithmic data and human curatorial-judgement as the basis for a new festival-conference hybrid. “That’s all part of the process, but it all starts with, ‘How are you selecting the artists?’ What we did was, we put together a 25-person curator committee.” By involving executives from talent agencies and music industry insiders, including those from Spotify, Choudhry argues, “We have the upper echelon of talent to perform.”

 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Whether it’s SXSW or Emerge, those attending a music conference are traditonally seeking out something more than the flavor of the week, and when the emphasis is placed on discovery rather than hype, it opens the floodgates to programming that was previously thought to be reserved for local music venues and dive bars. Festivals like Emerge are hoping that seasoned festivalgoers are willing to pay for that full experience.

Even so, the festival experience will always be defined by the lens of perception. As David Byrne points out in his 2012 book, How Music Works, context — read: the creative production behind a festival — shapes our experience of the music itself. “Music resonates in so many parts of the brain that we can’t conceive of it being an isolated thing” he says. “It’s whom you were with, how old you were, and what was happening that day.”

Perhaps this explains why some festivals have started to put so much emphasis on the cohesive community fostered by their events. One such festival is Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin, which is curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner. “Each iteration of Eaux Claires has been a unique journey, unlike the festival that preceded it” says Michael Brown, Creative Director for the festival.

sign 04 lior phillips Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Lior Phillips

Doing away with festival lineup hierarchy is one thing, but what happens when a curatorial festival gets rid of a lineup announcement altogether, focusing solely on their interactive community? “This year is no different,” Brown says, “as we’re currently participating in one of the most radical concepts in the music festival industry: presenting a festival with no marketed lineup.”

The decision not to market the festival’s lineup is an interesting, albeit risky, concept to say the least, but it’s an opportunity for artists and fans to all exist on the same plane. Again, most festival organizers would call it business suicide, but Brown is confident that Eaux Claires’ unique, immersive experience alone will continue to advance the festival.

“We’re pushing Eaux Claires in this direction because we want our audience and our artists to live together in the moment and willingly participate in something special” he says. “We want, for one weekend in the year, that folks stop being concerned with the popularized ‘fashion’ of music and be more concerned with its creative pursuits.”

moms kiosk lior phillips Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Lior Phillips

The dynamic festival is nestled in the serene, wooded community of Eaux Claires, where Vernon grew up, and it’s a fitting backdrop for the festival’s programming. Vernon, Dessner, and Brown have set out to evoke a sense of spiritual belonging throughout the festival.

“We want people to put value on life experience and living in the moment,” says Brown. “We want people, if just for one weekend, to willingly be a part of a community that openly embraces artistic failure as much as it embraces artistic success.”

By placing more emphasis on the experience itself than the names on the bill, Eaux Claires flies in the face of standard festival business strategy over the last two decades, but it’s that purpose that brings a whole new meaning for the music festival model. Such a model might be more successful than previously thought, too, seeing how The Wausau Daily Herald reports that Eaux Claires attendance surpassed 20,000 in 2017.

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Photo by Graham Tolbert

It’s clear that the festival industry is due for an overhaul, but it’s uncertain how such a shift will manifest throughout our nation’s cultural gatherings. As the focal points of music festivals shift towards more thematically programmed, extracurricular, and immersive experiences, the general public’s contextualization of festivals will shift dramatically. After all, music festivals are one of the biggest cultural touchstones of the 21st century.

As Choudhry explains, “In the last five years, we’ve seen the festival industry consolidate at an incredible rate, with two to three major players buying up independent events across the country. Each time this happens, you also see the pipeline of innovation constrict dramatically. The reason? Innovation typically takes place in smaller, more nimble organizations.”

Whether it’s immersive technology and virtual reality exhibitionism, expansive visual art installations, a unique set and setting, or an off-kilter programming scheme, the emergence of a new class of festivals is imminent. So long as music fans are vocal and innovators continue to test their luck with new and exciting festival models, fans will always have something to look forward to come lineup season.

They just have to be willing to squint.



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Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later


If you came to this year’s Coachella announcement hoping for a return of the long-awaited reunions and impossible-to-get surprise acts of the past, you’ll once again leave disappointed. Once festival organizers reconfirmed Beyoncé after her postponement last year, the festival’s traditional biggest question mark already had a definitive answer behind it.

Perhaps not wanting to diminish their long-awaited headliner’s shine, organizers played it safe with the festival’s two other headliners; although Eminem and The Weeknd are both solid draws on their own, they don’t come near to matching the well-deserved fervor for pop music’s reigning master.

So, yes. The top line of the festival is devoid of any true shocks. However, a closer look reveals that America’s preeminent outdoor music festival is still capable of evolution. This year, that means a long-overdue focus on women and a surprising shift away from the dude-heavy guitar rock that helped put the festival on the map.

coachella 2018 Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later

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Beyoncé

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Queen Bey knows how to make an entrance. A year after her pregnancy postponed her 2017 headlining appearance, Beyoncé finally gets the chance to cap off her Lemonade victory lap on one of the world’s biggest stages. Plus, after Solange’s triumphant headlining set at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, there’s also a little sibling rivalry on the line.

David Byrne

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Photo by Philip Cosores

The former Talking Heads frontman hasn’t worked the festival circuit with the regularity of some of his contemporaries, a fact which, when combined with his notoriously infectious live performances and a forthcoming record that marks his first new work in six years, makes this set one to watch. Literally.

Jean-Michele Jarre

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Before his 2017 summer tour, French electronic impresario and master of spectacle Jean-Michel Jarre hadn’t played in America since 1986. The exclusivity may be gone, but that may not matter; you don’t become a Guinness World Record holder for world’s largest concert without knowing how to put on a show.

St. Vincent

st vincent 8 Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later

Photo by Ben Kaye

Though this is her fourth Coachella appearance since 2008, Annie Clark’s penchant for Bowie-style reinvention (and blistering showmanship) injects even midday festival sets with a headliner’s urgency. Add that to the fact that she’s currently supporting some of the best material of her career, and you can see why some people would be happy to sub her in as Friday’s headliner.

X Japan

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Buried in the tiny text of Saturday, you’ll find a rare treat: X Japan, the long-running glam metal band that basically defined the genre in their home country. This is their first appearance in America since a triumphant Madison Square Garden show in 2014; come for the speedy licks and theatrical costumes, and stay for the befuddled joy on the faces of people in the crowd who mostly showed up to see Post Malone.

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The Weeknd

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

As far as this year’s headliners go, it’s Beyoncé and everyone else. That includes The Weeknd, whose semi-regular festival schedule and listless most recent record (2016’s Starboy) render his the least essential marquee slot. This could all change if a surprise record drops between now and April (or he somehow gets Daft Punk to show up), but for now, this booking’s a miss.

Eminem

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Though he had some well-received UK festival appearances in 2017, Eminem enters 2018 with the LP-shaped albatross of the dreadful Revival dragging down any potential excitement for this set. Plus, in a year focused on finally booking and celebrating women in music, closing out the festival with the guy who wrote “Kill You” feels a little tone deaf.

alt-J

altj5 Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later

Photo by Andy Moran

Man. Remember 2012? Barack Obama was still the President, the Mayan apocalypse was all the rage, and “Tessellate” made alt-J feel like the next truly massive British rock band. Now it’s 2018, and we’ve got Donald Trump, the ever-looming threat of actual nuclear war, and … still alt-J, just worse. I hate the future.

Portugal. the Man

photo by Philip Cosores

Photo by Philip Cosores

Look. I’m as happy as anyone that the alt-rock lifers from Sarah Palin’s backyard finally achieved breakout radio success with last year’s “Feel It Still”, but I’m also just as happy to admit that it feels like they’ve been lurking on the bill of every festival I’ve been to since 2008, and I just can’t get amped for that anymore.

A Perfect Circle

a perfect circle Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later

Finish the Tool record, Maynard, and then you can hang with your friends.

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My Bloody Valentine

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It’s been 10 years since rumors of an imminent appearance at Coachella 2008 kicked off one of the most surprising (and successful) reunions in indie rock history. With a new album on the way, it would’ve been a solid callback to finally see Kevin Shields and company take the stage in Indio.

Vampire Weekend

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The long-gestating follow-up to 2013’s Modern Vampires in the City may finally emerge this year, so what better way to reintroduce your band (and resurrect a little guitar rock) than a headlining set at Coachella? We’ll probably find out the answer to that soon, just not in time for the festival.

Foo Fighters

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Somehow, the Foo Fighters have never headlined Coachella, which seems like more of a statistical anomaly than an actual oversight. This year would’ve been a decent year for that to change; 2017’s Concrete and Gold occasionally sparked with brilliance, and Dave Grohl’s toothy grin beats Eminem’s sulk any day of the week (especially Sunday).

Justin Timberlake

justin timberlake Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later

We’ve marked Coachella’s gradual-but-decisive embrace of true pop for years now, and would’ve been pretty thrilled if they’d snagged the genre’s President to go with Queen Bey. For now, the Super Bowl halftime show (and a new record tantalizingly compared to the latest Bon Iver album) will have to suffice.

Frank Ocean

frank ocean wins libel suit filed by father Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later

Just read what we wrote last year twice. It’s all still true.

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Jay-Z

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Photo by Amy Price

He headlined the festival himself in 2010 and released one of 2017’s best records in 4:44, but this time around Jay-Z’s most important Coachella collaboration might come as a designated hitter on Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” or “Upgrade U” (though we’d also accept a surprise run-in for “Renegade” with Eminem the following night).

Earl Sweatshirt

dayfornight2017 earlsweatshirt davidbrendanhall 03 Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later

Photo by David Brendan Hall

First, a couple of caveats: Earl Sweatshirt has been laying pretty low since touring with 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, and his on-again/off-again feuds with former Odd Future stablemate Tyler, the Creator are well-known. But with Earl’s new album on the way and Tyler in his biggest Coachella slot yet, a quick run-in for “Orange Juice” or something feels like a distinct possibility.

Brian Eno

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It’s been 10 years since Brian Eno and David Byrne rekindled their collaboration for 2008’s quietly brilliant Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, so it’d be cool to see them take the stage together for “Strange Overtones”. I would also settle for the more likely scenario of Byrne and St. Vincent reviving their brass band and taking down a track from 2012’s Love This Giant.

Nicki Minaj

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Migos and Cardi B are already going to be on the grounds anyway, so we’re going to be pretty bummed if somebody doesn’t bring Nicki Minaj out for her middle finger of a verse from “MotorSport”. Besides, in a year when the festival is finally giving bad-ass women their due, it wouldn’t be right to leave Nicki out of the fun.

Daft Punk

screen shot 2016 12 28 at 12 11 11 pm Coachella’s 2018 Lineup: One Day Later

Come on. I know it won’t happen, and you know it won’t happen … but what if it happened?

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Led by Beyoncé, the women of Coachella form the festival’s highest highs this year. With featured sets ranging from established talents like St. Vincent and HAIM to meteoric sensations like Cardi B and SZA to small-font stars such as Japanese Breakfast, Cherry Glazerr, and Alvvays, the schedule is finally starting to reflect the broad cross-section of talent that’s been waiting for its due. However, the lack of any true surprises (and the continued presence of overbooked festival fillers that’s starting to ding even the biggest fests) keeps this year’s Coachella from perfection on paper, at least. Talk to us again in April, and we’ll see if we’re wrong.

Grade: B-

 



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Top 10 Music Festivals: Fall 2017 Power Rankings


It’s September, summer’s gone, and we now know the lineups to most of 2017’s music festivals. If we’re being honest, though, we’re drawing a fuzzy blank as we try to recall the highlights of this year. For starters, it wasn’t a particularly strong outing for reunions, save for Jawbreaker, and even worse, it wasn’t a particularly riveting year for headliners, either, outside of graduation stories for the likes of Lorde or Cage the Elephant.

But it’s more than that. For awhile, we’ve noted how the biggest festivals with the longest histories have lost parts of their identity, namely due to so many of them being owned by the same companies. Because of this, boutique and destination festivals have started to feel more and more appealing, offering slices of culture that extend beyond music.

Look, if it sounds like we’re coming down on music festivals, we’re not. Even outside of the top 10 below, we’ve found many events this year that are doing something special within the festival landscape, from the relaxed, mature vibes of San Francisco’s Outside Lands to the punk rock nostalgia of Chicago’s Riot Fest to the 90’s-inspired mass appeal of San Diego’s KAABOO.

Gripes aside, there are still many special events happening in the United States and around the world, only the field is more crowded than ever, as we’ve been saying for years. Sometimes, though, you have to make your way through the weeds to find the flowers, and let’s just say, we channeled our inner Ralph Fiennes for this one.

–Philip Cosores
Executive Editor

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Coachella 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best


As last year’s CoS Coachella reviewer Ben Wener noted, this year’s second weekend of Coachella will celebrate the 100th day of music that Goldenvoice has thrown on Empire Polo Fields. That includes all the Chellas, the Stagecoaches, the Desert Trips, standalone events featuring Pearl Jam and Phish, and the Big Four metal show. So understandably, there is a clockwork aspect to the festival that has been present for years, with each edition now fixed on the question of how Coachella can adapt and evolve to the ever-changing marketplace. Or, more often the case, how they can shift the marketplace to their advantage.

In part, that is what made Friday night’s much-discussed Radiohead debacle all the more unexpected. With the experience that everyone involved with throwing the SoCal fest has, having a set maligned by a major technical issue felt like a freak occurrence, one that especially stung during the weekend’s one headliner that hearkened back to old-school Chella. The turnout reflected that, as the sparsely attended performance confirmed what many have suspected for a long time: that not even Radiohead, one of the most respected and prestigious rock bands of the last quarter century, can slow the culture change at Coachella.

Coachella’s reaction to their shifting audience has been both subtle and transparent. When bombastic EDM pushed the heady techno that runs deep in the festival’s DNA out of the Sahara tent, the festival built the Yuma, a safe space for IDM. This year, another new tent was birthed: the Sonora. This stage answers complaints that punk music has lost its foothold by featuring an assortment of bands from garage, hardcore, and other less commercial rock tributaries. Air-conditioned, couched, and featuring glowing graffiti on its walls, the tent acted as a savior for a segment of the music world that no longer makes sense on the big stages, but remains an inherent part of Coachella’s identity.

And that’s been a big debate of late: What is Coachella? If you read the news, you’ll find a lot of people trying to define the festival when they clearly don’t know much about it. These are the types that blast AEG owner Philip Anschutz for his shitty politics without considering the actual extent of his involvement in the festival. Others criticize founder Paul Tollett for not booking Kate Bush based on an out-of-context quote in a New Yorker article. Interestingly, both of these subjects were raised on Sunday. First, Ezra Furman gave in an insightful speech about Anschutz that served to at least raise questions about what attendees dollars support (though it skirted the fact that Furman himself is still cashing the festival’s checks and providing entertainment at the event). Later, Lorde slyly used Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” as her intro music, which saw virtually no reaction from her most dedicated fans (maybe Coachella fans really wouldn’t get Kate Bush).

The truth is, when you are the premiere music festival in the world, you’re set up to be the villain regardless. People love to see the powerful fall, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that naysayers flock to the first sign of weakness in Coachella’s armor. When DJ Khaled shouted his mantra on Sunday evening, letting everyone know that “all he does is win,” Coachella as a festival could have been saying the same thing. In a year where adversity struck from all angles, the end discussion was of a legendary Kendrick Lamar set, built around a new album that was basically released with his festival-closing set in mind. What other events can have one of the most highly regarded artists on the planet do that? The ending discussion was on appearances by the likes of Drake, The Weeknd, Lauryn Hill, Pharrell, and Migos, the last of which showed up as guests so many times that they probably would have come out with Hans Zimmer if he asked.

It won’t get easier for Coachella. The festival is increasing capacity; its cousin event, Desert Trip, was a paradigm shifter last year; and another LA festival, Arroyo Seco Weekend (basically Coachella for Generation X), will launch in June. Goldenvoice keeps winning and everyone who is not a believer will keep trying to knock them down. But with the biggest headliner on the planet, Beyoncé, already locked in for next year, Coachella should continue to push the boundaries of what music festivals can be.

–Philip Cosores
Executive Editor

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Coachella 2017 Festival Review: From Worst to Best


As last year’s CoS Coachella reviewer Ben Wener noted, this year’s second weekend of Coachella will celebrate the 100th day of music that Goldenvoice has thrown on Empire Polo Fields. That includes all the Chellas, the Stagecoaches, the Desert Trips, standalone events featuring Pearl Jam and Phish, and the Big Four metal show. So understandably, there is a clockwork aspect to the festival that has been present for years, with each edition now fixed on the question of how Coachella can adapt and evolve to the ever-changing marketplace. Or, more often the case, how they can shift the marketplace to their advantage.

In part, that is what made Friday night’s much-discussed Radiohead debacle all the more unexpected. With the experience that everyone involved with throwing the SoCal fest has, having a set maligned by a major technical issue felt like a freak occurrence, one that especially stung during the weekend’s one headliner that hearkened back to old-school Chella. The turnout reflected that, as the sparsely attended performance confirmed what many have suspected for a long time: that not even Radiohead, one of the most respected and prestigious rock bands of the last quarter century, can slow the culture change at Coachella.

Coachella’s reaction to their shifting audience has been both subtle and transparent. When bombastic EDM pushed the heady techno that runs deep in the festival’s DNA out of the Sahara tent, the festival built the Yuma, a safe space for IDM. This year, another new tent was birthed: the Sonora. This stage answers complaints that punk music has lost its foothold by featuring an assortment of bands from garage, hardcore, and other less commercial rock tributaries. Air-conditioned, couched, and featuring glowing graffiti on its walls, the tent acted as a savior for a segment of the music world that no longer makes sense on the big stages, but remains an inherent part of Coachella’s identity.

And that’s been a big debate of late: What is Coachella? If you read the news, you’ll find a lot of people trying to define the festival when they clearly don’t know much about it. These are the types that blast AEG owner Philip Anschutz for his shitty politics without considering the actual extent of his involvement in the festival. Others criticize founder Paul Tollett for not booking Kate Bush based on an out-of-context quote in a New Yorker article. Interestingly, both of these subjects were raised on Sunday. First, Ezra Furman gave in an insightful speech about Anschutz that served to at least raise questions about what attendees dollars support (though it skirted the fact that Furman himself is still cashing the festival’s checks and providing entertainment at the event). Later, Lorde slyly used Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” as her intro music, which saw virtually no reaction from her most dedicated fans (maybe Coachella fans really wouldn’t get Kate Bush).

The truth is, when you are the premiere music festival in the world, you’re set up to be the villain regardless. People love to see the powerful fall, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that naysayers flock to the first sign of weakness in Coachella’s armor. When DJ Khaled shouted his mantra on Sunday evening, letting everyone know that “all he does is win,” Coachella as a festival could have been saying the same thing. In a year where adversity struck from all angles, the end discussion was of a legendary Kendrick Lamar set, built around a new album that was basically released with his festival-closing set in mind. What other events can have one of the most highly regarded artists on the planet do that? The ending discussion was on appearances by the likes of Drake, The Weeknd, Lauryn Hill, Pharrell, and Migos, the last of which showed up as guests so many times that they probably would have come out with Hans Zimmer if he asked.

It won’t get easier for Coachella. The festival is increasing capacity; its cousin event, Desert Trip, was a paradigm shifter last year; and another LA festival, Arroyo Seco Weekend (basically Coachella for Generation X), will launch in June. Goldenvoice keeps winning and everyone who is not a believer will keep trying to knock them down. But with the biggest headliner on the planet, Beyoncé, already locked in for next year, Coachella should continue to push the boundaries of what music festivals can be.

–Philip Cosores
Executive Editor

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New Order to deconstruct its catalog with a 12-piece synth ensemble at the Manchester International Festival


At this years Manchester International Festival Local Mancunian Heroes New Order are set to perform five special concerts backed by a 12-member synthesizer ensemble from the Royal College of Northern Music with performances will feature New Order “deconstructing, rethinking and rebuilding a wealth of material from throughout their career: familiar and obscure, old and new.”

The performances—New Order + Liam Gillick: So It Goes…are a collaboration with visual artist Liam Gillick and composer-arranger Joe Duddell. On the visual side of things, Gillick “will be transforming the historic Stage 1 into an immersive environment, creating a stage set that reacts dynamically to the music.”

The concerts will take place in the old Granada Television studios on June 29th and July 1st, 6th, 13th and 15th, and are curated by Dave Haslam & Mark Beasley.

Tickets are available now.

New Order tour dates:

April 7: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai, UAE
April 13: Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY
April 16: Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, Indio, CA
April 18: Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara, CA
April 21: Great Theater, Berkeley, CA
April 23: Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, Indio, CA
June 29: Old Granada Studios, Manchester, UK
July 1: Old Granada Studios, Manchester, UK
July 6: Old Granada Studios, Manchester, UK
July 13: Old Granada Studios, Manchester, UK
July 15: Old Granada Studios, Manchester, UK



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Coachella Finally Ghosted Punk and Metal


Photo by Heather Kaplan


punk as fuck final Coachella Finally Ghosted Punk and MetalPunk as Fuck is a monthly column in which Associate Editor Collin Brennan discusses issues in punk music and culture. This month’s column examines the near-total lack of punk and metal in Coachella’s 2017 lineup and explores what it means for the festival’s future.

On a cool April night back in 2016, the San Francisco metal group Deafheaven took the stage at Coachella’s Mojave tent. Less than a year removed from their 2015 album, New Bermuda — one of the most expansive and progressive metal releases of the decade — the band were on the tail end of a victory lap in which they had grown accustomed to playing sweat-soaked, physically demanding shows to an audience that rarely failed to meet their intensity halfway.

But the audience that greeted Deafheaven at Coachella was hardly an audience at all — more like a smattering of bodies spread out over a depressingly large canvas of grass and dirt. Blame it on the late start time or blame it on the fact that, elsewhere on the festival grounds, hundreds of thousands of fans were converging in a throbbing sea to watch the Scottish producer, DJ, and glorified button-pusher Calvin Harris star in one of the most offensively generic headlining sets in Coachella’s 17-year history. However you frame it, Coachella’s best (and really, its only) metal act of 2016 turned out to be a fantastic, mostly unwatched dud, and for reasons that could hardly have been attributed to the act itself.

One of the few punk acts of the weekend, Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag, suffered a similar fate when they were forced to play an abbreviated noontime set that ended before most of their would-be crowd could even make it through security. In fact, of the microscopically small sample of punk/metal/hardcore acts on Coachella 2016’s lineup, the only ones that seemed to get any kind of break from scheduling were Rancid and The Damned — fine groups, both, but also legacy acts several decades removed from their best work.

When the dust settled on an otherwise successful weekend, the overall impression was that Coachella’s organizers had dropped the ball on offering punk and metal a meaningful platform at their festival. Still, it was a bit too early to say they had finally, permanently, and unmistakably abandoned rock’s heavier genres. After all, 2015’s lineup featured Swans, Drive Like Jehu, Circa Survive, Joyce Manor, and a handful of other certifiably heavy groups. Going back further, one could find even more reason to hope that 2017’s lineup might cater more graciously to punk and metal fans. Tool won a coveted headlining spot in 2006, Refused came this close to replicating that feat in 2012, and the various tent stages have reliably hosted scene up-and-comers like Fucked Up, No Age, and Le Butcherettes throughout the years. Was it really so much to ask for one of the world’s major music festivals to at least pay lip service to two genres that have been a part of its fabric since the beginning?

The answer, judging by Coachella’s 2017 lineup, is apparently yes. Following a year that saw the continued resurgence of emo and the release of critically acclaimed albums by PUP, White Lung, Beach Slang, and many, many others, Coachella will feature fewer than five acts that fall anywhere along the punk or metal spectrum, and that’s being perhaps too generous. To add insult to injury, one of those bands, the New York-based hardcore trio Show Me the Body, were actually incorrectly listed on the lineup after refusing an invitation to play. “We were offered but we said no. Hopefully Goldenvoice and Coachella will not exploit our name,” the band wrote on Twitter.

Given the dearth of other bands in their genre, it’s probably best for both parties that Show Me the Body won’t make a trip out to the desert. They would have likely suffered the same fate as Deafheaven last year, collecting a nice paycheck for the embarrassment of playing a set in front of a nearly empty tent. Every band has its own calculus of what is and isn’t worth the money, and there are likely many that would scratch and claw for the same offer SMTB turned down. But it’s fair to say that punk and metal bands can no longer expect a welcoming crowd (or, really, a crowd at all) at Coachella, and these most intense of genres happen to be the ones that suffer the most when paired with an empty, lifeless room.

The organizers can’t be blamed entirely for Coachella’s slow phase-out of heavy music, and their efforts to book at least a few token bands over the years (probably at the expense of higher profits) shouldn’t be overlooked. Music festivals are a money-making business above all, and it’s only natural for organizers to follow where the trends, and thus the cash, go. This path has inevitably led more to pop and hip-hop in recent years. Music analytics service BuzzAngle Music recently published its first-ever yearly report on US music consumption, which revealed that punk and metal account for less than 10 percent of total album sales — less than half of pop and hip-hop’s combined 22 percent. The genres that sell fewer albums earn fewer spots on stage, but even that truism can’t account for the near-total lack of representation punk and metal will get at Coachella 2017.

coachella 2017 Coachella Finally Ghosted Punk and Metal

So, what’s going on here? Looking at the lineup’s uninspired mid-section more closely, it seems clear what happened. Rather than going after the alternative and underground bands that actually made great records in 2016, the organizers opted to fill their loosely defined “rock” quota with a healthy number of safe but entirely unexceptional indie bands that offer more crossover appeal for the festival’s growing pop audience. What these bands — The Head and the Heart, Two Door Cinema Club, Oh Wonder, Tennis, Local Natives, and Arkells, to name only a few — lack in terms of defining, singular qualities, they make up for in a surefire return on investment. It’s safe to assume that a fan of Radiohead or the xx could get down with any of the aforementioned bands, and so those bands have received coveted spots on the lineup, spots that might have otherwise gone to more crucial, if less obvious, acts like The Body, The Hotelier, Big Ups, or PUP. Throwing on a so-so ska punk band like The Interrupters is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t come close to acknowledging the fact that punk and metal currently account for the heaviest and most vital strands of indie rock.

Last year, it seemed that Coachella was at a crossroads. The New York Times opted out of covering the festival entirely, arguing that it hadn’t done enough to distinguish itself from the other major music festivals that have sprouted across America in recent years. This was certainly a valid complaint then, but it’s even more relevant in light of a 2017 lineup that’s undeniably solid but plays it safe far too often. Music festivals on the scale of Coachella have a responsibility to reflect the varied tastes of fans if they’re to be taken seriously as avenues of discovery, and in its latest iteration, the festival has essentially told fans of punk and metal to look elsewhere for their fix. It may be a savvy business decision given present-day demographics, but in the long term, taking risks and opening the door to underground genres seems like the better move. Not only does it serve as a bulwark against criticisms like the NYT’s, but it injects an air of unpredictably that’s all too often snuffed out by the prospect of watching Father John Misty or Mac DeMarco for the umpteenth time.



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