From a planning perspective, many routes toward Coachella Valhalla are possible.
Depending on mood, tastes, levels of hydration, altered inspiration or other variables known only to you and your companion, the three-day, 179 act (at last count) festival can carry you through exuberant experiences on the dance floor, riff-heavy intensity in mosh pits, lip-locking love stories under the starlit desert night or some combination thereof.
Moment by moment, hour by hour over the course of the three days, tempos and perspectives shift, melodies swing from tent to tent and stage to stage. DJ Snake's relentless EDM obviousness bumming you out? A football field away will be the masterful dance band Caribou's rhythmic bliss. If demographers note a spike in Southern California pregnancies in January 2016, one might mention the Indio appearance by Toronto seducer the Weeknd's set to close Saturday. If post-festival doctor's offices register a rise in bruises and contusions, they might blame the hardened back-to-back sets by Drive Like Jehu and Swans.
On Tuesday night, the festival released the schedule, which offered specifics but as many questions as answers. It's a wonderful problem. Below, one potential route, arranged, give or take, chronologically.
On opening day, 57 acts will gig across Coachella's six stages. The headliner will be caveman rock band AC/DC, and lower on the bill are dozens that sound absolutely nothing like them. The eager early afternoon arrivers looking for British strangeness should hit the Ruen Brothers, an out-of-time young band featuring croons suggestive of Roy Orbison, Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey. Those looking for American punk shouldn't miss Cloud Nothings.
Hip-hop devotees have cause for Friday disgruntlement: It will be impossible to catch full sets by New York rapper Action Bronson, San Francisco avant-lyricist Lil B and Top Dawg Entertainment rapper Ab Soul, all of whom gig between 2:30-4 p.m. My priority among the three is Lil B, but only as an oddball diversion on the way to a trio of later sets by the beguiling pop singer Kimbra, the polarizing rapper Azealia Banks and the reunion of British guitar band Ride.
As the sun sets on Day 1, Philadelphia mantra-rockers the War on Drugs will take the next step in a fascinating rise, ascending from tiny gigs a few years back to main stage at dusk. If you want to continue the rock sound afterward, the Alabama Shakes will be a short walk away. But those looking for less bombast and more synthetics should note Jon Hopkins in the little Yuma Tent. The composer and producer is best known for his big-name production credits (Coldplay and as Brian Eno's engineer), but he excels at building his own music: austere instrumental structures that seldom rely on four-on-the-floor stomp.
Night 1 will pull in many directions: Yes, Steely Dan will butter up the Outdoor Theatre and may draw some looky-loos curious about grandpa's music. Abstract beat producer Flying Lotus will bring his evolving new live show to the desert — and if Kendrick Lamar shows up anywhere, it will be here. On the other side of the pitch, fans looking to get lost in the beautiful world of Tame Impala will be tripped out and in heaven. AC/DC will then take us on a highway headed somewhere hotter.
Sixty-four acts over 14 nonstop hours will commence for me with Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich + Fussible at 1 p.m. to open the main Coachella Stage. The Tijuana-based beat collective puts on a memorable live show that mixes big rhythms with Mexican textures — augmented by a mariachi band.
Benjamin Booker and Royal Blood both will update traditional rock sounds — Booker is fantastic live, by the way — on Saturday afternoon, but I'll be drifting away from the guitar and toward, first, the indie soul of Toro y Moi, then to Yuma tent to bow down before the altar of Detroit techno master Carl Craig. The producer's music (and one particularly memorable Midwest set in the mid-1990s) reframed my thinking about electronic dance music — and I'm not alone.
From there, my direction is laid in stone: Only a fool would skip Atlanta rap duo Run the Jewels, and ditto the charismatic Los Angeles-based composer-singer Father John Misty. After a diversion to see British art rock band Glass Animals, I'll catch the Los Angeles beat producer Gaslamp Killer unveil a full band. English R&B chanteuse FKA Twigs' set is one of the eagerly anticipated of the weekend; duty and devotion dictate my presence. Jack White? Yeah, I'll see some of him. But my whole Saturday will have been leading up to the pummeling rock of Swans at midnight. One of the greatest live bands I've ever seen.
Take a deep breath. Drink a few cups of coffee, maybe get brunch. But arrive on Sunday in time to see Chicano Batman. Fresh off a tour opening for White, the Los Angeles garage rock outfit draws inspiration from, and updates, both Mexican and Anglo throwback sounds. Those coming down from an intense night, though, might be better served by Chicago-based singer-songwriter Angel Olsen. She has a nuanced, evocative voice, one that approaches drama not with Florence Welch-style over-singing but through subtlety.
For much of Sunday afternoon and early eve, I'll be tilting away from the EDM tents and toward Mac DeMarco, Jenny Lewis and the urgent punk of Conor Oberst's Desaparecidos' project. The exception: Claude VonStroke, whose frenzied dance sets are legendary, will be ruling the Sahara tent.
As the weekend winds down, the mesmerizing avant pop of Annie Clark's project St. Vincent is sure to provide both a visual and a sonic feast. Adept at both penning big songs and presenting them live, Clark's one of the most inventive pop musicians making music right now. On the next stage over, Jamie xx of the xx will preside over a set that's equal parts sound, silence, rhythm and blues.
In the Mojave Tent, French producer Gesaffelstein will man the decks. He's best known for producing two tracks for Kanye West's "Yeezus," so if you hear the opening noise of "Black Skinhead" roll across the pitch, make a dash for a possible West cameo.
Would that happen? Yes, if West wanted to eclipse Drake's Sunday night headlining slot. Which is to say, only a fool would put it past him.