There was a huge, heaving mass of Coachella fans listening to time-shifting, hard-riffing music with an apocalyptic sci-fi bent last night. But they weren't watching the headliner Muse.
While a trickle of committed fans progged out with the English hard rock trio, all the action was deep in the Sahara tent last night, where the 26-year-old Sonny Moore led a beyond-capacity crowd in a reverie of the restless, insistent party music he makes as Skrillex.
The producer is one of the kingpins of the American EDM wave, riding a tide of harsh bass music to the headliner slot of almost ever major electronic music fest in the U.S. But after the surprise release of his new album "Recess," which touches on deep reggae, K-pop and a thousand other influences, his Coachella set cemented just how much bigger his project is.
Moore took the stage in an update of his spaceship stage motif, where he appears to be performing in the cockpit of some junked "Star Wars" fighter plane. It's an appropriate image -- a little rusty and noisy, but headed full speed to weird new worlds of sound.
Listening to Skrillex in context of the even younger, high-gloss EDM that preceded him in the dance tent (such as Martin Garrix and Zedd), it's obvious how much he's grown in even the last few years of his ride through the EDM elite. He's pretty much abandoned any straight four-on-the-floor beats or big dumb bass wobbles, in favor of styles that can best be called electronic punk. Synths twitched like fried wires, drums galloped with hard-core backbeats and dance-hall vocal samples hung in the air with humid doom. It's a far, far cry from, say, Suicide and the early pioneers of violent drum-machine music. But it's to Skrillex's credit that he's gone from making bro-step tunes to annoy your parents, to making tunes your parents might find interesting (if your dad was a drum-and-bass acid casualty of the early '90s).
There is still a nerdy optimism to this "Recess" -- his visual motifs were full of alien emojis, and he's still not above letting his cohort Dillon Francis waste five minutes of his set trying to get the crowd to sit down on his command.
But he obviously should have been the one on the main stage last night. Coachella should give up its noodly classic rock ambitions and give into our new rave overlords.
For all the cool kids who wanted to dance but couldn't stomach that much wub, there was Darkside in the Gobi Tent. The duo of producer Nicolas Jaar (who performed early at Coachella as a solo act) and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington's attempt to ground Jaar's jazzy, ambient techno into something a little more tangible. It's no accident their band name calls to mind Pink Floyd's iconic album -- this is classic rock with a moody techno backbeat.
Their set started with a wall of white synth noise, while Jaar stretched his arms over a keyboard and wriggled his fingers like a pianist prepping a fiery concerto. What they delivered, however, was much cooler in temperature. There was after-hours funk guitar and blues with all the earthiness intentionally sucked out of it; heavy synthetic kick drums hovered at a disco tempo, and Jaar sang like a stoned Serge Gainsbourg.
It was dance music, and the Gobi responded with throes of motion. But their live performance was something to really watch, and you'd have been hard pressed not to in there.
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