For much of Friday night at Coachella, there was only one corner of the festival that was truly thunderstruck.
On a kind-of-sleepy first day of the festival, the dance tents were once again the source for all of Coachella's younger pleasures. While the War on Drugs, Steely Dan and the majestic AC/DC whaled away at guitar solos to bring the stoner '70s back, over on the field's farthest corners an undercurrent of electronic acts did them one better at making the kids feel loopy.
FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2015
Jon Hopkins, the U.K. producer lauded for his Brian Eno and Coldplay collaborations, played an unexpectedly hard-knuckle set of experimental house in the Yuma Tent that ushered in sundown. His set (which he described on Twitter as "the meat in an Erol Alkan and Pete Tong sandwich) was indeed connective. That three-act brick of time in the Yuma lent a narrative to the current mood for English dance acts like Alkan, who runs the excellent and genre-crossing Phantasy label, and Tong, a genuine knight of rave culture since the '90s. They brought the physicality of those first-wave warehouse parties but approach it from an arguably smarter, avant-garde perspective.
Such experiments were also sort of happening simultaneously in the Sahara Tent, where the supercharged immediacy of the latest EDM ruled the day and night. DJ Snake will be laid in the grave with "Turn Down for What" as his epitaph, and while the Brochella masses rended their tank tops in glee at his sub-bass reveries, he spent a good swath of his set trying to find other, more moderated ways to churn bodies. Nearby, Ryan Hemsworth and the brilliantly late-blooming Caribou mined future bass and vintage krautrock, respectively, for brain-bathing sets of synthesized noise.
Porter Robinson, the 22-year-old North Carolina production prodigy, was the Sahara Tent's overachiever. His recent singles and his 2014 LP "Worlds" show a deep dissatisfaction with EDM's blunt-object sound design, and his set pulled off the tricky feat of meeting all big-tent raver obligations while playing a set that was airy and often melancholy. Tracks like "Sad Machine" propelled thousands of neon-painted young bodies, but it was all very musical and escapist and felt very now -- an imaginative sound rebutting EDM's dumb ascent, but not at all antagonistic like the current underground mood.
At the end of the night, in the Gobi, the Norwegian producer Todd Terje brought out an ever-dapper Bryan Ferry for their cover of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary." Terje's always had a droll, sad-funny streak to his music, and his big band of hand drummers and dancers was a smart way to be a bit silly. But Ferry's velvety vocals had a wan, lion-in-winter quality that gave Terje's witty ideas emotional staying power late into the night.
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