What is bedroom music at Coachella?
The whole point of this festival is sensual decadence — lights, drinks, strangers and a general suspension of reality. But for an artist like FKA Twigs, whose uncategorizable mix of R&B and the avant-garde demands attention and intimacy, how do you find abandon amid so much distraction?
That was the question the artist born Tahliah Barnett had to ask, as she competed for the eyes and ears of a few thousand people in the Gobi Tent on Saturday. On her own terms, Barnett is a hypnotizing performer unlike any other in pop today. There may not be another artist with such a total vision of her own musical, visual and physical aesthetic onstage and on record.
FULL COVERAGE: Coachella 2015
The only thing that can compete, it seems, is a tens-of-thousands strong festival with its own myriad enticements.
Still, nothing as minor as bleed from Jack White's guitar or Tyler, the Creator's inducements to moshing nearby could truly break the spell of Twigs' airy, alien R&B. It's hard to think of artist since — who knows, Michael Jackson? — that so intuitively understands the links between musical precision, the evocativeness of dance and the raw need of a human voice.
On her new single "Glass & Patron," Twigs dove headlong into vogue and ballroom culture, using club music's imperatives to find something deeper and stranger at the heart of all our dancing and posing. On record, her heartsick ballad "Pendulum" thrives in closed spaces and sexually charged moods; on this open field, it was still more captivating than any wall of LEDs.
But Barnett's set also raised challenges as she comes into her own stardom. Like her labelmates the xx, her debut LP was meant for lovers' ears and darkened bedrooms; for the otherworldy corners of the Internet and small stages of pure light and physical form. How do you translate that in a big tent with so much noise on the margins?
Twigs did it in the Gobi, but such a boundless talent is going to have to thoroughly solve this question in the years to come. What's true intimacy in a crowd of thousands?
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