INDIO -- Over the past couple of years, dance music, an integral part of Coachella's history, has been more of an accessory than a main part of the bill, reflecting the genre's somewhat flaccid state.
But with Madonna scheduled to be in the house on Sunday night and French duo Daft Punk, probably the most requested dance headliner thus far on the Coachella message boards, topping Saturday's lineup, dance music returned to the forefront of the annual two-day musical smorgasbord in the desert.
The presence of the two highly anticipated acts even prompted promoter Goldenvoice to enlarge the Sahara Tent, Coachella's annual DJ playground, creating a physical manifestation of the raised expectations for 2006's dance music lineup.
Britain's Hybrid met those expectations early, getting the day off to a memorable start by using live instruments, including guitar and keyboards, as well as guest vocalists Perry Farrell and John Graham, a.k.a. Quiver, to deliver an hourlong set that incorporated elements of industrial, techno, progressive, trance and psychedelia. The styles often merged seamlessly within one song, as on the up-tempo psychedelic-flavored "Dogstar," a track featuring Farrell.
Though the event featured some quality DJ sets -- particularly from progressive icon Carl Cox, who masterfully controlled the mood of the tent with his use of changing tempos -- and nice moments from fellow house DJ Colette, Hybrid really established the tone for a day that saw many veer off the typical dance music path.
Over in the Gobi Tent, the Juan Maclean also performed electronic music as a live act, utilizing percussion to augment an esoteric, quirky synthesizer-rich sound that challenged the mind more than the body.
Back in the Sahara, British dance-hop duo Audio Bullys melded hip-hop rhymes and primal jungle beats into one highly charged urban sound that offered both originality and visceral energy, even if the songs didn't always live up to their potential.
As soon as Audio Bullys ended around 10:30 Saturday night, the tent began filling up in anticipation of Daft Punk's appearance.
Keeping with the essential premise of their records, the duo appeared dressed as robots, backed by flashing digital signage. The look added a bit of drama, as well as a visual component frequently lacking in dance, to the night. The pair proved to have no need for gimmicks, though, feeding off the frenzied energy of the crowd, as it wove together predominantly keyboard-laden new wave with warm disco grooves, occasionally branching off as they did on a synthesizer jam that segued into a funk, R&B beat. The packed Sahara Tent, a sea of humanity that stretched out on all sides, exploded at the opening of the pop-flavored and popular "One More Time." And with that, dance music's place in Coachella lore was restored, at least for this night.