Coachella 2011: Death From Above 1979 -- the gnarliest main stagers ever?

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Here’s how Death From Above 1979’s drummer Sebastien Grainger asks for the vocals to be turned up in his monitor. First, he asks nicely. Then he is more insistent, pointing at the microphone and gesturing with a thumbs-up. Finally, given no other recourse, he throws his drumstick at the sound tech to get his attention.

DFA79’s songs work in the opposite direction. First they bludgeon you with noise, then they add a martial dance beat, and finally a really catchy chorus hook that makes the whole thing go down easy (well, as easy as a shot of whiskey and punch in the eye).


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While it was kind of a running joke that the gnarled dance-punk band was one of the biggest reunions at this year’s Coachella (Death From Above 2005 jokes abounded), the band reasserted what made them such a strange and compelling commodity in the first place.

Lacerating bass, Grainger’s falsetto wails and a relentless rhythmic urgency both hearkened back to the mid-'00 dance punk craze, yet reminded the audience that their palpable violence set them apart from their more trend-minded peers.

‘Romantic Rights’ and ‘Blood on Our Hands’ rode slithery, distortion-tangled bass lines over the kind of four-on-the-floor that bassist Jesse F. Keeler would explore more thoroughly in his disco aegis MSTRKRFT.The audience seemed simultaneously enthralled and a bit confused.

This was desperate, thrashing music played on a very big stage, and anybody absent from the Internet around 2004 must have wondered what the big deal was. But for those who remember ‘Come here baby, I love your company’ as the tawdry pickup line of the mid-decade got a hot kick in the teeth to remind them how searing this band was. Or maybe a drumstick in the face.


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-- August Brown