How would you book a festival that, regardless of your decisions, was sure to sell out? Would you give the people what they want, or give them what they need?
Always the diplomats, those who slotted the 2013 Coachella Music and Arts Festival lineup, which was released on Thursday night, opted for a little of both.
But that’s not news. Goldenvoice, which owns and books the festival, has long pushed at the fringes of festival booking while delivering on its promise to present the world’s most engaging rock, dance, avant-pop, hip hop and legacy acts. Lest fans start questioning the expense and effort involved in attending, the Coachella powers must annually read the minds of its ticketholders and then prescribe the musical medicine best suited for them.
In 2013 more than in recent years, the lineup does seem more prescriptive. The demand among kids for a Lou Reed appearance, for example, is surely low; most only know him as the dude who muttered along with Metallica on “Lulu.” But as the founder of the Velvet Underground, his influence on Coachella-style rock music can’t be overstated, and twentysomethings who don’t know this should.
Fans of digital rhythms may have missed thrilling sounds of Mexican Latin house beatmakers 3Ball MTY while focusing for the last few years on thumping progressive house; hopefully the mere appearance of their name on the roster is enough to nudge the curious to expand their tastes.
We’ve got a little under three months to start cramming for Coachella; below are a few tips on acts to watch, by genre.
Rock: The big names include funk-punk (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Brit-pop (Blur), post-rave dance rock (Stone Roses), post-indie French rock (Phoenix) and New York City post-disco rock (Yeah Yeah Yeahs).
It’s a group of headliners that dwells as much on rhythm as on guitars, and will provide for many scream-along moments. Absent are many baby boomer acts -- most obviously the Rolling Stones. Rather, we get two different Nick Cave performances -- one with his Bad Seeds, another with his Grinderman -- and lots and lots of dance rock, including Hot Chip, New Order, Postal Service, the xx and La Roux.
A wave of new rustic folk acts will mosey in: the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and the Gaslight Anthem; legacy rock artists include the Violent Femmes (!), Johnny Marr, underground rock legend Sixto Rodriguez (star of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”), the Descendents, Social Distortion and, for fans of L.A.'s so-called “paisley underground,” the Three O’Clock.
Perhaps most notable in the Coachella selection of rock is the decline of indie: yes, typical Pitchfork fodder is well represented in the work of Modest Mouse, Beach House, Grizzly Bear, Vampire Weekend and Grimes. But it’s not overwhelmingly so.
There’s so much rock here, in fact, that to encapsulate it is impossible. Keep checking back as we digest all this -- but in the interim start cramming on your Blur knowledge. They’re way, way more than just “Song #2.”
Electronic dance music: The offerings in the dance tents are fascinating this year, and suggest a concerted effort by Goldenvoice to steer away from superstar DJs in favor of a more cutting-edge roster. Yes, each year the festival offers such variety, but gone are the big thumpers of late -- bye-bye Calvin Harris, Swedish House Mafia, Tiesto and the like -- for more nuance.
Highlights include: Seth Troxler, who over the past few years has risen to become one of the world’s most adventurous and respected beatmakers; DJ Harvey, whose Los Angeles “Sarcastic Disco” parties are the stuff of legend, and who over the course of his decades-long career has united many forms of dance music, including U.K. garage, New York disco and Detroit techno and electro, into thrilling mixes. Superstar dubstep producer Skrillex will bring his new project Dog Blood onto the pitch, and drum n’ bass genius Roni Size will remind youngsters of his thrilling rhythms.
EDM has a long history, so much so that there’s such a thing as legacy DJs, of which there are a lot to choose from. They include household name Moby and house-heavy name Paul Oakenfold; the brilliant minimalist Richie Hawtin will offer one of his entrancing sets of techno. And Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails will perform with his project How to Destroy Angels. No doubt his fans have already started strategizing how to get a front-row spot.
Hip hop: No huge banner names this year -- and certainly no Dr. Dre. Yes, the Wu-Tang Clan will appear (hopefully with a hologram of Ol Dirty Bastard), but what form this eight-piece collective will take is yet unknown. Word is it’ll be all the remaining members -- RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa and U-God -- but those who attended the group’s recent failed Club Nokia date are forgiven for being wary.
The biggest news for West Coast rap fans is Los Angeles righteous rap luminaries the Jurassic 5, who are reuniting for the performance. Also from L.A. is the young Earl Sweatshirt, whose highly anticipated major label debut is due in the spring; last year Sweatshirt, a member of Odd Future, attended Coachella as a fan, and landed onstage with Flying Lotus.
Action Bronson, one of the most skilled lyricists working today, will arrive to offer his food-centric lyrical trickery. Respected underground rapper Aesop Rock, whose work with Def Jux helped define an era, returns to remind youngsters of his influence. Ditto El-P, whose excellent 2012 record Cancer for Cure landed on many best of the year lists. Detroit rap curio Danny Brown is sure to be a breakout this year; his magnetic presentation and natural charisma are tailor made for expansion.
Rapper 2 Chainz is a surprise, but not because he’s an underdog. Rather, in a hip-hop roster heavy on the wit and skills, his lowest-common-denominator rhymes are as lunkheaded as they are simple. But, hey, maybe he’ll school us all.
OK, look, this thing was just announced 12 hours ago. There’s so much depth to this roster that digesting it all is impossible. Rest assured that over the next few months, though, this will be a full-time job, and that as we draw nearer to the spring, the knowns and unknowns will merge into one big mass of unfettered anticipation -- all of which we’ll share with you.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit
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