Coachella music festival strikes big with OutKast reunion

Andre Benjamin, right, and Big Boi, will reunite as OutKast for Coachella.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Leave it to a couple of “ice cold” rap stars to bring the heat back to the desert.

OutKast, the trailblazing Atlanta hip-hop duo whose members memorably described themselves that way in their 2003 smash “Hey Ya!,” will headline this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, organizers announced late Wednesday. The performance is to be the group’s first since it went on hiatus nearly seven years ago, following the release in 2006 of “Idlewild,” an ambitious movie musical that spawned a companion album with the same title.

Big Boi and Andre 3000 have not been inactive. Big Boi put out his second solo album in 2012, while Andre 3000 has made guest appearances recently on songs by Drake and Beyoncé, among others. He also portrays Jimi Hendrix in a biopic that premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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But the two rappers — whose work on albums such as 2000’s “Stankonia” and the 2004 Grammy winner for album of the year “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” broadened the sound and subject matter of hip-hop — have kept their audience waiting for a reunion.


Their decision to finally deliver it at Coachella, set for April 11 to 13 and April 18 to 20 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, is as good for the festival as it is for OutKast fans.

Perhaps the most prestigious music festival in America, Coachella has prided itself on its adventurous booking, in particular its ability to draw high-profile reunions such as Rage Against the Machine in 2007 and Pavement in 2010. (That selling point comes in addition to the 15-year-old festival’s sun-drenched setting and its reputation as a celebrity magnet.)

Yet last year Coachella fell short with an unimaginative lineup that packed little surprise. Among the headliners were Red Hot Chili Peppers, in their third Coachella appearance, and England’s Stone Roses, who put in an almost comically terrible performance on the festival’s opening night.

Even Blur, the great Britpop band who was playing in the U.S. for the first time since it got back together in 2008, triggered more warm nostalgia than fresh excitement.

Now, with OutKast on deck, Coachella seems back on track — even if the other headliners, Muse and Arcade Fire, leave a bit to be desired. (The latter, touring behind its dull 2013 album “Reflektor,” played the festival’s main stage three years ago — that’s too recent for a return engagement.)

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As always, the lineup is expansive enough to accommodate several narratives. There are acts that speak to the blurring of the lines separating dance music and pop, such as Disclosure, Calvin Harris and Duck Sauce, the sly New York City house duo responsible for the viral 2010 hit “Barbra Streisand.”

There are young female singers working different types of mystery — Lorde and Lana Del Rey — as well as hybridists Beck and Pharrell Williams, who move freely among a number of musical styles. Beyond Muse, Queens of the Stone Age and Superchunk will argue for the durability of fuzzy guitars in an age of digital technology; Pet Shop Boys, the Cult and Motorhead, meanwhile, will argue for the durability of Pet Shop Boys, the Cult and Motorhead.

More reunions are planned, of course, by Neutral Milk Hotel and the Replacements, the influential alternative-rock outfit that started playing shows again last year after a two-decade break. And there are the kind of left-field curiosities that pepper every Coachella lineup.

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It’s an embarrassment of riches, which at this festival is precisely the point. But by booking OutKast for its first night, Coachella is gambling that the rest of the weekend will live up to that audacious introduction. The odds are promising.