Coachella 2016: The Despacio tent is a slower, joyful take on festival dance culture

Coachella's Despacio tent keeps the crowd's focus where it belongs for dance music.

Coachella’s Despacio tent keeps the crowd’s focus where it belongs for dance music.

(August Brown / Los Angeles Times)

Long lines at the Yuma tent got you panting? Calvin Harris a bit too celeb-tilted for your tastes? There’s another option for dance music at Coachella this year, and it’s one we’ve come to count on this weekend: Despacio.

The sound-design project from Friday headliner James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem (with audio engineer John Klett and the duo 2ManyDJs), Despacio is essentially a cutting-edge speaker system designed specifically for Murphy’s genre wheelhouse: slow-simmering disco and vintage club music.

While the Sahara tent is constructed for maximum EDM mind-erasing, and the Yuma tent for hypnotic, bass-pulsing techno, Descpacio is meant for another mood entirely. Something more fun, funky and friendly. It’s inspired by Paradise Garage’s legendary system, and it hits all the same joyful notes.


That’s not to say that it lacks oomph. Far from it -- 50,000 watts from seven speaker stacks is more than enough to level a roomful of dancers (many of whom were of course taking selfies in front of the glowing McIntosh amplifiers). But the jubilant mood and perfect vinyl-only selections -- Murphy hit the decks himself this weekend after LCD’s headlining gig -- are new moods for Coachella’s dance culture.

And the almost total sightline-obscurity of the performing DJ puts attention back where it belongs: on the crowd in motion. And so far this weekend, fans are eating up: It’s never too crowded, but always brimming with some of the fest’s happiest faces and most egalitarian disco fans.

Obviously, once Murphy departs for the year, it’ll be a tougher sell to get Despacio back for future editions. But Coachella has already acknowledged that high-end, highbrow dance options work well here. Maybe a Disco tent is in order for the future.

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