Dance music's keepers of the beat

Times Staff Writer

Dance music and DJ culture have been key components of Coachella since its inception, but the scene's lengthy slump combined with a heightened presence of hip-hop to dampen enthusiasm over dance music coming in to the 2005 edition.

Sunday's dance music lineup, however, delivered strongly.

Loyalists packed the large Sahara Tent early in the day and had already worked up a sweat when Everything but the Girl's Ben Watt arrived in late afternoon. Respected for helping to bring dance music into the mainstream with EBTG, Watt, in his Coachella debut, offered a mix of largely disco-oriented grooves.

He did suffer one train wreck (a skip in the record) during "Missing," EBTG's chart-topping single, but Watt rebounded, finishing with a flourish that included a nice segue from an R&B vocal track into a percussive selection. He left the stage to the hero's ovation Coachella dance fans have given the pioneers of the genre every year.

It's become a tradition in the Sahara Tent that one of the day's less-heralded acts rises to a new level. This year it was Watt's label mate, Miss Kittin, whose showmanship, excellent use of two giant video screens flanking the stage (and genre-busting mix, combining live vocals and heavy beats with a German industrial sound, electrified the tent.

Crowds thinned when headliners on other stages got underway, yet energy in the Sahara Tent held strong in sets from Junkie XL and Dutch trance DJ Armin Van Buuren.

Both picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Miss Kittin in terms of showmanship. Junkie XL answered the call by adding a touch of Jerry Lee Lewis at the end of his set, climbing up on the deck to play the turntable with his knee, then holding it and scratching it like a guitar.

The Prodigy rebounded nicely from 2002's disappointing appearance on the main stage, feeding off the energy of an overflow crowd.

The sea of humanity spilling onto the lawn was proof that dance music remains an important element of Coachella.

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