April 11 2012 12:26 PM

From Azealia Banks to Refused, we guide you to the acts you won’t want to miss at the growing desert music festival

From left: Azealia Banks, The Black Keys and The Weeknd

I’ve attended and covered the annual pilgrimage to the desert known as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for seven years straight. Every year, there’s talk of how it’s jumped the shark. It’s too big. Too hot. Too expensive. It’ll never sustain three days. And on and on and on.

Well, I’ve got some news for the naysayers: Coachella isn’t your little bitch anymore.

At 13 years old, the Indio festival is all grown up. And it’s done caring about what you think.

Of course, you scoffed after the inaugural festival in 1999 lost a million bucks. When 2000 rolled around without a show, you laughed at your friends who’d driven out to a polo field in the middle of nowhere the year before—even if they did get to see Beck and Rage Against the Machine play on the same stage.

But you gradually came around when it returned in 2001, then hit its first sell-out in 2004, and expanded to three days in 2007. Then came 2010: With no more single-day tickets being sold, you couldn’t just bop in on a Sunday, catch Thom Yorke, make out with a stranger in the Gobi Tent and get home in time to sleep in your own bed. It was three-day passes or nothing. Nobody was going to put up with that, right?


In fact, the rapidly increasing demand for tickets forced the festival’s promoter, Goldenvoice, to add an unprecedented second weekend this year. The same lineup is set to play Indio’s Empire Polo Fields Friday, April 13, through Sunday, April 15, and again Friday, April 20, through Sunday, April 22. Now, it seems, the festival is an unstoppable juggernaut. Tickets for all six days sold out in less than three hours, and Goldenvoice recently purchased 280 acres of land at the festival site.

So, it’s time for all you naysayers to make peace with Coachella. Revel in the fact that you live so close to one of the premier festivals in the country and can, if you’re so inclined, get lost in it for 72 hours with 90,000 other like-minded fans.

If you’re just returning to the fold, my advice is to start with some math. Each day, something like 50 acts are scheduled to perform. Time slots overlap, so efficiency hinges on a game plan. Here are five bands each day that I wouldn’t miss if I were you:


Frank Ocean: The soul man of L.A. hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, Frank Ocean’s songs are both nostalgic and futuristic. The fact that his own mixtape, last year’s Nostalgia, Ultra., trumps what he’s done with Kanye West and Jay-Z speaks volumes.

Refused: Back in 1998, these Swedish punks dropped The Shape of Punk to Come, a groundbreaking hardcore album. Then they broke up. Now, 14 years later, they’re back just in time to play the heaviest set of the weekend.

The Horrors: Somehow, these talented Brit-rock chameleons manage to sound just as good channeling Simple Minds as New York Dolls or My Bloody Valentine.

Mazzy Star: Two words: Hope Sandoval! The elusive and mysterious frontwoman, with one of the sexiest voices ever, returns. (I’m already practicing so I don’t scream like a little girl when they play “Halah.”)

Pulp: The Britpop icons have effectively been on hiatus for the last decade, but this is all about seeing frontman Jarvis Cocker back with the band that made him famous.


Azealia Banks: The hottest young thing you’ve never heard of, this gorgeous Harlem spitter is confident and vulgar.

Buzzcocks: Back in the late ’70s, these legendary punks helped build the music scene in Manchester, England. Lately, they’ve blazed a trail on indie record labels.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: This legendarily hypnotic Montreal post-rock collective leaves audiences awash in cinematic awesomeness.

Jeff Mangum: Fresh off curating the All Tomorrow’s Parties fest overseas, the former Neutral Milk Hotel bandleader is finally back to playing live after a long hiatus.

Flying Lotus: A visionary experimental electronic producer / musician, L.A.’s Flying Lotus never fails to bring the head-nodding goodness.


Seun Kuti & Egypt 80: The son of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, Seun follows in dad’s footsteps and currently performs with members of Fela’s original band.

Beirut: Good luck categorizing the world / folk mash-ups of this stellar, wildly eclectic collective.

The Gaslamp Killer: A fixture of the same L.A. beat scene that spawned Flying Lotus, this one-time San Diego DJ has a punk attitude and a brutally engaging live show.

The Weeknd: Warranted comparisons to Michael Jackson aside, this Toronto-based R&B crooner’s songs are as fractured as they are smooth.

DJ Shadow: This Bay Area beat master crafts each of his live shows as a unique experience. I’m sure he’ll have something amazing planned for each of his sets.

Of course, you won’t want to miss headliners The Black Keys, Radiohead and Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg. Being a headliner at Coachella carries with it an unspoken responsibility for grand gestures and one-upmanship, which always makes things interesting.

And if you’re wearing comfortable shoes and stay focused, you’re bound to catch a whole lot more than five acts per day. But you’ll have to bypass some, and you’ll also want to enjoy non-musical entertainment, like the giant Tesla Coil or a seriously drunken dude trying desperately to get his flip-flops back on his feet.

Most importantly, though, remember that just because Coachella will never be like it was when you first met, you can still spend the weekend getting dirty together and not feel guilty about it.

Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com.