For the uninitiated, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a sprawling, three-day musical festival held in California's Inland Empire, not far from the mythical Palm Springs. It's a uniquely Californian event: a blend of hip modern music, green culture and, as scholar Erik Davis would put it, "creative hedonism" all-night party camping, neon hula hoops, sweaty drum circles, freaky light installations, dreadlocks, etc.
Imagine a massive soirée merging the original Lollapalooza (say 1991 to '94), Burning Man and a "Jerry Brown for Governor" rally circa 1973, and you're not far off.
The thing about Coachella is that you have to prepare for both the jams and the weather. Remember, this is a desert we're talking about. Shifts in temperature are extreme, as is that flaming ball of radiation in the sky. Because of these intense peculiarities, the average Coachella prep list is one schizophrenic creature, a mess of bullet points covering everything from sunblock and nutritional reminders to wardrobe necessities to must-see bands and on-the-fence alternates.
To get an idea of what I'm yapping about, here is mine, along with some helpful notes.
(1) Turn Kanye West's insane Tweets into heckler slogans. Chances are good that a stack of giant posterboard is on Coachella's lengthy list of festival contraband. However, razzing this dude, our No. 1 pop start without shame, feels like a public service at this point. For example: on Sunday, February 27, Mr. West Tweeted "Boyfriends are like rush hour traffic ALWAYS IN THE F*CKING WAY!" I could change this to, "Kanye West is like rush hour traffic ALWAYS IN THE F*CKING WAY!" Then there are those Tweets that require no doctoring at all; their total bozo-ness is utter perfection. Like this one: "Hotel robe got me feeling like a Sheik." Actually, that's pretty hilarious.
(2) Channel my inner Brit-pop dork.
I'm not a big reunion guy, but I'm all nervous and giddy about finally seeing Suede (I know, it is The London Suede here in the States), who are playing their first American gig since since 1997. You see, in the fall of '93 my pals and I drove from Kalamazoo, Mich., to Detroit (about 2.5 hours) to see Suede at St. Andrews Hall on the group's first American tour. When we arrived? CANCELED. Bummer!
(2a) Several other reunions to keep in my mind.
On a related note, Coachella 2011 will see a couple other reunions, the most notable of which are Big Audio Dynamite and indie icons Bright Eyes. I'll be sure to rock a boom box on my shoulder to the former.
(3) One thing I don't need to worry about beforehand: vegan and vegetarian goodies.
Packing for music festivals is a hassle, especially if you don't eat fried meats and cheeses. Invariably, half my knapsack is filled with power bars, nuts and dried fruit. The only drawback to Coachella's fine array of food options is now I won't have anything on hand to throw at Kings of Leon, who are headlining Friday night.
(4) Construct a suit of Day-Glo body armor.
I'm no fashionista when it comes to these never-ending multiday festivals. I'm all about adventure-hippie comfort: hiking sandals, shorts and a floppy hemp hat to protect my mug from the desert sun. If, however, I am to successfully navigate the massive whirlpool mosh pit that has erupted at every single Lightning Bolt show since the late 1990s, then I need to dress like a super-warrior of the post-psychedelic age. After all, this is a band that unleashes titanic noise-rock with song titles like "The Sublime Freak," "Dracula Mountain" and "Bizarro Zarro Land." But seriously, it's really kind of insane that L.B., real-deal underground freaks, are even playing Coachella. WTF?
(5) Hone my DNA-testing skills on the fly.
For nearly a decade now I've been convinced the same four or five dudes are all behind The Strokes, Interpol and The National. It was a conspiracy hatched by the New York City Chamber of Commerce and tourism board. Considering all three are playing Coachella this year, I finally get to test my theory.
(6) Ditch the sunscreen, go straight for the sunblock.
I don't want to look like a burnt weenie, right? Especially, if I happen to bump into the lovely ladies in Warpaint, whose debut album, The Fool, is absolutely top shelf Lush meets Liars meets witchy woman Stevie Nicks.
(7) Bone up on the dubstep like its nobody's business.
Somebody at Coachella HQ has been freaking for dubstep, the killer stuff to boot. This year's lineup contains a cadre of the movement's more vital DJs and producers. Seriously, do not miss Kyle Hall, Joy Orbison, Kode9, Brainfeeder's Lorn or the stridently experimental Ramadanman. I'll bet you a Benjamin Paul van Dyk would want you to skip his performance and catch these folks instead.
(7a) Spin nothing but Mount Kimbie while en route.
Speaking of dubstep conquering Coachella, I saw Mount Kimbie at The Grey Eagle (a cool club in Asheville, N.C.) just last week, and they slayed. The duo, which belongs to the Hotflush Recordings stable (Scuba, Sigha, et al.), isn't dubstep proper more like a couple of post-everything record nerds from London who take the music's best elements and filter them through ambient music, post-rock and R&B. Crooks & Lovers, baby.
(8) Say goodbye to Teddy Ruxpin before catching my flight for Southern California.
As I mentioned in No. 1, Coachella's contraband list is thorough. It even includes "stuffed animals." I wonder if the ACLU would be interested in raising hell on behalf of the world's aging raver population.
(9) Come to terms with the fact that the synth pop/New Wave revival will never die.
They called it "electroclash" in the late '90s. A few years later: "post-punk." And now? "Minimal wave" or even "coldwave." It's all the same in the end: young, cool people with great haircuts worshipping the avant-pop sounds of 1979 to 1984. Coachella has a bunch of it, most significantly Twin Shadow, Cut Copy and Cold Cave, whose new record, Cherish the Light Years, is totally sucking me in, even though I don't want it to.
(9a) Come to terms with the fact that the synth pop/New Wave revival has booted freak folk from the hipster table.
Scan this year's lineup, and you'll notice it's packed with electronic pop and not a lot of freak folk, Americana, alt country, etc. I'm excited about this. However, I am curious to find out how it all it sounds outside, in the desert, an environment in which hippies, from Burning Man to Charlie Manson, traditionally thrive. In others words, can this stuff translate to stages far beyond dark-n-dank urban clubs?
(10) Burn my fanny pack.
Convenience means nothing. Fanny packs are the devil's eyesores (though I wore one to the first H.O.R.D.E. tour in '92, but don't tell anyone).
(11) Read the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill.
Just in case I find myself in a political debate with "Change we can believe in" cub scout Win Butler ... BAM!