“For those of you unfamiliar with us, we’re from England,” dourly delivered a gold-toothed Damon Albarn of Blur. He played solemnly to a crowd of drugged-up miscreants, a totally different breed of animal from the circa 1993 days when crowds of wane, mod California kids would ride their “Lambrettas and Vespas” to go see a Britpop show. “We’ve had four months of cold weather. A lot of our songs are informed by our bad weather.”
Sweat dripping onto his eyes, Albarn stared motionless through the dark into the sea of faces at Coachella 2013. In the background, the iconic Coachella ferris wheel glittered in the night. The extremely warm weather had cooled into a sweet, clean desert breeze. Still youthful looking despite the lines etched on his face and wearing his quintessential ‘90s uniform, Albarn’s reference to twenty years ago seemed the overall theme of the first day of Coachella. There were the veteran bands attracting their tiny flock of über-bands, but mostly there was the dance music, pilfering the overwhelmingly young demographic from the rock tents. On one side of the polo fields was a slew of 30-somethings sipping over-priced cocktails in the VIP tent and reminiscing about the first time they saw Blur and on the other side were mushroom carts and sweat-drenched 16-year-olds. Ostensibly, Coachella could be two different festivals and with their recent acquirement of permission to throw a festival in autumn, that might be the way Coachella is heading.
Every year, the dance music scene at Coachella becomes more and more impenetrable and the techno tots dressed in neon nipple tape and ripped up denim booty shorts become younger and younger. Even before Coachella started this year, the stark dichotomy between these two music scenes was made clear when it was announced that The Stones Roses were headlining and massive amounts of tweets went out saying, “Who the hell is that?” Older Stone Roses fans swooned at the idea of hearing “I Want To Be Adored,” but a lot of their songs are too old and obscure for even bonafide Britpop fans to remember. Some could argue that Liam Gallagher wanted to be Ian Brown and a lot of Coachella go-ers are barely old enough to remember the heyday of Oasis, let alone Stone Roses.
Johnny Marr, who rocked the Mojave tent like the NME Guitar God that he is, might have slayed with the songs from his solo album, but it was mostly when he played old Smiths songs that the young, clueless crowd actually became semi-excited. Blur, extremely gifted musicians who played the Main Stage as effortlessly as if they were playing a rehearsal space and just jamming together, barely registered a glitch of attention when they played “Song #2” and “Parklife,” despite flying Phil Daniels (the original speaking voice on the song) out to take a humorous jaunt with them onstage.
Smaller indie British bands fared better, especially R&B-flavored indie-electro band Alt-J and garage rock favorites Palma Violets. Both bands are extremely different in their approach to successful songwriting. Palma Violets epitomize cheeky, noisy British rock with a dash of dark wave intensity—the lead singer is like Jim Morrison on a midnight mushroom trip. Donning wildly-printed shirts, the band is what makes festivals like Coachella so special. Already fascinating performers, Palma Violets were adept at drawing the crowd in, at one point pointing the sunset out and having the crowd raise their arms and vibrate them.
Much more mellow in their approach, Alt-J are ones to watch out for. Why? The fans have already picked them as the next big thing. Virtually everyone in the crowd could sing their songs word-for-word, obviously relishing their hip-hop backbeats and experimental cadence. When they played “Fitzpleasure” and “Tessellate,” the reaction was like one would imagine at a Rolling Stones show—sheer exaltation. Not even Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs dressed as a glamorous pontiff in gold lame or sticking a microphone in the crotch of her holographic suit could compare.
When it comes to music, age isn’t just a number anymore but a direct correlation in what is a hit or miss at a music festival. Talent be damned; it’s hard to take away that allure of a dubstep wobble from teenagers who have no idea what a mod, Lambretta, or Vespa is.
Johnny Marr, rock ‘n roll prophet that he always has been, said it best when he addressed the audience before his song “Generate! Generate!” with his perpetual sense of worldly petulance, dedicating the song to tenets of youth like “freedom, optimism, and idealism.”
“Remember the day I decided to leave school, f*** off, and not go back?” The audience laughed, partially because many of them, young and high off possibility, were contemplating doing the same thing and partially because they were actually old enough to remember it.
-Nadia Nior, KROQ, Los Angeles