The kids just want to dance.
It’s a timeworn adage proved every year at Coachella, most explicitly in the fest’s Sahara tent, which this year was supersized and tricked-out into an LED-powered sensory assault of truly epic proportions.
But Coachella’s dance party extends well beyond the EDM bluster of the Sahara tent, permeating every corner of the sprawling, three-day event.
Take Diplo’s party-starting sound system Major Lazer, who eschewed the Sahara to perform in an overstuffed Mojave tent, delivering their patented brand of dance-floor reggae and flashback mash-ups to the enthusiastic crowd. Pairing tracks from their newly-released album, Free the Universe, with remixed takes on classic hits from Nirvana and House of Pain, Major Lazer elevated their dance party to literal crowd control, directing the mass of bodies like a conductor. Rapper 2 Chainz made a surprise cameo during the set, adding a new verse over Free the Universe track “Bubble Butt.”
Over on the main stage, U.K. electronic band Hot Chip turned up the heat and the beats with their cool, retro-tinged workouts. Utilizing synth sounds reminiscent of early Depeche Mode and Erasure records, songs like “Over and Over” generated clusters of dancers all across the polo field.
Brooklyn’s Yeasayer take a more organic approach to making danceable tunes, riding rubbery live bass lines and drum beats atop their psychedelic swirl. The vibes emanating from their show were strong enough to pull one Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco over to soak in the scene.
Speaking of Simian Mobile Disco, the British dance act turned up the Mojave tent with their deep, layered tracks that pay homage to the classic Detroit techno sound. Choosing subtlety over bombast, the duo’s hypnotic grooves are reminiscent of a 4 a.m. underground warehouse party, and quickly filled the tent with swaying bodies.
2013 also saw the advent of Coachella’s new Yuma dance area, a small, air condition space with wooden floors that’s loaded with strobe lights, couches and even a phone booth. Boasting A-list DJs like Richie Hawtin and Four Tet, Yuma’s popularity far outmatched the space, resulting in massive lines to get inside.
It’s hard to miss the subsonic bass rumble of first-wave U.K. dubstep artists like James Blake and Burial in the xx’s live show, powered by the deft hand of producer/DJ Jamie xx, who’s remixed the band’s show into a pulsing (and most danceable) upgrade on their signature minimalism. Songs like “Shelter” from their eponymous debut have been transformed from a quiet ballad into a thumping dance-floor anthem.
No one crammed into the Gobi tent for Janelle Monae’s danced harder than the artist herself, who seemingly never stopped moving during her stunning and inspired set. From surfing the crowd to pulling out classic moves for spirited covers of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and a spot-on rendition of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” Monae is a consummate entertainer and genuine talent who in a perfect world would be bigger than Beyonce.
After the demise of Joy Division with the death of singer Ian Curtis, British post-punk legends New Order built their reputation on being at the forefront of the ‘80s dance music movement, crafting such classic songs as “Blue Monday” and “Bizarre Love Triangle.” The band, now minus founding bass player Peter Hook after an acrimonious split, dug deep into their catalog for a crowd-pleasing set that went as far back as their debut single from 1981, “Ceremony.”
Rolling through fan favorites like “Temptation” and “Your Silent Face” next to hits “The Perfect Kiss” and “True Faith,” even frontman Bernard Sumner complaining about technical issues and the sound of Phoenix on the main stage (which could be clearly heard from the back of the Mojave tent) couldn’t diminish the power of their set. Sumner picked up his mood by employing a pair of young, neon-clad dancers to join him onstage, grabbing a mic and throwing down some seriously funky dance moves of his own.
Closing with Joy Division songs “Atmosphere” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” New Order’s tribute to their own storied history may have been rich with nostalgia, but also revealed the timeless nature of their legendary catalog.
-Scott T. Sterling, Radio.com