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April 25, 2012

Coachella 2012

I wore my Coachella 2011 wristband to Coachella 2012 and I have the horrible tan line to show for it. Last year’s festival such a life-changing transcendental experience that I thought seriously about cutting the wristband off before I went to this year’s second weekend because there was no way that the two experiences could be compared. And they really can’t be.

The musical talent present at the festival was fantastic which should come as no surprise to anyone who saw the line-up. There was Friday’s M83 performance that boasted chest thumping electronic dance-hall anthems that shot the crowd’s collective consciousness into the space looking shimmering light-show backdrop. There was the Black Lips performance Saturday that had the young Georgian punk-rockers smashing guitars, shot gunning beers with the sound guy, and inciting the tattooed, sweaty crowd upfront to open up a gaping, thrashing maw of a mosh pit and scream themselves hoarse. Even in the 108 degree heat on Sunday, Afrobeat legends, Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80 got the entire sunburnt crowd jiving with the funky beats and Kuti’s incredibly charismatic and passionate performance. And Kaskade probably made cracked out bros grind on mostly-naked rave girls to really loud, shitty music, but I wouldn’t know for sure. I missed that one for some reason.

With the ever increasing popularity of EDC type festivals, it made sense that literally every other person who I asked the question of, “what was your favorite show so far?” answered with Swedish House Mafia, Feed Me, Madeon, or Borgore etc etc followed by the inevitable “Yeah I’ve pretty much just been hanging out at the Sahara stage all weekend.” It was probably the one glaring problem with Coachella. The line-up, especially on the Sahara stage which was almost entirely EDM acts, created a huge separation between the music junkies who came to see the music they are obsessed with and those who just came to dress up, take amphetamines, and dance to some dubstep. I’m not saying that electronic music is bad in any way. Acts like the jazz tinged disco of Breakbot and the incredible bass assault by Thundercat were absolutely mind-blowing; and I’m still kicking myself for not seeing Flying Lotus and Death Grips. But that David Guetta party scene was the reason that Gotye’s tent cleared out halfway through his mind-blowing set after that type of people had heard “Somebody I Used to Know.”

It established an us against them kind of mentality that reared its ugly head at The Shins concert when singer James Mercer, only partially kidding, suggested that, “maybe we should all go to war with the people at a certain other stage,” which was a pretty terrible thing to say to a bunch of people tripped out on drugs. But if I’m being perfectly honest, after being called a homo by a group of 8 or so tribal tattooed, spiked hair Jersey Shore d-bags it didn’t strike me as terribly as it should have. Which is not what Coachella should be about at all.

Before you read the next part you should probably watch this:

I realize that if this is your first time listening to this is, it can be abrasive, especially with Mangum's voice but the amount of emotion and passion dripping from every word and just the pure expression is something I hope you can pick up.

Jeff Mangum’s performance was the quintessential type of experience that Coachella should be trying to provide. For those who don’t know Jeff Mangum was the lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel, whose album “In An Aeroplane Over The Sea” is regarded by many people as a masterpiece of indie-rock. But after it’s release and the explosion of hype that followed, Mangum disappeared out of the public eye for over a decade. So after a voice repeated the message “the artist requests that no photos or videos be taken during the performance” twice and Mangum sat down next a rack of guitars by himself on stage, it was quickly apparent that this was going to be something different. He opened with “Two Headed Boy pt. 2” and the “King of Carrot Flowers” songs, and people unaccustomed to his high-pitched, distinct singing style and the repeated refrain in part 2 of “King of Carrot Flowers” of “I love you Jesus Christ / Jesus Christ I love you / Yes I do,” left from far fringes of the crowd. But the people who were screaming the words as loud as they possibly could quickly found themselves with their arms wrapped around complete strangers in long rows as they slowly swayed back and forth to the music.

To get an idea of what it was like in this crowd there's this:

In between songs there weren’t any requests for songs just silence and anticipation broken by an occasional yell of “Thank you Jeff!” or “Your music changed my life! Thank you!” It was such a pure and honest performance but also a very complicated performance. Mangum’s sharp features, terse stage banter and intense eye contact showed just how uncomfortable he was playing at a festival headlined by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Jeff Mangum never wanted to be a rock star. You can easily tell from the earlier demos and live recordings that did when he toured in the 90's because he spends the shows joking and laughing with the audience about how his life is sometimes falling apart and making music with his friends is one of the few things that holds him together. But after someone puts out an album that's considered by so many people to be this incredible masterpiece, you can't really play hole in the wall venues anymore and just make music that you like to play. It takes a certain kind of mind to put out such unfiltered emotion and that kind of person really just isn't built or even after the magnitude of reaction that he received. It was easy to see how much it pained him to be there, but he was there anyway to play for the hundreds of people who found something so identifiable in his music. That's what made the performance so special. After an unbelievably intimate cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in The End” and accompaniment by a group of horn and percussion players for the show’s finale of “The Fool,” people were hysterically weeping and holding each other, completely lost in that feeling of ebullient joy.

These are the moments that Coachella should be based around, the indescribable ecstasy that comes from connecting with a group of strangers around a band that they absolutely love. Obviously, not everyone is going to connect with Jeff Mangum and that's fine but the caliber of artists should lend themselves towards finding that emotion. It was that feeling of togetherness that made last year’s Coachella such an unforgettable experience and it’s that feeling that is slowly being pushed aside in order to boost ticket sales, which is a shame. It’s a shame because Coachella has always been about bringing the best bands of every genre together to celebrate the art form as a whole, but the divisive nature of this year’s line-up took that away somewhat. It was still an unforgettable experience but I can’t help feeling like some people just completely missed the point this year.

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