Coachella 2015 took place over the last two weekends in the desert city of Indio, CA. As promised, Drake sang “Tuesday” on a Sunday, Jack White got the audience chanting “Music is sacred!” and AC/DC were back and in black. But what made Coachella memorable was more than just the biggest acts. The festival’s most striking aspects were its surprises – the exceptional artists that didn’t receive as much press but shone just as bright as the headliners.
This year was no exception. Concertgoers enjoyed lesser-known acts ranging in style from psychedelic rock, rap and soul to blues, country and dance. For audiences seeking a more laid-back experience, there was chillwave pioneer Toro y Moi, Tycho’s guitar-laden ambient electronica, Caribou’s unique blend of dance and other genres and beats by up-and-coming producer and remix artist Jamie xx. For those seeking more energetic performances, there were the hard-hitting verses of rap duo Run the Jewels and the full-throated howls of soul-influenced artists such as Alabama Shakes and St. Paul & The Broken Bones. A plethora of distinctive artists made their mark, including a country singer who makes references to both Stephen Hawking and Buddhism in his lyrics (Sturgill Simpson), an experimental rocker with some of the most creative guitar riffs out there (St. Vincent) and a New Orleans songwriter with roots in both blues and punk, sporting raw, soulful vocals and gritty guitar licks to boot (Benjamin Booker).
With such a wide range of musicians and genres, it was naturally impossible to experience everything that Coachella has to offer in one weekend. In addition to the music, there were multiple other attractions, including a collection of art exhibits – such as a gigantic glowing butterfly (“Papilio Merraculous” by Poetic Kinetics), an office building filled with hippos (“The Corporate Headquarters” by Derek Doublin and Vanessa Bonet) and an enormous Ferris wheel.
From this disorienting cluster emerged a wealth of unforgettable moments. Take, for instance, when The War on Drugs lead singer Adam Granduciel intoned amid swirling guitars: “When the come-down here is easy / Like the arrival of a new day,” right as the sun was setting over the desert hills. Or when Flying Lotus remixed “Wesley’s Theory,” the track he produced on Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed album “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Or when psychedelic rockers Tame Impala played “Let It Happen,” a new song from their forthcoming album “Currents,” at night beneath a string of glowing balloons (a piece entitled “Balloon Chain” by artist Robert Bose). Or when Alabama Shakes’s lead singer vigorously belted “Gimme All Your Love” to an animated crowd. Or when Father John Misty sang the words “I love you, Honeybear” with all the intensity and swagger of a folk Mick Jagger. Or when Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine sang through her entire set with a broken foot. Or when Kanye West showed up during the Weeknd’s set to everyone’s astonishment, performing his own mini-set featuring old hits (“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”) as well as more recent material (“All Day”).
With such an extensive variety of musicians to hear and sights to see, it’s clear that no two individuals’ Coachella experiences could ever be the same. Yet in the night under the balloon chain lights, whether you were watching Jack White or FKA Twigs, the crowd and the performers were all united by a passion for music.
Contact Tyler Dunston at tdunston ‘at’ stanford.edu.