THE REAL COACHELLA 2013 - not the Clash version 


It’s blinding white hot in the Californian desert ringed by mountains, palm trees and an electric blue flawless sky. There can only be a few things on anyone’s mind in such idyllic conditions…


Ioanna, the lean-limbed blonde of Io Echo is ripping up any residue of regular life in the Gobi tent while dj sets, random raves and water parties (think spouting hoses on crowds and cameras) carry on in the green.  The Outdoor Theatre entertainment starts with the ferocious melodies of White Arrows which has already got a few hundred up and dancing despite the 30 degrees. In the Gobi tent, leadsinger Ioanna’s unstoppable energy lets Coachella know music has arrived. With a new album out last week, their performance is like catching an electric butterfly before it combusts. The Neighbourhood are obviously massive in Cali and everyone seems to already be down to welcome them – a harder contrast to White Arrows’ elegance. But not as totally off the wall as the arrival of UK’s Beardyman and his new assistant, The Beardytron Mk 2. Beardyman could start a one-man rave in a bus shelter – forget a dj and mc. He has way, way too much energy, spontaneity and creativity - possibly even for a C++ computer.


Just when we got sick of replicated polished performances (this is Coachella Mark 2 2013), the real artists (like Beardyman) step their game up: making up phenomenal tracks as he goes along and bringing the best of hip hop, bass, funk, dub step, electronic and anything else that randomly catches his fancy with a subterraneal earth’s-mantle –busting bass. Now we’re dancing. Not bad for a UK beatbox champ and a NASA-styled laptop.


The UK has another great representative – Jake Bugg who takes the stage looking like he was the other guy at Beardyman’s bus stop and has just popped in for a quick busk.  Yet as soon as he takes the mic, his understated cool and charisma flood the tent. His voice and timing holds an overflowing Mojave. Calls of ‘Sexy!’ from Californian honeys don’t phase him. He runs through his album tracks plus new songs with that effortless authenticity  which leaves you still in the moment he’s created.  ‘Thank you very much for coming to see me,’ he says politely at the end. ‘It’s been a pleasure to play for you. Cheers.’


Johnny Marr obviously saved his best for his latter years. With a red rose on his guitar, he delights the packed Mojave tent with his new tracks as well as Smiths’ oldies like ‘There is a light that never goes out’.  Cali loves the Smiths because you are not allowed to be miserable here. So they are delighted by Marr’s bittersweet melodies.  The contrast of Morrissey’s mournful voice and misery and Marr’s irrepressible, euphoric tunes and joy was the genius of the Smiths but Marr unleashed is a warmer, fiercer sound.


Divine Fits is the West’s cross between Joy Division and Roxy Music kicking up dust and fireflies and summoning a Friday night bound to overwhelm even the most enthusiastic music-lover…’Ice Cream’ melts the crowd but it’s not sweet.  They contend with the last of the sun’s fury before the night shows start.


Lee Scratch Perry is beautifully eccentric and authentic as ever; he and Karen O must share the same wardrobe. Tonight he is resplendent in shiny black trousers, a crimson beard, a shiny spiky red baseball cap, a huge pair of crimson shorts over black shiny trousers and the Jamaican flag wrapped round his waist.  And his boots look like Air Max on acid with sheets of mirror for the fly.  His energy and radiance is brighter than ever, kicking a beach ball thrown at him and riffing off that, bringing rhythms and movements to a packed tent.  ‘Look at me boot!’ he repeats before departing on a ‘Have fun forever!’ as he well seems to be.


‘Modest Mouse’ play to a ram-jammed Coachella stage, the first time I hear song after song sung back from the crowd.  But the real spectacle is the following act: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Karen O is a force of nature not from this planet and her presence and wackiness raises the energy levels to the skies.  She consumes and ignites any space – tonight in a tinselly cape and bright yellow decorated suit. On her head is a Tommy Cooper ‘Yeah!’ fez hat which she delights to pull over blue-rimmed eyes and bleached inverted bob. But this woman could turn a bin liner into haute couture – she has way too much light and clothes can barely contain her.  The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s music brings a fluidity to electro-rock which few can beat and they bungey-leap from raging warcries like ‘Zero’ to the more soulful songs like  ‘Sacrilege’ off their latest (and arguably best) album, ‘MOSQUITO’, bringing in a purple-gowned full gospel choir.  One of their new songs, ‘Despair’ has an unbelievable drumbeat you can’t help dance to yet is a sad soulful song. ‘Sometimes  I think I’m bigger than the sound!’ Sometimes we think you are too as the mic left thrown on the ground  reminds us the real energy has now left the stage.


‘The Stone Roses’ get more love this week after a tepid and cautious reception in Week 1.  Cali has done its homework and the Brit-rock lovers and Asian contingent is out in full effect to adore.  The years don’t seem to have done anything to them as they move through an hour’s worth of songs.  Ian Brown throws his maracas into the audience at the end, departing on ‘You lot smoke far too much weed!’ In the nicest way possible…They are still trying to figure each other out, the West coast and the Roses, but the attraction is there.


‘Grinderman’ in the Mojave tent is playing to crazed-out fans.  Yet another of Nick Cave’s unstoppable creations, this is an elemental, elegant and savage facet of rock, lethal as a butcher’s knife yet as technical as the experienced artists making up the quartet.  They look as intimidating as young Gandolfs: Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclevunos. Nick Cave is as dramatic and full-on as ever, his colossal lean frame walking over the audience to serenade an overwhelmed blonde before launching into ‘No Pussy Blues’ which is apparently about the sadness of not having a vagina…


Next door in the Sahara tent, the crowd barriers are taking a thrashing as Modestep totally control thousands of metal/rock/dance/dub/electro fans.  The four London boys control spectacle and space – not bad to say they started off as bedroom djs with a youtube account. It’s barely two months since their debut album ‘EVOLUTION THEORY’ came out yet they undoubtedly own Cali’s craziest dance crowd.


Blur saunter slowly onto the Coachella main stage. They too look like they just spent the day at the same bus stop as Beardyman and Jake Bugg. But the love  at Coachella is obviously mutual. Albarn is fierce and this band undoubtedly gets finer  with the years…his voice belongs somewhere else already, carrying tones and narratives beyond context.  Blur used to be too cool when I was a kid, pretty but you couldn’t feel them.  Not the case now.  They’ve grown into their realness instead of asserting it.


‘How To Destroy Angels’ is Trent Reznor’s band hidden behind a sheath of white plastic and sending out dark rhythms and vocals to a very sophisticated Cali crowd while next door hip hop’s new hope, Odd Future’s prodigy Earl Sweatshirt, owns the Gobi stage, his lean frame and delivery causing the crowd to seriously challenge security.  Not a word or beat is wasted and the audience is in thrall. Worth the wait.


Saturday brings raw desert heat – no respite.  Vintage Trouble are suited up in thirty five degrees heat – that in itself deserves a crowd but they’ve got one even at 2.25pm. Announced as ‘the new rhythm and blues in Europe and the new soul in America’, they rush on stage and perform some group ritual before their Wilson-Picket-with-a-rocket  performance commences. There definitely is the hint of the old timers: the passion, the Gospel-inflected vocals and the unhinged dancing certainly raise the energy. 


Action Bronson likewise deserves kudos. Being fat, white and ginger in such cruel heat is not an easy gig but his lyrics are as smooth as syrup still and he has the whole Outdoor crowd jumping and smiling. 


While one girl faints at the front, the ‘black Brad Pitt (a.k.a. Danny Brown) seizes the stage abruptly.  He is brutal, direct, filled with venomous energy although I think he could hear from Mr. Pitt’s lawyers…the similarities are not apparent.  With an untameable wonky afro, a triangular tongue he regularly displays and his famous gap-toothed grin, he is definitely a break from the symmetrical ubiquity of Mr. Pitt but I think someone needs to give Brown some new experiences: every song about his sexual ownership of ‘all the bitches’ becomes rather tedious. OK we get the point but with those production skills, his lacerating verbal dexterity and high-pitched tone, he could easily claim a few more territories.  Can someone please take him to the zoo or orienteering or something?


But I give up as the Mojave tent has the biggest crowd yet – spilling over and beyond so that it takes a good half hour just to circumnavigate the pit. Everyone  seems to be able to chant 2 Chainz raps back at him. He’s used to extreme heat coming from Atlanta so effortlessly performs a heavy and vigorous set – aided by two djs, a guitarist and another MC. Still, I’m surprised at the structure and musicality and, unlike Danny, his rhymes go a bit further than the strip club and gynaecology. He gives the crowd a thorough work-out and they leave with more than they expected.


From 2Chainz  black-owning, black-running hip hop show back to the Outdoor theatre where a redneck comedy on the big screen is entertaining the melting crowds, too stoned to do anything except eat vast plates of paella and pizza and melt in the sun.  A mini tin trailer is now on stage and three ‘trailer trash’ costumed girls appear, one wearing the padding of pregnancy.  Danny Lohner next appears and then Maynard James Keenan (of ‘Tool’ and ‘A Perfect Circle’), wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, throwing bags of candy into the audience.  The main thrust is to shock and offend and use the images of American trash to highlight the real trash of America with the opening song: ‘What’s the difference between a God and a pistol?’  Bizarrely, the pseudo-pregnant girl incites numerous calls for her to ‘marry’ various audience members.  The crowd loves it like a new musical satire.


Café Tacuba, on the Coachella main stage, are the Mexican rock band who have genuinely rewritten all the rules – about the conventions of rock, its content and their output. This band has been going for decades and they career across the stage in an explosion of dance and a variety of tempos.Using their own interpretations of ska, rock, electro, funk and folk, Café Tacuba has an incredible broad appeal in the Western hemisphere with folk of all ages and nationalities familiar with the joyous songs and ska-inflected dance rhythms.  Song content focuses on ageing, mortality, life, the passing of time…not your normal rock’n’roll topics. Yet there is no doubting the love here –  the crowd carry giant  Pinatas, Mexcian flags, huge notices written in Spanish, very refreshing after a day when my ears are still ringing with obscenities and repetitive beats.  There seems to be room for both here at Coachella.


Speaking of repetitive beats and major success, Major Lazer caused a blip on the Richter scale in the Mojave tent when he got his over-filling crowd to all jump on the count of three…


Sunday is bright, beautiful and blue and although still in the staggering thirties, not as crippling as yesterday.  Jimbo ‘Jenkins has already got a dancing crowd before noon in the Gobi tent: deep hip hop mixed in with techno, rather a throwback to ‘90s pirate radio but sounding better in the sunshine twenty years on with bikini-d girls jiving.  Deap Vally, two hot-panted, large thighed, big-lunged girls with huge hair create enough rock power for a five piece – just from one drumset and one guitar in the Mojave tent.  The long-anticipated Irish band,  Little Green Cars, come on and more than deliver to a crowd chilling out from a blasting desert sun at noon.  Leadsinger, Faye O’Rourke, has the vocal range of Heather Nova and looks like Patti Smith. The bands harmonies crash and rise. For some songs, there are four guitars making for a delicious rush of layered melody on top of the vocal harmonies, a unique wave of sound. Faye’s slight frame belies the force of her vocals and she easily carries songs on her own too.  Fresher and sweeter than Mumford but with as memorable songs.


The Outdoor Theatre hosts Raider Klan – the baby of Miami-based producer SpaceGhostPump (signed to British label 4AD) who has collaborated and produced with some of current hip hop’s finest: Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky, Project Pat, Juicy J and is about to do more work with Odd Future and Earl Sweatshirt.  Raider Klan is an underground hip hop group of nine, including one female MC. Their style is a tantalising mix of their passions, the content a bit more varied than the standard ‘I got your bitch’ rhymes featuring diverse structures and some great beats. Their darker rhythms, range of flows and tones resemble Bone Thugs N Harmony mixed with the flexibility of  Odd Future and the incontestable realness Wu Tang  authenticated. The early afternoon crowd love it: smoke machine, palm trees and some fresh beats with bodies that don’t sweat in black.


The Smith Westerns follow – not to be confused with New York’s finest Smif n’Wessun although both feature heavily on my Most Played list. No – these  Chicago young guns are quite possibly America’s version of the Beatles. Their debut album of 2011 brought them recognition for their jangly reverb bittersweet tunes but it is their structure and phrasing which sets them apart from the glut of Raveonette-tribute garage band types over here. Despite teenage self-consciousness, they are totally present when it comes to the music.  The songs draw the biggest crowd of the daytime’s Outdoor theatre. After working through  ‘Imagine Pt.3’, ‘Still New’ and ‘To Die Young’, leadsinger Cullen Omori announces ‘Here’s a new song off our new album. You haven’t heard it yet or if you have – whatever. It’s called…..’ He mumbled something sounding like ‘Three Hamstrings’ but I am sure it isn’t. The song is eons ahead in terms of structure from their rush of reverb and harmonies. Leaving the rush and whimsy behind, they now craft proper songs you can whistle to as well as vibe with.  ‘Was that an alright song? Really? We’re just testing the waters. New material.’


Jeff and the Brotherhood hits the mid-afternoon Outdoor theatre - meaty heavy rock duo with one guitar and a brother on the drums. Their depth of sound and grit makes Motorhead look like Oasis. I could listen to them riffing forever – never mind the songs. Plus I respect anyone who can rock out in this heat.



The Three O’Clock in the Gobi tent is obviously  the new Supertramp and Jessie Ware charms her Mojave audience with her cute British accent coupled with her chilled out, soulful songs: ‘Coachella is the most beautiful festival! Full of beautiful people – not like UK festivals.’  There are gangs of fans going round waving bizarre Jessie Ware fans –  I don’t get the pun til much later after I mistake one for Jessie’s publicist.  Alex Clare tries to sneak in the crowd for a bit of Jessie-chill out but was soon pounced on by a bloke wanting a photo on his iPhone. Poor Alex obliges but then beetles straight off backstage.


Not for long.  Soon his amazing band – the most all-out rocking band I’ve heard since Friday night – take stage before the man himself faces an overflowing tent.  When I first heard ‘Too Close To Love You’ I thought it was the new one from Gnarls Berkley…that’s how much soul this diminutive ginger-bearded Brit has.  He apologises twice to Prince and keeps repeating that he expects the latter to ‘shoot him’ (probably not the best thing to say at a Cali concert) but the crowd – and surely Prince – forgive him as his covers, including ‘Purple Rain’, have been reconfigured into funky, soul-busting new translations.  Alex Clare builds the emotional momentum and has the entire tent properly grooving, reaching a climax with ‘Up All Night’ with the demented genius of the passionate Phrase, his percussionist/keyboard player.  After this, comes a singalong as he teaches the crowd a new song.  The man has the soul and the charisma of the whole of Motown and the best dance rhythms to boot.  The guys are raving as furiously as the girls.


Tonight there is Vampire Weekend, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Wu-Tang Clan, Dead Can Dance, Disclosure, Roni Size and Jamie Jones but they don’t need any more press. You know they’re brilliant so, apologies, I’m peeling off now to go play at last…




DESK-EDITOR'S typo'd, ham-written edit if you prefer vicarity: