In the Californian desert, the magic always happens… for better or for worse

From our correspondent in California,

When there’s no more Coachella, there still is. The second weekend of the Californian festival starts this Friday – without Frank Ocean, injured – seven days after a first chapter attended by 20 minutes. An incredible musical experience two hours from Los Angeles, in the heart of the Californian desert, with an eclectic line-up with an international outlook. But the entrance price to paradise is high: often more than 1,000 dollars for these three days which, unless you are a celebrity, an influencer – or a journalist – must budget yourself as a vacation. Narrative.

“Coachella, we maaaade it! After an hour of traffic jams to get to the car park and twenty minutes of walking on a dusty road, two friends raise their arms to the sky. On the left, the festival’s famous Ferris wheel, a vital polar star for orientation, especially after dark. On the right, the huge Sahara tent, a space hangar half-covered with screens, under a giant roof that culminates at 30 meters high. In the distance, silhouettes of palm trees stand out against the San Jacinto Mountains. A spectacular setting desired by co-founder Paul Tollett, who launched Coachella in 1999 with the ambition of competing with the British Glastonbury festival. Less mud.

On the decks, the French DJ and producer Dombresky sends a perfect groovy house this early afternoon. Because after a detestable Californian winter that broke rain and snow records, the crowd, a mix of millennials and “gen Z”, is here to dance. In this desert beach club, the mercury exceeds 33°C, but the lawns have nothing to envy to that of the Augusta Masters. Indispensable accessory: inflatable swimming pool or flashing toys, to find your friends hoping that the SMS “Look for the pickle on the right of the Mojave stage” goes through despite the saturated network.

Interactive Giant Art

On the fashion side, Native American cultural appropriation and hippie flower crowns have finally disappeared to make way for the must-haves. crop tops and the crochet invasion, including dresses and bikinis. For men, lots of two-piece matching shorts and shirts. And for those who want to make a real fashion statement, the “bucket hat” (bob) that matches. “At Coachella, you’re free to be whoever you want. You can wear, like me, a swan-feathered dress, and people give you love for that,” enthuses Adam.

To reach the media area, you have to cross the one kilometer diagonal of the Empire Polo fields, a park covering an area equivalent to 100 football pitches. Along the way, you can’t miss French artist Vincent Leroy’s molecular cloud, made of pink spheres that spin to create organic shapes. A little further on, the Spectra rainbow tower transforms festival-goers into extras in an interactive work: from the outside, we can see their dark silhouettes climbing this eight-storey spiral; from inside, you can admire the entire festival and cool off in its only air-conditioned space.

The immersive art of Coachella features half a dozen giant structures, including this Spectra tower. – K.SCHAEFER

Reform of Blink 182 and debut of Angèle

On the next stage, the British producer SG Lewis has the chance to play during the golden hour California magic. But as the sun goes down, you have to leave already so as not to miss the reformation of Blink 182, with the return of guitarist/vocalist Tom DeLonge. Thousands of fans sing along to the chorus of What’s My Age Again. The group is approaching 50, but the pee-poo humor hasn’t changed, with a borderline joke about kisses from the Dalai Lama. The phones are out for All The Small Thingswhich transports the quadras in their high school years.

The gigantism of Coachella, with eight stages for 169 groups and artists over three days, forces you to make sacrifices. Like missing a big part of Gorillaz, with Damon Albarn and Thundercat as guests, and the surviving members of De La Soul on Feel Good Inc, to witness Angèle’s debut. Sparse at first, the Mojave tent fills like lightning. “Good evening Coachella, my name is Angèle and I come from Belgium! “, launches the singer in front of French-speaking fans and many curious people won over by a disco, pop and queer performance.

$200 to sleep in the back of the Prius

At Coachella, the night falls suddenly, the temperature too. While American rapper Metro Boomin welcomes a rain of surprise guests, including Future and The Weeknd, an icy breeze rises. The regulars have planned for it with a change of clothes or a blanket. The others spend a miserable evening. Suddenly, a human tide surges towards the main stage. It’s past 11:30 p.m. and Bad Bunny is warming everyone up with Titi Me Pregundo. It’s the first time an artist singing in Spanish has headlined, and it’s long overdue, with one in five Americans of Hispanic origin. “Do you prefer that I speak in English or in Spanish?” “, asks the Puerto Rican star, the most streamed artist in the world on Spotify in 2022. “Español”, roars the crowd. Some are starting to leave the premises to avoid getting stuck in the parking lot or waiting in line for an hour for one of the shuttles to the main hotels.

Accommodation and transport, precisely, remain the black point of the festival. A room at the nearest Motel 6 blazes at 600 dollars a night – six times more than normal. The almost complete hotel park is causing prices to explode, and the locals are taking advantage of this to rent their house with swimming pool for several thousand dollars for the weekend. Otherwise, via Airbnb, you can camp with locals in a tent set up in the garden, for 300 dollars a night. Or on a mattress in the back of a Prius. It’ll be $200, but with access to the owner’s shower, because extortion has its limits. The real warriors, on the other hand, camp directly at Coachella and dance until 4 a.m. at the silent disco, before being woken up in tents transformed into an oven at 8 am.

To survive, you also have to eat, knowing that bringing your sandwich is forbidden. Ribs, burrito, ramen, spicy fried chicken… The choice is almost unlimited, including many vegan options. But inflation has a good back to justify a $26 mini-pizza or a $21 smashed burger, minus the fries ($11). The $12 beer is almost a bargain next to a $26 double vodka-redbull. VIPs (1,069 dollars for the pass, against 549 dollars for general admission) can treat themselves to an experience at Camphor, the restaurant of the moment in LA with a Michelin star less than a year after its opening. The tasting menu is $150. And if not, on the people side, what buzz during the first weekend? Kisses from Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, and the presence of Kylie Jenner, finally without Timothée Chalamet, despite rumors of an unlikely relationship.

“More influential and essential than ever”

Has Coachella finally become a festival inaccessible to the plebs, rotten by stars and influencers, who sometimes seem mainly to be there to show themselves on Instagram? Calvin and Joy, a young American couple, reject a false lawsuit: “If you do it in advance, there is a way not to blow your budget”, they say with tickets bought last June, without knowing the poster, to take advantage of the installment payment over six months.

What is certain is that the festival has never been so internationally oriented, with the success of Spanish popstar Rosalía and K-pop Blackpink, the first headliner from Asia .

Skymagic's colorful drones in the skies of Coachella ahead of Blackpink's performance, April 15, 2023.
Skymagic’s colorful drones in the skies of Coachella ahead of Blackpink’s performance, April 15, 2023. – Coachella/Skymagic

The enigmatic Jai Paul, who had never given a concert in his life after breaking through in the UK with his demos Jasmine And BTSTU in 2010, finally dared to sing in public. And Frank Ocean has signed his return after six years of absence. An hour late, he delivered a disconcerting performance, alternating moments of brilliance and big wavering. At 12:20 a.m., he abruptly put an end to his concert: “I’m told it’s curfew, it’s the end of the show, thank you. In total, Coachella and its owner, AEG, were fined $117,000 by the city of Indio for overflowing after midnight Sunday and after 1 a.m. Friday. A straw for the most profitable music festival in the world, which generated more than 100 million in profits in 2017.

“Always ”The place to be”? Yes, fucking, yes. »

“Coachella is more influential and essential than ever, especially thanks to live streaming on YouTube. More people attend a performance (on the Internet) than at the festival”, notes Tom Windish, head of A & R (search for new talents) and business development at Wasserman Music, the huge American agency which represents 45 artists this year. present at Coachella. Windish gives as an example the beautiful story of Indian singer Diljit Dosanjh, almost unknown in the United States, where he was performing for the first time, and whose concert was seen by 16 million people online, four times more than Blackpink.

Scott Butterworth, who works as music licensing manager for Disney Plus, is on his 16th consecutive run. And his passion does not wane: “Coachella marks the unofficial launch of the festival season and sets the tone for the whole year. There are world premieres, reunions and surprise guests, with a perfect balance of mainstream headliners and little-known artists who then explode. Is it always’The place to be” when we love music? Yes, fucking Yes. Those who hate Coachella are above all those who don’t go.

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