Action Bronson Ric Flairs, R. Kelly Croons at Coachella 2013
XXL's Associate Editor Dan Buyanovsky went to the first weekend of Coachella. This is a recap of what he saw.
Coachella is a perfect mess—a sprawling festival/party/adult carnival that takes over what seems like 10,000 acres in southeastern California for two weekends and leaves everyone who attended equally nostalgic, exhausted, still-faded, and honestly, really grateful for music festivals. There's really no doubt that Coachella does the music festival thing the best: the landscape (palm trees flanked by mountain-views) is outrageously gorgeous; the stages look like something straight out of Guitar Hero; and the artists (well, 99-percent of them—we see you, 2 Chainz) start exactly on time, every time. When it comes to planning something on so big of a scale, with so many diverse fans to please, and charging what now feels like a totally fair amount of money for entry—no one is fucking with Coachella, like, at all.
Going into this year's fest (my first time), I wasn't too excited about the lineup. I'd seen previous years' bills and just came to expect something crazy-impressive, but with headliners like Blur (kind of cool), Phoenix (not as cool), and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (cool, ten years ago), and a lack of exciting big-name hip-hop artists on the schedule, I wasn't exactly itching to get out there. The lineup did have some really impressive depth though, and I knew that there would be some sleepers who'd surprise me, and surprise they did...
On the first day, Lee Scratch Perry delivered his uniquely weird reggae to an at-first confused crowd who slowly started to bob with him throughout the set and smoke excessive herbals, until the tent finally became a hot box of love and good vibes. Later that day, Dog Blood—the brand-new DJ duo of Skrillex and Boys Noize—took over the festival's second biggest stage with an absolutely bonkers light show and dropped both A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar in their set, making everyone simultaneously bug the hell out.
On Day 2, Chicago outfit Kids These Days played an early slot for about 150 people, but nonetheless got extra-funky and rocked like they were positing themselves for an eventual headlining gig. Around nightfall, Diplo, as one-half of Major Lazer, delivered a ridiculous dose of fire-starting party music to a feverish crowd, getting everybody to take their shirts off and throw them in the air with little-to-no care. Another unlikely but incredible moment came at the end of Day 2, when French pop quartet Phoenix paused between songs, and brought out the iconic R. Kelly for a quick run-through of his most popular hits. It was a weird moment, and Kellz didn't seem too comfortable playing with Phoenix, but the sheer surprise of his appearance made everyone really, really happy.
The weekend's best moment, though, came on Saturday at around 2 p.m., at the Coachella Outdoor Stage. In the blazing heat of the festival's second day, a weird assortment of fans watched Queens rapper (and 2013 XXL Freshman) Action Bronson hit the stage with the craziest presence seen all weekend, and bust through a thunderous set of his most popular jams. In the 50-minute set, he: jumped in the crowd and individually rapped to small groups of hipster adorers; ripped his shirt in half and bellowed out a Ric Flair "WOO!"; passed the mic to Odd Future's Mike G, Hodgy Beats, and Domo for a cappella freestyles; and capped it off with a surprise appearance by the legendary Riff Raff. Dude killed it.
While the weekend's other hip-hop options were few and far between, the organizers did manage to pull together an eclectic pool of representers, including the chain-wearing, unlikely crossover star 2 Chainz; indie hero and Def Jux legend El-P; original coke boy Pusha T (in a co-headliner slot!); and newer Internet-era buzz artists like Raider Klan, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, and Theophilus London, who played the main stage. In a festival filled with well-off bros (backwards hats, super-defined six packs, generally shitty attitudes) and their arm-candy bro-ettes, it was actually really surprising to see how many fans these guys had in the Coachella context.
Sure, 2 Chainz ransacked 2012 with a string of hits, but there were literally hordes of high 17-year-old white girls clawing their way to the side of the stage (for a partial view, at best) just to get a glimpse of Tity. Meanwhile, the crowd at Danny's show looked like it should've been for a mainstream EDM act—everyone in the audience fittingly writhing in joy - but instead it was for a missing-tooth'ed Danny, who ran through songs like "Kush Coma," that somehow everybody knew the words to.
It's not like Coachella hasn't been keen on programming hip-hop—they've had both Jay and 'Ye headline in recent years—but they've definitely been slow to the party. Still, this year's embrace of the genre was really eclectic and always interesting, and if you add the above moments to a Sunday night headlining performance by a reunited Wu-Tang Clan, the organizers really did a lot of things right.
If you're headed to the second weekend of Coachella, here are some things you can expect:
-Ridiculously hot/disgustingly over-filled porta potties
-A ton of wild speculation about surprise performances
-Starting at around 5pm, groups of young girls passed out everywhere
-$9 beers (only Heinekens)
-A lot of people completely zoned out on molly or weed or some hybrid mega-drug
-People who have no business saying "turn't up!" shouting "turn't up!" really often
-Young couples embracing/making out during shows, as if one of them is going off to a hundred-year war
-More tank tops (but fewer muscles) than Muscle Beach
-A lot of really great and diverse artists playing a lot of great and diverse music