There’s a tradition in Southern California at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, when everyone simultaneously realizes that Coachella tickets go on sale in about three weeks, and the word slowly begins to permeate every conversation you’ll have with people over the next four months. By the time April rolls around, it’s become a fevered buzz, and you can smell the excitement in the air, like the faint whiff of marijuana in Venice. It’s arguably the king of festivals in North America; few others so consistently bring together acts both of decided now-ness and of long-standing gravitas. Even if an event like SXSW has more cred in the history of up-and-coming musicians, Coachella is so damn big that it doesn’t seem to care much. Prefix will have several pairs of boots on the ground in Indio for the fest’s first weekend, and we’re excited to see and hear everyone we can get our eyes and ears on. But pending those sure-to-break-my-heart set time conflicts, here’s a (non-comprehensive!) sampling of the acts we really don’t want to miss:
Andrew Bird’s records are cerebral, enigmatic affairs that swerve and soar like a hawk caught up in the wind. Though he’s traveling with a full backing band these days, his live performances showcase his own musical dexterity more than anything – managing violin, guitar, glockenspiel and his whistling (an instrument in its own right), he builds most songs from the ground up, loop by loop, with a maze of pedals at his feet. He’s also got a habit of altering harmonies and song structures fairly noticeably in his shows, extending and reworking his own violin sections in particular. He’s got plenty of pop songs in his repertoire by now – Break it Yourself’s “Eyeoneye” and Armchair Apocrypha’s “Plasticities” are sure to make an appearance. What I’m hoping for, though, is an intricate, extra-looped “Anonanimal.”
ASAP has come to mean a few things: Always Strive And Prosper; Accumulate Status And Power; the speed with which one must recognize that shit. Emblematic of what our Andrew Winistorfer called the “new world order” of mixtape-based rap releases, ASAP Rocky was one of the biggest hip-hop breakouts of late 2011. Like the best rappers, he and his ASAP Mob mix unabashed bravado (“only thing bigger than my ego is my mirror”) and tongue-numbing wordplay. Throw it all over the production of beatmaker Clams Casino, and it’s no wonder the Harlem crew have risen to the top so quickly. There are a few things on our mind for ASAP’s Coachella performance: Will the crowd get too rowdy? Hopefully not – the Mob has already proven that they’ll gladly throw down without much provocation. Will Los Angeles native ScHoolboy Q or the Bay Area’s Main Attrakionz make an appearance to drop “Brand New Guys” or “Leaf?” Q might – he made an impromptu appearance at a Danny Brown show in LA in February. Will there be solo cups with Jolly Ranchers at the bottom? I think we all know the answer to that.
Obligatory recognition of Bon Iver’s new-found fandom/popularity/haters aside, these guys put together an explosive live performance. With about eight musicians on stage for your average Bon Iver, Bon Iver track – not only Vernon himself, Sean Carey and Mike Noyce, but touring members like trombonist/sounds-maker Reggie Pace – it’s a feast for the eyes. We can expect one or two covers from the group, which have included tracks from Bjork all the way to Neil Young. And yes, there will be “Skinny Love,” probably dropped down to a near-acapella in which everybody just stomps their feet and sings without mics, and, yes, hearts will break and mend all in three short minutes. But what’ll really bring the house down is Bon Iver, Bon Iver closer “Beth/Rest,” which, while a little over-the-top in its ’80s soft-rock revivalism when pumping out of your speakers, sounds utterly magnificent live. And then there’s “The Wolves (Act I and II)” from For Emma, which has served as the cap for most of the band’s shows this tour. If you’re there when Vernon tells the crowd to just scream for the song’s culmination, you better do it. Catharsis doesn’t come any cheaper.
When the Four Horsemen show up on December 12, 2012 or whatever, Death Grips will be blasting from their boomboxes. Stefan Burnett, Zach Hill and Andy Morin make enraged, terrifying thrash-rap, anchored by industrial synths and possessed drums. Burnett sways like a flag in the wind between garbled, screamed verses; Hill attacks his drum-set like Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Death Grips are bound to bring out the best of at least a couple different worlds – punks on their way to or returning from seeing Refused, rap-heads getting warmed up for Kendrick Lamar, faux-intellectuals fascinated by the music (that would be me). The question on my mind is this: Will there be a tornadic, bloody nose of a mosh pit? Or will everybody just stare, transfixed, as Burnett, Hill and Morin do more damage to our ears than we could do to ourselves?
It’s hard to overestimate the sheer size and weight of M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, last year’s double-album that landed at number 11 on our top list for the year. From the clarion alarm of “Midnight City” to the spiraling, anthemic refrain of “Steve McQueen,” the record was chock-full of galaxies of keys, furious digital drum beats and subtly manipulated vocals, more arena rock than shoegaze. It’s the kind of music that needs huge spaces to fill, which is just what it’ll find out in the Indio, Calif., desert. Given the right stage – an M83 show under the night sky with a killer light-show would be otherworldly – Anthony Gonzales and company could put together a definitive Coachella set.
St. Vincent, also known as Annie Clark, cemented her place as one of indie rock’s most indispensible artists in 2011. She’s got it all: inventive and dead-catchy guitar riffs (seriously, watch her play the rhythm part for “Surgeon”), unencumbered lyrics and that forceful, nimble voice. Live, she and her band cultivate an air of restraint even as they launch into the synth atmosphere and needling bass-and-guitar melodies of their songs. They might eschew the formalwear in the face of the desert heat (or not, if it ends up raining for their set), but there’s no doubt that the air of professionalism will stick around – there wasn’t a wasted moment on 2011’s Strange Mercy, and there won’t be one down in Indio, either.
When the Weeknd emerged from Internet-land in 2011 with House of Balloons, claiming those anonymous You Tube songs from 2010 as his own, it was only the beginning of Abel Tesfaye’s deserved conquering of the hearts, minds and undergarments of everyone who listened. With an angelic, preternatural voice, Tesfaye belies the dark, hedonistic lyrics that fascinate his fans. The air of mystery still lingers around him; performing with Toronto-bro Drake up in Canada is the closest the Weeknd has come to touring in the US. Debuting at Coachella speaks to the incredible following he’s generated over the past twelve months, and we can only assume that after this weekend (pun intended), he’s gonna blow like a C4.
If you came to Coachella to rock, and you did, you’ll probably end up at Wild Flag’s set. They’re familiar faces to us by now – aside from the band members’ previous stints in various canonical rock groups, Wild Flag’s debut self-titled last autumn rocketed them back into the vanguard of no-bullshit indie rock, an area in sore need of reinforcement. Lead single “Romance” has dominated the airwaves for months now, and the band’s tour includes all the hot spots, including a recently announced spot at the Pitchfork festival in July. As Prefix’s Eric Ziedses des Plantes noted, this isn’t a supergroup, a stitched-together quilt with the edges still frayed. These four musicians have known one another and shared the stage over the years, and the chemistry evident on last year’s debut will only be amplified in a live setting.
Comprehensible lyrics – who needs ‘em? Manchester, England’s WU LYF (short for World Unite! Lucifer Youth Federation) play fevered, garbled rock partly in the vein of punk rockers like the Black Lips and partly in the vein of Modest Mouse at their angriest. Go Tell Fire on the Mountain, the band’s 2011 debut, broke serious ground for the band and thrust them on to the world stage. Singles “We Bros” (yeah we are!) and “Spitting Blood” are strangely joyous, despite the throat-shredding of the band’s vocalists. Boasting a kind of intriguing urgency, like a desert prophet shaking and shouting in tongues, WU LYF capture the pervasive unease that seems to be creeping into almost every aspect of our lives, from the public-ness of our identities (the band made a concerted effort to stay anonymous for months after their formation) to the latent disaffection with the world so many Millennials feel these days: “Put away your guns, man / and sing this song.”
There’s something inherently endearing about a bunch of British kids who manage to pay such earnest homage to seminal indie rock acts like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. It’s not even the pull of nostalgia that creates value in Yuck’s music – anybody could find enjoyment in the melodic distortion cranking out of the London-based group’s amps – and it’s not like they have fond memories of seeing their musical ancestors perform in their heyday. So rather than operating under a strict revivalism and avoiding becoming beholden to any one band’s sound, they pick and choose their favorite motifs, melding it all into a kind of after-the-fact I Love the 90s montage. We can expect a fairly raw live performance, unlike the rather careful production of the group’s self-titled release; the vocals of Daniel Bloomberg and Max Bloom might strain a little out there in the open. But in lieu of a certain Delorean making an appearance, Yuck will be the closest thing to a time machine at Coachella – but they’ll be the furthest from old hat.