Merging rock, electronic, jazz and performance art, Darkside was one of the few artists performing Saturday that managed to be at once carnal and cerebral; accessible without sounding derivative. The set kicked off with a wall of white noise—described by multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington as a means of “rebooting the energy in the room”—as a panel of throbbing LED lights responded in real time to a building wall of sound. From producer Nicolas Jaar’s languid, Gainsbourg-esque vocals to Harrington’s supple rhythm work, the duo seamlessly blended the attentive focus of rock shows with the participatory aspect of dance music, creating a unique, shared experience, rather than replicas of their recordings. It was a welcome reminder of why live music and festivals like Coachella, even amidst their increasing corporatization, are perhaps more important than ever.
From Solange to Lorde to Warpaint to Nicole Moudaber, Saturday highlighted a festival year dominated by strong sets from female artists. While Coachella still has some catching up to do as far as headliners go—Bjork and Portishead are two exceptions among 15 years of male top-billers—this year’s bookers have done well at curating a diverse lineup of women artists recognized for their talent rather than their gender. Warpaint’s early evening set was particularly striking, a performance that managed to be both sinister and danceable, raw and restrained, with tracks from their new self-titled album revealing a maturity and command of sound normally reserved for artists with twice their experience.
As far as bands go, few artists on this year’s lineup have garnered more hype than Future Islands, whose new record Singles offers a little something for everyone with its danceable pop hooks and dramatic, New Wave-tinged introspection (even Jared Leto could be seen pushing through the crowd to get a glimpse). The success of that sound hinges on the band’s ability to balance those two dynamics, and while it works on their albums, its live execution felt a bit ham-fisted. The band’s synths and rhythms were tight enough to have been fit for the dance tent, but the ache and nuance in frontman Samuel T. Herring’s distinctive growl was lost on stage, replaced instead by an over-enthusiastic, aggressive bark that we can only liken to what Cookie Monster might sound like after a bottle of whiskey. While his unabashed enthusiasm as a performer is one the band’s most compelling assets, its execution felt less experimental than forced.
Intense public make-out sessions are par for the course at festivals, but some Coachella-goers took free love to another very public, very NSFW level on Saturday afternoon that compelled even the most shameless voyeurs to put away their camera-phones in an attempt at some form of privacy. Some things cannot be unseen.
The dust storm
However uncomfortable, the otherworldly haze, tie-dyed sky and warm winds that befell the polo grounds early Saturday injected a strange energy into the festival. In hats, masks, scarves and sunglasses, fans roamed the grounds in something akin to Mad-Max chic, reveling in the apocalyptic feel that with a turn of the weather, chaos might be unleashed—and they’d be there to embrace it. Clear skies and sunshine are well and good, but a little bad weather encourages some spontaneity within a festival that’s an otherwise by-the-books operation.