1. As one online poster has cheekily named it, Coachella has established an “EDM ghetto” in an expanded part of the Empire Polo Grounds venue that has hosted the Southern California music festival since its 1999 debut. Though the gargantuan Sahara Tent remains in its usual southeastern spot, the lively perennial outdoor Do Lab stage has moved from the center of the grounds to a spot just west of the Sahara, though separated by trees and a wall. The Heineken Tent, a corporate hangout that nonetheless books headline-quality DJs, is just north of the Do Lab. And the air-conditioned Yuma Tent—an addition to last year’s two-weekender—sits west, separated only by a lush arrangement of trees and picnic tables. Your move, EDC.
2. And speaking of Yuma: Wow. Promoter Goldenvoice took what is arguably the best Coachella upgrade in years and made it even better. An augmented layout now shaped in a V to accommodate two dance floors with an open view of the DJ booth—now flanked by panels of effects—allows for a much larger capacity, a godsend after last year’s terrace-crossing lines for acts such as Four Tet and Jamie xx. (A switchback queue was also implemented, though indifferent security did little to correct the occasionally precarious bottleneck of eager dancers trying to enter.) Upon entering, you’re nearly disoriented by the shimmering escapade created by some 20 mirrored disco balls—including the centerpiece one above the DJ, shaped like a shark. And the sound system? That pounding in my chest sure as hell wasn’t Red Bull. On Friday, I saw two separate revelers clearly under the influence of something hugging speaker stacks, and it was a miracle their innards weren’t blasted onto the rest of us.
3. And yet, the programming of the Yuma trumped everything else. On Friday, Damian Lazarus was required to pull a double after Russian DJ Nina Kraviz missed her follow-up slot, but the dancefloor wasn’t exactly clamoring for the Crosstown Rebels owner’s exit. From the beginning, Lazarus’ set included ambient waves, subtle vocal evocations and piano-kissed melodies that infused much-needed warmth into the deep house genre—and by that we mean the European kind, not the R&B-influenced American one. His constant crowd interactions and own bodyrockin’ further engaged a crowd that was made up in part of people weaned on EDM, not Chicago house and Detroit techno. Later, Britain’s Hot Since 82 ramped up the buoyancy factor with a lively, slammin’ house set that proved why he—like peers Jamie Jones and Claude vonStroke—is on the cusp of a dance crossover. Marquee: We’ve got your new afterhours booking right here.
4. Though the still-pumping air conditioning (despite 60-degree temps outside) ultimately drove me out before its completion, Dixon’s closing set inside the Yuma might have been the most stimulating, if not the most celebratory. What a pleasure it was to sit on one of the available couches, lay back and listen to track after track build and develop, the Berlin-based house/techno DJ truly creating an aural journey with unique samples, keyboard chord progressions and fleshed-out soundscapes. Contrast that to last-minute add Nicolas Jaar, a producer with well-deserved bonafides, whose own set of cerebral music seemed esoteric, incohesive and even self-indulgent in comparison. Jaar might’ve made artistic statements with his set, but he also lost a large amount of his Yuma crowd.
5. Coachella, too, has fallen prey to a growing problem: the Vegas club influence of the DJ set. One unfortunate change to the Yuma Tent was the addition of mini-cryo geysers that some visual engineer tried to release during the money-shot moments—and this being deep house and techno, the designation of those moments was typically questionable. Over at the Coachella main stage, Girl Talk employed several tricks—especially confetti—that recalled a DJ Vice mash-up set on a Monday night at Marquee. And over at the Sahara Tent, the lineup was almost exclusively EDM-style music, ranging from electro house to trance to commercial bass music.
6. That being said, Coachella is trying to please a wide swath of electronic music fandom. Say what you will about the predictability of the Sahara programming—no Paul Kalkbrenner types this year, it seems—it’s what a largely mainstream Coachella attendance wanted, as evidenced at the LA duo Mako’s mostly status-quo set, complemented with a blitzkrieg of visual flashes. While everyone else on the polo field seemed to be sweltering and/or resting, a nearly full Sahara Tent was raging like it was peak hour at Surrender. Thankfully, for the rest of us, sanctuary lay three minutes away at the Yuma, inside vastness and variety of Coachella’s dance ghetto.