By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
|Photo by Charlie Gross|
1970 was the era of our beloved Radio Caroline, the grande dame of offshore British pirate radio, where DJs dropped whole sides of albums like Beefheart's Trout Mask Replicaor Miles Davis' Bitches Brew uninterrupted. Anything went. It was all still thought of as radical "countercultural" hippie music by the establishment, but to us young, longhaired music fans graduating from '60s caftans, beads 'n' bells to muttonchops, loon pants and layered proto-mullets, it was the dream antidote to the tame pop drivel of BBC Radio One. The scene was as "alternative" as you could get before that word was sadistically bludgeoned by everyone in the post-punk world from whitebread collegiate geeks and ne'er-do-well trust-fund prats to third-rate bar bands and skinny big-hair skeeks who'd thrown in their bandannas and spandex for short hair, plaid and plodding midtempo pop rock by the early '90s.
As for 1999, one of the big ideological hopes for some major participants in today's vibrant worldwide electronic-music scene is that smelting global musics will blur geosocial and marketing boundaries enough so that organized sound will eventually have only three sonic zones: the good, the bad 'n' the ugly.
Thanks largely to the vital and overlooked music scene in Manchester, England, during the late '80s, British and Euro electronic artists have coexisted culturally with Brit-pop guitar bands for so long that their audiences are no longer mutually exclusive. Concurrent to that development, in America, two consecutive versions of '70s hard-rock revivals identifiable by different haircuts and stage outfits exploded in L.A. in the '80s and Seattle in the '90s, co-created by MTV in collusion with major record labels -- hype phenomena that held up the advancement of electronic-music culture in the U.S. for more than a decade.
In contempo Europe, it's no big deal anymore for electronic artists and guitar bands to play the same event, like Glastonbury Fair, the Reading Festival and the many other outdoor fetes, which are probably the only places in the world where you might see thrash-metal monsters Sepultura on the same bill with outer-space soundscapists The Orb. Last year, Bob Dylan and Tony Bennett played Glastonbury alongside the Asian Dub Foundation, Roni Size, and god knows who and what else. Cross-genre interplay 'twixt 'lectronica and organica came to a commercial head two years ago when Britpop kingpin Noel Gallagher collaborated with electronic big-beat titans the Chemical Brothers on "Setting Sun," a No. 1 radio smash in mainstream Britain. More recently, ambient-pop whiz William Orbit produced Blur's last album.
I was thinking about such cultural exchange and those long-gone days of Caroline as I drove over to interview Rick Van Santen and Paul Tollett, co-owners of Goldenvoice and L.A.'s most creative rock-concert promoters, who are currently touting their self-financed Coachella Arts and Music Festival at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, near Palm Springs, on October 9 and 10. Over a quickie Chinese lunch in the company staff kitchen, the pair told me that three years ago they were bored to tears by the idea of regular rock festivals, although Van Santen was pushing to put on some sort of international event anyway, so the two hauled off to England to study the annual Glastonbury Fair.
"We were amazed by what we saw," says Tollett, "and we immediately wanted something comparable to the Glastonbury vibe. We want people in SoCal to enjoy a similar experience of diversity, where more isn't necessarily more and the focus is coming up with the best musical goods possible. We're not trying to set attendance records, and we're sure not trying to be the US Fest or Cal Jam 4 or whatever.
"But there are a surprising number of skeptics here that you'd think would know better, who just don't get it," he adds. "They say, 'Why risk playing a bunch of techno DJs and live rock bands with no mega-stadium headliners?' Where have they been?"
The Empire Grounds, which holds 30,000 to 35,000 people, is a polo field smack in the middle of the capital of Southern California golfing terrain. It was discovered by the two partners six years ago, when they were desperate for a venue to handle a late-added Pearl Jam show when the Seattle band was on the outs with Ticketmaster.
"Traffic flow for that P.J. show was bad," says Van Santen, "but we learned from our mistakes the hard way that night. It was too last-minute, there wasn't time for fine detailing. This time around we've had nearly three years to plan everything right."
For talent, Van Santen and Tollett wanted to go international from the beginning, with bands and electronic DJs/programmers from Europe, Japan and the USA. Most of the latter were selected by Goldenvoice staffer Lauren Matsui; some are big names in the Euro trance, hip-hop and jungle underworlds, with an equal number of their U.S. counterparts, including some of L.A.'s best. Acts will perform in five different areas: one amphitheater-style main outdoor stage, one smaller stage and three dance tents for DJs.