Coachella by the Numbers
Who are these 128 bands, collectively? As one big amalgam, what are they?
Click here to read Randall Roberts' essay on this year's festival, then check our data below....
ANALYSIS (Kinda Sorta)
It should come as no surprise that the male gender is quantitatively better represented on the stages of Coachella, but not because men rock harder than women. Rather, because men, in their overall drive for surrogate mommies’ attention (read: anyone with tits), will do anything for affection, will bare their emo-infested souls in front of total strangers, will wear their Nugent-staches proudly like that dude from Justice, will attempt to claw up from geekdom to glory like that everyman strummer Brett Dennen. Nearly quadruple the number of men will sing lead (or spin records) than will women this year. (So you’d think there’d be a lot more ladies in the crowd than men, because the better-smelling gender is mysteriously drawn to the stinkier gender’s silly peacock antics. But, in a quirk that demographers across academia are arguing about as we speak, at Coachella there are more dudes onstage and more dudes in the crowd. It’s a bummer for everyone involved.) That said, two of the top three YouTube videos are from women: Yelle’s “ACDG” as remixed by Tepr (7,534,090) and Kate Nash’s “Foundations” (7,047,314).
Coachella bands fly in from many different Caucasian — and a few non-Caucasian — countries: Australia, Sweden, England, Norway and Hungary. They dip in from Canada, sail over from South Africa (Yoav, the only lead singer of either gender from Africa, is white, and actually now lives in London, so never mind), and, in Bonde Do Role’s case, leap up from Brazil. Even a few of our Mexican hijos and hijas somehow manage to sneak over the border to gig at Coachella. Not a single Spaniard, however, or any Peruvians, have been invited this year. Brits? A bunch of ’em. Germans too.
But, okay, we’re just going to spit it out: Most of the acts are white. White white white: 110 acts with white lead singers (or rappers), 13 artists or bands with black singers/rappers, four Latino artists and one lone Sri Lankan, M.I.A. (who, actually, was reared in England).
By some odd twist of fate, two sets of XX-chromosome twins are playing Coachella: Tegan and Sara, Caucasian Canadian twins who have released eight records and have notched 836,463 YouTube hits for their most viewed clip (“Walking With the Ghost”) and whose 2007 release The Con garnered a lukewarm 6.6 from Pitchfork’s estimable Jessica Suarez. The Breeders have recently re-formed in the hope that this reunion will do for them what it did for twin Kim Deal’s better band, the Pixies, namely make them a lot of money while they pump out the candy-coated alt-rock. Pitchfork dug the band’s new Mountain Battles, giving it a 7.5: “... Mountain Battles finds Kim and Kelley proudly venerating the Breeders’ battle-scarred history and bull-headed perseverance.” YouTube hits for “Cannonball,” from Last Splash, were 321,029; the click count, however, is a relative belly flop compared with another twin’s — Aphex’s — showing. Richard D. James, who is Aphex Twin, is one legendary dude who I don’t even think has a sister, let alone a twin. But for research’s sake, he deserves a platform. Pitchfork: 7.9 for Druqks. And with 1,588,277 YouTube views for the amazing “Come to Daddy” video, Aphex obliterates the biological twins’ combined top-viewed clips.
Forty-three American-born and -trained bands, DJs and songwriters are performing at Coachella IX (30.5 percent of the total). Of these, the Northeast is bringing the largest team. Perhaps it’s due to the inclusion of so many New York City bands (12, or 10.666666 percent of the total, led by powerhouses Animal Collective — Pitchfork ranking of 9.3 — and the 9.1-earning Battles) — apparently, they’re worthy of attention. But you’d figure that, hell, this is a Southern California festival, so home-field advantage should count for something; after all, if you’re going to include middling electro-rock bands like the East Coast’s Les Savy Fav, you might as well just grab one from Silver Lake. The Mountain Time Zone put in a really poor showing this year; only one act — DeVotchKa, who’s better than many of the NYC bands combined. The South, led by Kentucky men My Morning Jacket and the great Florida indie-rock crew Black Kids, stepped up. And such is his burden: Jack Johnson wears the pressure of all Hawaiians on his shoulders. He’ll really have to step up to silence the skeptics, of which there are many. This is, after all, a man who thought long and hard about a chorus, and decided upon this one: “The things can go bad/And make you wanna run away/But as we grow older/The trouble seems to stay.” The handicappers are having a field day.
Yes, in fact, the above chart does represent Pac-Man chomping up the Major Label System. However, by its very nature, Coachella is an indie-heavy proposition, as Goldenvoice, the event’s promoter, must fill the three days with rising bands not yet gobbled up by the corporate structure. But expect in the years to come that Pac-Man’s mouth will eat further and further into the last remaining slice of the Coachella pie.
However, major labels need not fret. Of the 16 “headliners” (which I’ve defined as those in the first five rows of the official Coachella IX poster, including but not limited to David Gilmour, Kraftwerk, Portishead, The Verve, The Raconteurs, Love and Rockets, and Death Cab for Cutie), only five aren’t signed to a major label, and three of those used to be on majors. Plus, despite the overwhelming abundance of indies, the majors have been able to secure a big number of the YouTube clicks (see second chart). Yes, there are far fewer major-label bands than indies, but the majors have a per capita click advantage: The 32 major-label acts averaged 1,702,169 clicks, with Yelle, Kate Nash and Serj Tankian at the head of the herd. Indie bands averaged a mere 465,112, with the defiantly independent Enter Shikari and Justice in front.
And speaking of Black Kids, well, who knows why, but 2008 is the year of bands with Kids in their name. Three of them grace the stages of Coachella this year: Cool Kids of Chicago, Cold War Kids of L.A. and said Black Kids from the South (alas, Kids of Widney High failed to qualify). Thus far, the Cold War Kids hold a dominating position, and it’s going to take a transformative, Flaming Lips–size success by either the Blacks or the Cool to make a dent in the larger public’s consciousness. But who knows? The infectious revivalist rhymes of the Cool Kids are such a refreshing change, maybe they’ll sprint from the pack.
While we’re on the subject of YouTube popularity, it may be instructive to examine some of the data in a bit more detail. Let’s talk headliners, including, in order of quality (I can’t help it, it’s my job), Prince, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Café Tecuba, Portishead, Roger Waters, Death Cab for Cutie, The Raconteurs, Tegan and Sara and others. These bands are featured for their ability to draw the crowds. Of the so-called headliners at this year’s party, however, only three — Justice, Jack Johnson and The Verve — have any sort of traction on YouTube, and the latter’s big clip is of “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” which is 11 years old.
We can’t in good conscience leave out one of the key factors that determine whether a band succeeds or not: its moniker. A band’s name not only says something about its creativity but is the first, best indicator of its aesthetic judgment. For example, I shudder at the thought of the conversations that led Slightly Stoopid to agree that, yes, of all of the trillions of word combinations in the English language — to say nothing of foreign words, or names from dead languages, or letter-and-number combinations — they decided on Slightly Stoopid. And for that reason, I will not be seeing them. If they have failed that miserably at that one formative moment, I don’t trust them to make good musical decisions. Ditto the band Does It Offend You, Yeah? First of all, the name is a punctuation nightmare, what with the question mark, let alone the fact that it’s not a name, but a sentence — and a poorly written one at that. And I suspect the band’s word-of-mouth action is less than if it were named the still-stupid but a hundred times better the Offend Yous. At least, you can say that without feeling silly. And dan le sac vs. Scroobius Pip? When it’s all said and done, and you’ve made your millions (or, more likely, thousands), gotten married, had a few (Black, Cool or Cold War) kids, what will you tell them when, as teenagers, they ask you about Coachella? You will have to say your name out loud, and I’d venture it’s gonna sound a little silly coming out of the mouth of a middle-aged man.
But then, we can’t all age as gracefully as Kraftwerk, blessed with brilliant ideas not only about band naming (short, memorable and loaded) but about the intersection of concept and music, of sight and sound. Their YouTube clip for “Autobahn” is a 10:27 trip fest that should be required viewing for the countless underdog musicians looking to make an impression despite the overwhelming odds against them. There are 127 other bands here. You are less than 1 percent of the total. What are you going to do to tilt the numbers in your favor? How are you going to make an impression? Study Kraftwerk, for one. Bone up on your Dan Deacon — he knows what the hell he’s doing, and has the numbers to prove it. (Don’t miss Baltimore’s Deacon! He’s my pick for breakout artist of the festival — and I’ve got the stats to back it up. This man should be famous.) Read. Calculate. Figure. Or leave me a comment below. I’ll be sitting in front of my adding machine, dull pencil tucked behind my ear, waiting to run some numbers for you.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.