It was Friday night and LCD Soundsystem was performing "Losing My Edge" when I felt a gurgling sensation bubbling up my stomach, towards my throat.
"I need to sit down," I told my editor, who was dancing awkwardly next to me to a song about pretentious youth. Sitting on the sun-dried grass, in the middle of the pit, surrounded by glowsticks and ravers, I puked out a chunky, yellow-ish sludge of cheese pizza, sand and deep fried vegan chicken.
That night I went back to our house, puked again, and finished an LCD Soundsystem review feeling ashamed. Not because I had vomited in public during "Losing My Edge," or the twisted irony of losing my edge during an LCD set, but because I was here, at Coachella, a festival that comes equipped with everything that gives me anxiety: EDM, furry costumes, beeping sounds, tanned girls in neon clothes, and projectiles that glow in the dark. Maybe that's why I puked, or because people kept talking about DJs they liked, or because most of what heard in the distance all weekend was boom-ch-boom, followed by wobbling synths. Over and over again.
"If I fall back down, you're going to help me get back again," sang Rancid's scalp-tattooed punk Tim Armstrong, two days later, on the last day of Coachella. I first saw Rancid live at the Warped Tour nearly 20 years ago. In those days, Armstrong was clean shaven and wore a black beanie; he now has a beard and looks like an grizzled biker.
At Coachella on Sunday, as the festival was coming to an end, a circle pit formed in front of Armstrong. Particles of sand and grass obscured my vision of the stage. I then spotted something strange near the front, a giant, colorfully spiked and annoyingly perfect sighting: two mohawked Rancid superfans.
Normally, I would've dismissed these two with a snarky music journo comment about Hot Topic or mall punks. Instead, I now got the same feeling you get when you see an American at a cafe in Paris, or when you find an old friend at a party you weren't invited to.
They had been waiting for hours to see Rancid. One of them had a "Ruby Soho" patch. Even though Coachella had several notable punk acts booked, including The Damned and The Vandals, these two looked like walking Rancid avatars. They reminded me of having a shaved head and going to the Warped Tour as a teenager to escape all the shit that brought me down, like the future, jocks (most of the Coachella attendees), term papers and Green Day's Warning.
Seeing them at the front of the pit, surrounded by slam-dancing millennials, I closed my eyes and imagined I was back at the Warped Tour in Anaheim, or Pomona, wherever. I had puked for two straight days at Coachella, but seeing those two fans, on the final day of the festival, dedicated to their band as opposed to scenesterism, I felt less sickened by it all. The two Rancid fans in the front offered a stark contrast of cartoony punks amidst bros in swim trunks that helped me find salvation from all the repetitive beats and molly culture.
Watching the two punks bob their mohawks as "Olympia WA" and "Ruby Soho" came on, songs I learned how to play on the bass when I was 15, just made feel liberated. There's no snarky or smart way to word it, it was just fun to watch. Rancid left a stain on the same stage Calvin Harris would mindlessly use as his laptop station a few hours later.
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The two punks, who I never got to meet, appeared again on my Facebook feed the next day. I saw them on Instagram, too, as they were the only two people at Coachella that looked familiar to me (even if we had never met). They were the imaginary friends I needed in a sea of friendless idiots at Coachella; exactly the sort of offensively obvious mall-punks I needed to puke out what was left of this festival, where I got to see Joe Walsh shred, Guns N' Roses make history, and Rancid — the only music I will ever dance to at Coachella.
Update: After we published this story, we were contacted by the two punks in the photo: Erin Micklow and Joe Altmann. This was their first Coachella.