Arguably the most interesting part of the Coachella experience is the drama of getting there and back, and what happens at night when the gates are closed. I had never been. My fears of large crowds and glo-sticks are too intense. But for the last few years I've been blessed with rolling updates from friends about their misadventures. Who got lost where? Who ran into who? Who got into who's after party? Who slept with who, where? This year, for my first trip to Coachella, my ride Travis Holcombe picks me up in Echo Park at 10:30 a.m. and says right off that as long as we make it in by 4:00 p.m., to see Hot Chip, we'll be fine. 4 p.m.? That's five-and-half hours. Uh-oh.
The drive is pleasant. We pass what appears to be a fresh, six-car collision in the super-fast carpool lane on the West I-10 right around Montclair. We talk about Osaka, the Monterrey scene, French electro, Los Super Elegantes, Cafe Tacuba, Diplo, being underwhelmed by London, exorbitant ticket prices for shows in Tokyo, and something called Baltimore Club. "What does it sound like?" I ask.
"It's the same tempo as house, like Ass 'n Titties, Detroit ghetto-tech, it's similiar, like Spank Rock."
First stop, a frightening new subdivision of identical stucco houses outside Palm Springs called Mountain Gate or something like that, to pick up Alexis Rivera. He found his way here somehow in the middle of Friday night and lost most of his crew in the process. This is the Mountain Gate office. We couldn't find "Alta Vista" street and the old guy showing off the model homes didn't know the street either. Get us out of here.
With Alexis in tow, our next stop is the El Pollo Loco at a shopping center featuring a Trader Joe's. Some hipster kids are in there too, eyeing us competitively. Notebook says: "I'm at El Pollo Loco and I hate Coachella already." Here's Alexis.
I take a nap between the El Pollo Loco and the Coachella parking zone. This is roughly 45 more minutes of driving. The traffic is horrendous. We see people shedding layers of clothing as they walk toward the polo fields. Lots of guys. Did someone trick us? Are we heading to a tailgate party at U of A or something? "The meathead factor has gone up," says Alexis. "It's all these meathead guys and perpetually 20- and 21-year-old girls." We park and pass what appears to be the Coachella campsite on our way to the entrance. The tents are clustered uncomfortably close together on a wide field of arid dirt smelling curiously of horse shit. "Hipster Guantanamo," Alexis says. The word most commonly associated with Coachella is "survival," and now I see why. The walk to the gates feels like a death march:
And we're in! Alexis doesn't have a ticket but Travis and I are confident he'll find a way in. He always does. We make it to the tent where Hot Chip is playing just in time. Seeing live music should give you something to do, e.g. make you dance, so we scheduled a rough day of hard electro and dance-rock/dance-punk, starting with Hot Chip, then waiting for !!!, then Justice, LCD Soundsystem, and The Rapture. In between we decide to make some efforts to see Ghostface Killah and The Good, the Bad, and the Queen. Hot Chip is amazing live, much better than on iTunes. Those spacey, driving beats. Everyone is dancing. This is my view of the stage. That's right, people's backpack straps.
Alexis makes it in. Now we're heading to the "beer garden," which turn out to be more like a holding pen. Here's a guy who seems sad he couldn't get inside the fence. Lucky him.
Generally, the fields are jammed with people. Many find a spot of grass and pass out, overwhelmed by the heat. Clothing is optional:
Finally, a winner. Meet The Coolest Person at Coachella 2007. A big guy wearing a T-shirt that says:
Here's a close-up. Take note, ladies!
!!! is incredible as always. The singer says they just got back from Europe and that it's great to have the first thing you see once you get back be California. He's fucking right. The palm trees behind the tent and the sexy heat and the brutally hot breeze makes me feel glad I'm here, too. And now we dance.
Dusk approaches and the Coachella Valley starts feeling a little magical. The landscape is truly breathtaking. The crowds are not. I'm getting nervous. Too many people! Too! Many! People! Time to take in some of the Burning Man-esque art. These are sculptures generally understood to provide entertainment for people on ecstacy and psychadelic drugs. This dome also housed an array of DJs. The security guards the DJ areas especially dilligently to watch for dealers, surely.
This guy is pressing some buttons on some light things, just because the buttons are there, I think. Looks like fun.
The Arcade Fire is playing on the Coachella Stage, which means unless you're very close to another stage, you have to listen. Alexis is not a fan. Throughout their whole set, he's complaining. "This is the Dream Center house band. ... It's like 10,000 Maniacs covering Chk-Chk-Chk ... They're really Christian. ... I'm ovulating just listening to this. " So we spend some time watching this weird trapeze lady.
The cleaning crew ladies take a break from picking up after the drunks and are mesmerized.
Dinner time. So far I've had a whiskey and soda, a margarita, a hard soft pretzel, three beers, and I've dropped like $50. Garlic fries will do.
We make it back to the tents to see Justice ("This is the new Daft Punk," Travis says) and LCD Soundsystem. The psychadelic factor is intensified.
At a certain point in the night you just want to grab the nearest douche to you and just start making out with him.
Here are some typical Coachella fashions. Notice the adherence to cargo shorts and faux cowboy hats.
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Coachella is really good about giving you things to do. Here, people are standing in line at about midnight waiting to redeem 10 empty water bottles for 1 free bottle of fresh water. Yay!
Somehow Tiesto is spinning and even the VIP holding pen is sloppy and depressing. I want to go but my crew is lost over at The Good, the Bad, and the Queen. We meet up and make it out in one piece, with adequate room and not too much traffic. There's some kind of party in Palm Springs somewhere but without saying much we all decide just to drive back to L.A. It's 4 a.m. by the time we fly off the 101 into Echo Park. I immediately make my way to shower and attempt to scrub off 8 hours of desert heat and 50,000 strangers. I am exhausted, but sleep easy and grateful to know I won't be around for the awesome awesomeness of Sunday.