For those about to rock, we … ask that you step aside and make room for 50,000 raging fans of the operatic dance sound known as trance. For all of Coachella's claims to being a desert temple of rock-god worship (Muse, Them Crooked Vultures, The Dillinger Escape Plan), the peak-time artist for the three-day event's peak day on Saturday was one man with a pair of turntables.
We know. We've been covering dance music for too long and we don't get it either. Dutch trance star Tiesto, who has had a sometime home in Los Angeles, plays a sound that had its creative peak more than 10 years ago. And still, the 135-beats-per-minute assault of crisp percussion topped by floral waves of symphonic bliss keeps new audiences coming to see the world's most popular spinner.
While Coachella's dance line-up — almost always progressive and ahead of the curve — was a bit predictable this year, one can't deny the import of having a disc jockey occupy the most-prime of spots at a festival that included Jay-Z, Gorillaz, and a Sly Stone reunion. With Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas having ruled recent charts with electronic sounds, putting the popular king of DJs at the top of the April festival at least nodded to the newfound draw of club culture.
Tiesto's closing set Saturday must have been a shocker for the fans of rock group Muse, however, which performed before the DJ. Here's a one-man act who stands on stage and plays records for nearly an hour as a sea of fans goes bonkers.
The Dutch spinner's set was surprisingly minimal on production value — it was just him and two video screens that blasted pastel lights and flashed white lighting when tracks went into drum-roll-crescendo mode — but the crowd swelled with delight nonetheless.
There are plenty of other DJs — DJ Hell, Dubfire, Chus & Ceballos — who would have rocked their Ray-Bans off with much more progressive, future-forward sounds. But Tiesto has become a night-circuit brand, and any experimentation would dilute his appeal for those who adore him. Hearing Tiesto without an epic, snare-ripping build up would be like paying to see Skynyrd without hearing “Free Bird.”
Tiesto can generate 20,000-plus audiences all on his own in Los Angeles, so including him at Coachella was a smart move. It seemed like the entire expanse of the massive Empire Polo Club grounds was focused on the guy playing CDs.
But if Tiesto was a popular hit, his presence is a critical miss: Many dance music insiders deride him as a tasteless sideshow — some of his spiky haired fans would fit in on Jersey Shore — in a scene known for its technological progression. Playing a sound from 1999 and raising a fist shouldn't cut it at a world-class pop festival.
On Sunday Coachella has a chance to redeem itself with someone who is constantly integrating new digital technology into his performances — Plastikman, a.k.a. Richie Hawtin. The DJ helped pioneer the use of Ableton Live software to deconstruct and reconstruct and remix tracks on the fly. And he started tweeting his track list at events live. On Sunday he plans to integrate his own PLASTIKMAN SYNK app for iPhone users for the first time in the United States. The program allows fans to become part of the show with graphic interaction.
We watched Tiesto — we've called him Cheesesto — arms-folded. But for Hawtin, we'll surely raise our hands.