[An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.]
Coachella has thrived long enough to generate its own clichés: the bros named Sioux watching Warpaint wearing war paint; the candy flippers hallucinating neon messiahs in the Sahara tent; the VIP celebrities paid six figures to serve as covert “brand ambassadors.”
Before it became a teenage rite of passage and Frank Ocean plot point, Coachella was merely a music festival. The early years were almost utopian. Tickets were reasonably priced and rarely sold out. Hotel vacancies were abundant. The selfie stick was not yet a public menace.
Still, the festival continues to flourish. Goldenvoice’s bookings have cultivated mainstream sensibilities while retaining enough underground edge. And to its credit, Goldenvoice realized that the fans of Friday and Sunday headliners AC/DC and Drake, respectively, are essentially the same people in different costume.
With more than 100 bands, DJs and rappers booked over the course of the three-day Saturnalia, decision-making can be difficult. You probably know many of the acts in large font on the festival poster,* but here’s an alphabetical guide to a few of the best under-the-radar acts.
Chicano Batman: The favorite Latin psychedelic-soul sons of Eastside L.A. don blue prom tuxedos and detonate scaffold-exploding guitar riffs. If you’re alienated by Ben Affleck as the next Batman, Chicano Batman offers the franchise redemption.
Charles Bradley: The screaming eagle of soul wears silver tracksuits and can make even the most cold-hearted cry.
Carl Craig: Detroit techno sorcerer who sculpted the genre and then seamlessly merged it with jazz, soul and drum ’n’ bass. If you miss Carl Craig to see an EDM producer “spinning,” you forfeit all your molly.
DJ Harvey: Think of the British-bred, L.A.-based legend as Captain Jack Sparrow if he had one of the best disco and rare-groove collections on earth and once claimed, “They say you can’t understand the blues until you’ve had your heart broken…. You can’t understand my music until you’ve had group sex on ecstasy.”
The Gaslamp Killer Experience: Conducting a 14-piece band, the Low End Theory legend-in-the-making has evolved from ferocious, eclectic madman to L.A. beat music’s closest kin to Dudamel.
Gesaffelstein: The Gallic remixer produced a pair of tracks on Yeezus, significantly upping his profile and making his set one of the weekend’s most anticipated. Random fact: His name is a portmanteau of the German phrase for “ideal work of art” and Albert Einstein.
The Orwells: Mario Cuomo (yes, that’s his real name) might be the festival’s most frenetic frontman, and his band might be the closest thing it has to a group that can channel the full, raw power of rock & roll.
Skream and Seth Troxler (part of J.E.S.+S.): The former helped sparked dubstep’s golden age. The latter is a Michigan native steeped in Detroit techno and Chica-go house, who was once named the top DJ in the world by dance music totem Resident Advisor. So, like, Raekwon and Ghostface of the decks.
Todd Terje: Whimsical Norse techno king so adroit that he can make Robert Palmer covers sound cool in 2015 (with an assist from Roxy Music legend Bryan Fer-ry).
Vic Mensa: The former frontman for rock-rap hybrids Kids These Days split for solo pastures, discovered house music, got a boost from Disclosure and Chance the Rapper and turned himself into a one-man version of the Jungle Brothers.
*On the offhand chance you need recommendations for the festival’s biggest sets: Run the Jewels, Jack White, Tame Impala, Steely Dan, Azealia Banks, Flying Lotus, Ghostface and Raekwon, Caribou, Belle and Sebastian, Action Bronson, Tyler the Creator, Father John Misty, Tycho, Toro y Moi, St. Vincent, Lil B, Panda Bear, Kaytranada, Built to Spill, Mac DeMarco.