With the beat dropping hard every minute, dancers sprayed water out of super soakers at the neon-clad crowd as they swayed to bass electronic duo B.R.E.E.D’s electrifying set at the Do Lab tent. It was 2:00 in the afternoon on Friday, and bags of molly were already being passed around. It was official: Weekend 1 of Coachella was underway. This is exactly what I envisioned the festival to look like for my first Coachella adventure. But if you look back at its 16 years of history, EDM and colorful light shows wasn’t what it started out as, but the attitude of everyone who went proved that history is slowly slipping away.
Flash forward past my blisters, sun burn and raspy voice to Saturday, where the main stage, the epitome of Coachella fame, was lined with shirtless dudes and haggard looking girls donning flower crowns. Hozier was into his third song of his 6 P.M. set Saturday, and the amped up energy the crowd had from previous crowd pleasers like Cashmere Cat and Chet Faker was embarrassingly absent. Hozier was clearly holding on to playing their one well known hit (please, don’t make me say it) for last. But for anyone on drugs, the Sahara tent blasting out constant bangers from DJ acts was like strong cat nip laced with molly.
Welcome to the millennial version of Coachella, where EDM and DJs are the only things keeping the festival somewhat relevant.
This wasn’t the only non-EDM performance that I watched hundreds of people leave if it didn’t have an insane beat drop. I practically ran in wedges, because I enjoy torture, to The Weekend on Saturday night, who I had on my list of performances I needed to catch. This was one of the most packed stages I had been to yet, but even a well-known hip hop act didn’t stand a chance against Swedish musical kings Axwell ^ Ingrosso, who was throwing an absolute banger across the field. People began dipping out mid-way through The Weekend, pushing past my group and me to get to Sahara tent to catch the middle of their set.
If Coachella only featured alternative and rock acts, would people still pay $350 dollars for a ticket today? I don’t think so. The festival was fought and won by DJs once again, where the most packed stages were for acts like Flosstradamus, Nero and oh yeah, Kaskade. The nearly 50 acres of the polo fields were a complete ghost town except for the main stage, where Kaskade electrified the sunset Sunday night. Girls around me begged nearby guys to get on their shoulders so they could take videos of his “Eyes” performance. Hell, even I got on someone’s shoulders at some point. Acts like Kaskade hold a power over 20-something-year-olds that is unexplainable, and can’t be duplicated by other genres.
It’s not to say desert veterans like Jack White and Conor Oberst aren’t relevant: they are the soul of Coachella. And first time performers like Azealia Banks and Vance Joy made the festival somewhat tolerable and provided a break from the constant dance music. One of my favorite performances was from alternative newcomer Clean Bandit, but even she brought in techno beats and Marina and the Diamonds to keep the crowd attentive. And yeah, Drake was of course packed, but even he had to beast out 23-year-old Norwegian DJ Kygo with a ridiculously awkward performance with Madonna. Which, don’t even get me started on that.
Witnessing the neon green caterpillar, a giant art installation in the middle of the festival that became its 2015 beacon, transform into a butterfly on the last day may serve as a metaphor for what the beloved festival has metamorphosed into. Coachella will always be good to its alternative and rock roots that made it what it is, but it won’t be the main aspect that keeps people coming back to the the dusty desert of Indio.
Nicole Theodore is an editorial assistant at Playboy. Follow her on Twitter.E