As a music festival newbie, I have to admit, I’ve been weirdly fascinated by all the get-ups at Coachella. Somehow I didn’t get the memo that “flair” was a festival requisite and body paint, feather headdresses, fur hats and neon were a crucial part of any outfit. Like some weird form of desert peacocking, people looked as if they were trying to out-crazy one other. And I’m told that this is nothing—apparently Burning Man is much, much worse. Feeling slightly out of place in my comparatively conservative attire, I proceeded to wander the festival grounds taking in the second day of the fest.
Jonathan Glazer & J.Spaceman
Looking for some respite from the midday sun, I headed over to check out Untitled, the installation from Jonathan Glazer, J. Spaceman of Spiritualized, and Undisclosable. Entering the silver, angular structure I felt a sense of calm wash over me. In contrast to the chaos and oppressive heat of the rest of the festival, the installation was blissfully cool, dark, and serene. I wanted hang out there all day, and by the looks of the bodies splayed out all over the place, it would seem that I wasn’t the only one with that idea. All around, the sweet melancholy melodies of Spiritualized’s “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space” reverberated in an intricately layered mesh of sound.
Five “windows” in the ceiling provided the only light source, projecting beams onto the floor, which corresponded with concentrated soundtracks that could only be heard while standing in the center of the beam. Each beam highlights a different component of the original track—one is more vocals-driven, another more instrumental—and each functions as a unique remix of the song, but can also be taken collectively. Glazer supposedly called it “an alien cathedral pregnant with light,” and as I watched people standing in the beams, bathed in light and listening intently, looking up at the “windows” in a kind of reverie, I could totally see why.
Feeling rejuvenated, I made my way to the Gobi stage to catch Cameron Mesirow, the mastermind behind Glasser, who glided onstage like a ghostly woodland nymph. Cloaked in a gray gauze netting and gyrating to the syncopated rhythms of “Apply,” she kind of looked like a woman possessed. What makes Glasser such a captivating force is their distinctive sound—melding everything from tribal drums to deep bass to tropical influences, it makes for a mystical brand of what can best be described as electronic music, though even that doesn’t seem quite right. Mesirow’s soft, ethereal croon traverses unfamiliar melodies, at times swelling to a powerful siren call, before receding again like the surf after a tidal wave. Seeing them perform live, it’s hard to believe that these songs were originally written and recorded by Mesirow in her Brooklyn bedroom with little more than a laptop and Garage Band at her disposal.
Animal Collective & Black Dice
When Animal Collective found out they’d be playing Coachella this year, they called upon their good friends, noise rock musicians Black Dice, to create the visuals for their set. Perhaps a little reticent to enter back into the spotlight after a year-long hiatus, or maybe just eager to feature their new tunes and take the focus off themselves, they apparently told the Dice boys they didn’t want to simply see themselves projected on the jumbotrons. Taking that instruction, the Black Dice created the Jumbletron, and jumble they did.
“We’re here to bring the weird,” said Animal Collective at some point during their set, and they delivered on that promise (with a little help from Black Dice). The resulting visuals, displayed on two large screens and three hanging cubes suspended above the band, were appropriately experimental and obscure. At times, forms seemed to emerge and the audience could briefly catch a glimpse of the band, but before they could fully reveal themselves, they would once again fade into abstraction. Spanning melting kaleidoscopes of color, frenetic, glitchy effects, and op-art style abstract patterns, the animations had more in common with early video art experiments than they did with traditional concert visuals. Aided by UVA’s stage illuminations, there was certainly plenty of stimulation to go around, and in terms of creating a striking audiovisual experience, the the performance succeeded with flying colors.
Arcade Fire & Chris Milk
I never expected to be watching Arcade Fire play from backstage, but when the production team called for “all hands on deck,” no one could argue. There to assist with the grand finale—launching some 2,000 LED-enhanced blow-up beach balls into the crowd—we were all giddy at the prospect of taking part in their performance. The idea for the visual spectacle, developed by director Chris Milk (who the band previously worked with on “The Wilderness Downtown”), was to release these balls in time for Arcade Fire’s encore and use the embedded LEDs and IR transmitters to light paint all over the audience.
A crane positioned at the top of the stage was set up to let the balls drop during the band’s last song, “Wake Up,” and our job was to throw them into the crowd and make sure they stayed there. There was also a giant cage to the right of the stage filled with hundreds more that we were responsible for tossing into the audience, which proved to be no easy task given that they were an unwieldy two or three feet in diameter. When the the balls finally did drop, the entire place turned into an epic ball pit, with these giant balls flying all over the place, changing colors all the while from red to blue to orange to pink. (My apologies to the people in the front who may have been pummeled in the face with a beach ball or two—my bad!). Standing on stage and taking it all in, it certainly was a sight to behold.
The interactive visual performance, entitled Summer Into Dust continues online. Those lucky few who managed to catch a ball can log on to the accompanying website and continue the experience. Each ball comes with a URL where fans can locate a user manual online and connect their ball to a greater community.
Check out our recap of Day 1 from Coachella here.
Photos courtesy of Peter Sutherland. First two are Animal Collective/Black Dice “Jumbletron.” Last three are Arcade Fire/Chris Milk “Summer Into Dust.”