Siouxsie and the Banshees
Photo credit: Jennifer Bendery
The Charlatans UK
Photo credit: Jennifer Bendery
27 Apr 2002: Indio, California
The spiritual rush of being a desert wanderer in a labyrinth of cultural arts was as dramatic as the mountainous landscape that framed this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. A village unto itself, Coachella reminds of a lovechild between Lollapalooza and Burning Man, featuring an unprecedented collection of some of the hippest and most eccentric musical acts today amidst the backdrop of huge, hunkering artworks-turned-toys. Saturday’s musical line-up flung us into a multi-dimensional aural adventure, with Rahul immersing himself in the crowds and culture while Jennifer crept along the sidelines snapping pictures of flailing fans, shrieking singers, and eclectic works of art.
Though storm clouds and traffic frustrated us on the haul from Los Angeles to Indio, a tiny equestrian town near Joshua Tree National Park, we ended up in the middle of nowhere, which proved to be the hippest cultural oasis for thousands of miles. Where to begin? Seeking the most efficient and mischievous way to go about chronicling the festival, we wandered our separate ways, sometimes meeting up with each other but more often finding ourselves lost in the vortex of music and people that whirled about us. What follows below is a series of temporal snapshots of the day’s events . . .
6pm: The Charlatans UK is on stage as we squeeze past a writhing mass of screaming fans, many with thick-framed, black glasses, tousled hair and designer jeans. The air is thick with marijuana and sweat, a sickly sweet aroma that shimmers in the heat along with frontman Tim Burgess’s crooning. Burgess belts out the lyrics to the popular “The Only One I Know”, with fans throwing their heads back, chanting the lyrics. Heads are swaying, and as the music saturates the air, the sun begins to set behind the mountains that surround us in this vast, open desert space. The land and the festival seem to come together just now, electric colors spilling from the sky into people’s decorative clothes, a dancing celebration for the land and for the music. Behind us is a sea of indie rocker veterans, and a girl with bobbed, pink hair winks toward us, her eyes rolling backwards as she faints back into her aerobic trance.
7pm: A random hippie-type fan provides us with a roll of his film so we can get pictures before dusk sets upon the awkward, metal art installments on which festival-goers are climbing. The sun sinks further behind the rolling, brown hills of Indio as we approach what appears to be a drum circle between the two main stages. A variety of “musicians” are shouting, singing, dancing, and banging away on an infrastructure that has become some kind of makeshift drumming machine: it seems an organic “body” with metal “limbs” made of trash can lids, cans, metal rods, a tattered flag waving above, and other objects that folks are pounding on, creating a rhythm for women in vibrant fairy skirts to hop around barefooted to, waving their hands with their appendix wings jostling in the warm breeze. We walk toward the main stage, and Rahul collides into a friend who he rarely sees at home, but now finds in the desert.
8pm: Siouxsie and the Banshees takes over the main stage as Siouxsie dives into classic punk hits like “Jigsaw Feeling” and “Voodoo Dolly”. Jennifer is snapping pictures from just beneath Siouxsie, who seems larger than life from below, belting out powerful shrieks and donning a classy and very sexy silver, shiny, pin-striped suit and tie (which doesn’t stay on for long as Siouxsie proclaims, “You all need to fucking liven up” and rips off her jacket and blouse, revealing a gold sequined bra). Looking as if she’s been resurrected from the dead, Siouxsie lambastes the commercial aspects of the festival between songs, proclaiming that the festival is in “a dustbowl run by sheep.” Back in the masses, the youngish crowd seems too mellow to be aware of the punk realm whose music dates us: no one seems to know this ragged, raw side of the Banshees from 20 years ago when blue hair and piercings really were rebellious. Regardless, the crowd is enchanted by her performance—Siouxsie swirls, stomps, and loses herself in dance bathed and in flickering blue lights, as do we.
9pm: The desert air has cooled, and a plump, orange moon hovers gently over the purplish silhouettes of the mountains. We amble towards the main stage to witness the wonder of that weird creature known as Björk. With her forehead painted white and her eyes masked black like a raccoon, Björk suddenly appears and stands motionless behind the microphone, the crowd going wild with Björk standing still, transfixed into space. A conversation piece for eternity, Björk wears a poofy, white, angelic outfit and makes statements that we can’t understand as enormous fluorescent light tubes flicker on and off, swaying above her head. Clearly a highlight of Coachella, Björk starts off singing quietly in her gentle, child-like manner, tiptoeing about the stage and gently tossing her arms up and down like a raccoon fairy child. As the night continues, the soft crooning fast becomes intensified howls and screams: the stage explodes into the heavy beats of “Army of Me” as myriad strobe lights illuminate a Björk now clad in a gigantic, flapping piece of lettuce.
9:30pm: Jennifer creeps backstage, in awe of Björk’s lettuce-clad performance (accompanied by a live string sextet interwoven with complex rhythmic beats) and is suddenly standing next to singer Beck who, along with the stagehands who have gathered around to watch, is also fully entranced with Björk’s show. After wandering around backstage and running into several Festival acts (including the Charlatans UK and the hip hop band Living Legends, who were lounging in a tent and chuckling over actor Andy Dick’s response to their offer of pot: “I want to but I can’t”), Jennifer slips back out into the crowd to find Rahul, who seems lost in a sea of flickering blue lights and fatigued fans weathered by the desert sun but still dancing enthusiastically. On the other side of the stage, Rahul has found Seattle friends (who happened to be on his flight to LA), but has successfully lost Jenny as he wanders towards the Outdoor Theatre stage.
10:30pm: The Chemical Brothers appear on the Coachella Stage and, within seconds, blasts the crowd’s mood back into overdrive with full-throttle dance beats and skillful record spinning. With flashing images of robotic creatures rapidly flickering on the screen above their turntables, the DJs brings a revived spiritual energy back into the night. The moon is bright, draped high across the sky as the crowd rejuvenates into uncontrollable head tossing and body swinging, the earth trembling beneath the powerful rhythmic beats emanating from the stage. Meanwhile, Cake walks out onto the Outdoor Theatre Stage and introduces a mellower, guitar-heavy set, breaking into the radio-friendly “The Distance” and “Ruby Sees All”. All the while, headman John McCrea slaps his trademark instrument—that weird, hand-held wooden instrument with a ball on it—against his hand. The air is cool and refreshing, and many people who have likely been here since noon are lying in the grass listening or leaning up against one another from fatigue, still smiling, slowly dancing while singing along to all the songs.
11:30pm: The Festival is over for tonight, the lawn littered with thousands of empty water bottles and fliers for other events. As Jennifer makes her way from the Outdoor Theatre stage towards the Coachella Stage, she hears an excited, booming “Jen! Jen!” We finally bump into each other amidst the floodlights and, like those herds of friends and lovers stumbling about, we immediately begin jabbering about our favorite moments of the event, laughing aloud and wandering like zombies towards the dusty desert exit. Though a long night drive to LA awaits us, we exhaustedly lock arms in anticipation of the adventures awaiting us in Hollywood before our respective flights back to Seattle and San Francisco. In a word, the Festival was bitchin’.