The history of Coachella Music Festival: From rocky starts to record-setting sales
If you’ve ever attended Coachella Arts and Music Festival, you need to thank Eddie Vedder. In 1993, Pearl Jam threw a concert that would inadvertently spark the birth for Coachella Arts and Music Festival. As part of a boycott against Ticketmaster, their management chose a venue in one of America’s hottest and driest locations; one with an undeveloped desert lawn that was several hours driving from any major population centers – Indio’s Empire Polo Club. As Pearl Jam performed in front of 25,000 fans, they proved Indio befitting for a large music festival. Since then the festival has gone through a a variety of growing pains, from struggling during early financial troubles to becoming the highest grossing event of its kind.
1999: The Inaugural Festival
Only three months after Woodstock ’99, the first Coachella event was held on October 9 and 10, 1999. The October heat was unbearable and it had been rumored that the two-day festival failed to generate profit – threatening the future of Coachella after year one. Featuring a performance from Underworld and a young A-Trak, even in 1999 Coachella had its finger on the pulse of dance music.
Notable acts: The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Richie Hawtin, Kevin Saunderson, Moby, DJ Shadow, A-Trak
2001: Survives fatal scare
Following the financial troubles of the inaugural event, there was no festival held in 2000. To avoid the heat problem, Coachella was moved to April and downsized to a single-day event. Without a headliner only months before the big day, it had seemed like Coachella was doomed. That was until promoters booked a reunited Jane’s Addiction to lead the lineup. With Fatboy Slim, Paul Oakenfold, and The Chemical Brothers all delivering memorable performances in a time before the EDM boom.
Notable acts: Paul Oakenfold, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, Squarepusher, Photek
2002: First signs of profit without conflict
Coachella saw the appeal of reuniting music groups in 2001 and followed the same formula to bring Siouxsie and the Banshees back together. The festival returned to its two-day makeup and finally had a year without conflict, and better yet — one that would prove to Indio its moneymaking potential. The Chemical Brothers returned again this time with Pete Tong, The Prodigy, STS9, and Tiësto in tow.
Notable acts: The Chemical Brothers, Z-Trip, Sasha & Digweed, Groove Armada, The Prodigy, Sound Tribe Sector 9, BT, Pete Tong, Tiësto, Paul Oakenfold
2003: Gains worldwide recognition
The big names and epic reunions gave Coachella a reputation that picked up steam in 2003, resulting in the festival’s largest attendance to date. 2003 was the year that put Coachella into the mainstream consciousness, turning it into more than a California festival but a worldwide destination. The festival also expanded the electronic genres it featured with Richie Hawtin, Amon Tobin, Undeworld and Roger Sanchez all appearing.
Notable acts: Roger Sanchez, Groove Armada, Amon Tobin, Interpol, Richie Hawtin, Underworld
2004: First sold-out weekend
With the world watching, 2004 became Coachella’s first sold out event. Thanks to the consistent and impeccable lineups year after year, including over-the-top surprises and unbelievable reunions, the festival had become a must-attend event for music fans of every kind. A reputation that was only further solidified with the buzz of a sold-out festival.
Notable acts: Kraftwerk, Mark Farina, Laurent Garnier, Paul van Dyk, The Crystal Method, Danger Mouse
2005: Nine Inch Nails and The Prodigy keep things dark and stormy.
Enlisting producer-genius Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails to perform in 2005, Coachella brought a dark and ominous sound to the California desert. Displaying a vast knowledge of the electronic landscape, the festival brought in The Chemical Brothers, Josh Wink and Armin van Buuren to juxtapose the greyscale, industrial aesthetics of The Prodigy, The Faint and Nine Inch Nails.
Notable acts: Nine Inch Nails, The Chemical Brothers, Josh Wink, Tiga, Four Tet, The Faint, The Prodigy, Armin van Buuren
2006: Daft Punk comes Alive.
Any self respecting dance music fan who was not in attendance in 2006 should list this moment as the greatest miss of their musical careers. Daft Punk’s most iconic US performance is still one of the most talked about and listened to sets of all time. Before dance music exploded into the stratosphere, Coachella had Thomas, Guy and their pyramid – singlehandedly setting the groundwork for electronic music to take center stage.
Notable acts: Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, Carl Cox, Massive Attack, Kaskade
2007: Three days, one historic reunion
This was the year that extended the festival into a three-day weekend. All three headliners made their second headlining appearance, including a reunited Rage Against The Machine, who holds the records for drawing the largest crowd at 100,000 attendees. Even in 2007 and well before trap took off Flosstradamus would make an appearance at the festival alongside Justice, David Guetta, the late DJ Mehdi, and more.
Notable acts: Flosstradamus, DJ Shadow, Benny Benassi, David Guetta, Digitalism, Tiesto, Justice, MSTRKRFT, Busy P & DJ Mehdi, Soulwax, Richie Hawtin
2008: Festival fails to sell out, Aphex Twin wants your soul.
With a lineup lacking the previous years headlining “oomph,” the 2008 iteration of Coachella failed to sell out for the first time since 2003. Despite a weak bookings at the highest level, Coachella 2008’s electronic lineup was more than impressive featuring the legendary Fatboy Slim, Kraftwerk, Diplo, Calvin Harris, Deadmau5 and the man responsible for some of the most merciless electronica (and scariest music videos) of all time, Aphex Twin.
Notable acts: Fatboy Slim, Aphex Twin, Diplo, Kraftwerk, Above & Beyond, Calvin Harris, Modeselektor, deadmau5, Simian Mobile Disco, Danny Tenaglia
2009: Following a bad year
Turning it around in 2009, the festival upped the anti with its headlining talent, adding Paul McCartney, The Killers and The Cure to the lineup. Travis Barker with DJ AM was a sure fire highlight, but 2009 also marked one of the weakest years for electronic music at the festival with the Sahara tent showcasing fewer DJs than in previous years.
Notable acts: The Crystal Method, Girl Talk, The Presets, The Bloody Beetroots, MSTRKRFT, Crookers, Etienne de Crecy, Plump DJs, DJ AM
2010: Over 200,000 attendees make Coachella grand
The three-day festival held an average aggregate of 225,000 attendees with 60,000 three-day pass sales. The musical aspect grows with the expansion of genres from hip-hop to electronic. Jay-Z, Muse, and Gorillaz headlined, proving appeal to all markets.
Notable acts: LCD Soundsystem, deadmau5, Pretty Lights, Erol Alkan, Tiesto, David Guetta, Kaskade, Bassnectar, Plastikman, Orbital
2011: Kanye West headlines, Afrojack sets fire to Sahara tent
The 2011 festival saw Kanye West, Mumford & Sons, and Duran Duran headlining – a star studded mainstage presence to say the least, but the festival really began to come into its own electronically in 2011. With the growth of dance music exploding in the US, Goldenvoice took notice – bringing Skrillex, Afrojack, Steve Angello, Axwell, Duck Sauce, and more along for the ride. Afrojack’s performance midday on Day 1 at the Sahara tent set the high water mark for energy in the Sahara tent one challenged only by Axwell.
Notable acts: The Chemical Brothers, Sasha, Skrillex, Afrojack, Beardyman, Steve Angello, Fedde Le Grand, Axwell, Duck Sauce, Sven Vath
2012: Holy hologram Tupacs! Swedish House Mafia headlines, Avicii debuts his head.
Dead rap superstars aside, Coachella’s 2012 festival was the most profitable and successful in its 14-year history. Goldenvoice shocked the world when it announced it would be holding identical shows two back-to-back weekends, a move that would inspire Ultra Music Festival to do it less than a year later. With visionary electronic acts like Amon Tobin to Swedish House Mafia’s headlining gig and Avicii’s giant head, 2012 reaffirmed what many of us knew for so long – dance music is here to stay.
Notable acts: Amon Tobin, Alesso, Madeon, SebastiAn, Kaskade, Jacques Lu Cont, Swedish House Mafia, Justice, Avicii, Nero, Porter Robinson
Andrew Spada contributed to this report.