Editorial: Coachella concerns — why dance music is not the question, but the answer
Ask anyone – from your dust-coated friend still recovering from the festival to the bitter anti-hipster who refuses to admit he watched the live stream, people will tell you – Coachella sure has changed.
A collection of characteristics set this year’s edition apart from the rest: from ticket prices to a head-spinning stream of surprise performances both off and on the stage, Coachella can no longer be defined as simply a mere music festival, but rather a three-day, two-weekend event that has rapidly transformed into a worldwide phenomenon.
Attempting to infuse talents from all across the musical spectrum undoubtedly draws complaints from expectant fans, but one grievance was shouted louder this year than ever before. The LA Times pondered, “Coachella 2014: Who really headlined, Arcade Fire or dance music?,” while Yahoo Music demanded an answer to their screaming title bill: “Is Rock Losing the War to EDM at Coachella?” After confused reporters scratched their heads while witnessing crowds slump for massive rock acts like Muse, Arcade Fire (where singer Win Butler graciously proclaimed, “Shout out to all the bands still playing actual instruments at this festival” mid-performance) and the reunion debut of The Replacements against electronic talents Skrillex, Martin Garrix, and Disclosure – each of which drew crowds that spilled far past the Sahara and Outdoor Theater boundaries. Even the fervent buzz around Outkast’s long-anticipated reunion, which drew a sizable, but notably mellow crowd for their Coachella Stage performance, couldn’t defeat the undeniable energy and alleged second-largest crowd ever that Calvin Harris attracted to the same stage two days later, just one step behind the legendary Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and hologram Tupac performance from 2012.
Music, fueled by fans and their undying loyalty, is averse to, but fundamentally driven by, change. It’s nothing new – Woodstock was one of the many toppling points that helped to redefine its own generation with the same norm-defying antics and general delinquent behavior that would have parents of any generation shaking their heads. But that paradigm shift became the prosperous root of rock music, a movement that what would eventually be recognized as one of the most timeless, defining moments for music in history. Dance music has been on the fighting end of a long, continuous battle against a multitude of city councils, legal boards, and concerned observers with Millennials now facing the same issues that their predecessors faced during the “free love” era of the 60s.
So the question remains: Why has dance music become categorized as an infectious music festival ‘disease’? As discussions arise to shuffle heritage act stage slots with future dance music stars or even separate dance music from the festival entirely, others lament in the idea of succumbing to the genre’s popularity. Certainly, an answer must be given to those who demand an explanation.
Ironically, that is just the answer. Demand commands supply. In the ‘Age of Access’ — where a festival can be instantly live-streamed to any corner of the world, where a hashtag can give you eyes direct into the Indio grounds in real time, and an entire set can be recorded and uploaded within minutes for the public to hear, download, and share all before the artist even hits the stage — there is no stronger demand than that of fans today. It is not a war between genres, but rather a war between accessibility and availability.
We’ve all heard the gripes before; of dance music’s “button-pushers” or lack of live instrumental talent, but little admiration for the innovative strategies of reaching to fans in personal, new dimensional forms have been passed through publications the way snide remarks about unimpressive ‘EDM’ stars do so commonly. Beyond taking to Twitter as the hub of dance music’s connectivity, electronic mascot Skrillex is just one of the many who have provided the proof: With six LPs to match six Grammy awards, what drove the 26-year old talent to release his latest full-length, 11-track album Recess entirely for free? “We’ll probably make less money doing it this way,” Sonny Moore told Rolling Stone. “[But] it’s more about the fans.”
Skrillex is listening — and he’s just one standout in a collective pool of dance music frontrunners who have taken notice of their insistent and growing fan base. Pioneers of dance music are choosing to skip lag time with label releases and instead, leap across borders by taking to music sharing platforms like Soundcloud to simply release their music, free of charge. It seems logical and painfully simple: Free music made easily available reaches waves of people who never would have looked twice, which translates into eager ticket buyers and physical bodies, ready to get down to Recess tracks at this year’s Coachella Sahara tent.
This didn’t happen overnight. In Goldenvoice’s 2013 attendance report, Coachella brought out 90,000 people each weekend, but the crowds for historical rock headliners The Stone Roses and Blur faltered while the Sahara Tent, or more lovingly known as dance music’s home at the festival, received a well-received Megastructure makeover and the Yuma Tent joined the roster as the electronic-indie sister stage with its inauguration in 2013. Coachella has long harbored a love for electronic music; it was the acting venue for Daft Punk’s unforgettable 2006 debut and listed artists like Kraftwerk and The Chemical Brothers as headlining acts long before the genre exploded as a popular choice.
Whether the majority approves or not, electronic music is quickly proving itself as a genre with an untouchable fluidity — the ability to transform audience’s fantasies into realities and connect on a newer, more intimate level than other music genres ever have. While traditional genres remain bogged down by label restrictions and limitations, dance music has never faltered in the upward battle against the norm, chugging ahead every step of the way.
For future Coachella excursions, gales of dust won’t be the only winds to prepare for. While Win Butler continues to grouse about the validity of “non-instrument” instruments and wonder where his capacity crowd has fled to, dance music has put down their weapons in the so-called war, and instead, picked up strategies for revolution. Change isn’t coming – it has already flooded the Indio grounds, and the rest of the music sphere too.