Looking back on Coachella: A festival that eloquently mirrors our post-EDM world

It’s not hard to find electronic music at Coachella. In fact, one could argue it’s the new star of the show. 

A newly-minted superstar Skrillex played his first set at the festival in 2011, joining other rising legends like Steve Angello and Afrojack in welcoming an imminent paradigm shift for the future of dance music around the world. In the process, they helped usher in what would soon be remembered as the halcyon days of what we know now as “EDM.” What followed was an explosion of the sound in the music world at large, and similarly, within the festival’s subsequent lineups.

By 2016, EDM’s influence could be heard on the radio and in commercials. No longer a fringe sound, this contemporary and widely popular form of electronica had permeated into pop and beyond, thanks to artists like Avicii, Calvin Harris, David Guetta, and The Chainsmokers. Coachella attendees can even expect to catch top-tier electronic acts while venturing to other stages as well, like the Do LaB and Sahara tent.

This is the nature of the Goldenvoice behemoth, and what has made the annual celebration in the Indio Valley so incredibly unique. Coachella’s boasted the best and most severely innovative talents of the dance music spectrum since its very first iteration in 1999, all the way into helping commercialize its exploding contemporary form in the late 2000’s. The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, and Moby kicked off the first year, after all.

What’s more is that Coachella’s begun to evolve beyond the capacity of a music festival, and into a cultural touchstone of its own entirely. It’s also come to serve as a directional compass for music’s changing tides, by continuously mirroring and championing the effervescent trends of the times. Despite its shifting nature, electronic dance music at Coachella has withstood the test of time, and the festival is now looking into the future.

The Sahara Tent, in particular, has grown to become a golden standard of electronic music curation. As Goldenvoice’s own answer to EDC and Ultra, the Sahara has morphed into one of Coachella’s top-ranking destinations. 2018’s significant physical expansion was the most outright testament to this phenomenon. Furthermore, the tent’s billing this year of what others are now labeling “post-EDM” — or, the influx of new and forward-thinking strains of electronica filling the vacuum that big room/pop-centered EDM is slowly leaving behind — once more demonstrates just how deeply tapped talent bookers are into the mass musical vein. 

This past year, the Sahara Tent was the proverbial “beacon of hope” for EDM’s burst bubble, and post-EDM provided the light. Though the rising stars under this new umbrella genre are amidst the fine print of the festival — see Petit Biscuit, Ekali, San Holo, Whethan, and more — Coachella has advertently mirrored the state of streaming and post-EDM in its larger bookings, too. Kygo,  ODESZA, and Barclay Crenshaw are three glaring examples. Sahara has certainly grown past its days as a wee tent, evolving into a veritable embodiment of post-EDM’s rise to prominence.  

Depeche Mode headlined the festival back in 2006, closing the main stage with a plethora of classics including “I Feel You,” “Walking In My Shoes,” and more. That same year, Daft Punk unveiled their legendary pyramid stage production under the Sahara tent, their first U.S. performance in years. Fast-forward to 2018, where Alison Wonderland took the crown atop her bona fide production pyramid as the highest billed female DJ to ever play the festival. She expertly played the cello, sang, and danced live on stage, all while showcasing her most deeply personal art to date before a closing set from one of the most-buzzed-about producers of the last few years — REZZ. The venerable women signified the new dawn of EDM — one that’s embracing producers, classical training, emotion, and pushing the musical envelope.

Goldenvoice is incredibly intuitive indeed, and Coachella’s lineup is well-calculated. 2018’s roster as a whole was a reflection of the streaming and radio-centric era’s beckoning, and the Sahara stage is one of the festival’s largest reflections of forces that will soon take the music world by storm. 

Featured Image Courtesy of Coachella

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