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Our 10 favorite moments from Coachella 2016

Coachella 2016Photos courtesy of Coachella // Written by Josh Herwitt & Brett Ruffenach //

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival //
Empire Polo Club – Indio, CA
April 15th-17th, 2016 //

Say what you will about Coachella. The famed music festival has become known for creating a culture that hinges on celebrity sightings, shirtless bros, H&M outfits, pool parties, drugs and a shitload of millenials obsessed with their Instagram feeds.

But for music lovers like ourselves, there is no bigger stage in the entire music industry than the ones Goldenvoice set up across the Empire Polo Club each April, with 2016 marking the 17th edition of the longest-standing and highest-grossing music festival in the country. The latter of those two accomplishments has produced plenty of haters in recent years, but it’s impractical to deny the magnitude and scope of Coachella as it has morphed from modest, two-day music festival into three-day, two-weekend megafest.

What makes Coachella so unique are the trends it sets, whether it’s through music, fashion or culture. There is no music festival out there with the same pedigree for reuniting broken-up bands or welcoming special guest stars quite like Coachella has built over the last five years — and 2016 was no different. Between LCD Soundsystem and Guns N’ Roses, two of the biggest reunions in music served as headlining material while the fest once again made headlines with a laundry list of surprise appearances that included Rihanna, Kanye, T.I., Seal, Lorde, Kesha and even Kristin Wiig.

We hit the polo field in Indio for the first weekend of Coachella, and while it was physically impossible for us to catch all 180 acts in roughly 40 hours of festival time, we still witnessed plenty of great music. So, without further ado, we present our 10 highlights from Coachella after surviving three days in the desert. -JH


Coachella 2016 - Despacio

Despacio

Despacio is more of a side project than a particular artist. Consisting of a 50,000-watt sound system created by LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy in partnership with McIntosh Laboratory, Coachella was fortunate enough to be the only North American festival hosting this makeshift “club” all three days. With brothers David and Stephen Dewaele of 2manydjs spinning their personal vinyl collection for six hours a day next to Murphy, Despacio served as the perfect intro music as I arrived at the Empire Polo Club each day. The trio of DJs kept things pretty eclectic, playing very few tracks the crowd would actually recognize besides Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” or Warren Zevon’s “Nighttime in the Switching Yard”. I got the opportunity to experience Despacio at Sónar in Barcelona a couple years ago, and seeing it again only made me wish that it could be featured at every music festival. With the three DJs manning the decks in a dark corner of the club, Despacio tries to turn the crowd away from the stage and toward each other — something every festival could use a little more of. -BR


Coachella 2016

Miike Snow

Sunday’s roster at Coachella last year was significantly weaker in comparison to Friday’s and Saturday’s. This year was much of the same, though Calvin Harris somehow proved to be an even worse headliner than Drake (we didn’t know that was possible). But one of the bright spots on Day 3 was no doubt Miike Snow’s 9:45 p.m. slot in the Mojave Tent, the same place where I discovered the Swedish trio back in 2010 during my first Coachella. Andrew Wyatt, Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg have come a long way since then, and with three studio albums in their catalog, including their latest effort iii, they have more than enough material to fill out a 50-minute set and leave you wanting to hear more. -JH


Coachella 2016 - Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels

I’m not sure if there’s a group of rappers more infectious than Run the Jewels at the moment. Between their poignant songwriting, booming instrumentals and cultural relevance, the duo featuring El-P and Killer Mike has ascended into the top tier of hip-hop acts. Introduced via video by 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (a political ally and friend of Killer Mike’s), the two emcees opened with a new track from their highly anticipated third LP RTJ3. They managed to keep the crowd’s energy up throughout their Saturday afternoon set despite the heat, bringing onstage an impressive list of guests, from DJ Shadow to Boots to even Nas, the latter of which joined them for a short performance of his classic track “Made You Look”. Over the course of three days, I’m not sure I saw a crowd more excited to hear new material by an artist than what I witnessed at Run the Jewels. Killer Mike and El-P are unstoppable. -BR


Coachella 2016

St. Germain

For as “mainstream” as Coachella has become in recent years, it has made a point of staging some rare live performances by different alt-electronic artists from overseas. Back in 2014, we caught British musician/producer Bonobo for a full-band set in the Mojave Tent, and last year Norwegian DJ/record producer Todd Terje ignited a disco-infused dance party in the Gobi Tent with his backing band The Olsens. So, when St. Germain was billed for this year’s festival, I knew Ludovic Navarre’s gypsy jazz/downtempo house project was a must-see act on Day 1. Not only did St. Germain’s self-titled LP in October mark a 15-year drought between albums, but it had also been nearly as long since Navarre performed at Coachella. While his cast of sidekicks wasn’t quite as large as the 20-piece big band he brought in 2001, he did assemble a group of musicians from Mali, Senegal and Brazil that hypnotized the crowd with a variety of world-music grooves that played as well live as it would over the speaker system at a French-Moroccan cafe. -JH


Coachella 2016 - Vince Staples

Vince Staples

As an emerging force in the world of hip-hop, Vince Staples took the stage at the Sahara Tent on Day 2 and put on a set that met the hype surrounding his 2015 critically acclaimed album Summertime ’06. Though the primarily EDM-focused Sahara Tent seemed like a strange fit for the Odd Future associate, Staples covered the protruding wall of LED cubes with relative ease as the crowd hung on his every word. The Long Beach-based rapper’s banter between songs, along with his range and ability to deliver heartfelt tracks like “Summertime” and bangers like “Norf Norf”, proved that he is a human torch that shouldn’t burn out anytime soon. -BR


Coachella 2016

The Arcs

Dan Auerbach is no stranger to Coachella. The seven-time Grammy winner headlined the fest in 2012 with The Black Keys, just a year after the band assumed the sub-headliner role behind Kings of Leon. But after a four-year absence in Indio, Auerbach was back with his latest side project The Arcs months after releasing the group’s debut album Yours, Dreamily,. While it’s easy to confuse blues-y singles like “Stay in My Corner”, “Outta My Mind” and “Put a Flower in Your Pocket” — all of which were performed by Auerbach and his bandmates during their set — for some of The Keys’ own material, what made this performance extra special were the guest stars who took the stage. If you thought Auerbach could shred on his own, adding Joe Walsh and his mentor Glenn Schwartz only made our ears tingle even more, especially when you consider what Schwartz is still capable of doing at the age of 78. -JH


Coachella 2016 - Sia

Sia

From the very beginning, Sia set herself apart from every other artist who took the Coachella Stage this year. With the Australian artist standing in the back of the stage, her set was more performance art than it was pop music. While her face was hidden thanks to her trademark wig, Sia’s voice stood front and center as she belted out every note to hits like “Diamonds”, “Bird Set Free” and “Titanium”. Throughout it all, different dancers and actors would come on stage, abstractly embodying the themes her songwriting often conveys: fear, anticipation, stress, anger, joy, love and most of all, doubt. As Kristen Wiig and Paul Dano contributed to the overall performance, the height of Sia’s conceptual masterpiece reached its peak with a breathtaking rendition of “Breathe Me”, bringing some of the audience to tears. It was the true headliner of Sunday night and among the top performances of the entire weekend. -BR


Coachella 2016

Silversun Pickups

Ever since these LA alt-rockers burst onto the scene in the mid-2000’s with radio hits like “Future Foe Scenarios”, “Well Thought Out Twinkles”, and “Lazy Eye”, Silversun Pickups have been high on my list of bands to see live. But for whatever reason (most of it likely my doing), the opportunity hadn’t presented itself until Coachella revealed its lineup in early January. Pitted against Ice Cube in what proved to be my biggest scheduling conflict of the weekend, SSPU didn’t make me question my decision the minute they stepped onstage and tore into “Nightlight”, the first single from their fourth and most recent studio album Better Nature. At a time when special guest appearances have become the trend at Coachella, it was refreshing to see a band not feel the need to go down the same path as everyone else. Instead, Brian Aubert, Nikki Monninger, Chris Guanlao and Joe Lester looked comfortable just being themselves, even if their nine-song set felt like it was over in the blink of an (lazy) eye. -JH


Coachella 2016 - LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem

Over the last couple of years, it’s hard to think of a band I have wanted to see more than LCD Soundsystem. Deeply tied to my formative years in college, the Brooklyn outfit’s return after a five-year hiatus was nothing short of stunning. Opening with the undeniably groovy “Us vs. Them” and covering a good chunk of their catalog over almost two hours, LCD certainly met the expectations of an eager crowd. James Murphy kept the banter between songs fairly short, and these indie heavyweights demonstrated a true dedication to their craft, starting fast with songs like “Movements” and “Yeah” before moving to more deep, tightly wound rhythms on “Someone Great” and “Home”. Though “Losing My Edge” was written more than 10 years ago, Murphy’s part-improvised, part-proclamation, part-perfectly-delivered rendition of the track seemed to really capture the attention of more casual LCD fans. Nearing the end of its set, the band covered “Heroes” by late collaborator David Bowie. I have seen many concerts as well as attended many festivals in my life, but this was truly among the most beautiful moments in live music I have ever experienced. Wrapping up their headlining performance with “All My Friends”, LCD Soundsystem proved to be among the top artists to ever grace the festival’s main stage. -BR


Coachella 2016 - Guns 'N Roses

Guns N’ Roses

There may have been no more talked-about act in Coachella’s 17-year history than Saturday’s headliner — and for good reason. Going back to 1993, it had been 23 years since Axl Rose and Slash last performed on the same stage together, and though some of that allure had worn off by the time they reached Indio thanks to a surprise show in LA and back-to-back nights in Las Vegas in prior weeks, Guns N’ Roses were still the talk of the town leading up to Coachella. In fact, all you had to do was look around on Saturday and see just how many GNR T-shirts were traversing the polo field before their 10:30 p.m. set. When it came time to deliver, the original trio of Axl, Slash and bassist Duff McKagan most certainly did, while rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer proved to be more than suitable fill-ins for Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler/Matt Sorum. Meanwhile, the surprise appearance by Angus Young couldn’t have come at a much better time after the announcement was made minutes before GNR’s set that Rose will be filling in for Brian Johnson on AC/DC’s remaining tour dates this year. GNR have always been one of my biggest bucket-list bands, and even if a broken leg prevented Axl from strutting and slithering across the stage like he once did as a brash, slender 21-year-old rock star, seeing one of my favorite childhood bands perform for two and a half hours felt all too surreal as I left the Empire Polo Club that night. -JH


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