Coachella, For the Record, is Nothing Like Burning Man

On Friday, an acquaintance of mine who looks to have never been to anything edgier than a smooth jazz brunch was like, “Oh you’re at Coachella–the Southern Cal version of Burning Man.”

Uh. No. Let’s get it straight please. Burning Man is essentially an annual party/performance art gathering / electronic music mega-marathon / grownup getaway / highly evolved uber-rave that’s been going for gosh I dunno must be nearly 20 years now. Most of the longtime attendees are at least loosely affiliated with an artists’ collective and/or mixed media space and/or DJ crew back in the Bay Area (and now in LA and New York too, I guess), and these collectives are responsible for building all the amazing installations and throwing the best parties at Burning Man, because (at least up till recent years and maybe still; I stopped paying attention) there was never organized entertainment there, and nobody was paid to play. Also up till recent years there was little law enforcement and almost zero regulation of substances, which was what drew a lot of people out there to the desert–apparently there’s something oddly compelling about taking way more drugs than you can handle, wearing sparkly fairy wings and nipple tassles and/or a Muppet costume, and acting like a 3 year old in 120-degree heat.

For me, it’s not compelling b/c there is nothing I hate more than watching a bunch of grownups acting like 3 year olds and/or stumbling around in Muppet costumes being unable to handle their drugs. Don’t get me wrong, I love electronic music–prog house, breakbeat, electro-pop, and almost anything that comes out of Scandinavia or Iceland. I have for decades. However. I also love air-conditioning, running water, and fellow partiers who are okay with me not owning a tutu & wings.

Which brings me back to Coachella. Apart from the fact that it, too, is in the desert (a TOTALLY different one, in a completely different state), it has very little in common with Burning Man. First of all, it’s organized by GoldenVoice, which is one of the best concert promoters in the business. It gets the most amazing musical lineup of any festival in the country. And HELL YES, that musical talent gets paid!! (Rumor has it, in fact, that Prince got upward of $4 million. But I cannot substantiate that, nor do I really care all that much.) Not only that, but the people who do the art installations also get paid. There was some Burning Man art in the mix this year, but not a lot, and it was specifically selected…and those ppl got cash I do believe.

As for the substances–well, they were heavily, heavily regulated. You couldn’t drink alcohol, nor were you supposed to smoke, anywhere except in a couple designated areas. I heard–though did not see for myself–that there was no alcohol in general camping. I stayed in the artists’ quarters, and there was some there Thank Gawd! And you know, I think there was, throughout the place, a general waft of weed & maybe a few bug-eyed folks, but really it was soooo mild. I didn’t see a single tutu, not even on a dude.

And at least on Friday, almost everyone was asleep by 2AM. Thousands of early-to-bed fuddy-duddies we were. Even the serious Burner crew next door had, like, a little tiny mellow party that fizzled by sunrise. Shocking!

So why were we all there? To see the music. Which, as I said, was incredible. A lot of people bitched about the lineup this year, but I must say that Goldfrapp ruled my universe, and Adam Freeland brought the bass admirably for a a 5PM set, and Aphex Twin kept his insanity to a minimum, and the Verve sounded just like they do on the radio…though I didn’t actually watch a second of the show. Oh, and I heard Pendulum was awesome. Spankrock chicks were badassed-yummy and sizzling. Datarock had a hilarious audience of 17 year old hipsters doing the seizure dance in between looking around self-consciously to see if their neighbors were okay/impressed with it.

I did not see Jack Johnson, sorry. And Fatboy Slim (AKA Norman Cook) just downright SUCKED. He was bored and boring, totally phoned in the set, and was disinterested in the audience to the point of being rude. Damn he’s terrible. Why is he famous again?

Back onto a positive note, I heeeaard that on Saturday Portishead stole the show. This doesn’t surprise me; they sounded as good as their album at the soundcheck. Beth Gibbons is a bit of a weirdo, but she’s beautiful to listen to.

Anyway, so that was Coachella. Nothing like Burning Man. Also not exactly the transcendental cultural experience people have started purporting it to be. But a damn good music festival–and I hope it stays around a while.

Oh, and yes I did see a couple SNOWBIRDS but nothing to cause undue panic. Thanks for remembering.

2 Responses to “Coachella, For the Record, is Nothing Like Burning Man”

  1. 1 Allison
    May 3, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Girl I wish I knew you were there… we were at all the same shows. Ecxept I went back to my AC and shower quarters instead of roughing it in a 100+ deg tent. Oh and I did see 1 girl in a tutu. I’ll send ya a pic. 🙂

  2. May 8, 2008 at 1:57 am

    We had an AC trailer but it had become rather foul by the day I rolled in.
    I actually made it thru 2 nites camping; my friends were impressed. didn’t see tutu but saw some leopard-print & Doggles. on my friend. 😐

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