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For the majority of the year, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is a placid hub of serene wildlife and meditative arrangements located in the heart of the Bay Area city. At around 1000 acres, it’s easy to get lost in one garden or traverse a series of trails and meadows and totally forget the fact that you’re in one of the more claustrophobic cities in the country. Since 2008, however, the three-day Outside Lands Music and Art Festival has transformed the center of the park into a massive combination of live music, artisan cuisine, wine and cheese pairings, a plethora of local craft brews, and a surreal array of the kind of weird art you’d expect from San Francisco locals.

Peaking with an estimated 200,000 ticket holders and over a hundred performers, the 7th edition of the festival was the largest (and most crowded) yet. Given how integrated the experience has become – with the new “GastroMagic” area that showcases celebrity chefs, local restaurants, and sports its very own stage, along with separate areas entitled WineLands and BeerLands – Outside Lands is now, more than most festivals, a unique celebration of the city it calls home. Instead of divvying it up into its component days, then, here are 30 things I liked.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan / Samantha Saturday

1. Short of Kacey Musgraves, Run the Jewels likely had the best set of the day (and about as far apart as


Photo by Kevin Bronson

Sunday is when the choices really start to gnaw at you. Choices like: “do I really need to wake up in time to see Surfer Blood at their surprisingly early Outdoor Stage time,” (no) or; “will this beer bong really help me reach my goal of not being utterly exhausted as I leave for the festival?” (yes). It’s also the day when the thought of braving particularly large crowds doesn’t hold quite the appeal it used to. While I was jazzed to see Los Angeles production duo Classixx at the Mojave, the filled-past-capacity mass of hollowed out youths and individuals fresh off two days in the hazardous waste dump that is the campgrounds on a Sunday made it a short set. Better were Starfucker, who, playing on the Outdoor Stage, made up for the searing heat with a wide expanse of glass to collapse on while watching their spacey brand of indie-pop. A relatively mundane, if nevertheless very catchy, band, Starfucker stepped up their festival game with a wide array of costumed freaks running about and several dozen blow-up dolls sporting impressive erections that they released into the crowd.

Photo by Koury Angelo

A double-punk bill of Frank Turner and Superchunk followed in the Gobi tent. While I’m not a big fan, Turner’s energy was…

Photo by Brian van der Brug

The worst part about Coachella 2013 was easily the dust storm that turned Sunday into a set piece from the Depression and choked the life and easy visibility out of a struggling Red Hot Chili Peppers closing set. 2014’s storm wasn’t nearly as bad; for the most part, walking around during the day Saturday felt like you were travelling on a strange, ominous alien planet, the sun reduced to a weird, haunting half-light and the wind picking up curlicues of dust seemingly at random while bits of sound escaped intermittently over the fields. That creepy feeling was magnified by the fact that everyone seemed to be running from one destination to another, as if constantly striving to avoid the almighty wrath of the weather gods/the narc chasing them. It was how I imagined walking on Mars might be, if everyone on Mars was really, really fucked up all the time.

Of course, God being the sick bastard that he is, Saturday turned out to be my favorite day of the festival. When you kick things off with a blogger’s wet dream of Foxygen, Ty Segall, and CHVRCHES on the Outdoor Stage, it’s easy to ignore the fact that your choice of t-shirt and board shorts for the day will prove quite uncomfortable against pelting sand and an insidious wind chill. Like Friday’s HAIM set, Coachella is made for a band like CHVRCHES,…


Photo by Dana Distortion

It wasn’t the shift to two weekends that convinced me, nor was it the prevalence of EDM as a driving force in lineup selections. It wasn’t the 2012 rainstorm, the first in Coachella history, or the 2013 sandstorm, or the (slightly more tolerable) wind and dust that marred this past Saturday. It wasn’t even the waves of heat that fried me Friday like an egg as my nails curled inwards to the sound of Grouplove’s vocalist butchering Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” as 4:00 turned into 5:00 at the main stage – the performance artist/Grouplove superfan doing a bizarrely well choreographed dance with a staff, and the internal debate of actually exerting myself in the unholy temperatures or ritually murdering everyone in the band being the only things occupying my otherwise exhausted mind. Friday, mind you.

This explains a lot (Photo courtesy of Esquire)

No, these are all the things we’ve come to expect at Coachella, the beautiful scenery made hazy by the weather and the bands determined to make their own legend notwithstanding. It was more the press releases I received every day informing me of the latest updates at the festival, groundbreaking events like: “Fergie and Emmy Rossum, who had both stopped by the Samsung Galaxy Owner’s Lounge yesterday, came back to cool off…

A favorite thing of mine to do when listening to albums is to mentally track along with the drums, often using my steering wheel as a makeshift snare and hi-hat and the gas pedal as my bass (my ‘94 Accord goes). Being the cockmaster that I am, I generally believe I can play along to most songs I listen to; the reality is I rarely get around to doing it, and when I do, I’m hilariously out of time and out of my element. It’s one thing to listen to a song and think you could jam along with it, or perhaps get inspired and, you know, do something worthwhile with your creativity. It’s an altogether different beast, though, to actually go out and act on those influences, to create something fresh that pays homage to your favorites yet isn’t controlled by them, and then put it out for the world to see. Maybe they laugh at it (my drumming), hopefully they groove to it. That’s the difference between electronic artist Depth Connection and myself – I’m content to be the driver’s seat Neil Peart; Depth Connection just released a badass EP that takes hints from Tycho, Lone, and a number of other artists to create a quietly gorgeous amalgam of live studio sounds and finely textured electronic beats.

The brainchild of Colorado native Tanner Lichty aka Sputnik user twlichty (ex-Solterra), Depth Connection describes itself as “a collage of unfamiliar yet…

Photo courtesy of Socale

My first experience with event production company the Do LaB came about in what I imagine was a similar way for many unfamiliar with the groundbreaking visual artist collective – the Oasis tent at Coachella, where the relentless heat is blessedly filtered through a prism of high-pressure water for a few merciful moments. People came for the hoses, but they stayed for the art, that uniquely visual spectacle that accompanies every Do LaB production in the desert and the underground acts the company usually has rocking its stages with the help of a costumed menagerie. Their ninth year at the festival was no different, with Gaslamp Killer, Kaminanda, Idiot Savant and a whole host of acts turning the art installations into a wild, somewhat nightmarish (depending on whether the light was by the sun or the oscillating lights), always unforgettable scene.

Shame on me, then, for not realizing until 2013 that the Do LaB actually curate their own festival just a couple hours south of Los Angeles. Lightning in a Bottle runs from July 11-15 at Lake Skinner County Park in the wine country near Temecula, CA, and is less a musical festival as the common summertime denominator goes and more a cultural event; a hip Burning Man without the blasted landscape and blasted hippies. It’s apparent in the lineup – a smorgasbord of Low End Theory-mainstays and buzzworthy indie pop, furious electro grooves and exotic world music, deep house…

Photo courtesy of Coachella

“I feel like I’m going to go home and throw up a sandbox for my small child,” Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis cracked near the beginning of his band’s closing set Sunday night. At this point the sand was less of a nuisance and more an actual hazard, whipping up into your eyes, your mouth, your nose, your ears – my friend remarked that he entered Coachella as one race and came out another. The standard festival uniform transformed from baring as much skin as possible with an emphasis on neon colors to shutting everything off with anything at hand, turning a legion of fans into balaclava-wearing music terrorists. The gum I had been gnawing on for hours grew suspiciously in size as tiny particles added a bit of extra crunch to my mouth feel. The storm buffeted the main stage, whipsawing the sound across the festival grounds and turning Peppers mainstays like “Dani California” and “Can’t Stop” into warped contortions of themselves, as if the sound guy had had a bad case of epilepsy among the fade and balance dials. It wasn’t a great loss – as far as headliners go, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were the same-old-same-old, playing a strangely subdued set of hits and new songs that never really latched onto anyone. Sure, they were good – the rhythm…

Photo courtesy of the Getty

For the first time in my years attending Coachella – whether it’s because Sputnik is finally ascending to the big leagues or the organizers were annoyed at my yearly badgering – I was granted a media pass. This is not as cool as it initially sounds – i.e., I can’t go backstage or to the VIP and do coke with Pusha T,  nor can I flash my bracelet at security and bypass the huddled masses at the general admission lines. I can, however, acquire free water and fruit bars (shout out to Fruttare! your strawberry rules) at the media area, as well as use bathrooms that aren’t piled high with MDMA shits and don’t stink (quite as bad). I also got to go backstage at the Do LaB and see just how that party of water guns, painted dancers and endless, twitchy bass functions from noon to midnight, as well as check out the VJ booth at the Sahara tent, an island of sanity and artwork amidst a sea of shirtless, sweaty ravers. It’s where the VJ (video jockey) and his team work out the 3D video mapping visuals for the DJs who perform, where light shows are as integral a part of someone’s set as the music is. It’s also where women in high heels lay out on the couch and guys sip Heineken self-importantly – at Coachella, your power and coolness directly correlates with how many…

Photo courtesy of Coachella

So four years and four Coachellas later for me, and you’d think the desert festival had lost the capacity to surprise. Indeed, the checklist for a Coachella Weekend goes something like this: Up-and-coming indie band makes good on their promise via rousing early afternoon set that ensures double the audience for next weekend; sunburns will be accrued at melanoma-threatening rates; sound problems will invariably affect what could have been an amazing set; the unholy signature dish that is Garlic Crab Fries will simultaneously thrill and torpedo my digestive system; the weather will turn on you; a band I never would have predicted beforehand will become my favorite set; the shadow of Daft Punk will hang heavy over the entire weekend, regardless of the fact that most of the attendant rumors come from neon-tank-adorned bros who first heard of the French duo after “Stronger” introduced the pair to a whole new audience of college-age Natty Ice fans. And on and on it goes.

So, to get it out of the way – no, Daft Punk didn’t play. This despite many a false sighting, including a literal stampede to the Gobi tent after a trailer played before TNGHT’s set, the same teaser that later played before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ main stage gig. There were no big surprises for the weekend – no offense to Phoenix, who killed it, but no one has been surprised by anything R.

Courtesy of LA Times

In the baking heat of Coachella, which begins this upcoming weekend at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA, there’s only two places to escape the 100-degree+ heat: the green-lit, hypnotic techno Heineken dome where the titular drink and light show assaults your senses and your taste buds in exchange for glorious, glorious air conditioning and relentless doses of tech house; or the Do LaB, a pop-up piece of performance art and a potpourri of oddball electronic artists that this year includes Gaslamp Killer, Andreilien, Kaminanda, G Jones and a number of others that would likely be more comfortable at Low End Theory than out in the middle of the desert leading half-clothed festivalgoers with eyes the size of quarters into fevered worship of the bass. The music is only half the fun at the Do LaB, though; the essential piece is the water cannons that see almost constant use, drenching the audience and any other passerby who might stop fora  second to see the wildly costumed dancers that roam the stage.

It’s an interesting experience, and more importantly a refreshing one, both physically and musically – most of the artists at the Do LaB are mostly unknown to the average attendee. It’s also a preview for one of southern California’s more criminally under-looked festivals in the summertime. Lightning in

London-by-way-of-New-Zealand rockers the Veils recently debuted the new single from their upcoming fourth album Time Stays, We Go, the first bit of proper new material since 2009’s Sun Gangs (the less said about 2011’s EP Troubles of the Brain, the better). Frontman Finn Andrews (son of XTC founder Barry Andrews) has always been a combustible sort – his vocal performance tends to range anywhere from stately and forlorn to bloodied and raw, sometimes all on the same song (see opener “Not Yet” off their classic 2006 album Nux Vomica) – and nothing seems to have cooled  the fire in his voice in the intervening years since they last appeared on the scene. Yet that album begged the question of just what all this emotional turmoil was really accomplishing; an accumulation of dramatic hard times that seemed more exhausting than cathartic, the end result of a band never quite seeming to capitalize on that consistent “underrated” label to achieve greater indie success? “Through The Deep, Dark Wood” sweeps away all the hesitant trifles of Troubles of the Brain and embraces Andrews’ inherent talent for stirring anthems, the thud of the drums and the whipcrack of the guitars marrying Andrews’ stark, powerful vocals to a thrilling hook. “No, I can’t go back,” Andrews wails on that cleansing chorus, and while that may not be true, strictly speaking (this song would have fit right at home on either Nux Vomica or their 2004 debut The Runaway Found), “Through The…

Songs of ‘12 | Shows of ‘12

25. Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

End of the Line” | Spotify

Sleigh Bells always struck me as sort of a gimmick, a one-trick pony on their debut Treats. To be honest, that trick, which makes Nigel Tufnel’s “but these go to eleven” explanation a parody of itself, is still in full effect here—Reign of Terror is loud and brash, letting the guitar slam out chunky, primordial chords with single-minded fervor. Alexis Krauss, however, is the star of Reign of Terror, putting her former teen-pop resume to good use as the shimmery shoegaze counterpoint to Derek Miller’s bludgeoning riffs. For all its volume, Reign of Terror is nuanced and careful in its use of textures and breathy harmonies, less concerned with fist-pumping and headbanging than focusing on the gorgeous tones and dreamlike atmosphere Krauss’ layered vocals achieve. It is a less brutish and far more beautiful Sleigh Bells than I ever expected.

24. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems

“Numb” | Beatport

I wish my old piano teacher was as cool as Allison Skidmore, who really opens up a whole new dimension to Andy Stott’s “negative space” realm (© Alex Robertson). Luxury Problems is intensely atmospheric and intricately layered, as Stott’s brand of minimal techno has tended to be, but Skidmore’s nebulous vocals give a heretofore-unseen…

Photo courtesy of the Atlantic

Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend by far, yet still a relatively (by Coachella standards) 83 degrees with a nice occasional breeze. It showed in the increased turnout to the open stages; Kentucky buzz band Sleeper Agent played a quick and dirty wake-up call of big riffs and shout-along choruses on the Outdoor Stage to the bleary-eyed, quickly roasting audience. I soon made my way to the other side of the festival to check out the criminally underbilled Noisia who played to a half-filled Sahara tent. I’m assuming Noisia’s relentless brand of drum n’ bass and dubstep was a bit too dark for the serotonin-depleted masses. After catching their well received remix of deadmau5’s “Raise Your Weapon,” I detoured over to the Mojave to see perennially on the cusp indie rockers Oberhofer. There’s a bit of Wavves in their rambling, sunny surf-rock, and if there was ever a song to get Brad Oberhofer’s pet project finally over the hump, irrepressibly catchy single “Away Frm U” is about as good a shot as any. Energy was something Mr. Oberhofer definitely did not lack; at one point, he climbed the precarious metal support on the left of the stage, seemingly for the express purpose of massaging the lights before climbing down and giving running high fives to the first row.

Santigold had a great time over at the Main Stage for her mid-afternoon…

Photo courtesy of Kaskade

Where Friday was cold, dreary and windy, Saturday was merely cold and windy. The sun maintained a long vigil during the day, but razor sharp gusts and a high that barely cleared 70 degrees made sure Coachella kept making a pretty penny on hoodie sales. 2:30 in the afternoon is not necessarily morning, but it always feels like that, with the majority of the festival still in their tents or beds recovering from the night before. Destroyer didn’t seem to mind, though; playing a seven song set heavy in Kaputt cuts, Bejar was in fine form for the afternoon mood. Many enjoyed the suave jazz of “Chinatown” and the hazy “Bay of Pigs” from blankets in the grass, an appropriately dreamy soundtrack as the sun beat down on them and most people unwillingly began their day.

After that I kicked up the energy a bit for Zeds Dead’s set at the Sahara. Already way past full, the Sahara tent was rocking with the Mad Decent duo’s eclectic mix of hip-hop, dubstep and straight-ahead electro. Although Zeds Dead killed it, the already rowdy antics of much of the Sahara’s population had me swearing off the tent for the rest of the day, a decision made easier by future Sahara tenants (David Guetta, Martin Solveig, Sebastian Ingrosso … ehh, I’ll pass). I managed to catch the end of Britpop castaways Kaiser Chiefs on the Main Stage,…

There was a surreal moment on Saturday night of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that typified just how much the festival has changed over the past twelve years. As the orchestral swells and backing vocals dissipated from Leslie Feist’s huge backing band as “Feel It All” faded away into the dusk on the Outdoor Stage, Feist waved to the cheering crowd and thanked them for the support, adding nonchalantly, “see you next weekend!” It was an odd, wrenching tearing of the reality-altering cocoon that Coachella has built up around itself. For months leading up to this weekend, the hype and excitement for what has become the quintessential American music festival is nearly all-consuming, eventually leading to a weekend that, regardless of the seeming impossibility of meeting expectations, manages to live up to it all. Whether you spend your weekend camped in the baking heat, surrounded by a swell of campers who flash eternal smiles despite conditions that would appall the writers of the Geneva Convention, or carpool in from the surrounding small vacation towns of Indio and Palm Desert that turn into veritable cities of drug-addled youth and defiantly stereotypical hippies, Coachella remains a singular experience.

Yet there Feist was, breaking the illusion that this was a unique happening. The splitting of Coachella into two weekends was arguably necessary, given that 2011’s festival sold out in less than six days and this year’s edition was a two-week sellout…

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