Thor Harris (Swans, Shearwater, Smog, Amanda Palmer) enjoys the sights (and sounds) from a.....Unicycle

Thor Harris (Swans, Shearwater, Smog, Amanda Palmer) enjoys the sights (and sounds) from a unicycle (photo:P.Puleo- philpuleo.com)

Though Coachella is not really my cup of musical, fashion, or cultural “tea,” I had the opportunity to attend both weekends this year on a VIP pass because my husband’s band Swans performed. Rather than be judgmental about the gigantic, overly commercial throng of artists and crowd, I decided to be sunny about it—and embrace the experience for all it was or could be.

Attending Coachella as an artist is an experience in itself. However, not entirely as luxurious as you might think, considering the upwords of 2500.00+ price tag on the lesser VIP credential. In the desert kingdom of Coachella, this “artist/creator” honor means you her your own air-conditioned trailer the day you perform, a catering pass, a little bit of marginal swag (a t-shirt, some water bottles, a pack of neon hair-ties), and perhaps, an ever so slight advantage in the golf kart line…That’s about it. So much for “Champagne Wishes….”

you're in.

you’re in.- (photo. A. Khalsa)

Charlotte has a moment of fun with us, in between being mobbed by paparazzi/bloggers

Charlotte Kemp Muhl (GHOASTT/Sean Lennon) has a moment of fun with us, in between being mobbed by paparazzi/bloggers  (photo: A. Khalsa)

Jared Samuels (GHOASTT, Sean Lennon Band, Invisible Familiars) has a moment of quiet amusement in the midst of the Coachella spectacle

Jared Samuels (The GHOASTT, Sean Lennon Band, Invisible Familiars) has a moment of quiet amusement in the midst of the Coachella spectacle  (photo: A. Khalsa)

Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon take a break from watching War on Drugs, to snap a photograph capturing the exact spot they first met, 9 years ago.

Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon take a break from watching War on Drugs, to snap a photograph capturing the exact spot they first met, 9 years ago.  (photo: A. Khalsa)

GOASTT: “Animals”/ Chimera Music 2014

If a credentialed artist wanted to watch a concert from beyond the backstage area, festival authorities had erected amusing, and somewhat embarrassing, pens that sectioned off gated areas within the crowd. From within these cages, artists and VIPS could commune with their musical gods, separate from the mass. I wouldn’t say I felt any more special or important in this area. In fact, it made you feel like an animal on display at a fair. I wondered aloud, if this was just yet another strategy for photographers to easily capture celebrities “enjoying Coachella,” further enhancing the hype of Coachella as an “it” event. Probably. Due to feeling so exposed, most of us, famous, (or not so famous) just ended up watching from the crowd in the general admission area.

Joining the disorganized, gleeful throng, seemed somehow better than being under the social media microscope. The only show I decided to grin and bear the “artist viewing area” was for another sweet beast: Tame Impala. Their fantastic set and psychedelic light show made the choice placement of “the pen” irresistible in spite of the glares and creepin’ that followed.

Tame Impala's slick polished sound and psychedelic visuals was a highlight of the festival.

Tame Impala’s slick polished sound and psychedelic visuals was a highlight of the festival. (photo: A. Khalsa)

For the artists, Coachella seems to be an over-stimulating and mostly tiring event. Every band is game to perform well, but there is also a lingering vibe to simply … just get it over with.

My friends in the band Ghost of the Saber Tooth Tiger (GHOASTT), comprised of Sean Lennon, Charlotte Kemp Muhl, Jared Samuel, Tim Kuhl, and Connor Grant, played at a somewhat un-rockin’ time of day. Samuels remarked, when I asked him how it went. (I was stuck in traffic en route to the festival and missed their set) “You know, It can be really hard to play psychedelic rock and roll …… at NOON.” I nodded in agreement.

It is easy to assume that every gig, no matter how small or what time, is thrilling. Who doesn’t want to be a “rock star?” However, just speaking from my own personal experience playing and working in bands, just as with other creative jobs that seem like a dream job, a creative’s feelings of blah and banal, can often go head to head with those exhilarating moments. It is an enviable job, but still a job.

Even artists were stratified in the golf cart line. Not playing a larger stage? best prepare yourself to walk a mile

Even artists were stratified in the golf cart line. Not playing a larger stage? Best prepare yourself to walk a mile….  (photo: J. Gira)

Coachella security, pomp and circumstance, and bureaucracy, defined, and (despite its necessity) marred the fest.

Coachella security, pomp and circumstance, and bureaucracy, defined, and (despite its necessity) marred the fest. (photo J. Gira)

Michael Gira (Swans) gives us his best "festival look"

Michael Gira (Swans) gives us his best “festival look.” (photo: J. Gira)

Swans: “She Loves Us” Young God Records/Mute UK – (w/ guest vocals by Jennifer Gira)

Many artists (including Swans and The Cribs), had their sound cut mid-set due to time constraints or noise restrictions. The big bad wolf ruining the fun, was not necessarily Coachella (directly), but more a result of a previous band playing too long, or unexpected delays in technical change ups between artists. This, and the looming, million dollar fine(s) from the city of Indio, CA for violations, gave the fest all the nudge it needed to turn the stage black-no matter where the band was in their set.

But try stating those reasonable explanations, to a musician that was in the midst of playing their last song, in a rapturous set, to have their power cut unexpectedly. You will get a glare. You might even get an obscenity.

Nobody likes “The Man” at that moment. Even if a band was psyched initially to get booked (and for paycheck that comes with it) @ Coachella, instantly, feelings rush in, that you don’t belong there, you knew you didn’t belong there, and this is the exact situation, that contributed to the initial pause when your manager said “Hey, do you want to do Coachella?” After decompressing a bit, gazing at happy teenagers in rabbit jumpsuits dancing in the glowing faux “firelight,” it became easier to compartmentalize the experience. The irritation soon faded into bemused laughter.

Swan's Michael Gira inspects his gear during a midnight headlong slot of the Gobi Stage photo: KHLASA

Swan’s Michael Gira inspects his gear during a midnight headliner slot at the Gobi Stage (photo: J. Gira)

The Crib's Ryan Jarman decides that this festival needs is an impromptu guitar tossing/smashing.. photo: KHLASA

The Crib’s Ryan Jarman decides that this festival needs is an impromptu guitar tossing/smashing.. (photo: A. Khalsa)

A Swan on a Jumbotron

A Swan on a jumbotron  (photo: J.Gira)

When thinking about writing about “The Coachella Experience” from an artist perspective, a phrase popped into my head that referenced another fabled group. (A group that, at one point in their existence, defined “youth culture” -as much as something like the Coachella Festival does today…..) That group is: The Who. The phrase in question?- “The Kids are Alright.”

Where I am going with this, has to do with the fact that none of this experience makes any sense-period. Yet, in today’s culture, it makes complete sense. It is truly up to those who view it, to judge (or negate) the societal significance of such events like Coachella (and its patrons, its fashions, its “message”) and decide how they want to spin the relevance, but that relevance cannot, (and will not) be denied.

Who doesn't love a candy-colored inflatable caterpillar the size of a double decker bus?   photo: Khlasa

Who doesn’t love a candy-colored inflatable caterpillar the size of a double decker bus?  (photo: A. Khalsa)

At the very least, in the absurdity and over-stimulus that was “Coachella 2015”, there was a general *connection* between all the patrons/artists that resonated universally. This connection existed in spite of language, trend, taste and cultural barriers. It was very apparent, even if was not spoken, that we were all integral participating/working parts of this sensational mirage in the desert. We were unified and bleary eyed. Some from indulging in pills, thrills, and belly-aches-while others, simply from the biting sand, gusting in the wind, torturing the pupils. At times, we were smiling, taking selfies in front of a psychedelic butterfly sculpture, and at other times, we were annoyed and sweaty, when we couldn’t traverse the crowd to get to our trailers, as the VIP area was overcrowded. Yet, during this entire trip, all the attendees were as “simpatico” as complete strangers could ever be. It gave the event at times, a feeling of a true Warhol-ian “happening”. You did not know what about (or who) you were going to strike up a conversation with waiting in line in front of a taco truck.

bondage ravers

Two bondage raver babes and their compliant cock enjoy the sunshine.   (photo: A. Khalsa)

 

Even if you didn’t share iPod mixes with the hungry stranger next to you, you found that you shared a love of vintage moccasins-or David Lynch. Everyone was present was hungry, excited about something (that happened, was going to happen, or could happen)-and smiling. This gave me hope……for a lot more than just musical festivals.

Music is, (despite the cliché’ factor in my using the phrase), “The Universal Language.” It does indeed bring all types of people together. In fact, I did feel a bit of “The 60s” out there in the fields, and it wasn’t thru the fringe vests, weed haze, or ponchos-it was in the open-mindedness.

The Kids *are* Alright- (and so are the weary minstrels who keep making the music against all odds, entertaining them)

the butterfly was an excellent signifier of the "coming out of one's shell" that a festival experience can inspire

The butterfly was an excellent signifier of the transformations music can inspire.  (photo: J. Gira)

a spirit of sensationalism and (carefully controlled) hedonism defined the fest photo: KHLASHA

a spirit of sensationalism and (carefully controlled) hedonism defined the fest.  (photo: A. Khalsa)

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