beyond bey: a guide to the most interesting small-font coachella acts
Who to see (or download) from the fifth row and below of music's most hotly contested playbill.
As far as music festival chatter goes, Coachella's headliners always drive the conversation. (Well, at least they do when no scandals break). The sprawling springtime, two-weekend Indio, California event is known to get the best ones, after all, booking genre giants and uniting long-splintered acts on a single stage, like organizers did with Guns N' Roses in 2016. Cameos (not just of the human variety) abound, with momentous surprises tucked into some performances. Remember when Rihanna jumped out for Calvin Harris' set last year? Iconic.
This year, though, the lineup might be the best it's ever been, not just insofar as the stellar headliners — Radiohead! Bey! Kendrick! — but also because of the quality of the outfits on the whole, all the way down to the small print performers.
Coachella billings signify a fiercely debated hierarchy, where those large font names at the top imply the greatest mass appeal, and those at the bottom are lesser-known or considered more fringy. Today, however, nearly two decades after the first So Cal festival go-round, those on the lowest lines of the lineup can increasingly hold their own with those billed higher up; they're selling out big shows, playing international tours, and in many cases, are getting just as much buzz as the headliners.
Below the fifth line for each day iis a surprising wealth of talent, with representations from most every genre, from punk and prog rock to hip hop and funk. We looked at the nearly 60 bands and musicians that will perform during the festival's earliest hours to bring you 18 of the best and most interesting acts. Just be sure to get there early enough to catch them.
Even since before they shed their cringeworthy former band name Viet Cong (http://pitchfork.com/news/58694-viet-cong-show-canceled-due-to-offensive-band-name/), the four-piece group, now named Preoccupations, have been melting off faces as one of the hardest post-punk outfits in Canada. The Alberta group's more new wave, atmospheric-sounding self-titled sophomore album, released last fall, riffs on topics relating to the complexity of anger and worry, but this time around, they're armed with an anxious, frenetic energy, and a lot more bass.
Indie pop Denver band Tennis, formed by husband-wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, only recently announced their first album in five years, and — lucky for Coachella fest-goers — it's due to be released only a few weeks before the Indio event. The band is known to favor dazed 70s instrumentals and cast a fuzzy softening over melody lines, while Moore's lyrics invoke the romanticized allure of 60s surf pop. For their newest work, "Conditionally Yours," they're making a more mature return to their origins; as they told Noisey, they needed to "revisit [the] past to salvage the present."
Energetic Chicago act Ezra Furman is hard to pin down. The multi-instrumentalist and gender-fluid songwriter dabbles in every genre, absorbing every point of inspiration that speaks to him; he pens doo-wop tunes, works with saxophones, and lyrically nods to anything from misheard punk lyrics to Dostoevsky. Endlessly eclectic and harnessing an attraction to "ambiguity" in music and performance, no two of his shows are ever alike, save for one thing: there's always a good beat to dance to.
Easily one of music critics' favorite breakout stars of 2016, Mitski drew essentially unanimous praise for her fourth and most recent album, "Puberty 2." On its lead single, "Your Best American Girl," Mitski comes to terms with the anxiety that accompanies identity, and delivers its angsty resolve with a rough-edged, lo-fi delivery. Given her extensive success recently, her lower placement on the Saturday festival bill seems completely incorrect; in any case, rest assured she'll play like a headliner.
S U R V I V E
You might not have heard of Austin-based quartet S U R V I V E, but if you're any kind of television fan, you've certainly already been acquainted with two of bandmates' work, thanks to streamable TV mega-hit, "Stranger Things." Back in 2015, the show's creators used one of the band's songs to pitch the sci-fi series to Netflix, citing its dark and sinister-sounding electronic as the perfect accompaniment to the show's intended tone. A few members wound up scoring the whole series, thrusting themselves into the annals of pop culture, and landing themselves a Coachella gig in the process.
Swet Shop Boys
S U R V I V E aren't the only television darlings to land on Coachella's coveted lineup; Riz Ahmed, a British actor who's landed prestigious roles starring in "The Night Of" and "Star Wars: Rogue One," also found time to impress the booking powers that be with his musical prowess as Riz MC. Together with well-respected fellow rapper Heems, formerly of NYC hip-hop trio Das Racist, the two craft lyrical geo- and socio-political commentary from a South Asian perspective on late 2016's "Cashmere," using Indian and Pakistani music, grime, and a substantial dose of literary references for inspiration.
A band as young as the Chicago four-piece Twin Peaks don't normally have three full-length albums under their belts (let alone three that have each been lauded by critics), but not every garage rock band is as versatile as they are; Twin Peaks are just as good at angsty, melancholy ballads as they are at roughing up audiences with spurts of power pop. Their latest work, Spring 2016's "Down in Heaven," was inspired by classic '60s records like the Kinks' Village Green Society, or Beatles' White Album, which they say "have a personal appeal", Riffing on the the rock greats that came before, Twin Peaks strike a balance between traditional rock aesthetics and modern, more frank lyricism.
Shura, (or, Aleksandra Denton) has a certain kind of cinematic drama to her work. That could be due in part to the fact that both of the Brit's parents worked in the movie biz, but it's also the by-product of focusing her work on the expression of not just the big feelings, but the nuanced ones too. The 80s pop-reverent "Nothing's Real," Shura's first album that debuted in July, plays with those anxieties and heart flutterings, harnessing and channeling them for use with pop harmonies and retro synths.
Madrid lo-fi rock quartet Hinds seem like they've been everywhere this year, and in a physical sense, they kind of have. A late 2016 tour, supporting their fuzzy January release "Leave Me Alone," saw them all around the United States, Canada and closer to their home base in Europe. The album, with its intentionally grungy production, explores the messiness of youth, invoking scenes of parties, love, and envy. But most tellingly, it evaluates and subverts traditional relationships with feminist lines like, "I could be your baby, but I'll be your man." As they often say, "Go pussies."
This year's Coachella lineup certainly has some eclectic surprises, but perhaps none of them are as interesting as Nigerian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist King Sunny Adé. The jùjú "Minister of Enjoyment" as he's been known to be called, was first particularly active in the 70s and 80s, and in his career has been an extremely prolific recording artist. He also hasn't toured his live show very often in recent years, making the California festival appearance of an Afrobeat icon a rare opportunity.
Bishop Briggs (real name: Sarah McLaughlin) has already in her young life completed what to many artists is a bucket list of accomplishments: she's performed with on a major tour with an international act (Coldplay), appeared on American television to perform live, and booked one of the world's biggest music fests — all before releasing a full-length album. Nevertheless, what she has released so far, by way of a self-titled 2016 EP, has made an impression. Her sound is a bluesy, noir take on sci-fi synths, best evidenced by one of her most recent releases, "Be Your Love."
What Whitney has over other folk outfits of late is experience. Both of the performers responsible for forming the band in 2015 — Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer Julien Ehrlich and Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek — already boasted experience and a bit of musical success performing live by the time the group came to be. And even still, Whitney heralds a new chapter in folk rock for its earnest lyrics and unfettered songwriting. In its debut album, "Light Upon the Lake," falsetto vocal melodies light up easygoing tempos as the duo, along with a band of five others, contemplates the good and sunny parts of life — with the occasional trumpet thrown in.
Not many artists out there have the capability of working with such diverse talents as Kendrick Lamar, Suicidal Tendencies, Erykah Badu, and jazz giant Herbie Hancock, but Thundercat is in his own league, in both the music landscape today as well as on the Coachella lineup. The L.A. multi-instrumentalist and funk player, at long last, has begun to really carve out his own name with his most recent EP, 2015's "The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam" which, despite running a mere 16 minutes, showcases all the complexities and sonic explorations one might want to explore in a full-length record.
The punk segment of this year's Coachella lineup is basically non-existent, making Tacocat's place on the bill all the more important. The Seattle pop punk four-piece, sometimes aptly likened to "bubblegum rock", isn't the rough-edged rollicking outfit you might expect in a punk band. However, their blunt honesty with some lyrical topics — periods, sexism, womanhood — is anarchic, and a loud middle finger to a predominately male genre.
Pond's similarity to Tame Impala isn't imagined. A sort of psychedelic proverbial cousin to the band has actually shared members with the well-known Aussie Kevin Parker outfit, but Pond's approach to music feels more irreverent, prankish, and twisted than anything a Very Serious Rock Band would ever entertain. Still, the Perth act's schtick has endured and the band has released more than a few records, giving them the opportunity to draw from some of their most fun numbers this festival season.
For a long time, music festivals on the whole were iffy on rappers, so it's a good thing for Coachella's guests that bookers are embracing more up and comers like the prolific Denzel Curry. The Florida hip-hop artist holds his own against Rick Ross and Joey Bada$$ on his 2016 mixtape "Imperial," and as a result, his popularity only continues to grow. Most recently, fans can catch him working with Boogie and tourmate Allan Kingdom on his most recent release, "Today."
Australian septet King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have released a staggering eight albums since their founding in 2010 (with another due to drop in February 2017). With all that practice, the psychedelia-friendly prog rock group have honed their live show, even mixing their most recent album, "Nonagon Infinity" to sound like an energetic live performance. They balance the wild fervor of live shows with artistic dexterity, and as a result everything is extremely calculated, right on down to the infinity loop.
Not many Coachella acts started 2017 with as much promise for success as the ferocious Sofi Tukker; the New York City duo was graced with a Grammy nomination for its tropical-tinged dance track "Drinkee," which uses Portuguese lyrics adapted from a poem by Brazilian poet Chacal. Known for its pulsing jungle pop tracks and eclectic production sound selections, the pair's debut EP, "Soft Animals," is an homage to a collection of curious influences. On the whole, though, it's just one thing: a party.
Text Alyssa Pereira
Image via Flickr Creative Commons