This week’s “GET PSYCHED!” is for that large percentage of my Coachella crew who attend the festival each year primarily to bask in the beats at the Sahara tent. Oh sure, they’ll make the occasional foray to the main stage to catch a major artist — but the real allure of the festival is the (usually) killer lineup of DJs and electronic music acts who keep the Sahara bumpin’ all the way up to curfew.
I’ll confess, however, that I wasn’t SUPER impressed with festival electronic music lineup this year. I mean … David Guetta? Calvin Harris? I suppose they’re both a step up from Tiesto, but damn. Charitably, I’ll call those obvious choices. Anyhow, I’ve learned to trust Goldenvoice’s taste implicitly at this point, and I figured that any fest that booked both Amon Tobin AND Atari Teenage Riot probably had some amazing acts lined up to get people movin’ without playing 100% to the cheap seats.
And, upon further inspection: my hunch paid off. And so, I present to you a short list of artists who will get asses shakin’ AND brains racing in the Sahara (and points beyond) this year.
OK, OK … yes. Justice is a fairly obvious choice here. The more observant among you will note, however, that the French duo, often lazily referred to as a sort of “Daft Punk lite” (because they’re a twosome of French DJs), is making its second Coachella appearance since Daft Punk made its one legendary stand at the Sahara in 2006. Points for staying hungry and not drifting into “flash in the pan” status. And, while Justice’s first album didn’t do a whole lot to dispel the DP comparisons, “ON’N'ON,” the first single from its 2011 album Audio, Video, Disco points to a very different direction — fewer driving grooves, more borrowing from big riff ’70s rock’n'roll and prog rock (as well as some small riff classics, e.g., CSN&Y’s “Ohio.”).
That makes for a VERY promising return to Sahara headline status, in my opinion. We’ll all be getting a high dose of the crazy stage set routine from Amon Tobin’s “ISAM” and DJ Shadow’s “Shadowsphere,” so the pressure is really just on Justice to show up with a crate full of ROCK. After listening to “ON’N'ON” about two dozen times this past week, I’m confident it can deliver.
The Rapture: Sail Away
It took seeing this Brooklyn-based dance punk group live for its music to actually grab me fully by the throat and make me pay attention. Sure, its 2011 album, In The Grace of Your Love (a “come back” of sorts) got a spin or two just on the merits of The Rapture’s rep, and (truthfully) because of its return to the DFA Records fold. Then I caught them live in Austin last fall, and the album quickly clicked for me in a big way, surging onto my list of “Best Albums of 2011.”
The Rapture had a strong following and tons of credibility already, thanks to its instant classic single, House of Jealous Lovers, and its “pioneer” status as part of the wave of Brooklyn bands that started fusing dance music with punk and post-punk back in the early ’00s. But, like most of those bands (and unlike LCD Soundsystem, which surged with each successive album), The Rapture eventually succumbed to “too much too soon” syndrome and followed up its breakthrough album with some mediocre records. When front man Luke Jenner departed the band to do some soul-searching in the wake of some heavy duty personal issues, it forced The Rapture to take a much-needed break.
In The Grace of Your Love was more than a return to form; it was the return of a band that had grown and evolved to realize the potential promised by its earlier work. Playing with variations and tempo and adding gospel and choir music into the dance / punk mix, The Rapture crafted nuanced, emotional record that still packs a hefty dance floor wallop. Having seen the band live now, I can testify to its undiminished power to get people moving. I’ll absolutely be one of those people, again, at Coachella this year.
SBTRKT: Right Thing To Do
I’m not sure who pioneered the practice of DJs and MCs wearing masks to create cartoonish alter-egos for themselves. I can say that, in general, these masked crusaders generally make music worth paying attention to. For reference: MF Doom, Dangermouse, dedmau5 (admittedly, opinions may be split here) and, lately, Aaron Jerome — AKA SBTRKT (pronounced, as you probably guessed, “subtract”) — a British DJ who creates a hypnotic blend of Chicago house, two-step and RnB. My first reaction to his music when I heard it was, “This sounds like Zero 7, if Zero 7 actually made me want to dance instead of fall asleep.” Think deep, soulful vocals layered over spacey electronics, driven forward by funky, FUNKY house grooves. In short: exactly what I want from a late night set at Coachella.
According to at least one interview, SKTRKT actually dons his particular set of masks (all of them, according to Wikipedia, “modern interpretations of native society ceremonial masks” in order to “subtract” his identity from the experience of hearing his music (a valid concern; Jerome has a career as a “nu-jazz” producer and musician, and probably figured that any new music put out under his own name would be judged according to impressions of his previous work). That flips the script on the typical motivation the drives most performers to costume up (dedmau5 has turned his giant mouse head into a global brand, for example), and it certainly gives Jerome freedom to explore different genres and musical textures without fear of violating preconceived notions of what his music should sound like.
Live, Jerome partners up with vocalist Sampha and jumps behind the drumkit to give his music a stronger kick and more room for improvisation; think house music or two-step as be-bop, a live act working through modern dance music forms, but calling back to DJs and crews like the Reprazent drum ‘n’ bass collective (which wasn’t afraid to stand its decks next to a drum kit to see where the beat could go next).
Santigold: Big Mouth
I’m probably more excited to see Santigold than any other act playing Coachella this year. I’m so swept away by her music — particularly her new tracks, like “Big Mouth,” that I consider the rationale for my excitement to be self evident. I mean … just listen to that song! But I suppose I should spend a minute breaking it down.
Santi White is a gifted MC, and her music is undeniably hip-hop … but she pulls in elements from so many different genres, and accentuates her own gifts (a distinct voice, an ability to drop instantly and credibly into Jamaican patois, a love of dance and old-school hip-hop tropes, like b-boying) such that she has emerged as a singular voice in the genre. I love that she pays homage to dub and new wave and old school rap in equal measure, and that she manages to work with so many different producers without sacrificing the consistency of her sound.
“Big Mouth” in particular has me totally jazzed. A slow builder, the song shows off some masterful use of rhythmic loops, each slowly entering the mix until they find a place in the arrangement, which gradually crescendos at the chorus. At that point, everything bursts wide open, and you’re swimming in frenzied tribal beats, reverbed “ooo ooo ooos” and “waa waa waas” and just generally catharting yourself all over the place. Then the whole piece resets and rebuilds to the next climax.
Mostly, though, I think her music’s just flat out great, and that she’s a ton of fun to watch perform. The inclusion of two b-girl dancers flanking her to perform synchronized routines, a la Public Enemy’s S1-W, adds immensely to her live show’s charm, as does the occasional gold lame track suit.
Modeselektor: Evil Twin
Big gigantic confession time: researching this article gave me my first real exposure to Modeselektor. I went hunting through the Coachella lineup in search of something other than dubstep or pop DJs who crank out predictable club bangers, and Modeselektor seemed a likely candidate. Oh sure, I’ve heard of them before, but I’d never taken the time to listen deeply.
Modeselektor have been saddled with the “IDM” genre tag, which is a tricky proposition for a show like Coachella. It generally implies something a bit more cerebral or experimental (read: not, in the strictest sense of the word, “fun”) than what you normally hear on the dance floor. I generally tend to gravitate to it when I need heavy focus to do things like write or to perform tedious, repetitive tasks. Modeselektor tends to skew a bit more toward IDM’s roots in Detroit techno, however, which means their sound is stripped down, pointed, and a bit bass-heavy — but that it’s also built for movement.
Or maybe I’m wrong, and the set will be more about head than heart. In any event, I’m intrigued, and always glad to hear different flavors of electronic dance music on the festival fields. It’s also worth noting Modeselektor’s popularity as a remixer; the duo has provided mixes for Bjork and Radiohead, and recorded a couple of excellent, moody tracks tracks with Thom Yorke. That provides some interesting potential for on-stage team-ups, given Radiohead’s headliner status at the festival.