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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Higher than the sun: Coachella 2008

    The sun pushed its way to the front of the crowd, slapping the backs of the spectators with a million hands and filling in the gaps with invisible mass, until a single bright ray, the manifestation of its danger, was channeled by a magnifying glass next to me. A guy with a beard was trying to light a marijuana pipe, but refused to use a lighter because the chemicals of the flame made the high less pure.

    We were all cramming to watch the ironically titled Vampire Weekend play at the Coachella Valley Music Festival in Indio, Calif., and were getting edgier by the minute. By my third year, the fact of the stifling heat was still threatening but was also cliché, like the evil Satan or circus clowns. The sun was more of an excuse – to wear Urban Outfitters sunglasses, to have strange African Dr. Seuss art tents with sprinklers, rope dancers and trance music, to buy ice cream cookies. In fact, the entire weekend at Coachella was an excuse in itself. The ridiculousness of it all led people to do some pretty bizarre things.

    Like using port-o-potties for example. Although, that wasn’t quite as predictable because of the new Port-O-Deluxe trailers that the festival had set up. You walked up a pair of steps, and you were no longer staring at bloody tampons and flies, but releasing your energy in air conditioning, with real soap that you had to wash off your hands and a cute little painting of a flower from Mervyn’s.

    Or if that’s not bizarre enough, watching a naked dude with socks get massaged by an Asian woman while spectators were walking by. Or paying $8 for an artichoke. Or wiping your crotch with a notepad.

    You did just about everything at Coachella, except for seeing bands. When they were there, you couldn’t see them, and when you could see them, they were sick. On the first day – after the marvelous Vampire Weekend show and the lead singer of Les Savvy Fav running around in hot shorts, rubbing an ice block the size of a bee’s nest on his chest and climbing up 50 feet to the top of the stage and swinging from it while still singing – my friend and I decided to sit through three straight acts to get in the front row for my favorite group at the moment, Spank Rock.

    After the British Streets spinoff Dan le Sac, and then the New York M.I.A. spinoff Santogold, and finally the martian Bloc Party spinoff Datarock, our feet were exploding to see the rapper. Har Mar Superstar was also there, on the side of the stage in a big group. But he wasn’t part of the show. The Coachella operators had organized some kind of great V.I.P. deal this year, and there were always people on the side of each stage looking dumb and dancing self consciously, taking everyone’s attention away from the person performing.

    Instead of Spank Rock, we got a D.J. stalling for 20 minutes, then the female in the group, Amanda Blank, singing her own songs which weren’t as good. After about a half an hour, she finally announced that Spank Rock was dead or had ringworm or something like that, and rapped for a few more minutes and left. I suggested that Har Mar take the stage, but nobody heard me.

    It was all too disappointing, but that just helped me to look forward to the next day. Boys Noize, M.I.A. and Uffie were playing, although we ended up missing Uffie because my friend wanted to go to Mimi’s Café of all places.

    Before Boys Noize, the Berlin hipster DJ who’s famous for a robotic and powerful remix of “”My Moon My Man”” by Feist, my friends and I watched the last few minutes of James Zabiela, one of many terrible electrotrash D.J.’s at the event. You can always tell a cheesy electrotrash D.J. from a good one, solely by the length of hair. You can also tell by the stupid graphics of silhouettes of skateboarders and CGI peace signs floating around on the screen. This D.J. was one of a kind though, because the last 10 minutes of his set comprised of a robot saying “”Thank You”” in different tones and speeds until the guy said it himself and then left.

    The “”Thank You”” song cut into Boys Noize’s set, but no matter. After 20 minutes of blazing beats and dynamic-obsessed minimalism, the dancing gets tiring. Plus, there was the problem of that guy in an orange shirt b-bopping on the side of the stage during the dramatic climaxes. Fortunately, there was nobody good on for at least an hour, so I was able to chill out until the beginning of Kraftwork.

    “”Hey can I be your friend because none of my friends are around and I really need someone to talk to and throw all my insecurities on and then judge you because you didn’t like me and then judge myself,”” said a girl in a “”Nightmare Before Christmas”” shirt. “”The only reason I’m here is for Kraftwork. Hey did you see the Raconteurs?””

    “”Yeah, I saw a few minutes,”” my friend said.

    “”I hate them,”” she replied.

    I felt a little guilty because from the start I was planning to leave Kraftwork after a song, because I wanted to see M.I.A. up close. Nightmare Girl looked like one of those serious types that would hate me instantly if she saw me leave, as if I was a “”valley girl”” that she thought still existed and my life had no purpose. But to my delight, as soon as the four guys stepped up to their laptops and pressed a song called “”Man Machine”” which had only two words, she disappeared.

    This is where it all fell apart. I got to the dance tent during the end of the D.J. before M.I.A., and got sucked in as the crowd rushed the stage. Arms, noses, smells, pressures, tempers. A chaos of bodies squeezing together unable to breath. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t joke. Couldn’t see. If somebody was physically able to pull their penis out of their pants, I’d have no choice but to be raped.

    It was scary, but after a few minutes M.I.A. appeared on stage and I thought everything would be all right. She was ten feet away from me, and I could see the horror in her face. This close to the stage, everything sounded like a blurry hazy mess. I couldn’t hear what she was saying into the microphone, but it didn’t appear to be happy. The D.J. behind her played some alarm and gunshot noises for almost 20 minutes, while M.I.A. walked around in a white wig and black tape all over her body, and whispered to her tech guy. I couldn’t feel anything but the second toe on my left foot, because I think it was broken. Ghost dream noises surrounded the air while waves of pushing in the audience toppled us over like weeds in the wind. I was horrified of falling underneath, because I might have been trampled to death.

    “”Turn the lights off. I want to go back to London town,”” she kept saying, until finally the tech guy went to the front of the stage and pushed his hands out to signal something. Music picked up and M.I.A. invited everyone on the stage, probably to give people some room. But that made it worse. Thousands upon thousands began to push to the front, the mass of the world, squeezing me so intensely I thought I would suffocate. The security guards were screaming and pulling people up from the ground and onto the stage. M.I.A. continued to sing while a frat guy grinded her from behind. A few minutes later, she sang “”Paper Planes”” and thousands were throwing up their hands in the shape of guns. It was a nightmare that Christmas girl couldn’t have dreamed of.

    After only about six songs, her set was over and I was set loose into the world again. By that time, I was so exhausted that I skipped Prince almost entirely. For the first twenty minutes until I left, he wasn’t even playing any of his songs anyway. Plus, I couldn’t tell if the funk dancers during “”Jungle Love”” were really his, or cronies on the side of the stage.

    By the next day I was refreshed, and after a short trip to the Red Bull car from Michigan (no idea how it drove down the freeway with that giant can on its back) I was ready to go. First I saw Holy Fuck, which was all right, then I saw Does It Offend You Yeah, which was all right, and then I started thinking that the band names illustrated some kind of vague story, and then I saw Modeselektor which ruined it.

    After the first few songs, I left to see Roger Waters, who was probably the most amazing performer I’d seen thus far. (Well, there wasn’t really much left.) The magnum opus of his performance was staggering: two and a half hours long and diverse as hell. During the first set, he played songs from The Wall, The Division Bell, and even a new song that was about George Bush and was kind of clichéd. But at the end, he let loose a giant pig balloon that said, “”Don’t be led to the slaughter house,”” “”Impeach Bush”” on its ass, and “”Obama”” on its belly. At the end, he let the pig loose and it floated off into the night air, eventually to the driveway of a house in La Quinta, California.

    After a short intermission, he and his perfect backup band performed the entire “”Dark Side of the Moon”” in full, complete with mind-blasting visual effects of brains coming out of pills, stately and powerful moons, lasers, pyramids, guitar wails, soul singing and more. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to see Justice by the time he was done, because there was no way it could even compete. Plus, I felt kind of petty.

    But see Justice I did, and so did thousands of others who hadn’t left early to make class in the morning. I had to admit I was terribly scared of an M.I.A. repeat, but it didn’t happen. I was far back in the tent this time, but everyone around me had room to move and dance, slamming their bodies around when the beats climaxed with nothing to hit them but air. This band is apparently on their way out, but you wouldn’t know it by seeing them. It wasn’t just the power, because Boys Noize had that energy as well – Justice was epic. Their songs transcend dance and transcend funk or hipness. Their songs are religion. They’re “”Paradise Lost.”” They’re shattering. The blazing lights mixed with the blazing rumbles and sweat, and my friend threw a roll of toilet paper he found in the Port-O-Deluxe into the air. The thin paper flailed out and fluttered in the sound waves as it sailed down to earth.

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