Coachella 2012, Part 2: 30 Thoughts on Surviving the Festival

FilmMagic Radiohead

1. On the Shakedown

I forget what you call the area where your car is searched pre-campground entrance, but they should name it the Intimidation Shakedown Station (ISS). Everyone camping is aware that some form of inspection will take place, but it’s impossible to assume that you’ll run into the ISS. Yes, the actual inspection is terrifying (even with nothing to hide), but the ISS approach is even worse, because all you see is large men ransacking belongings. There was definitely a moment when my two co-campers and I looked at each other and our faces screamed “maybe we should just drive to Vegas.”

2. On Tents

If you don’t really know what you’re doing, successfully erecting a tent is like solving a Rubik’s Cube, blindfolded, with your knees. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, attempting to erect a tent around people who do know how to successfully erect a tent is like getting knocked out of a fourth-grade spelling bee. First round. As a 25-year-old. Successfully erecting a tent and then realizing that it’s three times as small as any other tent is like getting your debit card declined at the Dollar Store. With all of that said, having your beautifully tacky tent survive a windstorm without blowing over is one of the greatest feelings ever.

3. On Missing Prince

The walk into the venue from the campground is particularly glorious, because the old Coachella posters are displayed for all to see. I was excited to get to the 2010 poster, marking my first Coachella, because I wanted to point out (again) to my friends that I saw Jay-Z headline and he brought Beyoncé out and it was perfect. Two posters before that, however, quickly alerted me that I had nothing to celebrate. I missed 2008, also known as “The Year Prince and his Symbol Got the Biggest Font and Headlined Saturday Night of Coachella and I Missed It and Now I Want to Go Home.” I still haven’t recovered.

4. On Crop Tops

There’s really no in-between when it comes to this style of clothing. There’s no “she looks kind of good” in the midriff-baring ensemble. It’s either, “I can’t breathe, please let me hold your hand for the next three days, I have very little credit but if you can get past that, will you please let me marry you?” or simply, “Who told you that crop top was a good decision? A friend, you say? Oh, the friend who looks phenomenal in the crop top? Yeah, she’s not your friend. Know that. Also, I’m trying to marry her, so back off.”

5. On Main-Stage Kendrick Lamar

This kid is one of the future stars of hip-hop and I’m very excited about that. I say that, however, having seen him perform live previously in a non-Coachella venue. In a building or even under a tent, his verbal wordplay is embraced, enunciated words are appreciated, and it sounds marvelous. Playing on the main Coachella stage, however, is not where Kendrick Lamar needs to be. Between his own set on Friday and his guest spot on his Dre collaboration “The Recipe,” the end result in the open air sounds like a jumble of fast words I wish I could understand. Which is unfortunate, since the the words are so good.

6. On Getting Lost at Night

One of the reasons I love Coachella is also one of the reasons I loathe Coachella. To be expected, cell phone reception isn’t always a guaranteed thing when 90,000 people are trying to send the same text about a 2Pac hologram. While I do enjoy being forced to fall off the grid at times, this becomes a particularly troubling issue as the sun goes down. Midday, if someone says, “Meet me by the beer garden. I’m wearing the neon corset,” they will probably be found. If that same thing happens at 8 p.m. and texts aren’t going through, it’s a wrap. The lesson: Keep your friends close, keep your friends closer at sundown.

7. On Frank Ocean

Maybe I was just reluctant to believe this, or just a hater, but Frank Ocean can sing his face off. I’ve long been trying to figure out who he reminds me of, but after seeing his amazing set live, hearing his voice fill up the nighttime desert sky, and watching grown women scream over this almost reluctant sex symbol, his presence screams Maxwell. Frank, if you’re reading this, just know compliments don’t get much better than that. In this Usher-fueled era of R&B singers going Guetta on us, it’s nice to hear a guy just walk around a stage, without choreography or pyrotechnics, and just sing his angsty heart out. Oh, and he brought out Tyler.

8. On The Rapture’s “How Deep Is Your Love?”

I’ve long enjoyed The Rapture, but not until seeing them live did one of their songs truly resonate with me. “How Deep Is Your Love?,” the standout track from 2011’s In the Grace of Your Love, could not be a more exciting dance track. Actually, as one to never shy away from hyperbole, it might be one of the better dance tracks I’ve ever heard performed live. Even at Coachella, it’s hard work to get everyone to dance uncontrollably. Four minutes in, between the clapping, jumping, and spinning that I (and everyone in the crowd) was doing, the thought I actually hope this never ends crept into my mind. Still bummed it did.

9. On M83’s “Intro”

While M83’s set wasn’t perfect (the volume was awkwardly too low for my liking), there is no denying the power that is starting your nighttime set with the first track from Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. This song is phenomenal coming through headphones, but it was meant to be played at night, it was meant to be accompanied with lights, and it was meant to sound as if it were coming down from the heavens. If you’re going to miss part of the Black Keys set, it had better be for a good reason. This six-minute revival of a song was definitely that reason.

10. On Corn Dogs

I had eight corn dogs in three days. If that sounds disgusting to you, that’s completely OK, but just know that these may have been the greatest corn dogs ever created. The seller of these corn dogs, Gourmet Faire, should be given some kind of plaque or large ribbon or key to some important city, because I would tell war secrets to know the things they do to corn dogs. It’s like a Nathan’s hot dog meets IHOP’s Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity. Gourmet Faire, know that outside of the Frank Ocean–Maxwell comparison, there is no higher compliment than “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity.” Know that.

11. On Public Bathrooms

Coachella 2012
A subplot of Coachella, which at times became the main attraction of the festival, is how to effectively relieve oneself. Living in a city, this is a familiar cat-and-mouse game, which usually boils down to finding a Barnes & Noble if you aren’t near your home. At Coachella, however, the issue isn’t a “where.” It’s a “Do I have to … there?” That’s the response when presented with the gift/curse that is the public health nightmare known as the porta-potty. For those who did not camp, this was potentially not the largest of problems, because you could at least handle your business before or after, in the privacy of your own hotel. If you’re camping, however, there are decisions to be made. Hard decisions.

12. On the March

Sitting on a toilet is usually something done with only your knowledge. When you enter a public bathroom, you don’t have to hit a button that says no. 1 or no. 2. You just go in and hope no one is timing you. Camping at Coachella, however, presents the normal person with this interesting scenario where you’re almost declaring your end goals to anyone who sees you. It’s the long walk of shame to the armada of porta-potties, with a roll of toilet paper in your hand. We call it “The March” because that’s exactly what it is. There’s nothing subtle about it and no way around it. You’re a pooper.

13. On the Anonymity

There’s nothing worse than being a rushed pooper. Nothing. The pressure of feeling a line waiting on you to finish your business makes me physically uncomfortable. I bring this up to point out a really beautiful side effect of having clusters of 40 porta-potties scattered throughout the campground and venue. Yes, they are disgusting, but at least you can take your time. And on top of that, it’s almost assured that the people who saw you walk in will not be the people you see when you leave. No one is timing you. You can take as long as you want. One time, I checked my Instagram and saw that someone liked my picture of the mountains. I smiled.

14. On the Reveal

Walking out of that porta-potty is an amazing feeling, for so many reasons. For one, you’ve freed yourself from the clutches of filth. Secondly, the den of destruction that is that porta-potty can’t simply be attributed to you. It’s been a team effort of hundreds of similarly disgusting people. And third, the group of people who see you leave with a creepy grin on your face have no idea how long you were in there, and even if they had a clue, you’ll never see them again. While The March is slightly embarrassing, the beauty that is the anonymity and the reveal almost makes using a unisex bathroom at Starbucks impossible. I can’t go back to that life.

15. On Charging Stations

Coachella 2012
The morning scene in the campground is a pretty brutal and hilarious sight. Everyone’s exhausted because they woke up with the sun at 6 a.m., everyone’s back hurts, and no one can do those normal morning things (eat, shower, restroom) at the speed and quality at which they’re accustomed. While all of these are great to watch (less fun to endure), the best scene is the early-morning revival of cell phones. Massive charging stations were erected around the different campsites, and these became arguably the most important places to visit, pre-noon, because there is no way that one’s phone could actually make it through the night and the next morning. The sound of hearing a phone finally turn on and the iPhone beep of 10 text messages finally file in from the previous night is pretty priceless. Especially when it’s happening to 100 phones at the same time.

16. On the Camping Neighborhood

I assume that staying in fancy houses beyond the festival limits is fun, because otherwise people wouldn’t do it, but I just can’t imagine anything more fun than having a row of six tents with strangers that, over the three-day festival, almost depend on each other for amusement, music, dancing, day plans, bacon, beer, bottle openers, coffee, phone chargers, the guarding of stuff, more bacon, Wheat Thins, playing cards, job advice, toilet paper, cash, nail polish, face paint, and even more bacon. But maybe I’m wrong.

17. On Radiohead’s Encore

After perhaps the best set of the weekend, Radiohead returned to the stage with a six-song, 45-minute encore better than 90 percent of the other sets at Coachella. No one can do a venue like the main stage of Coachella like Thom Yorke. His beautiful, haunting voice was made for nighttime open-air Coachella. After experiencing the gamut of emotions during “Give Up the Ghost” and “Everything’s in Its Right Place,” the band launched into the final song of the encore, “Paranoid Android.” After six minutes in heaven, they reached the abrupt final note and the accompanying light show concluded with a sight that has been burned into my frontal lobe. When I tried to take a picture of it, the camera couldn’t handle it and only got a white blur. But it was so much more. It lit up the desert sky. It was glorious.

19. On AraabMUZIK

DJ/MPC extraordinaire AraabMUZIK came through with one of my favorite sets of the weekend. His performance is great, because what could be mundane (watching a guy play an MPC for an hour) becomes a spectacle, as the cameras focus on his athletic finger work over the course of the show. The speed and accuracy at which he hits his machine makes him almost as much of an athlete as he is a beat-maker. It’s startling. Hilariously, his beats weren’t even the highlight of the show. While this was all happening, which led to a great dance party in the crowd, perhaps the greatest thing I’ve ever witnessed at a concert took place. Next to our dance circle, a different circle had formed. But there was no dancing. It was something much more extreme.

Coachella 2012


20. On Not Weeknd

Between 6:55 p.m. and 7:45 p.m., I had a marvelous time at Coachella not seeing The Weeknd. Let me tell you how I spent it (get ready to be filled with jealousy): I walked back to the campsite, ate some Sun Chips, drank a Vitaminwater, packed a little, stretched with my co-campers Jimmy and Nick, threw on a hoodie in case the temperature dropped, went to the bathroom, and then walked back to the venue just in time for The Weeknd to be done. I have a lot of memories from the festival, but there’s not much that will top “Not Weeknd.”

21. On Not Interviewing Avicii

On Friday evening, I was set to interview the DJ known as Avicii. I was excited about this five-minute interview they were granting me, and I spent all of Friday thinking about what to ask him. Then I got news that the interview wasn’t happening. That was probably for the better, for both of us, because the only questions I had come up with were, “You’re playing at the same time as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg; how much does that suck?,” “I hear they got holograms, you got holograms?,” and, “There’s no way I’m seeing your set. That isn’t a question, I just wanted you to know that.”

22. On Seeing Justice, Alone

Not so secretly, there was no one I was more excited to see than Justice. Cross is one of my favorite albums ever, and I had pictured in my head that they would just do the album from beginning to end and I would stand there, hands raised, crying. It didn’t happen exactly like that, but it was close. I was pretty reserved for the first few tracks, and then my friends left to go catch Calvin Harris. I don’t know why being alone served as the catalyst, but once they were out of eyeshot, something came over me and I couldn’t control myself. I wish I could comment on the final 30 minutes of the set, but all I remember was joy.

23. On Face Paint and Fancy Nails

Because of the beauty that was my camping neighborhood, I got two pretty important body alterations done while at Coachella. My right ring finger’s nail is now covered in silver glitter (I have no idea how to get it off — please, someone help) and I got a triangle painted on my face. I don’t know why it took me so long to get either of these done. Having one nail silver and glittery has brightened my day on numerous occasions, mainly because I forget it’s there every 10 minutes. As for the face paint, having a triangle on your face is awesome. I don’t know how appropriate it is in the real world, but I assume it falls under the rules of most Casual Fridays. I hope.

24. On VIP Stares

After spending a few hours on Friday and Saturday in VIP (#humblebrag) to charge my phone and people-watch, I was shocked and pleased about how un-VIP it felt. It didn’t seem pretentious and no one seemed to be trying too hard to look cool. Then Sunday came around and it became clear this would be the scene to watch Dr. Dre and Snoop. After making a final clothing change, I returned to this area with my cool-guy game face on. After a few loops and some smiles in return to my stares, I was excited that people seemed to be responding to me well. Then I caught my reflection on a window and remembered that I still had a watercolored triangle on my face. Sigh.

25. On Artists Hating on the VIP Section

I think a whole book could be written on this topic. I’m sure you’ve heard it (especially at a hip-hop or super-cool rock show), but when the artists are trying to get the crowd going, one of the best tactics is to talk to the crowd, and then say something along the lines of “all the people in VIP, all you lame, rich, stuck-up, no-dancing suits … I see you with your punk asses.” Or something like that. I’ve always thought that was cute of musicians to say, seeing as it’s the area they stand when they’re watching someone else’s performance. OH, ARTISTS. So cute.

26. On Tony Yayo

One thing we, as a people, have to deal with is that when 50 Cent comes out as a surprise guest of Dr. Dre, Tony Yayo comes out as the hype man for 50. It’s such an unfortunate occurrence, as Yayo is single-handedly trying to keep alive the tactic of yelling the last three words of every line in such a manner that he wants to make the song worse, almost to the point that you wish you never came to Coachella. No, I don’t like the fact that 50 is still forgetting the lyrics to his own songs, but Yayo being there as backup is not the solution America needs.

27. On Nate Dogg and Being Nasty

I’ve always found it beautiful when men and women alike sing triumphantly to some of the dirtiest lyrics ever. It takes place in Atlanta when Kilo Ali’s “Love in Your Mouth” comes on, and I’ve heard it many a time in New York when “Oochie Wally” blares through the speakers. During Dre and Snoop’s set, mid–Nate Dogg tribute medley, the entire crowd sang along to “Ain’t No Fun If the Homies Can’t Have None” with Nate, as he beautifully crooned poetry like, “Just lay back and open your mouth.” Leave it to Nate to continue to bring the people together.

28. On the 2Pac Hologram

After giving myself a full day to think about the 2Pac hologram, after witnessing the 2Pac hologram with my own eyes (I think?), I can confidently say that if this was an isolated incident, I support it, but if it leads to more holograms, Sunday, April 15, 2012, will go down as a dark day in music/science/rest-in-peace history. Seeing it was cool, then terrifying, and then awkward, and then cool again, and then the worst thing ever. I think. You know what? I don’t know how I feel about the hologram. Actually, if there were a Luther Vandross hologram, I wouldn’t be mad. Or I might be furious. I hate NASA.

29. On Walking Out, Cheering

Post-Hologramgate, as the massive crowd left the venue for the last time and headed back to the campground, people started clapping. There wasn’t anyone telling us to, but as people did that final scan of their bracelets, the cheers to Coachella erupted throughout the masses. It was weird but beautiful. It reminded me of back in the day, when people used to clap when the plane landed safely. It doesn’t really happen anymore, because I assume everyone takes landing and living for granted, but if you think about it, a plane landing safely should be celebrated. I think this similar feeling of saluting the festival but also clapping for your own survival existed upon exiting the grounds. Good job to all.

30. On the Lockdown

Telling adults that they can’t leave the fun is a pretty hilarious notion. So is not allowing adults to go back to their real lives and keeping them trapped inside their fake lives, also known as a three-day music festival. This was the scene as Coachella banned campers from leaving the festival via vehicle from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. While it was a responsible thing on their part — I’m assuming to curb drunk driving — it’s still comically reminiscent of someone’s mom taking all the car keys at the beginning of a high school party and forcing everyone to stay and have fun under her roof. That’s pretty phenomenal. Coachella is like the fun mom.

Filed Under: Coachella, We Went there

Rembert Browne is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ rembert