This year’s edition of Coachella had a high bar to meet. After temporarily resurrecting Tupac, twice, in 2012, the sold-out festival faced heightened expectations as it once again took to the desert over the last two weekends to bring its largest crowd ever, estimated at ninety thousand each weekend, to Indio’s Empire Polo Club. Popular opinion ahead of time dubbed some headliners out-of-date, and critics were surprised by the lack of a top-billed electronic act. Aided by the growing popularity of dance music, nonstop Daft Punk rumors and predictions flooded feeds and blogs during the lead-up, but to the disappointment of seemingly everyone—the presence of Daft Punk tees was trumped only by the sea of “Bitch don’t kill my vibe” and “Ya bish” shirts that flooded one of the only festivals Kendrick Lamar was not scheduled to perform at—the closest attendants got to the masked duo was a video clip that aired before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ set on the first Friday of their new single “Get Lucky.”
As the wind warnings began to trickle in, Saturday shaped up into the sunny bubble everyone traveling to the desert had expected. 2 Chainz—who came out late at, appropriately, 4:20—gave the exuberant crowd spilling out all sides of the Mojave tent everything they wanted. Packed in tight enough to fill the Main Stage, fans sang along word-for-word to all the songs they hoped to hear, from “I’m Different” to his verse off the remix of Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything.” Just as the 2 Chainz crowd skewed male, Major Lazer, thanks mostly to frontman Diplo, packed in the ladies, with the sunset show overflowing with island vibes and disrobed dancers. Moby, who played at the first Coachella in 1999, delivered a euphoric set with perfect flow to an unstoppable crowd you would have thought had assembled for the headliner, continuing to cement his position in the modern electronic music world.
Coachella’s real headliner this year was the newly-erected Yuma, a hardwood-floored, air-conditioned tent filled with couches, disco balls, and baroque decorations. Missing was the pulsing light installation of its distant cousin Sahara, but Yuma felt akin to Brooklyn’s recently-opened club Output, down to a similar DJ lineup and the lingering smell of fog, smoke, and e-cigarettes. In complete contrast to the EDM- and lightshow-based Sahara tent, Yuma is for the more delicate house-music palate. Touting a heavy UK garage and deep house influence, legends like Pete Tong and Luciano were joined by the likes of Maya Jane Coles, Jamie xx, and Julio Bashmore. On Friday, Four Tet gave up any pretense of being slow and melodic, throwing down a methodical, hard-hitting set that made the crowd both move and listen.
Outside of Yuma, the British pride continued to fly high. The xx, who brought out Solange Knowles for a cover of Aaliyah’s “Hot Like Fire,” serenaded from the Main Stage mere hours after Hot Chip had everyone dancing on the lawn on Saturday. On Sunday, Jessie Ware gave an energetic and sultry midday set, establishing herself as the next female British sensation à la Lily Allen or Adele. She followed her performance up with a shout-out to La Roux, James Blake, and Alex Clare, all scheduled to follow her in the Mojave tent that afternoon. At night, Ware, along with Sam Smith, joined the breakout electronic duo of Disclosure in closing out the festival to a packed tent of belting revelers. But the highlight of Sunday, and the festival as a whole, was the gathering of every living member of the Wu-Tang Clan (plus Redman) to a crowd so large you really wondered who had assigned artists to stages this year. As the sand swirled, the gusts of wind blew right past RZA, Method Man, and the rest of the crew; it was, they joked, “Hurricane Wu.”
Such first-world problems aside, the 2013 Dust Bowl so lovingly dubbed “Blowchella” delivered yet two more weekends of nonstop musical and sensory overload. As the crowd joined Method Man in singing along to the infamous chorus from “C.R.E.A.M.”, the escape from the everyday neared an end and the lyrics felt more appropriate than ever. “Cash rules everything around me/C.R.E.A.M. get the money/Dollar, dollar bill y’all,” we sang, as W’s made by joined palms held strong against the wind. It was almost time to go home and deny reality another way.