Coachella 2023 is now in the history books, and with it comes more than a few historical moments.
Losing a headliner between weekends.
Booking a DJ set in the round at main stage.
Nothing like this had ever happened at Coachella before.
This is unusual to say because so much about Coachella has been the same for so long. Most of what happens at Coachella happens every year.
The lineup is always diverse. The venue is always the Empire Polo Club. Artists always bring out special guests and make big debuts.
And in 2023, weekend 2 especially, Coachella demonstrated another important aspect of its sameness: that it’s a festival committed to delivering the best experience possible.
Whether that means keeping some things exactly as they’ve been before, making slight adjustments, or having to throw a hail mary last minute. Check out our report card below:
This was the best crowd we can remember from all the times we’ve been on the Polo fields. We ended up partying with new people at almost every set. Everyone was so about the music and wasn’t afraid to be themselves.
We saw random acts of kindness happening all weekend. Strangers came up to us just to ask how our day was or they would chime into the conversation when we were hyping up a set we saw.
We did not encounter one rude person the entire weekend either. When people were moving through the crowd they were respectful, and if any unexpected collisions happened everyone was very apologetic. No one was too messed up on alcohol or substances. If someone was expressing themselves with exuberance it was done in a way that considered the people around them.
Coachella always attracts people of all ages, but this year felt particularly diverse in this regard. Parents had their children in strollers. Senior citizens were exploring the grounds right alongside teens and mid-20s.
One particularly charming moment was a mother holding her very young daughter’s hand while they danced in Despacio. It looked like the mother had other family members around as well who were all encouraging the little girl to get down while she had her big ear muffs on. It was adorable.
Although we heard about some sound issues weekend 1, and of course, there was the disaster of Frank Ocean’s set, by weekend 2 they had everything dialed in. Sets started on time. Sound was crisp and clear.
Visually, Coachella is the place where artists always push the limits of their productions. Whyte Fang, who debuted the festival production for this project at Coachella, took her place inside a cube constructed from LED walls while dozens of moving lights surrounded her on the floor and ceiling. When the lights were running it created an entrancing effect as she went through D&B, dub techno, and bass music.
Other impressive visual sets included Chromeo who crafted a speaker-wrapped command center for their funkified output. And, of course, Eric Prydz‘s HOLO show was a visceral, progressive experience complete with spacemen (virtually) shooting laser guns into the crowd.
But the reason production gets an “A” grade is because of the tba set to close the weekend took things over the top. With the abrupt announcement of Frank Ocean’s cancellation, Skrillex, Four Tet, Fred Again.., and Coachella’s production team had just days to design a visual show for this historic set.
Instead of putting them on the stage, the trio of DJs were planted in the center of the field for a set in the round. The DJ booth served as the nucleus for a visual production that expanded around them. Like a mechanical flower that would wilt and rebloom with every drop, spewing out different color combinations and laser patterns.
As mentioned prior, with the production and sound dialed in, the only thing left for the music to reach the top tier was the artists themselves, and the artists delivered everything the crowd could want.
Gorillaz had a special guest on stage for more than half of their 17-song sub-headlining slot. Fisher & Chris Lake played one of the most party-starting sets in their shared careers. Chemical Brothers’ maintained their legendary reputation with an unbelievable visual show to match their classic electronic sound.
But once again, it all comes back to tba. After seeing so many videos of these lads spinning together on the internet, one might think they know what to expect from them, but then Four Tet cuts a minimal techno track abruptly to play “COUNTRY RIDDIM” by HOL! three times in a row.
Skrillex played “RATATA” four times in a row, while proclaiming “The whole world is watching!”
Overall what makes the three of them such great B2B partners is that there isn’t any sort of reputation to fulfill. They just play tracks they like, and they like tracks that dig deep into the spirit of dance music: unhindered joy and expression.
The only reason this isn’t an A+ is because on weekend 2 the Do LaB special guests weren’t headlining level like they have often been in the past. Instead of bringing at least one epic artist outside of the lineup, they either booked artists on the rise like Knock2 or grabbed artists who were already on the lineup like Gordo and Mathame.
Weekend 1 had a surprise set from ODESZA, and in previous years Do LaB has hosted major acts like Subtronics, Major Lazer, and Bonobo B2B Chet Faker.
Coachella has only ever happened at the Empire Polo Club in Indio. But after 24 years and over 30 Coachellas, they are still making adjustments to the venue.
For the most part, all the good stuff has stayed the same for many years. The venue is a flat, wide open space so even when crowds get massive, no one is getting crushed. Especially with the wonderful crowd this year, everyone was giving room to everyone else.
Amenities like real bathrooms and water refill stations are easy to find, and as a bonus this year, alcohol was no longer limited to the beer gardens. Once you grabbed your drinks you could roam the grounds which was a nice change of pace. Nothing like a sip of a cold beer when you’re under the hot desert sun in the middle of a crowd.
Fewer food stands were selling water bottles than previous years, but the bottles were back down to 2$ and were made of metal which allowed them to be reusable at least for a day.
Other aspects were perhaps a bit overly cautious. Like for example, there was often a line spilling out of Yuma even when the tent itself wasn’t very full. There seems to be a disconnect between Goldenvoice and Framework (who produces the Yuma) about how to integrate a proper house and techno experience into the festival.
More communication about parking would have been appreciated as well. On Sunday the line to park was over 90 minutes for the blue lot. There was little to no rendering of where roads were closed, or if lots themselves were full or not.
Coachella can’t prevent thousands of people from traveling to the event simultaneously, but they can be more upfront about what those people should expect as they arrive.
Everyone in the world has an opinion about Coachella, whether they’ve attended or not. But it would be hard to believe anyone who attended weekend 2 this year could come out saying anything bad.
Not just because the music was all on point. At the end of the day, that’s subjective. Not just because of the great production either. Some people may not have been a fan of how stages looked etc.
But two things are factual about this Coachella. First, and it’s worth reiterating, the crowd was fantastic. Even more than the crowd. The bartenders. The vendors. It was such an uplifting energy all around. Everyone was extra kind.
The lineup was certainly a more mature and alternative selection of artists which definitely attracted a more grounded audience. One that tilted older as well.
The second factual thing is that Coachella had to scramble to find a new headliner days before the gates opened weekend 2. That puts so much pressure on the booking team, the production team, the marketing team. Losing a headliner is up there with the worst thing that can happen at an event.
Well, Coachella proved that they can make the best out of the worst. Skrillex, Four Tet, and Fred Again.. (who we believe will introduce themselves as “tba” moving forward) made history this past Sunday.
So no matter what anyone may say about Coachella, it’s an event that can deliver for the fans even in the most difficult situations. That’s what makes for an A-rated festival.
All photos provided by Coachella on Facebook.