There’s a generational divide at Coachella, and the lines were drawn between Jack U and LCD Soundsystem’s stages on Friday night.
On one side, you had LCD Soundsystem, one of Coachella’s two big reunions and a critically beloved band that also happens to play historically aware, emotionally perceptive live dance music.
On the other, you had Jack U, Skrillex and Diplo’s vessel for some of the biggest, dumbest, knuckle-dragging beats of their careers. For their live sets, they’re the biggest bull in Coachella’s already quite-chaotic EDM china shop, even before you get to “Where Are U Now,” their major pop hit with Justin Bieber and an elemental force at festivals.
Guess who had the bigger, wilder, dance-till-you-keel-over crowd?
That spilt between well-regarded headliners and a culture of teen party-nihilism is well-established at Coachella these days. But it came into sharper clarity this year, especially in regard to dance music. LCD’s set was virtuosic and a very welcome return, but it didn’t land as the all-slaying Coachella triumph that some had hoped for (you could walk up to the front of the main stage without much hassle).
Underworld, the great rave band that played the first Coachella in 1999, put on a mesmerizing show on occasion of a great new album, but the Sahara Tent crowds didn’t quite lose their mind with commensurate abandon.
But the big, dumb thumpy stuff that older Coachella fans might have defined themselves against proves, time and again, to win the nights here. Skrillex and Diplo are smart guys, and Jack U can get at moments of real grace. But they took their Friday set as a challenge to see how many times they could hit Coachella over the head with a hammer and make the crowds like it.
And like it, they did - lines stretched to the yellow mini-city installation piece that seemed to be in a different ZIP code from the Outdoor stage. But more importantly, they went absolutely berserk for every minute of it (even the silent Kanye West photo-op cameo).
Expect something similar from Zedd on Saturday night and Major Lazer and Calvin Harris on Sunday. The combination of big radio hits and high-wattage EDM artillery is still the most effective tool an act can have at Coachella. Despite signs that the EDM economic bubble is deflating, at places like Coachella, its reign is unquestioned.
Disclosure will bring hits and a bit more class to the main stage; the noticeably expanded Yuma Tent proves the appetite for underground club music is deeper than ever. But as much as my fellow rapidly graying generation of dance music fans may grumble, Coachella is for the kids, and the kids still want to convulse to the biggest, dumbest dubstep they can find. Good for them. There’s a whole lifetime left to lose one’s edge.
Brown writes for the California News Group, publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.