Coachella is ostensibly about discovery and the unexpected. But the rowdiest set of the afternoon, by far, came from one of rap radio’s most reliable and omniscient hit-makers.
DJ Mustard, who almost singlehandedly keeps the lights on at Power 106-FM with his many hit singles, played Friday afternoon to one of the most ravenous crowds to ever hit the Sahara Tent. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising - nothing sells at Coachella like a big, familiar single, and Mustard has them by the dozen.
But his strategy - a machine-gun strafing of classic West Coast rap with a few veers into dubstep and trap -- was unusual for a fest that usually keeps up at least some veneer of staying out of the Top 40 fray. Mustard’s set could have been the soundtrack to a big Hollywood Boulevard bachelorette party. “Trap Queen,” “Hotline Bling” - it was almost striking for how normal it all was and how insane the spilled-over Sahara Tent went for it.
Mustard’s a skilled DJ for this sort of set - no song lasted more than 20 seconds, and he effortlessly made room for some harder-edged electronic sounds to keep the energy up. But it all signified Coachella’s slowly growing self-awareness that its main crowd is very young, clued into pop radio and rave culture and wants to hear familiar hits in a nonstop volley. Guns N’ Roses gets the attention, but for an hour on Friday, there was no revival of old sounds - it was a thorough dousing on current, very popular ones.
Calmer sounds from the bewitching French-Cuban duo Ibeyi made for a vibe-laden afternoon set. Their harmonies locked down in ways that only siblings probably can, and their twists on trip-hop and modern electronica seemed to come from much older souls (they are scions of Cuban music royalty, after all). But Coachella is at its best at its most intense, and a serrated, eerie set from the path-breaking L.A. noise band Heath and a mind-frying turn from the U.K. rave heroes Underworld were just as volatile. Neither of them dominates pop radio at the moment, but they know how heavy sounds can be transcendent, and they played like they were trying to win their tents over with pure force.
Brown writes for the California News Group, publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune and Los Angeles Times.