Music Features

The Nine Best Acts of Coachella 2019

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For all you ladies and germs attending Coachella Weekend Two, I performed the civic duty of sprinting around Weekend One to find you the nine most essential sets of Coachella 2019. Hold your applause, please.

Coachella 2019 Aphex Twin

APHEX TWIN

I don’t care much for Aphex Twin, an opinion informed by both a dismissive attitude towards electronica and that the producer’s entire modus operandi feels of a bygone era for a 1996-born brat. To be honest, I had no intention of stopping by the set, but once I put out that I was attending Coachella, the messages came in droves. “You have to see Aphex Twin.” “Oh my god, I’m so jealous ur seeing aphex twin.”  After all that, how could I not? And so a skeptic walks into the front row of an Aphex Twin show, one of the producer and DJ’s only handful of visits to North America in the past 20 years, and got his brain pureed into a sieved mush. Pairing with visual artist Weirdcore, who has found plenty of ways to disorient viewers with images of themselves, the show is assaultive pleasure, like getting choked and demeaned by a loving partner and asking for more. To all of this I say: Thank you to those who pushed me to attend, and I can only hope I can do the same for others. A massive percentage of Coachella’s attendees plow the grounds with the goal of rolling as hard as possible and tripping fucking balls, but are under the delusion they’ll get their fix at a Dillon Francis set. Put your trust fund money where your mouth is and enter the abyss of Aphex Twin.

BLOOD ORANGE

Playing at sunset in the cool breeze, Hynes’ vocals traveling across your skin with every gust of wind, Blood Orange was peak desert-dazed rhythm. The intro to “Saint” (a personal favorite off of 2018’s phenomenal NEGRO SWAN) alone alleviated all stress from my bruised soles and tattered soul. This is relaxation, but the gig keeps you on your toes—Hynes thinks outside the box. Not getting Diddy to show up for his “Hope” feature? Fine. We’ll get Lil Yachty in a Weezer tee instead. Matching the balletic compositions of Blood Orange’s soul riffs with digital video visuals of wheelies in the hood, one medium’s lyricism entangled in dance with the other, makes the whole experience feel less of a jam session and more an art installation. The sense of portent at a Blood Orange show, as if you are witnessing the very creation of music itself, cannot be beat. For my money, Hynes and Co. closed out Sunday night, before the festival became the overcrowded, fire bomb-receptive silicon fever dream so many deem Coachella as (for real, having the entire Sahara crowd migrate over to Main Stage for Zedd and keep flooding in for a Khalid trainwreck, only to rush back for Dillon Francis and NGHTMRE made for a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare).

Coachella 2019 JPEGMAFIA

JPEGMAFIA

Spitting as though his life depended on it in front of Gorgon City’s drumset was LA-based Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, otherwise known as rising alternative rapper JPEGMAFIA (or “Peggy,” to his devotees), laying out his blackened soul for a compact audience of day-ones. Sorely missing was Peggy’s feral solitude, his one-man-show flailing and beat-spinning just a tad bit hindered by the presence of a DJ whose hype chants carried less than 1% of the main act’s conviction. Something tells me that management considered Coachella a growth gig (his prestigious placement at the Outdoor Theatre was a shocker when the more indie-minded Gobi tent is tailor-made for his show), but in a lineup filled with extravagant costuming and stunt-shows, an experimental rapper cueing up beats on his laptop as he screeches in between bated gasps provided the same resuscitating defibrillation in a festival setting as JPEGMAFIA does for his genre. With Weekend Two days away, here’s hoping Peggy’s team realizes that less is more for this nuclear powerhouse of a performer; that he pulled off an awkwardly scheduled and located early evening slot as expertly as he did is the proof in the pudding.

Coachella 2019 Playboi Carti

PLAYBOI CARTI

Mumbling “If you’re scared, get the fuck out” like his own “I Am Groot,” Carti’s refrains were sparse but his intentions ballistic. Blasting out the gates with “R.I.P. Fredo” and unrelenting from there, Young Carti sought to turn Coachella into full-on Desert Storm, and while the festival crowd is a touch too hoity-toity to match the energy of a Camp Flog Gnaw-level war zone, there was no denying the rising dust clouds from scuffed sneakers and sweaty bodies battering into one another on a field of dead grass. While the lack of surprise guests on feature-dependent tracks like “New Choppa” and “Love Hurts” was disappointing, nothing matches the almost-mocking gesture of playing “Shoota” three separate times and not bringing out Uzi for any of them. Say what you will about Playboi Carti’s lack of lyricism or simple melodies (opinions you’re wrong about, by the way), his stage presence must be seen to be believed—part complete disdain for the welfare and safety of his fans, part accommodating the wants of a crowd of lit kids, the result is an artist at his most arrogant and self-conscious. The backing tracks may dominate the speakers, but Carti is watching and listening to gauge his impact, planning every strike with the precision of a high-ranking general. When the mosh hits, it’s fight or flight.

RICO NASTY

Her flow impenetrable, her raspy vocals nigh impossible to tune out, Rico Nasty has rightfully become every rapper’s favorite rapper. And while many alt-rappers can get stuck in a “your artist’s favorite artist” zone, I’m confident Rico’s only facing an upward trajectory; she’s one hit single away from being a household name, bet. Get in while she’s on the ground floor, while her shows remain a rollicking space for genderqueer and Black womxn to elbow one another in the face and smile the whole way through. Nasty’s performance style is a miracle—while controlling the rioting crowd like Johnny Rotten, she poises herself with Evita Perón’s speech-giving abilities. Rico’s upcoming project, ANGER MANAGEMENT, a collaboration with meteorically rising producer Kenny Beats (who made an extended festival cameo in a hot pink wig), is being touted by the duo as a controlled release of pure aggression, and I can’t find a better descriptor for the therapeutic experience that is a Rico Nasty show.

ROSALÍA

Skyrocketing into every music fan’s grab-bag of favorite artists is Spanish virtuoso Rosalía, blending flamenco with airy electronic tempos, a combination so delectable it’s as if she’s discovered pairing peanut butter with chocolate. You want vocals? Done, got ‘em. You want dancing? Boom, she’s got you. You want stage design? Baby, Rosalía’s on it. Gradually reaching the climax of “QUE NO SALGA LA LUNA – Cap.2: Boda” by lingering on every note sung is as gripping as any high-wire act. Watching as she expounds the entire spirit of a nation into a wailing cry, one met with the loudest applause I encountered at Coachella, was a modern marvel; Rosalía’s response, a quivering lip and tear-welling eyes that threatened to break as we cheered louder and louder, only got us more on her side. Hands down the boldest, most thrillingly choreographed, and impassioned pop performance of Coachella 2019, give me Rosalía over whatever that Ariana set was any day of the week.

Coachella 2019 Tierra Whack

TIERRA WHACK

Tierra Whack is going to take over the world, and she’s ready to do it. Bouncing across the stage like her own hype man, dropping track-after-track so similar in ethos, yet vastly different in sound, makes for as exciting a concert experience as it does album listen. Whack is Bubble Gum Badu, parading herself in an inflatable lime green dress as she jumps from one style to the next like it’s hopscotch, all the while delivering each and every bar like it’s destined to be her very last. I could write on and on, but look: Tierra Whack is one of the best performers and artists alive today. It’s tough to justify what is just objective truth, baby; it’s a whack world and we’re just living in it.

LOS TUCANES DE TIJUANA

I saw my fair share of EDM sets at Coachella, but no drop came close to trumping the widespread goosebumps as the opening notes of “La Chona,” the signature backyard party-starter of many a cookout blasting through the Empire Polo Club. The great migration of Mexicanos to the Main Stage for a mid-afternoon Friday set of norteño essentials instilled a national pride like no other, and in this fraught social climate, the spiritual cleansing of being surrounded by a sea of powerful, celebrating Latinos all thinking “I can’t believe we’re watching Los fucking Tucanes De Tijuana at Coachella” was unmatched. Like going to a carne asada on Brewster Avenue, Los Tucanes’ set was a victory for La Raza and a highlight of the festival’s right-minded shift of attention to Latinx acts. There’s not much else to say: God bless the Mexicans, guey.

Coachella 2019 Weezer

WEEZER

Look, I’m just as shocked as you are. Perhaps the greatest glitch in the matrix is not only Weezer slaughtering their headlining Coachella show, but coming out the festival as perhaps the best performance flat-out. Music festival as karaoke bar, Weezer loaded their set front-to-back with stone-cold classics, sprinting out the gate with “My Name Is Jonas” and bringing the house down with a “Say It Ain’t So” finale, complete with full band bow. Midway, frontman Rivers admitted to being very excited about the night’s set since it’d feasibly be the last time Weezer ever play Coachella, a loaded sentiment that more-or-less explains why the band has subjected us and themselves through the last few years of their music; a band clasping for a final shot at relevancy just so they can claim they went out on top. From what I felt belting “El Scorcho” ‘til my windpipe gave out in a field of thousands doing the very same, I’d say they succeeded. And look: this set was so good that the band even kind of justified the war crimes of THE TEAL ALBUM, bringing out Tears for Fears and TLC’s own Chilli to perform covers of “Everybody Wants To Rule the World” and “No Scrubs,” respectively, thus reinterpreting that wedding band demo of an LP as honorific ode to the band’s motley of influences. Simply put, this was the perfect festival set.

[Applause]

Kevin Cookman
Deserted in a video store as an infant, Kevin was raised on Fulci, Tarantino, Kubrick, and Whoppers. Now he's a graduate of Chapman University who acts as a contributor for Merry-Go-Round on the side: what a success story.

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