“This is chaotic but so much fun,” Frank Ocean tells Coachella on Sunday night (April 16) after staging a DJ-backed “rave” in the middle of his headline set. Fans, eager to see Ocean live after his six-year-long break from the stage, are less than thrilled when he arrives on stage an hour after promised. Still, once he starts the set with ‘Novacane’, everyone is happy to chant the words, “Met her at Coachella / I went to see Jigga, she went to see Z Trip” back at him. As the night crawls past midnight, Ocean announces that the set must end earlier than expected because of curfew. The audience is a contrast of groans from frustrated fans and smiles from those who were just happy to see the singer in the flesh at all. As the final day of Coachella weekend one concludes, Ocean’s comment on chaos seems more apt than ever.
But so goes Coachella 2023, three days bringing together a hodgepodge of sounds and fans drawn to those sounds, all with the common goal of hearing their favourite artist take the stage at one of the world’s biggest festivals. This year the desert fest boasts its most diverse line-up since it launched back in 1999. K-pop behemoths Blackpink put on a staggering performance to close day two, making history as the festival’s first Korean act to headline. Puerto Rican singer and rapper Bad Bunny’s raucous set closes day one in a similarly momentous performance – becoming the first Spanish-language artist ever to headline.
Coachella was initially launched to be the “anti-Woodstock” anti-establishment festival the country needed. Now, even though the alternative acts that started the fest aren’t taking top billing, that energy to push the boundaries of live music is still there. Having massive acts confidently celebrating the diversity of music, bringing their culture to the Southen California desert from around the world all while fans are happy to sing along in another language, proves the power of music to connect people across borders and genres, and the boundaryless future music is hopefully headed in. Years ago, it may have been unlikely that these acts would be Coachella headliners, but thanks to the unpredictable (or dare we say, “chaotic”) nature of music, the question of whether or not these headliners belong in the festival’s most coveted positions isn’t even up for debate.
Outside of headliners, the festival is once again the backdrop for new releases, special guest performances and last-minute additions. Blink-182 announce a surprise set the Thursday before the festival starts (April 13). Their first live performance as the band’s original line-up since 2014 is filled with dirty jokes, hits like 1999’s ‘All The Small Things’ that ordained the band godfathers of pop-punk, and enduring moments like co-vocalist and bassist Mark Hoppus telling the California crowd to “take care of one another”. The surprises continue throughout the weekend as 2022 headliner, Billie Eilish shows up during Labrinth’s set to perform their collab, ‘Never Felt So Alone’. Kali Uchis, takes it up a notch, bringing Tyler The Creator, Omar Apollo and Daniel Ceasar to aid in her electric performance. MUNA bring out boygenius to perform ‘Silk Chiffon’ and Bad Bunny is joined by Post Malone. But all these rollouts pale in comparison to Metro Boomin’s star-studded set, which packs the biggest surprise guest spots with The Weeknd, Diddy, Future, John Legend, 21 Savage, Mike Dean and Don Toliver all joining in on his performance.
But when they’re not taking turns sharing stages, artists are using the massive audience reach to speak out on the issues that matter to them. Lucy Dacus of boygenius takes a moment during the band’s set on Saturday night (April 15) to say, “Trans lives matter, trans kids matter. We’re going to fight it and we’re going to win,” with bandmate Pheobe Bridgers adding, “and abortion rocks, fuck Ron DeSantis.” The same day, The Linda Lindas use their time at the fest to speak against how “crazy” the world is becoming due to gun violence and anti-transgender legislation. “There’s so much crap going on and this stuff is not fun. It needs to be talked about and we need to do something,” Eloise Wong says.
The festival weekend is also chock full of live debuts. Dominic Fike shares a new track ‘Mama’s Boy’, MUNA performs ‘The One That Got Away’ for the first time. Ashnikko, transforms the festival’s Gobi tent into a terrestrial playground in the lead-up to their debut album, ‘WEEDKILLER’, twisting and dancing while performing their latest single, ‘Worms’. Many fans were hoping Ocean would join the club. Instead, early in his set he explains to fans that he isn’t onstage because of a new album, but to honour his brother who died in a car crash in 2020, and “would have been so excited to be here with all of us”.
A quick glance back at the dust and music-filled three days does bring Ocean’s observation back to mind. But even in the chaos and disorder, the dedication to fun and progress shines through. Coachella is the first music festival eyes around the world turn to as the season and their ability to go first, whether that’s choosing the world’s biggest headliners based on devoted fanbase and career legitimacy over genre or betting on Ocean to show up even though there were moments it felt like he wouldn’t, proves their dedication not only to showcasing music but pushing it forward.