Coachella 2017: Winners and Losers

A mixed bag of musical precision and over-the-top theatrics.
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Moderat _Charles Reagan Hackleman_Coachella_D004991

With each year that passes, the behemoth that is Coachella continues to grow exponentially—this year, according to the LA Times, the festival grounds extended by 20 acres and attendance jumped in capacity from 99,000 to 125,000—and not just in size, but also its overarching grip on the social-media obsessed millennials of today. Spend five minutes on a Coachella-flavored Google bender and a multitude of examples will rear their head. Fast fashion conglomerate H&M, for example, has a dedicated Coachella line and every pop-focused celebrity worth a dime makes sure to be seen (ie. photographed) there, think Rhianna smoking a joint and Kendall Jenner flirting with ASAP Rocky. Outside of the festival, lavish amounts of money are spent on unofficial side parties by companies like Revolve and Nylon, extravagant and over-the-top soirees that boggle the mind—not in a good way, mind you.

Basically, with all the growth and popularity, Coachella is now more than a music festival; weekend one, especially, has mutated into something that more closely resembles an otherworldly fashion show—with a handful of musicians and multi-media artists thrown in for good measure. With that said, you can still attend Coachella—we highly recommend weekend two—and have a great musical experience. With a lineup this year that included, among many others, Marcel Dettmann, Sasha, Little Dragon, Kendrick Lamar, and Radiohead, it would be hard not to. So, after sampling the desert's wares, here are our winners and losers of Coachella 2017.

Winner: Yuma Tent

For the XLR8R reader, Coachella's Yuma tent will always be a reliable fall back. Situated in a refreshingly air-conditioned tent complete with wooden floors, Yuma feels much more like a massive club than anything else. A stunning light show and various eye-catching disco balls provide the backdrop for some of house and techno's in-demand artists to lay down. This year, everyone we saw brought their a-game, from Marcel Dettmann's rhythmic techno selections to the veteran sounds of The Belleville Three and the salivating team up of Four Tet, Daphni, and Floating Points. Year after year, this tent delivers in spades.

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Winner: King Kendrick

Kendrick Lamar’s closing performance on weekend one of Coachella might have been the festival’s crowning jewel. From the art direction to the short-film interludes and his enigmatic flow, the show was executed with an understated class that doesn’t seem to be present in much of today’s rap game. With every piece of his output, Kendrick furthers his claim as one of rap’s undisputed greats.

Loser: Mumble/Vocoder Rappers

There’s been much discussion of the new generation of what’s being called—in some circles, anyway—mumble rap. The artists in question, Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, Future, Migos et al, have all exploded in popularity in recent years, their extravagant thrills seem to be the perfect elixir for today’s social-media-crazed generation. This year, Coachella was absolutely flooded with these acts and, in all honesty, it all seemed cheap and cheesy. From an outsider’s perspective, this sub-genre looks to be the hip-hop and rap world’s EDM. A perfect example of the two world’s colliding occurred during Kendrick Lamar’s set when guest Travis Scott auto-tuned his way through a stumbling verse before Kendrick followed up with three minutes of ferocious lyricism.

Winner: Hans Zimmer

Without a shadow of a doubt, the most head-scratching name on the Coachella lineup was Hans Zimmer—even more interesting was his slot as warm-up for the return of Justice. On approach to his set, Zimmer and the enormous ensemble accompanying him—we guessed somewhere north of 50 musicians—were in the midst of a searing rendition of the Lion King theme. The crowd were already eating it up, so when Pharrell dropped in for a cameo, the place erupted. To close out the set, Zimmer went on a 20-minute space ride through the Batman soundtrack, a track that sounded like the baby of Slayer, Tool, and Swans, and an achingly poignant solo piano piece. Although it might have seemed like the most out-of-place booking on the lineup, Zimmer proved to be Coachella’s ace-up-the-sleeve.

Loser: Sound at Radiohead

Undoubtedly the festival’s biggest blunder was the sound blowouts during Radiohead’s performance. A mere three tracks in, during “Ful Stop,” a deafening pop rang out through the hordes of diehard fans. For a second, the music returned, before a satanic-like stream of noise rendered everything silent. The band continued on stage unaware, as well as the visuals, making the hordes of diehard Radiohead fans even tenser and more irritated. This unbearable sound struggle continued every second song, promoting the band to walk off stage twice, before finally getting through a range of classics to close out the set. Even with the final reprise, there was an enormous amount of devastated Radiohead fans leaving the festival, XLR8R included.

Winner: Radiohead Weekend Two

Oh, what a difference a week can make. Those lucky enough to catch Radiohead's weekend two performance were treated to an emotional roller coaster driven by enigmatic frontman Thom Yorke. Although every track was pulled off with finesse, "Paranoid Android," Exit Music For a Film," "No Surprises," Reckoner," and "Ful Stop" really stood out.

Loser: Crystal Castles

The return of Crystal Castles to Coachella on weekend one was a flat mess. Admittedly, the duo, which now consists of Edith Frances—she replaced founding singer Alice Glass—and Ethan Kath, were tasked with playing at 6 pm in the blaring sun, which didn't fit their brand of basement electro; but, even then, the performance lacked bite and Frances' outwardly "crazy" stage antics felt contrived.

Winner: Richie Hawtin

The minimal techno pioneer debuted his brand new audiovisual live set, called ‘Close,’ at the Mojave Stage on Friday evening, delivering arguably the most intense and mesmerizing performance of the entire weekend. Live virtual projections of the M-nus founder pressing buttons and turning knobs on his grandiose setup created an intimate atmosphere and allowed the crowd to feel as if they were a part of the music itself. This, when combined with a full hour of some of the best and roughest techno we’ve heard, left us so blown away that it was difficult to enjoy the rest of the performances that evening. Coachella, next time, let a king like Hawtin close the festival.

Winner: Bicep

After being completely blown away by Bicep’s performance at the Yuma Tent at Coachella’s 2014 edition, we were excited to see whether or not the UK duo would live up to past expectations. The FEEL MY BICEP heads certainly did, delivering an hour of live house bliss on Friday evening, a perfect warm up for the intensity that would follow at Richie Hawtin’s live set. Despite having a somewhat quiet year in 2016, Bicep proved at Coachella that their unique take on house music is just as innovative and trance-inducing as it always has been.

Loser: Shiba San

After being pleasantly surprised by the music and vibes during Amtrac’s set at DoLab’s ‘Beacon’ stage on Sunday evening, we stuck around hoping for more. “Ghetto House” champion and Dirtybird mainstay Shiba San then stepped up to the decks, and within 10 minutes we were reminded why this “booty-shaking” style of house music has become a total flop over the past year. The music, which lacked any inkling of depth or emotion, adhered so strictly to the same formula that even the most basic of house music listeners started to get bored.

Winner: Chiaozza Garden

This whimsical and colorful installation by Brooklyn-based artists Terri Chiao and Adam Frezza was the perfect meeting spot for attendees all weekend, located right behind the Main Stage but with easy access to all the other stages at the festival. But it also provided us with heaps of comic relief, as the collection of abstract sculptures were constantly referred to by festivalgoers as “giant dildos,” “Dr. Seuss sex toys,” and other hilarious nicknames.

Loser: Coachella Record Store

The idea to have a pop-up record store on the festival grounds was a fantastic one, and we were excited to check out the selection of vinyl on sale before immersing ourselves in the day’s musical offerings. Unfortunately, the selection of vinyl this year was abysmal. You would think that a festival that has increasingly become focused on various forms of electronic music, including underground house and techno, would have a large variety of dance music-oriented 12”’s. Sadly, only one measly box of (not so good) electronic records was on offer. A word of advice for Coachella: next time you have a pop-up record store, make sure the records for sale accurately reflect the music you host.

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Winner: Little Dragon

A classy performance on all fronts. From Yukimi Nagano's glistening outfit to her soaring vocal range and the stunning instrumentation, Little Dragon perfectly straddled the line between accessible pop and otherworldly electronics—a perfect combination for the motley crowd in attendance.

Winner: Moderat

When it comes to live, big-room electronic music, not many acts have the intensity and consistency of Moderat. Every single performance is delivered with style and the confidence of a well-oiled machine, with enough nuances each time to keep you on your toes. Let's hope that this tour won't be their last.

Winner: HP Antartic Dome

Nestled in the very back of the festival, many attendees wouldn't have even known the HP Dome was there—which, in itself, is a big loss. Not knowing all too well what we were walking into, it was a very welcome surprise to get off your feet—the Dome was littered with comfortable leather bean couches—and have your mind blown by some of the most out-there visuals we have seen this side of a drug-induced trip. With a fittingly trippy soundtrack, the 10-minute visual spectacle dazzled all in attendance and made sure each and every viewer left the Dome with an ear-to-ear grin and wide-eyed awe.