The appeal of Coachella is fairly obvious—a giant utopian desert party hosting some of the biggest and best musical acts on the planet. Over the years, this California-based festival has grown into the ultimate victory lap for performers. When compared to say, South by Southwest, it can be considered less about discovering ‘next big things’ and more about celebrating current big things (on a scale so grand that a second weekend was added this year). And still, for every night slot shared with our favorite life-altering headliner (Radiohead) or highly anticipated reunion (Pulp, Mazzy Star, At the Drive-in), there’s some earlier set off to the side that just might make your entire Coachella experience, or at the very least, greatly add to it. And of the many potential scene-stealers hiding in the small font on that poster, we’re putting our highest amount of faith in following ten.
Keep Shelly in Athens
This Greek duo specializes in a kind of dream-pop that flirts with nightmare. Frontwoman Sarah P can shift her distant vocals from pleasure to pain, draped in an atmosphere that always feels just a beat away from tragedy, as best displayed on single “Running Out Of You.” And while their reputation as consistent and characteristically murky remixers might lead one to expect a rather inactive electronic set, the two have built out into a full band, very capable of swaying bodies as much as minds.
In the middle of a heat wave last summer, aggressive hip-hop trio Death Grips played a secret show at Brooklyn’s Market Hotel. Shirtless frontman MC Ride lost his mind and about ten gallons of sweat in front of an equally drenched crowd, as an also shirtless Zach Hill—one of the industry’s most ferocious drummers—seizured in his own suspended dimension, while Andy Morin fused it all together on a flow of intense samples and keyboard. It was one of the most potent combinations of sound I’ve ever seen, and the thought of it happening for an amped-up Coachella audience gives us chills.
Space-bass virtuoso Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat, connects the stars between 1970s jazz fusion and futuristic electronic. On last year’s The Golden Age of Apocalypse, Bruner balanced heady instrumentals with straightforward soul, creating one of the most unique and surreal listening experiences around. He and his band like to jam; expect saxophones, backup singers, extended bass solos, and some feather headdresses.
World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation dominated blogland last year with a brand of evocative imagery and emotionally driven music. Initially somewhat a mystery, the Manchester “gang” turned out to be four young lads with a real knack for melodically explosive, rasp-centric rock, and some impressive live chops. Go Tell Fire to the Mountain proved to be one of the year’s strongest debuts, and the band has stepped up to every breakout opportunity (including a late night appearance that stunned Letterman), so they’ll no doubt make the most of their invite to Indio.
London’s Yuck have been the centerpiece of a much-discussed channeling of 1990s alt-rock spirit as of late. Their sound does recall Pavement and their classic format music videos would feel right at home on 120 Minutes, but this isn’t a simple retread. Last year’s self-titled debut worked in a certain dynamic, exploring both hard and soft takes on fuzz-pop, and speaking for a generation that likely got its grunge eduction from YouTube rather than MTV. The band has since toured extensively and should make for a reliable set.
No strangers to big stages and critical praise alike, English art-rock outfit Wild Beasts still seem just a tad underrated in 2012. They’ll be pulling from a flawless run of LPs, and of course the infinite range of their two falsetto-blessed singers. Here’s hoping they get the Outdoor Theatre at sunset, because they’ll definitely know what to do with it.
Back in 2010, a 19 year old named Brad Oberhofer wow-ed the Internet with a zip file of impossibly catchy ramshackle rock. Since then he’s buzzed through the CMJ and SXSW circuit, and just returned last month with a cleanly produced full length, exuding the kind of maturity you like to see in a phenom. He’s a high energy performer too, and tours with a solid live band.
Erika M. Anderson wrote Past Life Martyred Saints, an affecting document of failure and self-mutilation (and also one of the most acclaimed records of last year), after a painful breakup with her boyfriend and ex-bandmate Ezra Buchla. Her harsh yet vulnerable, almost spoken word delivery has earned her comparisons to Patti Smith, and has made her into a pretty transfixing stage persona.
When it comes to handling an MPC, nobody’s hands move faster than Araab’s. The young producer blew up on a string of videos showcasing his rapid mad-scientist craft, giving his live appearances a near-mythical status among hip hop enthusiasts and beat-heads of all kinds. Last year’s Electronic Dream LP entered him in a larger discussion, introducing a sense of melody and restraint to his rare skill set. This all makes him a must-see—just make sure to get a good view of what he’s doing up there.
Merrill Garbus’ experimental afro-beat-flavored folk project is probably the most successful on this list, but depending on the yet to be revealed set times, it still could become one of those overlooked options. She’s not exactly a festival-centric act, but to assume the NPR darling won’t translate well to the masses would be a mistake. Enhanced by a full band, the eccentric multi-instrumentalist likes to chant over an array of looped sounds—often it’s the process itself that really engages crowds. If it’s between her and a rave tent, take a chance on this one. You won’t be disappointed.