The Second War of Independence
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Does Coachella Show What a British Music Festival Should Be?!
THERE is still the amazing buzz around Coachella…
and the you-had-to-be-there-to-believe-it reunification of Destiny’s Child! That rare appearance of the trio (last night) was part of a career-spanning set from Beyoncé: one of the first major shows she has performed since giving birth to her twins last year. I, personally, couldn’t give a flying-f*ck about her twins – I am all warm and paternal that way! – but feel it amazing she has managed to get back onto the stage and not lose any of her spark and swagger! I am not going to turn this into a showcase and feature about Beyoncé – I am a big fan but have written about her before – but feel her set and performance was what Coachella is all about. There is that assumption and gospel that Glastonbury is the best festival on the planet. Whilst I argue Glastonbury has an aura and atmosphere that cannot be beaten; I wonder whether the main thing, the music, is as strong as the U.S. best?! I haven’t even mention SXSW when it comes to the U.S. showing – another huge festival that commands the biggest names in music. One of the problems with Glastonbury is the need to either have modern and obvious headliners or a male-majority featuring. Maybe we have a good female showing lower down the bill: the headliners are usually male, Rock-based and commercial.
IN THIS PHOTO: Björk
One of my hopes is we have Beyoncé headline Glastonbury in 2019 – there is a fallow year in 2018 – and, maybe, someone like St. Vincent or Björk doing another headline set. The fact all three of those artists are relevant and contemporary – two have released albums in the past few months – they can command a show and perfectly enthral the crowds. Coachella would think nothing of having a huge showing like that in their ranks. Beyoncé has been called in after giving birth; she has been given the platform to wow and show she is still one of the strongest modern artists around. Look around the bill and one can see much greater diversity and gender-balance. SZA, St. Vincent and HAIM are among the biggest acts; Cardi B is in the line-up and will be one of the biggest attractions. Tonight (Sunday, 15th April) will see Eminem take to the stage and, let’s hope, feature a number of songs from his classic alums – fewer from his recent effort, Revival. Another reason I wanted to highlight Beyoncé as a reason why Coachella is braver and bolder than Glastonbury is the reviews that followed her headline set yesterday. The Guardian wrote about the event:
“She’s also indebted to her musical past, and not just her own history. She splices Drunk in Love with Nina Simone’s Lilac Wine, elevated on a crane over the crowd. She has a go at husband Jay Z’s back catalogue, her orchestra alluding to Dirt Off Your Shoulder. There are classic hits from her early solo days, including Baby Boy; outings of the likes of Flawless and Don’t Hurt Yourself showcase her rock stardom with her third outfit change into black PVC. When she sings the infamous line “I woke up like this”, she turns to Coachella and asks: “How did you wake up this morning?”
IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé
The thing is, Beyonce did wake up like this. There is clearly a double entendre to the notion of wokeness, but the show doesn’t get woke at the expense of actually waking everyone up to the joy and togetherness of live performance.
Once she’s proved her mettle more times than necessary the thought of potential guests starts looming. She covers a smidgen of Dawn Penn’s You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No) and you wonder if it might segue into Destiny’s Child’s No, No, No, but not yet. There are a few hits to get through – Hold Up, Countdown, Check on It – and then Jay Z comes out for Deja Vu. After Beyoncé has spent almost an hour singing scorned female anthems about adultery, they display a heart-melting chemistry for one another. Moving into Run the World, however, she appears in army khaki, and you know it’s coming. She has to paid her dues to the thing that got her to this point”.
That gives you an impression of what a festival headliner is all about. Sure, last year, we had Radiohead do a pretty bold and emphatic set. They were amazing and played songs from their earliest days – taking us right up to the moment and producing a spine-tingling performance. The other headliners – Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran – pale into insignificance when it comes to the acts on offer in the U.S.
There is Kamasi Washington and David Byrne; Portugal. the Man and Fleet Foxes. Coachella’s ‘first round’ will conclude today – next Friday, Saturday and Sunday will repeat the action we have seen since Friday. You look through the bill and, whilst there are a lot of male acts; there is great balance than many festivals in this country. The fact the U.S. organisers have featured one female headliner is a lot better than our festivals – this year’s Reading and Leeds and last year’s Glastonbury have all been male-headlined. I have alluded to SXSW but, if you put it up against Reading and Leeds; one would have to give the advantage to the U.S. Many American artists who play over here always say Glastonbury is their best festival. That may be a kindness to us but I feel it has more to do with the spirit of the people as opposed to the facilities, music and weather. You cannot deny the British are among the world’s best when it comes to defying the conditions and sending chills through the air. We are wonderful at raising sun when there isn’t any; making a lot of noise and all joining together. One gets the impression Coachella is more relaxed, open and casual. We assume the audiences are not as together and rapturous; the sensations not as vivacious and mesmeric; the rules more strict and rigid.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kamasi Washington
The Americans are tighter when it comes to having drinks on site and being a bit lary. Gone are the days when people could drink and smoke what they wanted; climb over fences and do what they wanted. Whilst a sense of liberty and relaxation adds to a more harmonious and chilled festival; the added booze and excess leads to sore heads and regretful mornings. Coachella is more serious and is not quite as willing to let its patrons wander around with beers in hand. The fact is, when you go to the site and explore the facilities; it can match Glastonbury for its options, food and produce. One of the biggest decision-breakers come when you weight up what weather you want for a festival. Many say the cloudy and wet conditions is knitted into the fabric of the country. We moan whatever the weather is doing – we would not be happy if it were sunny and warm. California is hot and sunny; it can be stifling but, if anything means people are in a good mood before they get there. The British have learned to adapt to the bad weather and show that sense of adversity. I would prefer a festival where the temperature was a bit warmer and the sun was out – getting drenched is only appealing when you can dry off and have somewhere cosy to sleep.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
A lot of people go to bigger festivals like Reading and Leeds, Glastonbury and the like because of the community and additions: music is not the only reason why humans flock in their thousands. I feel, though, the music itself is the centre and soul of any festival. If you are forgiving of inequality, poor quality and predictable then why would you spend all that money going? Reading and Leeds’ line-up for this year has been slagged off for having too few great names and too many Rap/Grime acts. Although Kendrick Lamar is there to add some beef and authority; the likes of Kings of Leon, Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco is a rather lacklustre and dreary proposition. There is no Glastonbury this year: the remaining festivals are offering few big names. Coachella has Jorja Smith and Jessie Ware: some of our very best are going to the U.S. because, one feels, they are not being afforded proper exposure at British festivals. Although Dua Lipa and Wolf Alice will take to the stage at Reading and Leeds; where are the exciting headliners and those epic sets?! I doubt we will produce anything as scintillating and years-lasting as Coachella will this weekend. Many have argued there is something ultra-fashionable about Coachella. People taking selfies and posing; Californian cool oozing from every palm tree and the bijou and hip shining bright.
There is something muddy and charming about Glastonbury. If we had to balance the merits of the British and American best; it all comes down to that final category: the quality and spread of the music. You can award Britain merit for its people and its upcoming artists; the way we flip a finger to the weather; the unique spirit only we can bring. The music itself is the reason people come to festivals and why they need to be supported. I worry about the quality of our headliners and how some festivals are losing their ethos and edge. There is an imbalance regards gender and we are not putting another of the biggest stars on the big stages – our attempts to match the sparks of Coachella and SXSW are rather timid and worn-out. The fact our premier Rock festival has Kings of Leon and Fall Out Boy headlining tells you all you need to know! I worry Glastonbury, when it returns next year, will not learn anything and make the same mistakes (regards its commercial headliners and lack of female names). We can teach the Americans a lot about the people and atmosphere: they are schooling us regarding the quality of music, the spread of genres and their all-killer-no-filler approach to bookings. We are being promised a hot summer in this country but I doubt, no matter how warm the weather gets; the music on show at our festivals will not be as fierce and memorable as the artists…
TAKING to the stage at Coachella!