At Coachella: would you like a little Arcade Fire with your carpaccio di radicchio?

Where this southern California music festival leads, other may follow. A cautionary tale

Fri, Apr 11, 2014, 00:00

Pour yourself an overpriced half-spilt plastic beaker of tepid, watered-down beer and go to youtube.com/coachella, where the US version of Glastonbury and Electric Picnic is being streamed live all this weekend from Indio, California in something of a technological festival first.

Full sets, pre- and post-band interviews, behind-the-scenes nonsense and assorted audiovisual bells and whistles from one of the world’s great music festivals are all being put together by Jason Bentley, who hosts NPR’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, one of the world’s best radio shows. It’s the Full Virtual Monty for an event that, while little known on this side of the Atlantic, has continually impressed as a progressive and innovative festival force.

It cuts both ways, though. On one hand, you can admire how Coachella was the first to get around the problem of rich socialites pricing real fans out. There are now actually two identical beanos over two consecutive weekends, so supply goes somewhere to meeting ticket demand.

Years ago, Coachella also put in place a hugely popular “layaway” pricing plan, where you pay 20 per cent of the ticket price down, followed by six additional monthly payments.

Like a band who have been allowed to develop over a series of albums, Coachella has incrementally improved in terms of customer care and service. It helps, naturally, that the weather and Californian desert backdrop ensures that you’ll have a good time regardless of whichever corporate rockers are sulking their way through the headline slot.

But Coachella has also become the hipster nightmare from hell. From the “Get Cut for Coachella” 30-day gym programmes that precede the festival to the craft beer enclosure where they tell you – with a straight face – that the line-up of brews is as important to some people as the main stage line-up, Coachella is Portlandia in a field.

Just as more media coverage is given over to the fashion at the Oscars, Coachella is now overrun by fashion and food types – and in a specious and meretricious way.

As Jezebel.com had it this week: “Over the years, Coachella has become less about music and more about being seen, with celebrities, style-bloggers and a whole bunch of white girls with a crocheted crop tops and their parents’ AmExes flocking out west to California to do Molly and hide in the Pop Chips-sponsored VIP tent alongside the actresses from Pretty Little Liars as the Very Unimportant Persons outside get pelted by a sandstorm while attempting to listen to Outkast”.

(In Ireland we don’t have any VIPs at music festivals. We have much worse: people who think they are VIPs.)

The “high-end cocktails” and “Isaan-style food” at Coachella have gotten more coverage this week than the actual line-up. As has been noted: “Coachella places an excellent line-up of musicians in the middle of the desert and invites the world’s wealthiest twentysomethings to come and completely ignore them”.

And here’s the literal money shot: according to this week’s New York Daily News, a number of actors/models/whatevers are being paid big bucks just to put in a Coachella appearance. Lea Michelle will earn £20,000 from Lacoste to wear (and be photographed) in their clothes; Vanessa Hudgens (me neither) will pick up $15,000 to smile prettily about McDonalds fast food.

Don’t laugh – we’re next.

Love: Post-conscious uncoupling, the word is that real food is back on Coldplay’s rider.

Hate: David Cameron’s advisors have ushered him away from Mumford & Sons; the PM is now bigging up London Grammar.

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