Coachella 2023 – Another Woke-Up Call
By Bruce Fessier
With popular music now measured by digital impressions unbounded by geographical borders, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has become a primer to cultural changes coming to America.
If you want to discover what young Americans will listen to next, check out the international artists eclipsing cultural walls on their way to Indio.
Six of the seven top-billed acts at Coachella April 14-16 and 21-23 are from outside of North America. Two (Gorillaz and Calvin Harris) are from the UK. The others – Bad Bunny, BLACKPINK, Rosalía, and Björk – grew up in countries where English isn’t the primary language. Bad Bunny, BLACKPINK, and Rosalía have all had recent non-English-language hits in the United States.
That’s a cultural change of generational proportions, and you’ll see it first at Coachella.
Even international collaborations, such as “Escapism,” a powerful electropop-hip hop song by English singer-songwriter Raye and New Jersey rapper 070 Shake, must often traverse the world in search of audiences before landing in America. “Escapism,” about a woman who turns to drinking, drugs and a one-night stand to numb her feelings after a rough breakup, went viral on Tik-Tok last fall and broke into Billboard’s top 10 in 28 countries while stalling at No. 22 in the U.S.
That means most of the world got this song before America. But it will be embraced at Coachella, where more than 10 percent of the audience comes from outside of the U.S.
There’s still American gold to be found in them thar smaller fonts of the Coachella poster, but festivalgoers must do more homework than just listening to the official Coachella 2023 playlists on Spotify and YouTube.
To help you research, we’re recommending five Coachella artists per day, besides the seven already mentioned, to awaken your sensory tastes. The following artists, listed by day in alphabetical order, may or may not be cultural wake-up calls. But they’re reasons to get excited about Coachella.
Chemical Brothers: This British electronica duo is the one act on our list that older festival-goers should know. They played the inaugural Coachella in October 1999. I’ll never forget hearing the mighty sounds of “Hey Boy, Hey Girl” from what passed as a press bunker that year. Their combination of rave and rock woke me up. They spent most of the 2010s working on solo projects, but their last LP, 2019’s “No Geography,” won their first Grammys since 2008.
The Comet Is Coming: This London-based band was described in 2016 as the “true heirs” of cosmic jazz legend Sun Ra. They fuse jazz, Afrobeat, electronica, funk and psychedelic rock with flights of improvisation. I love the big beat funk of “Summon the Fire.”
The Garden: This duo of Orange County twins Wyatt and Fletcher Shears has been around since 2011. They played Coachella’s small Sonora tent for rock bands in 2019, but they’re ready to move into a bigger tent capable of accommodating their walls of electro guitar-driven rock. Favorite songs include “This Could Build Us A Home” (2014) and “Thy Mission” (2019), both of which have featured production from Canadian multi-instrumentalist Mac DeMarco.
Tobe Nwigwe: This Houston rapper, singer and actor, who just turned 36, was nominated for a 2023 Best New Artist Grammy. His compelling recording of “They Want It, But No” From “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” makes him a second-line artist on the Coachella poster, which is a good thing.
Wet Leg: This British indie rock band, led by Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, won the Best New Artist Grammy for 2023. I love their 2021 single, “Chaise Longue” and “Wet Dream” is even more popular with more than 57 million listens on Spotify.
Boy Genius: The assemblage of girlfriends Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridges and Lucy Dacus is America’s new indie rock supergroup. They got together in 2018 for a co-headlining tour and wound up writing some songs, forming a band and self-producing an EP in four days. The record was a critical sensation and their first full-length LP, scheduled for release in late March, is one of the most anticipated albums of 2023. I’m eerily attracted to their 2018 song, “Me & My Dog,” with the line, “I want to be emaciated.”
Charli XCX: This 30-year-old Brit has been a star-in-the-making since 2012, when she was featured on Icona Pop’s viral “I Love It.” In 2014, she collaborated with rapper Iggy Azalea on “Fancy,” which earned two Grammy nominations. She’s recorded River Cuomo of Weezer and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, and co-written songs with Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello, and Selena Gomez. Expect her to sit in with ‘80s pop star, Blondie, on Friday night to perform their collaboration, “Tonight.” My favorite Charli XCX song is “Hot In It,” a sexy, hook-laden electronic number released last summer with DJ Tiesto, who also produced “I Love It.” If Tiesto joins her at Coachella, Charli XCX could be a festival highlight.
The Kid LAROI. This 19-year-old Australian rapper, singer-songwriter is already collaborating with America’s biggest artists. His recording with Justin Bieber, “Stay,” was a massive hit last fall, generating 2.4 billion listens on Spotify and spending seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But my favorite Kid LAROI number is “Without You” with Miley Cyrus. This Kid reminds me of fellow Aussie pop-rocker Vance Joy.
The Linda Lindas: The girls in this L.A. pop-rock band are all 12 to 18 years old, so they’re truly a kid band. That means they’re likely to play the intimate, air-conditioned Sonora Tent, which is a great thing. Amy Poehler discovered the Linda Lindas at the Hollywood Palladium in 2019 and had them record songs for her film “Moxie.” “Racist, Sexist Boy,” based on a racist comment the drummer, Mila, experienced at school, became a social media hit and was nominated for Best Song at the 2022 Kerrang! Awards. But I love their song, “Oh!”, seemingly inspired by the Go-Gos.
Marc Rebillet: My youthful sources say you must see this guy live to really appreciate him. A graduate of a Dallas performing arts high school, Rebillet broke out in 2016 improvising songs on YouTube in his boxer shorts. Now, most of his songs are made up at each specific show and they’re energetic and thoughtful. The Irish Examiner called him a “DJ/comedian/one-person emotional meltdown.” You don’t get that from his songs on Spotify, but you might like his nerdish YouTube performance of “Surviving.”
Fisher + Chris Lake: One of my favorite songs on the Coachella 2023 playlists is “Losing It” by Fisher and producer Chris Lake. It was nominated for a 2018 Grammy for Best Electronic Song but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of how powerful this song is, with dynamics that explode into the often-repeated title phrase by female vocalists. Paul Fisher, who was half of the Australian DJ duo Cut Snake until going solo in 2017 as Fisher, weaves great electronic narratives. Veteran producer Lake makes sure they don’t get overwhelmed by excessive effects. They seemed destined for the Sahara tent, where they’ll likely play the crowd like a yo-you.
Latto; This self-proclaimed “Queen of the South” is an up-and-coming queen of nasty (she covers “Nasty Nasty” by Boosie Badazz, OK?). Her giant hip-hop hit, “Big Energy,” led to a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist of 2023. But her latest release, “Lottery” with Lu Kala, adds electro pop elements reminiscent of MGMT. Latto could attract a massive number of guest artists, from Dua Lipa to Mariah Carey, based on who have joined her on recordings.
Jai Paul: This British producer created a buzz in 2011 with a unique blend of EDM and lo-fi vocals. He disappeared after his first record was allegedly leaked, but he returned last year with another mosaic, titled “Str8 Outta Mumbai.” This one sounds like something produced by AI thrown into a blender. But it’s hypnotic. Paul is making his first major live appearance at Coachella and I can’t wait to hear what he sounds like with the festival’s Rat Sound.
Sasha Alex Sloan: This Russian-American artist is the young singer to watch for an intimate, vulnerable sound. She described her 2019 EP, “Self-Portrait,” as “being OK with the fact that I have a lot of anxiety, and that I don’t want to go to parties.” She’s collaborated with such disparate artists as country star Sam Hunt (on “when was it over?”) and Norwegian DJ Kygo, (“I’ll Wait”). But she often sounds distinctively honest and vulnerable.
Willow: This daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith probably won’t be joined on stage by her soul-swinging father, who sat in with her big brother, Jaden Smith, at the 2019 Coachella. But Willow has enough good material to make it on her own. “Wait A Minute” and “Meet Me At Our Spot,” are engaging pop songs. “Transparent Soul,” featuring Travis Barker, is catchy and a little angry. I like the reference to being treated like royalty. At 22, she has a big future.
Bruce Fessier is a journalist who has covered every Coachella and Stagecoach festival. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at facebook.com/bruce.fessier and instagram.com/bfessier/