Coachella Music & Arts Festival 2024

Spotlighting Music from Around the World

By Bruce Fessier

Listening to my Coachella 2024 playlist while driving to a film festival last month conjured memories of listening to NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” on my car cassette deck in 1988.

NWA was so beyond the MTV and radio boundaries of “decency,” I rolled up my windows so passersby wouldn’t hear me singing along to “F*&! the Police.”

This year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is equally beyond the borders of American mainstream music. Of the 145 artists appearing April 12-14 and April 19-21 at Indio’s Empire Polo Club, more than two-thirds are from nations other than the United States.

So, pulling up to a gas station, I found myself again rolling up my car windows to prevent people from hearing me rock out to a song called “Tokyo Calling” by Atarashi Gakko. I don’t know why I felt conspicuous bopping to song in Japanese. But, after looking up the meaning of “Tokyo Calling” on Lyrics Translate, and watching its video on YouTube, I was enamored by its pop-punk sound and its fanciful take on Japanese science fiction. Its marching drums and big EDM beat create an urgency that makes even more musical sense when you realize the lead singer is proclaiming in Japanese, “Like a nightmare, a dystopian story is looming!”

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I understand Coachella’s business motivations for featuring music from all over the map. Coachella founder and Goldenvoice CEO Paul Tollett has had a partnership with YouTube for more than a decade. Their livestreaming activity has grown steadily with YouTube selling exclusive Coachella merchandise in far-away markets that now produce Coachella artists.

“All of a sudden you have the biggest artist in that region,” Tollett said at last October’s SXSW Sydney, Australia conference, as reported by Audience Republic. “And what it does is, it just gets everyone watching from that area. Coachella wasn’t really that well known in Asia. Now everyone in Indonesia follows it, not just Korea. It became a thing where no matter what country you’re in, you could watch it like it’s your show.”

The revenue from YouTube and other partnerships means Coachella may have tickets available at the gate of Weekend 2 and still be the world’s most profitable music fest.

It’s also the most viewed festival on other social media. NoDeposit365 reports Coachella was tagged in over 5.4 million Instagram posts last year, dwarfing second place Lollapalooza with 1.5 million tags. The revenue from those platforms means Tollett can spend less time building audience and more time improving the festival experience by trying to unclog vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow.

Atarashi Gakko

Tollett also told the SXSW industry audience that he began booking more international acts several years ago because “it’s the way music went.” Artists such as Bad Bunny of Puerto Rico, who headlined in 2023, and J Balvin of Colombia, who is Sunday’s second-billed artist, are having U.S. hits in their native languages. BLACKPINK of South Korea had people singing with them in Korean at last year’s festival.

So, for a new generation of music lovers, language is not an insurmountable barrier. They’re listening to music from nations from Cuba to Argentina, Italy to Turkey, Nigeria to Niger, and India to Australia, and they’re getting great, eclectic music at Coachella.

What to hear at Coachella
I usually select about 20 songs per Spotify playlist. But this festival offers so much compelling music to digest, my Coachella list grew to over 100 songs from 32 nations, not counting the Asian and Indonesian artists that may return with the collective, 88Rising.

The internationally dominant lineup also reflects Southern California’s diversity. The big reunions are No Doubt, the ska-turned-“Just A Girl” pop band from Orange County, and Sublime, the eclectic Long Beach trio now featuring Jakob Nowell, son of the band’s late creative leader, Bradley Nowell.

L.A.’s diversity may be best represented by 2020 multi- Grammy nominee Jhene Aiko, who was home schooled in what she calls “Slauson Hills” until high school. She boasts of having DNA that is 25% Asian, 33% African, and 34% European. She makes my Spotify list with her beautiful ode to motherhood in California, “Sun/Son.”

The L.A. hip hop culture is ably represented by Friday headliner Doja Cat, who made my curated Spotify list with “Woman” and “Paint the Town Red,” and Saturday headliner Tyler, the Creator, who curates Goldenvoice’s L.A. hip hop incubator, the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival.

I also like L.A. natives Militarie Gun, whose Offspring-inspired “Seizure of Assets” tells what it’s like to have your car repossessed, and the EDM duo, Kimonos, who describe what it’s like to be on your own in L.A. in “My Life Back.”

Saint Levant

Some of the best descriptions of Southern California come from transplants like Chappel Roan and Friday headliner Lana Del Rey. Roan, who opened for Olivio Rodrigo in February at Palm Desert’s Acrisure Arena, is openly queer and inspired by drag queens. I love her “Red Wine Supernova,” where she tells a perspective lesbian lover, “I’ve got a California king/ Okay, maybe it’s a twin bed/ And some roommates (Don’t worry, we’re cool).”

Del Rey could succeed Joni Mitchell as a doyenne of SoCal culture with songs like “Coachella” (which she wrote after her 2014 festival appearance), “West Coast,” and “Arcadia,” a dual reference to L.A. and an idyllic land in Greek mythology inhabited by inhuman creatures.

Del Rey’s work with Coachella artists Jon Batiste (“Candy Necklace”), Bleachers (“Margaret”), and Sublime (who are sampled on “Doin’ Time”) suggest some likely guest artists on stage. But her recordings with non-Coachella artists make one dream of an historic set. She collaborated with Taylor Swift on “Snow on the Beach,” Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande on “Don’t Call Me Angel (Charlie’s Angels),” The Weeknd on “Lust for Life,” A$AP Rocky on “Summer Bummer,” and Arcadia High School alumnus Stevie Nicks on “Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems.”

International Acts to Watch
The only desert artist is Latino vocalist Eddie Zuko, who ponders growing up in the Imperial Valley on the chill, soulful “Made.” But local residents may recognize many international artists from their high desert appearances. Cuban singer-producer Cimafunk played the Joshua Tree Music Festival in 2022. A half-dozen others played Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown, including the fun New Zealand indie rockers The Beths, the Arctic Monkeys-inspired Lovejoy from the UK, and Hermanos Gutierrez, featuring the guitarist sons of an Ecuadorian mother and Swiss father. Jungle, a UK electronic group that played Pappy’s in 2018 and Tachevah: A Palm Springs Block Party in 2015, brings a Portugal the Man vibe to its “Back on 74.”

Lana Del Rey

The international acts are important because many are delivering news of the world, just as Bob Dylan and NWA served as underground town criers in the 20th century.

The powerful “Afrique Victime” by guitarist Mdou Moctar of Niger, has lyrics that translate to “Africa is a victim of so many crimes/ If we stay silent, it will be the end of us.”

Saint Levant, who grew up in Gaza after being born in Jerusalem to a French-Algerian mother and Palestinian-Serbian father, raps in the politically incendiary “Jerusalem Freestyle,” “We Fight for our rights, and it’s anti-semitic/ You think after being oppressed, they would get it.”

The EDM duo, ARTBAT, one of two Coachella acts from Ukraine, includes lyrics in their August release, “Coming Home,” that translate to “In the streets we will walk like we used to do/ There will be something new to believe in/ Find a way through the pain.”

The language barrier has already fallen on streamers with international content and in film festivals. The Palm Springs festival I was driving to while listening to “Tokyo Calling” featured a movie titled “Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre” about the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed 364 Israeli music lovers. It featured cell-phone video taken during the gunfire of victims describing the bedlam in Hebrew, making the footage authentic and even more terrifying.

I couldn’t help but think that, with cable news focused almost exclusively on domestic issues, only international music seems capable of reaching global audiences with news of international conflicts, and with sounds that could create international understanding.

Coachella has been presenting music outside of the mainstream since 1999, when it focused on artists that couldn’t get on radio or TV. With its art and festival magic, it transformed alternative music into the mainstream.

Now it’s doing the same thing with international music, and it may bring the world together.

Tickets for Weekend Two are still available at

Artists photos Courtesy of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Background photo by Calder.

Bruce Fessier was the first inductee of the Coachella Valley Media Hall of Fame and is a journalist who has covered every Coachella. Contact him at and follow him at and

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