‘Couchella’ holds music fans over until the rescheduled festival in October

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Graphic by Emily Burgess

by Ryan Hardison, Staff Writer

This past weekend was a sad time for many music fans because the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was supposed to commence on Friday April 10, but since the postponement, the weekend came and went.

To coincide with the originally planned Coachella weekend, the YouTube original documentary “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert” premiered on Coachella’s YouTube channel on Friday night. This “Couchella” event is meant to hold over fans with behind-the-scenes footage until the festival can occur. 

Filmakers interviewed numerous Goldenvoice executives who developed and organized the festival, including Coachella founder and current Goldenvoice president and CEO Paul Vollett. Along with those responsible for Coachella, numerous past and present performers including Ice Cube, Billie Eilish, RZA and Diplo were interviewed for the documentary.

According to the documentary, Goldenvoice found early success booking punk rock bands and EDM artists, but after visiting a few concerts in Europe, Tollett had big plans to make a European style music festival in the U.S.     

Inspired by the Monterey Pop Festival and the California Jam Festival, Tollett strived to embody a laid-back Southern California festival. His plan was a two-day music festival held at Empire Polo Club in Indio, California – a gigantic open field, three hours east of Los Angeles.

Tollett said his idea received backlash, but after several years of planning and funding, the inaugural Coachella festival took place in 1999 and was modestly successful. Nevertheless, the first few festivals struggled financially and Coachella only survived due to Goldenvoice’s good reputation and loans from other promoters.

The documentary showcases Coachella’s early struggles, as the festival grew closer each year to becoming successful, and eventually in 2004, its fifth year, Coachella turned a profit. This was an important benchmark for Coachella and allowed it to go from booking independent bands to superstar musicians overnight. 

Though Coachella is known for displaying all genres, one interesting thing the documentary claims is that Coachella was one of the first American festivals to embrace EDM artists. In the early 2000s, the Drug Enforcement Agency and many politicians called for rave organizers to be arrested, and soon promoters became too scared to book EDM artists because of political backlash. Despite the repercussions, many DJs in the film claim Coachella helped rave culture survive by letting them perform for a mainstream audience.   

Finance junior Jon Hoffman said Coachella’s greatest strength shown in the documentary is making a festival where EDM artists coexist alongside mainstream artists. 

“There’s definitely a huge house selection plus they have the biggest names in music, so they don’t skimp on different genres,” Hoffman said.

One iconic moment shown in the documentary was the monumental performance by a Tupac Shakur hologram in 2012. Headliners Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg brought out Shakur, despite him being dead since 1997, and soon the event was talked about worldwide. Though Coachella has had countless memorable moments over the years, Vollett claims in the documentary that the Shakur hologram is the performance most synonymous with the festival, and its first mainstream moment.

Many San Diego State students were planning on going to Coachella this year, but with the fate of the festival uncertain, “Couchella” gives fans a chance to celebrate Coachella from the comfort of their homes. A few students shared their favorite things about the Coachella documentary and what makes Coachella stand out. 

Hoffman said one thing that makes Coachella unique is the supportive atmosphere compared to other festivals. 

“It’s a really positive environment, everyone there is looking out for each other,” Hoffman said. “At other festivals like Rolling Loud there’s pushing and shoving, and a lot of fights like the movie showed at Woodstock, but Coachella is definitely more peaceful.” 

Computer science sophomore Dylan Chhong said the ability for fans to discover new artists and get exposed to different genres is what makes Coachella special. 

“At other festivals it’s mostly just one genre, but Coachella has a good mix and gets a lot of people from different backgrounds to come together,” Chhong said.

Marketing sophomore Briana Jamanila said she enjoyed seeing the legendary artists and performances, but one thing the documentary misses is the festival’s association with fashion. 

“When I think of Coachella I think of the way people dress, with influencers in that festival hippie clothing,” Jamanila said. “There’s always that Coachella look.”

In recent years at Coachella, newer and younger headliners such as Travis Scott have attracted record-breaking crowds and a new generation of fans. Last year, non-English artists such as K-pop group Blackpink and Reggaeton artist Bad Bunny performed at the festival, connecting Coachella to a worldwide audience.

After watching the documentary, Chhong believes Coachella’s inclusivity and artist diversity encourages concertgoers to attend the festival for years to come.

“The culture of Coachella is just music fans living in the moment, spreading vibes and positivity, and it makes you want to go back again,” Chhong said.

Despite the concerns of COVID-19, Jamanila is still hopeful that Coachella will happen at some point this year. 

“I think it’ll happen this year, I’m pretty optimistic about it but probably won’t happen until later this year,” Jamanila said, “It’s definitely nice to have something Coachella related to enjoy now though.”

Over a tumultuous 20 years, Coachella transformed from an obscure festival in the middle of the California desert to a pillar of American pop culture. This documentary is a fun and satisfying display of Coachella’s intriguing history and a chance to revisit the most notable performances from arguably America’s most iconic music festival. 

The 21st Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is scheduled to take place from Oct. 9 to 11, and Oct. 16 to 18, due to safety concerns surrounding COVID-19. You can watch the documentary on YouTube here and visit their website for updates surrounding the festival.

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