Coachella 2024: Living in Overdrive

Post Author: Jeff Cubbison

Photo by Chris Cubbison

Goldenvoice’s flagship festival was initially criticized for its “mid on paper” lineup. Justice, Charlotte De Witte, No Doubt & more flipped the script and delivered mind-blowing sets

When the Coachella lineup initially dropped back in January, the response was tepid at best. While this wasn’t a new thing for the festival, at its worst, the feedback was downright vitriolic. Hysterical griping on the festival subreddit. Constant, oppressive negativity over on the Inforoo forums. Objectively, the naysayers may have been right to some extent, as the 2024 edition would have the slowest sales of sales of any Coachella in well over a decade. But as you’d expect, sometime early on Day 1 of Weekend 1, the script flipped.

No matter how “mid” a Coachella lineup may appear to be on paper, if you actually pay attention, do your homework, enter discovery mode, and let your heart guide you, there’s always an incredible weekend to be had. While the slow sales definitely produced a slightly less crowded atmosphere, it wasn’t terribly noticeable. Bathroom lines were still very long if you went right after an act just ended (and may the Coachella gods save you from the eternity that is the Sahara Tent bathroom line). The area around the Sahara Tent was still a shit-show full of pickpockets. The line to get into the Heineken House for T. Pain was predictably a nightmare. But on the plus side, lines for food, drinks, and merch were breezy (although prices were astronomical). The near-total elimination of “beer gardens” alleviated a lot of the foot traffic in bottlenecked areas. Logistically, the festival ran smoother than just about any Weekend 1 edition in its history.

But ultimately, once again, the immaculate vibes of Coachella were driven by its soundtrack. And despite what the initial naysayers thought, the run of acts that I saw was simply out-of-this-world. Other major festivals can try to compete, but even on a “down year,” Coachella still manages to blow them out of the water. With that in mind, allow me to take you through 15 highlights (and lowlights) from what ended up being one of my favorite Coachellas out of the 16 I’ve attended.

1. EDM ruled the weekend

Amidst the initial backlash, one of the things that Coachella could actually hold its hat on was the fact that they booked a truly awesome, robust, and diverse lineup of EDM acts. While electronic music has certainly dominated Coachella in the past, it was more present than ever in 2024. At any point in time, more than half of the acts who were playing across the festival’s 10 stages were electronic-based. On top of the Yuma, Sahara, Do Lab, and Heineken House hosting EDM almost non-stop throughout the weekend, the festival’s multi-genre-leaning stages constantly hosted bigger-name acts, while the addition of the Quasar stage offered DJs like Michael Bibi and Honey Dijon to spin extended 3-4 hour sets uninterrupted. If you ever wanted to get your club-party freak on, you had more options than ever before.

Programming-wise, the EDM lineup was robust and diverse. Dom Dolla and John Summit, two of the hottest names in the tech-house bro sphere, played a primetime b2b set on the Outdoor Theatre on Friday before performing solo sets of their own on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. While those guys generally occupy the “comfort food” swath of modern EDM, there were also plenty of “fine dining” options as well, with Gesaffelstein and Justice performing mass spectacles on the Outdoor Theater, Charlotte De Witte and BICEP transforming the Mojave into the greatest warehouse parties of the weekend, and ’90s icons Orbital mashing up Spice Girls into big beat oblivion in the Gobi. That’s not even mentioning the transgressive weirdos on the lineup, from German hardstyle duo Brutalismus 3000 to hyperpop-breakbeat freaks Two Shell. On Sunday, my friends and I danced on the Boiler Room-type platform adjacent to the Quasar booth where Jamie XX, Floating Points, and Daphni were going b2b2b. Coachella will never fully transform into an EDC or Ultra, but if you’re chasing that electronic high, you’ll probably have more fun here than you will at any of those EDM-centric festivals. That’s just a testament to the rich diversity of Coachella’s programming; no matter how varied the lineup, the festival will still beat others at their own game. Let the glow sticks fly.

2. And Justice For All

The French house duo Justice will perhaps always exist in the shadow of their brethren Daft Punk, but on Friday night on the Outdoor Theatre, they proved that they are absolutely legends in their own right. On their fifth trip to Coachella, the dapper Parisians deftly mixed, mashed, and distorted bits and pieces of their biggest hits into stunning new arrangements, from “Stress” to “Chorus” to new track “Generator” and beyond, conjuring a relentless set with one of the most dazzling light shows ever concocted. It’s interesting how the nostalgia cycle has swung completely back in Justice’s favor. During their early to mid 2010s album cycles, I was largely over their schtick, but nowadays, they look and sound fresher than ever, and everyone in that crowd was basking in the glow. Jaw-dropping, face-melting stuff that reminded us why we loved Justice so much in the first place.

3. Charlotte De Witte is the next big EDM superstar

The Belgian dark techno queen Charlotte De Witte has had a titanic rise to the highest rungs of the EDM scene, and she has the skills and live chops to back up the mountain of hype. Her set on Saturday night in the Mojave was an hour and fifteen minutes of pure, unabashed brilliance – a set that blew my mind, melted my heart, and fired on all cylinders. It wound up being my favorite set of the entire weekend.

Presenting her incredible Overdrive lighting rig, De Witte maneuvered through one banger after another, with surgical mixing skills and a setlist that flowed brilliantly – as rotating LED screens and strobe lights galvanized the crowd into an air-punching frenzy. In between the dark techno soundscapes, Charlotte perfectly wove in pieces of melodic trance that induced a vibe of heavy euphoria in the ecstatic crowd. It was a set that served the underground heads while also being an ideal entry point for initiates to the subgenre. My entire crew, none of whom would consider themselves techno heads, walked away from this set forever changed. Watching Charlotte spin was infectious and intoxicating, as the Mojave’s video screens projected her mixing in real time with a beaming smile on her face from start-to-finish. As my friend Mike commented, “she’s basically the coolest person on earth.” A boss queen who slays nonstop. Charlotte De Witte is already a big name, but after Coachella, I’m absolutely certain she’s gonna be the next massive EDM superstar.

4. Brutalismus 3000 usher in the “summer of hardstyle”

Throughout their brutally heavy, wildly entertaining set in the Sonora on Saturday night, Berlin duo Brutalismus 3000 frequently dropped in an imposing vocal sample that declared “this…is the summer of hardstyle.” It was a constant reminder that Coachella rarely books electronic acts that are this intense. Between pounding gabber breaks, deranged vocal screeching, and flickering strobe lights, B3K delivered a shockingly visceral spectacle that maximized their DJ-singer set-up, remixed Lil Uzi Vert and Dido, and declared war on the cops with a fury and fire that riled up the crowd like a battle cry. Despite overlapping with the beginning of No Doubt’s set, they drew in enough curious minds to pack out the Sonora to capacity, and the energy was relentless from beginning-to-end. Surely hardstyle is here to stay, and Coachella is one of the few major festivals out there booking it.

5. Two Shell were shockingly professional

On Sunday evening, I entered Two Shell’s set in the Gobi with my expectations slightly in check. I love and adore Two Shell, but for all of their beguiling recorded material, they do have a bit of a reputation for being willfully obtuse trolls. For some of their DJ sets, they’ve been known to send imposters in their place. They’ve also been known to over-improvise, playing whatever the fuck they want in their live sets, cohesion be damned. Anybody expecting their usual shenanigans was pleasantly surprised at just how professional and put-together their Coachella set was. Performing behind a DJ booth decorated like the gates to some mystical, cosmic portal, the masked-and-anonymous duo offered a little bit of everything; dissonant, squelching noise breakdowns, sanguine hyperpop detours, breakbeat and jungle experimentations, and transitions that perfectly blended and flowed from one track to the next. They also brought plenty of theatrical antics, emerging from behind the booth, standing on monolithic platforms, and crooning to the audience in true pop star fashion. From their signature tune “home” to the recent AI/FKA twigs-vocalized banger “Talk to Me,” you could tell how much this performance meant to them. An endearing hug between the two members capped off a cathartic set that unleashed a gamut of emotions – mostly euphoria. Ultimately, Two Shell are now ready for primetime.

6. Asian pop music enters its Renaissance period

In the past half-decade and change, K-Pop has exploded in the United States. More traditional superstars like BTS and BLACKPINK put the genre on the map for a lot of casuals, but now, those fans have become more rabid, and are gravitating further down the rabbit hole and exploring the more experimental sounds emanating from Asian cultures beyond Korea. As such, these subcultural genres are experiencing their own explosions in popularity, while continuing to explore increasingly adventurous styles. When all taken together, you could say that J-Pop, K-Pop, and everything in between is entering its Renaissance period, and Coachella was sure to underscore this.

I did not initially have YOASOBI on my radar. A J-Pop band that primarily composes soundtracks and theme songs for anime shows? Not my usual cup of tea. They ended up being my biggest surprise of the weekend. On Friday night, I walked past their set in the Mojave and was immediately sucked in by their quirky, buoyant synth anthems, colorful visuals, piercing lasers, and incendiary performance skills. While I didn’t end up seeing them, my friends had positive things to say about LE SSERAFIM, one of the next-big-things in the K-Pop girl group pipeline. On Sunday night, we popped into the Gobi and were left transfixed by ATARASHII GAKKO!’s choreography and ’80s Prince and Lionel Richie musical stylings. Meanwhile, 88rising hosted another showcase of its rising talent to a devoted crowd on Sunday evening. As evidenced at Coachella, Asian pop music is becoming weirder and more experimental, and I am fully here for it.

7. Deftones prove the cream rises to the top

Deftones have had one of the strangest trajectories of any heavy-leaning rock band to come out of the ’90s. For a long time, the Sacramento alt-metal shoegazers were lumped in with nü metal acts like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Godsmack. But something funny happened along the way. Their early work has undergone a critical reappraisal. Their newer albums are critically-acclaimed and selling like gangbusters. Gen Z and the TikTok crowd have embraced them. At this moment in time, they might be bigger and more relevant than they’ve ever been. On Friday night, they brought their beautifully towering soundscapes and a touch of class to a bigger-than-expected crowd at the Outdoor Theatre. Chino Moreno continues to demonstrate his wily prowess as a frontman, stalking and writhing around the stage while oscillating between pretty vocal melodies and guttural screams from one bar to the next. They struck a perfectly balanced setlist of old tracks, new tracks, big hits, and fan-favorite deep cuts. Their set was bombastic, hypnotizing, and cathartic in all the best ways, and further proof that heavy rock music still has a place at Coachella. After all these years, there’s a reason why Deftones are playing this fest and not their ’90s peers. The cream rises to the top.

8. Vampire Weekend continues the tradition of high profile surprise sets

Two years ago, Coachella stunned festival-goers with a last-minute add of Arcade Fire to the set times, and appreciative fans giddily packed out the Mojave Tent to take in that surprise spectacle. Last year, Coachella did it again by adding Blink-182, and the Sahara Tent was overflowing with fans desperate to catch Mark, Tom, and Travis in action together for the first time in over a decade. It seems like this is becoming a new tradition for the fest, as on Saturday, beloved indie rock vets Vampire Weekend played a surprise afternoon slot on the Outdoor Theatre to a huge crowd. Hot off the release of their acclaimed new album Only God Was Above Us, Ezra Koenig and company delivered a hit parade of tracks, including “Holiday,” “A Punk,” “Cousins,” and more – leading to one rapturous crowd singalong after another. They then ended their set with a medley of country covers, and randomly at the end, they pulled “Queen of Coachella” Paris Hilton from backstage to play a game of corn hole as they jammed away. After Paris slam-dunked her bag, they brought out “former President Abraham Lincoln” to do the same. It was nothing if not a weird and welcome experience, and now, Coachella is gonna feel the heat to keep this tradition rolling.

9. Jakob Nowell delivers the best possible version of a Sublime “reunion”

If you grew up in a SoCal beach town, you know exactly how much Sublime means to us. I’m not even that big of a fan, but I do respect their music and the culture that they’ve helped shape. For years, Sublime with Rome has been viewed as a glorified cover band, and only the biggest die-hards really care about them. However, the Coachella performance from Sublime’s two original members, along with late frontman Bradley Nowell’s son Jakob, was the best version of a Sublime “reunion” that you could possibly hope for. This Sublime is NOT a cash grab; it’s Jakob Nowell’s birthright. And in paying tribute to the dad he never got to know, and by playing those tracks perfectly with his dad’s original bandmates, Sublime managed to conjure one of the sets of the weekend. Not only does he look and sound just like his dad, but the songs slap as hard as they did back in Bradley’s prime. “Doin Time,” “Same in the End,” “What I’ve Got,” “Wrong Way,” “Bad Fish,” “Santeria” – the hit parade never ended. After acknowledging that his dad never got to play to a crowd this big, Jakob affirmed that he intends to ride the Sublime train “until the wheels fall off.” At Coachella, he more than earned that right. I’m not a particularly spiritual guy, but I imagine there’s not a prouder papa in heaven right now than Bradley Nowell.

10. No Doubt is back and better than ever

Before Saturday night, I was not a huge No Doubt fan. But now, I might be one. That’s how good their first gig in nine years was. For all the moaning about the main headliner trio, it was No Doubt that delivered the main stage set of the weekend. Crowd-pleasing and singalong-inducing, the hit parade was endless. Gwen looked great, sounded great, and whipped up the biggest crowd of the weekend into a nonstop frenzy – via all-time smash hits like “Ex-Girlfriend,” “Don’t Speak,” “Spiderwebs,” and many more. They brought out Olivia Rodrigo to sing “Bathwater,” a perfect guest to bridge the past and present (Olivia was even dressed like Gwen circa the early 2000s). Gwen’s crowd work during “Just A Girl” was downright inspiring. One of California’s signature bands delivered the California vibes, and the result was something to behold. No Doubt proved that they’re back and better than ever; let’s hope they keep the reunion train rolling.

11. The Sonora Tent is still Coachella’s best kept secret

For a third year in a row, the stage I attended the most was the Sonora. Indoor and air-conditioned, the tent represents a larger, polished version of a DIY venue, hosting acts that have broken out from or are currently operating in underground circles. Once again, it hosted the highest quantity of quality acts, but at times, nobody was there to see them.

On one hand, The Beths, Eartheater, Clown Core, and Brutalismus 3000 drew decent crowds and delivered awesome sets. Ska-punk superheroes The Aquabats pulled one of the biggest lines I’ve ever seen to get into the venue, to the point where hundreds of people couldn’t even get in! On the other hand, the Sonora scheduled a lot of small acts in time slots with brutal conflicts, and the attendance was appallingly small. But that didn’t stop those artist from sending it. Black Country, New Road probably pulled a hundred people tops, but their baroque pop/post-punk arrangements still shined. Militarie Gun opened Saturday to a tiny crowd, but everyone who was there still moshed to their hearts’ content, while I managed to snag the drummer’s drum stick that he threw into the crowd (it bounced off some poor old guy’s head before I snatched it off the ground). And then there was Mandy, Indiana, who didn’t let a small crowd of several dozen stop them from throwing down a pulse-pounding array of industrial noise rock, during which French-singing frontwoman Valentine Caulfield entered the pit and screamed her way through a slam-dancing crowd. It was just another reminder that some of the best acts on the lineup are the ones on the bottom lines that you’ve probably never heard of. It never hurts to dig deep.

12. Lana Del Rey is not quite cut out for the festival circuit

When the Coachella lineup first dropped, most of the vitriol was squarely aimed at its headlining trio: Lana Del Rey, Tyler, The Creator, and Doja Cat. Mostly, the naysayers targeted their pedigree and headlining credentials. But Tyler and Doja are widely renowned for being great live performers; nobody was really doubting their skills in that department. That criticism was mostly reserved for Lana.

Look, Coachella doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to booking slower, softer headlining acts. Jack Johnson was an all-time bore in 2008, and Frank Ocean laid a giant turd of a set on Weekend 1 of last year. Simply put, Coachella is a festival where people want to turn the fuck up and send it at the end of each night – especially on Day 1. And Lana’s music does not do that. On top of that, her reputation as a live performer is a mixed bag. When she’s playing in tighter spaces to solely her die-hard fans, she typically slays. At music festivals where she’s expected to play to casuals and non-fans, it can feel like she’s treading water. At Coachella, she did very little, if anything at all, to sway the skeptics.

The emotional intensity simply was not there. I’m not asking for Lana to bounce and head-bang around the stage, but even the best performers who don’t make “hype” music do little things that go a long way. In the vastness of Coachella’s main stage, her set was difficult to latch onto. Perhaps it wasn’t all her fault – her microphone sounded muffled at times, as the winds were high on Friday night. But she also seemed to visibly struggle to hold certain notes. But beyond that, her setlist just did not flow well. In between the occasional galvanizing singalong hit, there were far too many long stretches of sparse, stripped-down deep cuts that rarely elevated beyond a soft simmer. Guest appearances by Jon Batiste and Billie Eilish injected a bit life into the proceedings, but not enough to really move the needle. She may have started out with a gigantic crowd, but by the end, it felt like more than half the attendees had gravitated towards more upbeat acts like Anti-Up, Steve Angello, or Gorgon City. If you’re a die-hard Lana fan, you’ve probably seen a better set from her. If you aren’t a fan, you likely left midway through. Due to a confluence of factors, I think it’s just time to admit that Lana Del Rey is not cut out for the festival circuit. An event the size and scope of Coachella simply does not offer the level of intimacy or sensory depravation needed for her to truly do her thing. And that’s a shame, because she’s a generation-defining artist.

13. Lil Yachty is extremely talented. He should show it more often.

When Lil Yachty was starting out, I didn’t pay him much attention. For me, Soundcloud rap was kind of the first sign that I was getting old. That mumbling, ad-libbing hype-man-as-rapper thing just does not do it for me. But as it turns out, the guy is actually super talented. He showed that on last year’s album Let’s Start Here, a total pivot into vibey psychedelic rock and funk-soul. Now, the problem is that Lil Yachty appears to be caught between two minds: honoring his day 1 fans and his rap past, and continuing to grow as a more eclectic, forward-thinking artist.

That dynamic was on full display, for better or worse, at his Sunday night Mojave set. Perched atop a massive “Lil Boat” that his team somehow constructed on stage, Yachty came out of the gates hot, hypnotically crooning over corrosive psychedelic guitars, explosive drums, and gorgeous vocal harmonies from a trio of backup singers. It was everything I’d hoped to see from him. But that was short-lived. Almost as soon as he’d gotten into his rock star rhythm, he shouted “open the pits,” and the vibe devolved into tired, messy Soundcloud rap mode for the remainder of his set. Again, not my thing. The frustrating thing about Lil Yachty is that I believe he has the potential to really move the needle in the psych pop/rock sphere. To have that kind of unique voice and artistic vision in the rock realm, pulling in new audiences, feels vital for the genre. Ultimately, Yachty is almost a really good musician. He’s obviously extremely talented – I just wish he’d show it more often.

14. We Need To Talk About Grimes…

I hate to pile on, but by now you might’ve heard about the debacle that was Grimes’ “DJ set” in the Sahara Tent on Saturday evening. At one point in time, Grimes was one of my favorite musical artists. I love her discography and was excited to check her out. But she is just not cut out for being a DJ. Lack of mixing skills aside, she really didn’t need to constantly draw attention to the “technical issues.” Woefully underprepared, her set was a letdown. On the plus side, the new songs she played did sound pretty cool. Then again, she was always a much better songwriter and producer.

15. Everything is extremely expensive

I hate to tack on this non-musical criticism at the end of this piece, but I feel like it should be highlighted. Everything about Coachella, I mean everything, is outrageously expensive. Ticket prices are almost the least of your concern at this point. Food, drinks, merch, housing – you name it. It’s all gotten very out of hand. People will blame a “mid on paper” lineup for slow ticket sales, but the main barrier is the overall cost of attendance. I’m not asking Coachella to roll back prices. I know how corporations work, that just doesn’t happen. But please, out of mercy for the average GA festival-goer, give us a reprieve from the price-gouging for at least a few years going forward. Last year, a Red Bull Margarita (with maybe a single shot of tequila in it) cost $18, and that was already infuriating. This year, that same drink cost $22! A lemonade with NO alcohol in it cost $18. A single slice of Spicy Pie is now $14. And then you have insane hotel and Airbnb prices, and with the latter, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place that doesn’t go for at least $1000 a night. Coachella can’t control housing costs, but nonetheless, all of this is pricing out the average attendee. With the robust number of festival options currently out there, Coachella is hemorrhaging attendance numbers. Perhaps a killer lineup can rectify this, but even I’m skeptical of that. I love this festival with my whole heart. And my group is extremely lucky that we all live in SoCal and have a free place to stay in the Coachella Valley near the Empire Polo Club. If we didn’t have that, I doubt we’d still be going.