Thursday, January 3, 2019

Coachella Lineup | Lefsetz Letter

And sooner or later
Everybody’s kingdom must end

“The King Must Die”
Elton John

It’s not the boomers’ Coachella anymore, nor the Gen-X’ers. I thought the transition would happen when America’s #1 festival booked Justin Bieber. But now, that old man has been passed over and they’ve gone straight to Ariana Grande. Is this the music business we grew up with?


Actually, the Coachella lineup is an extremely accurate picture of what’s happening in music today, when it’s less about gravitas than social media presence, when the album is secondary to the single, when it’s not about history but today.

Friday’s headliner choice of Janelle Monae reminds me of Michael Jackson breaking the color line at MTV. Pittman said it was an AOR station, Walter Yetnikoff challenged that and suddenly MTV went urban and it became about video production more than songs.

As for the 1975, they’ve been around for a while, but have only become hot in America with their latest album. DJ Snake and Diplo are relative oldsters on this bill, having had hits a few years back. And it’s true, Kacey Musgraves jumps genres and Juice WRLD just made it yesterday and the undercard…only their agents and a small coterie of Gen-Z fans might know them.

So, this is the evolution of festivals, while competitors hunger for legendary superstars, overpaying them for insurance, Coachella has tossed history and entered the present, where a festival is more about the attendees than those on stage anyway. Hell, that’s the modern generation, even though Sly Stone nailed it decades back. Everybody is a star. You get cred by going to the desert, and if you don’t, you’ve got FOMO and are labeled a pariah. It’s about outfits and after-parties and selfies and Instagramming… If they banned mobile phones, attendance would plunge.

As for Saturday, when did Tame Impala become a headliner? Tony Wilson loved them over a decade ago, but I didn’t notice that much increased traction lately. Could Tame Impala headline Lollapalooza? Then again, is Lollapalooza headliner-proof? But not Bonnaroo. Yup, it comes down to the hang. And it turns out people don’t want to camp in the humidity and mud. That’s 2019, the user experience, Steve Jobs had that right.

And once again, there’s a woman of color on Saturday, Solange. But, being politically correct, going pop, killed FYF Fest. But Coachella is bulletproof…

For a while.

And sure, Weezer and Aphex Twin are alta kachers, but Weezer had that Toto remake and…

Billie Eilish is hot today, and Bassnectar is suddenly hot again, and I’m a fan of Christine and the Queens…

As for Sunday, they’ve got Zedd… Meanwhile, competing festivals are booking the comeback of Swedish House Mafia.

And the dirty little secret is Coachella has always been an EDM festival, it’s the Sahara Tent that is the pulse of the weekend. But, where are the other blue chip DJs?

As for MTV… It took a while, but then the station cratered. Granted, it was killed by the internet, but it lost touch before that. Then again, unlike MTV in the nineties, Coachella is covering all bases with this bill.


Is this what passes for revolution in 2019?

Granted, Coachella started a revolution, but had to sell to AEG to survive.

So where are we going? Is this bill evidence of a healthy music business or just the opposite? Too few genuine stars and a bunch of of the moment performers?

Music ain’t baseball, there’s no ongoing tradition, acts come and go, as do genres.

And it’s not football either, which is a coaches game.

And headliners used to be powerhouses, known by everybody, with cultural impact, and you’ve got to give Childish Gambino that, but Ariana Grande? Is it any different from booking Rihanna? Is that how far we’ve fallen, we curate by the charts as opposed to the music?

So in one fell swoop, Coachella has eliminated the past.

Oh, the festival started making inroads last year with Beyonce’s appearance, which has become legendary despite so few seeing it, why isn’t it on Netflix, but this year they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Today, they’ve disrupted themselves, before others disrupt them.

That’s right, Coachella was on a bad path. Too many reunions of old acts few cared about. It’s almost as if Paul Tollett read Clayton Christensen’s legendary “Innovator’s Dilemma”… You keep serving your hard core audience and then one day a competitor owns everybody else and is bigger. Then again, the disruption starts off inferior and cheap. One can argue the 2019 Coachella lineup is inferior, but it’s definitely not cheap.

So, you’ve got to give credit to the Goldenvoice team. They made a move. They didn’t rest on their laurels, they reinvented Coachella. It was not an evolution, it was a long time in coming, but it happened.

Now the question becomes whether the audience is with them.

Is today’s music as important to today’s audience as classic rock and its derivatives were to boomers and Gen-X’ers?

I doubt it. Back then, music was everything, now it’s just a piece of the pie.

Even worse, the business is mature. Run by corporations. The barrier to entry looks low, but the truth is it’s not that different from the FANG players, i.e. Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google. You can start independently, but if you don’t sell out, good luck. Snapchat was imitated by Instagram probably to its death and Emporium sold out to Live Nation like all those entities hoovered up by FANG. Music is fluid, but the business?

So one asks where the new excitement will come from.

Actually, there are a ton of acts with fan bases that don’t fit the Coachella paradigm at all, just pick up “Relix” and see. Musically interesting, but business..?

There are acts doing their own festivals, but…

To a great degree it all looks like been there, done that. You collaborate with a known star, your story is pasted all over social media and you sell your services to one of the big corporations. It’s easy to despise it just like so many despise D.C., it just doesn’t resonate with them anymore.

Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones still play stadiums, and the Eagles too. And it’s not like they haven’t been around, but people still yearn for the songs.

But Coachella no longer yearns for their audience.

The king is dead, the king is dead
Long live the king


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