There’s only so much social media can capture when it comes to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Daytime baked like an aspiring influencer’s fever dream, but as the sun set, the desert transformed into a euphoric neon video game. Glowing balloons dotted the night sky; pyrotechnics shimmered in smoky residue. After the grounds closed, Coachella’s orbit of energy spiraled into the early morning, swirling with voltaic pedicabs, a pulsing silent disco and mismatched music mixing between neighboring tents.
The end of Weekend One left a Frank Ocean-sized hole in the lineup, but it was promptly filled by blink-182 — who had just reunited for the first time in nearly 10 years — and DJ trio Skrillex, Fred Again and Four Tet. Even as festivalgoers formed a formidable wall around returning headliners Bad Bunny and BLACKPINK, many found their way to the festival’s less crowded haunts, dancing in the Do LaB and getting down to vinyl records at Despacio.
From April 21 to 23, head arts editor Lauren Harvey made her way to Indio to experience the famous festival in all its sticky, sundry fun. After three days of hopping from tent to tent, between festival and campsite, here are her highlights from Coachella 2023.
blink-182 began its Sunday night set in the way only blink-182 would: “S—t, piss, f—k.” Naturally, the crass lyric to “Family Reunion” set the stage for a performance riddled with jokes about butts, dicks and (of course) your mom.
blink-182 has undoubtedly changed since its formation in 1992: Bassist Mark Hoppus battled cancer, and drummer Travis Barker married a Kardashian. Yet, the group exudes a youthfulness that belies its years. While Hoppus and lead singer Tom DeLonge uncomfortably jested with the crowd, Barker remained relatively quiet, but his drumming spoke for itself. Shirtless in a beanie, he evoked skater boy punk as he crouched over his setup, delivering some of his famous rudiments and unexpected accents.
Whether they grew up listening to the band or heard it on their parents’ radio station, festivalgoers got a kick out of the show. People of all ages danced along to “The Rock Show” and “What’s My Age Again?” During “I Miss You,” DeLonge held his mic out to audience members, and they readily sang back, “Where are you?” Taking advantage of its new nighttime slot, the trio added to the pop rock explosion with a crackling firework showcase. blink-182 may just now be making a comeback, but it’s still made for the big stage.
BLACKPINK knows how to make an entrance.
Before the K-pop girl group took the Coachella stage, a constellation of drones shapeshifted in the night sky. Twisting into the shape of well-known festival landmarks, such as the ferris wheel and tower, the display set everyone’s sights to the stars — and the subsequent performance soared beyond expectations.
The beckoning sound of “BLACKPINK” echoed throughout the festival grounds during the intro to “Pink Venom.” As a group of dancers swept across the stage in black, the crowd turned a vibrant shade of pink as their synchronized LED wristbands glowed in the night. Materializing on stage to the sound of triumphant electric guitar, members Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé and Lisa set the Empire Polo Club ablaze.
Throughout its set, BLACKPINK never missed a beat, executing each dance move and costume change to perfection. Appearing first in bedazzled pink corsets, the members later changed into dominant florals and creative chainmail. While BLACKPINK shares undeniable chemistry as a group, its members also shone bright as each delivered their own solo. Jisoo’s “Flower” was especially captivating as she enthralled on a stage of red and black.
Whether they were new fans or longtime Blinks, festivalgoers simply could not get enough BLACKPINK in their area.
Skrillex, Four Tet and Fred Again
Three days of sweat accumulated at the Coachella Stage as Skrillex, Four Tet and Fred Again closed out the festival on Sunday night. The DJ trio — which recently sold out Madison Square Garden with a historic five-hour set — is known for its stunning, unpredictable showcases, but no one was expecting Coachella.
Bodies upon bodies crowded the stage as beams of light rose around Frank Ocean’s ill-fated ice rink. Located inside the structure, the trio could not be seen by most, but grand scale projectors displayed their live mixing to the compact crowd buzzing across the festival grounds. White hot EDM hit “Rumble” vibrated through chest cavities and deadened grass; meanwhile, idiosyncratic remixes of “Love Story” and “Call Me Maybe” entertained the pop and even country-loving crowd.
As the three DJs queued and switched up songs, they visibly surprised one another, grinning as arms criss-crossed over the mixing board. Occasionally, Skrillex and Fred would balance at the edge of their setup, beaming out at the rolling sea of people.
Even away from the crowd, one could appreciate the lasers as they pierced the festival’s famous landmarks — from the hypnotic ferris wheel to the polychromatic spiraling tower. Bursting with ecstasy, energy and vibrancy, the party that almost never happened proved the best possible end to rapturous, rumbling Coachella.
Observing Rosalía was akin to watching a movie: Each moment was purposeful, well-timed and cinematic. As the camera moved across the stage, the Spanish singer made deliberate, winking gestures, engaging even those at the back of the crowd. Throughout her set, Rosalía seamlessly transitioned from upbeat to contemplative. One minute, she was playing the piano; the next, she was dancing on top of it. Meanwhile, her dancers raised the bar, even metamorphosing into the shape of a motorcycle for the Motomami to sit on. Toward the end, the whole crew rode around the stage on scooters, passing off the camera with good-hearted, playful fun.
Weyes Blood is such a divine presence that it’s often easy to forget she’s also quite funny. The ethereal artist, whose real name is Natalie Mering, appeared angelic in a draping white dress, her voice lilting over the entranced bodies below. As the wind picked up and rippled through the Mojave Tent, it almost seemed a product of her own doing. Even when Mering brought out a person dressed in a hippopotamus costume to dance with her onstage, the spell remained unbroken amid the laughter. As Mering made her way between mic stand and piano with a gentle, loving sway, she welcomed more and more fans into her captivating galaxy.
While Coachella had plenty to entertain the EDM crowd, pot-smoking, tie-dye-wearing festivalgoers knew the best party could be found at Stick Figure. The Southern California-based reggae band took the aptly named, unshaded Outdoor Stage at 3:20 p.m. Sunday, and it was hard to tell what was burning more: the audience’s shoulders or the “World on Fire.” Bringing the laid-back, beachy vibe of the California coast, Stick Figure also surprised with special guest Jakob Nowell — son of the late Bradley Nowell — to perform a cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time.” And of course, frontman Scott Woodruff included his rescued Australian Shepherd and longtime tour companion Cocoa in all the fun.
Under the shimmering chandeliers of the Gobi Tent, Elyanna made history as the first artist to perform a Coachella set primarily in Arabic. The 21-year-old Palestinian-Chilean artist counts Lana Del Rey and Beyoncé among her influences, but as she blends in Latin American and Middle Eastern influences, her infectious sound belies categorization. Dressed in a Y2K-inspired set by Egyptian designer Rafik Zaki, she captivated eager festivalgoers with hits such as “Ghareeb Alay” and “Al Kawn Janni Maak.” She even paid tribute to The Weeknd with a cover of “Earned It” in Arabic — beguiling both those who did and didn’t speak the language. As Elyanna’s warm vocals hovered over the crowd, she dominated the stage with effortless confidence and uncontainable presence. When Elyanna sings, “I’m a superstar,” she really means it.
A virtual band born out of distinct musicality and relentless creativity, Gorillaz presents an interesting problem for the stage — but frontman Damon Albarn executed his prime-slotted set beautifully. Though human bodies populated the stage, the famously animated 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs projected across the back and sides. And those physically present were effortlessly cool — like wearing-shades-in-the-dark, nearly-levitating-over-the-crowd cool. As it sifted through a diverse discography and ever-popular hits like “Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc,” Gorillaz also brought out a host of special guests. Even headliner Bad Bunny made an appearance, though he was disguised by a bearded mask and cowboy hat. By the end of the live show, crowd members could only begin to conceptualize just how expansive the Gorillaz universe is.
No one is doing electropop quite like SOFI TUKKER. Though some DJ sets leave observers wondering, “What do they actually do?,” Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern made the answer abundantly clear: everything. They not only controlled the mixing board, but they sang, played the guitar and riled up the crowd with fun-loving delight. Holding an energy competition between Weekend One and Weekend Two, the duo used a sports-like score display and kept count after each song. Despite not getting Jennifer Coolidge to join them on stage, SOFI TUKKER still amused and delighted with its remix of the “White Lotus” theme — the duo truly knows how to give the people what they want.
“The boys are back in town,” and they’re better than ever. After releasing its first full-length album earlier this year, boygenius took the stage with fiery vigor and palpable friendship. Opening with “Without You Without Them,” Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker proved masters of not only sad indie, but red-hot rock ‘n’ roll. There was little banter among the trio between sets — save for when Dacus took a moment to introduce the band and recognize the Indigenous groups displaced from the land — but their chemistry translated through beaming smiles and electric instrumental interludes. Closing song “Salt in the Wound” began quiet before escalating into exhilarating, gritty yet perfectly blended harmony — a tribute to everything the boys do best.