How Dance Music Grew to Dominate Coachella
Arguably the most famous music festival in the United States, Coachella has stamped its place in American music culture. With 20 years of history, it is in the pantheon of live events—a dream visit for any music lover. Sporting a wide array of diverse talent every year, headliners have ranged from Beck to the Prodigy to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
When looking at lineups over the last 3-4 years, the rise in popularity of electronic music is evident. Yet dance music's interesting relationship with the festival runs back to its beginnings. It is marked by iconic performances and a true rollercoaster of representation.
Although it would be an easy assumption to think that the boom in electronic artists at Coachella has been a steady rise, this is not the case.
Surprisingly, the festival's first two years saw electronic music represent over 50% of the lineup, with solid numbers holding through 2004 (at least 30%). Legacy artists like Richie Hawtin, Kevin Saunderson, Moby, A-Trak, Paul Oakenfold, Tiesto, and Pete Tong held down regular slots in the Sahara Tent. Although 2005 saw a stark drop in the booking of electronic acts, the seeds had been planted. In 2002, Coachella took the iconic Sahara Tent to a new level, increasing production and booking a stellar lineup of electronic acts, including the Chemical Brothers on the main, Kosheen in the Mojave Groove Armada in the Sahara.
Coming off of the 2005 festival, the year with the fewest electronic artists in the festival's history, early fans of electronic music were naturally concerned about the future of the genre in the states. Standing at the tail end, a period of crack-downs on dance music events with no idea of the boom that was to come made for uncertainty in America's dance music community.
Any worries evaporated as the 2006 festival hosted an iconic slew of electronic artists and introduced the world of LED and light shows to a fan base that had never truly experienced high-level production.
Highly influential electronic groups Depeche Mode and Massive Attack headlined the main stage. Paul Oakenfold, Kaskade, and Carl Cox played the Sahara Tent. A late addition to the lineup, Madonna could have easily demanded a mainstage set but opted to play outside Sahara on Sunday night as the sun set. Finally, and most importantly, Daft Punk put on arguably the greatest set in the festival's history.
Daft Punk was one of the most well-known electronic acts at the time. Respected by serious dance music fans and loved by mainstream audiences. However, they hadn't toured in 10 years, and no one knew what to expect.
Their stage production, a pyramid with a floating top, saw the French duo ensconced in LED, with dozens of roving lights around the structure to add to the effect. They smashed through live edits and cuts of their greatest hits and drew over 40,000 people to a stage that held 10,000. Not only would they release a live album of their tour set, their Coachella set was recorded in full in high quality (for the time) audio and video.
The blend of a boundary-breaking visual spectacle and a perfect tracklist led thousands of music fans to convert into electronic music fans. Coachella responded by increasing the capacity of their electronic stage and slowly adding electronic artists to other stages. The festival booking tells the story on its own, with 2007 and 2008 seeing the lineup hold around 30% electronic artists.
As the festival expanded to three days, they stepped back from electronic music for a brief moment. Two years of more diverse lineups took place, but in 2011 the genre roared back, coinciding with the nationwide "EDM Boom" and subsequent national interest in electronic music.
In 2012, Swedish House Mafia was the first DJ group to headline the main stage. Coachella introduced the Yuma Tent one year later, officially creating a second dance-focused stage. The Yuma Tent brought more electronic music to the festival and introduced a space at Coachella to focus on underground music exclusively. Early headliners were artists like Seth Troxler, Richie Hawtin, and Jamie Jones.
2015 brought Kaskade to the main stage and marked the largest crowd for any act in the festival's history. In the same year, the Mojave Tent and Gobi Tent began to see an increase in electronic artists with Gorgon City, Flying Lotus, Tycho, Odesza, and Kygo gracing those stages.
As electronic artists continued to break into the mainstream, Coachella responded in kind. Although the occasional mega star graced the main stage, it was rare for underground acts to play non-electronic stages. From 2015 onwards, it became clear that almost every stage at Coachella, in any given year, could host multiple electronic acts.
Since 2015 electronic music has represented at least 30% of the billing at Coachella. DJs or live electronic acts on the main stage are now commonplace. And one can expect performances scattered throughout the weekend at the Outdoor Theatre, The Gobi Tent, and the Mojave Tent (alongside the Sahara Tent and Yuma Tent).
Coachella has become a festival that electronic artists mark on the calendar, a time to premiere a special live show, test out a brand new track, bring out a live vocalist, or even make a return to the states after a lengthy break. The 2022 iteration features Flume, Disclosure, Louis The Child, Madeon, Black Coffee, Solomon, and Jamie XX. Coachella takes place April 15-17 and 22-24 at the Empire Polo Fields in India, Ca.