A Look at Coachella 2011

Natasha Aftandilians/New University

It’s that time of year again. Spring is upon us, cloudy skies have given way to bright and beautiful California sun, and tens of thousands of people are counting down the minutes to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The 12th incarnation of the world-renowned festival takes place April 15-17 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.

For most UC Irvine students, this coming weekend will consist solely of studying and getting multiple beverages at Cha For Tea for no apparent reason. But for those of us who signed away the rights to our firstborn children in exchange for a Coachella pass, the festival promises to be an experience of epic proportions. And if you want to go but are still without the means to do so, you can drop $1,000 for a marked-up ticket on Craigslist and maybe just not pay rent next month. Landlords are usually cool about that sort of thing.

Kanye West, Arcade Fire and The Strokes are guaranteed to put on great headlining performances, and many are familiar with groups like The Black Keys, Animal Collective and Bright Eyes that are sure to play after dark. Here is a brief guide to some lesser-known artists that are worth checking out.

One of the groups I am most excited to see is YACHT, the constantly expanding project of cult-obsessed genius Jona Bechtolt. Past performances by YACHT have featured creepy black-and-white videos of cult rituals, copious amounts of symbolic and religious imagery and even PowerPoint slides showing where the members of the band live on Google Maps – all accompanied by the group’s danceable blend of electronic jams and mantra-like chants. The group was Bechtolt’s solo project for five years before he added Claire Evans and a backing band known as The Straight Gaze. YACHT describes its shows as “disseminating ideas into the cultural consciousness,” and Coachella attendees looking for a revelatory spiritual experience probably won’t find a better opportunity to do so without “substantial” help. YACHT performs on Friday.

The indie sensation known as The Pains of Being Pure At Heart also performs on Friday. This is the sort of band that your annoying hipster friend will not shut up about while sipping her latte at brunch with you. The New York City band’s noise-pop sound incorporates elements of slightly depressing shoegaze, with that genre’s de-emphasized vocals and heavy distortion, while staying upbeat enough to justify head-bobbing. Their 2010 self-titled breakthrough album was hard to stop listening to, and their latest release, “Belong,” is an expansion on their already polished sound.

One of the hidden gems found on this year’s Coachella lineup is The Swell Season. The mellow folk-rock duo consists of Czech pianist Markéta Irglová and Irish singer and guitarist Glen Hansard, and they are buried in the lineup’s small print despite the fact that Hansard is probably one of the most talented musicians playing the entire weekend. The duo first met while writing the score and starring in the 2006 musical “Once.” That film grossed over $20 million after being produced for a mere $160,000; similarly, those who stop by to check out The Swell Season’s stripped-down, mellow jams will understand that this is a duo that can do quite a lot with only a little. The band performs on Saturday.

Fans of Phoenix, who played one of last year’s most memorable Coachella sets, will want to check out Two Door Cinema Club, also performing on Saturday. The relatively new Irish group’s energetic sound is somewhat reminiscent of the first two tracks on “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” albeit with more of a pop sensibility and with greater emphasis placed on guitars than on synthesizers. In fact, the two groups have toured together and are signed to the same label in France. The band’s 2010 debut album, “Tourist History,” won the award for Irish Album of the Year and was praised by critics.

Another promising new group is Phantogram, an electronic rock duo from upstate New York that successfully blends raw trip-hop beats with a mellow, synth-heavy sound, all topped off with gorgeous vocals. The duo, guitarist Josh Carter and keyboardist Sarah Barthel, claim that Detroit hip-hop is a major influence on their music, although they take that genre’s street beats and run to new heights with them on their debut album, “Eyelid Movies.” This is music best enjoyed in the dark, so we can only hope that the Coachella gods choose to schedule their set later in the day. Phantogram’s set is scheduled for Sunday.

Of course, there are plenty of other artists that promise to justify the purchase of that expensive Coachella pass. Hipster goddess Jenny Lewis is performing with her latest folk-influenced post-Rilo Kiley project, Jenny and Johnny. Best Coast’s sunny California jams will tease the sunburned crowd with thoughts of the faraway beach. Duran Duran will be there, if only so you can briefly feel like you are at the mall in 1987. Neon Trees, Jimmy Eat World and Jack’s Mannequin are even on the lineup, proving that people who used to go to Warped Tour are welcome at the Empire Polo Club. And, of course, the headliners are excellent, as long as you’re not sticking around for Friday night’s Coors Light-fueled Kings of Leon set. There really is something for everyone.

Lastly, a word to the wise: you’ll remember sunscreen, but do not forget to bring chapstick and reapply it obsessively during the weekend. Like, seriously. I know this from personal experience. Bad things happen to good people.