The Morning News

Listening Coachella, MySpace & the Octopus Project

The single greatest problem our country faced throughout the 1990s, the summer music festival, was responsible not only for 90 percent of infections in 18-24 year-olds, but also for Live’s Throwing Copper going platinum eight times. Thankfully, the vast majority of music festivals are now confined to the Chicagoland area; and while that city’s indie rockers should rejoice, they should not brave the Moroccan buffet situated next to the dance tent.

Have any other festivals survived? Sadly, yes. Outside of Chicago—in fact, in the Californian desert—at the end of this month is the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, whose lineups have become a veritable cream of the zeitgeist. This year, like every year, you get one legendary, yet appropriately cool act (Depeche Mode), many big praiseworthy/hyped acts of the moment (Franz Ferdinand, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Matisyahu), a few more small, sought-after ones (Wolfmother), a handful of bands you haven’t heard of but claim to already be over (Be Your Own Pet)—all that, and Tool will be there, who are headlining the second day of the festival, and who are not now roadies like you thought they were.

An interesting twist at this year’s Coachella event is how MySpace (the current source of infections amongst our 18 to 24-year-olds) held a contest for its users to nominate their favorite band for an open slot at the festival. Out of more than a thousand nominations, the winner was the Octopus Project, whose inspired organic/electronic sound (their most recent effort, 2004’s One Ten Hundred Thousand Million, cannot be recommended enough) is just the thing to reinvigorate a festival that’s cluelessly dropping its cool exclusivity. After all, Madonna is scheduled for this year’s Coachella—is she an important music figure? Sure, but she’s irrelevant to new music in 2006—she’s simply not “cool.” Ask Lourdes.

This is a problem for the festival, especially since the currency at Coachella is “cool.” (And surely it’s the reason Madonna wanted in, in the first place—she, if anyone, knows her music marketing.) So what’s “cool,” at least for Coachella? It’s new music—though not unpolished or staunchly underground—and if not new music then the very music that inspired today’s new music: Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, New Order, and almost-but-not-quite the Smiths, (who declined the festival’s $5 million offer to reform).

Nobody, least of all the Octopus Project, would have predicted their appearance at this year’s event (they didn’t even know they were nominated for the contest). But what an interesting idea—Coachella didn’t know who to book, so they asked those who would know better than anyone, and out of it they got one of today’s most thrillingly creative bands. Hopefully, most Coachella-goers already hitchhiking their way to Indio (or reserving a limo out of L.A.X.) will take a moment to remember the true meaning of Coachella, or at least what it should be. Not crass commercialization, but wonderful, groundbreaking new music. I’m not implying that the Octopus Project could save Coachella, I’m saying that if they can’t, maybe it’s not worth saving after all.

Mp3: The Octopus Project, “The Adjustor”
Mp3: The Octopus Project, “Music Is Happiness”

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