This Years Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival Shines with Asian Veneer
By: Wendy Wang
Despite the sweltering heat, the cloudless desert skies, and the smorgasbord of litter, the fourth annual Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California satisfied the makings of a real music and arts festival. With more than 80 cutting-edge artists gracing the two-day lineup and music echoing diversity and innovative authenticity, Coachella was able to drudge up more than 70,000 music fans from all over the world.
Hailed by Rolling Stone as the best American festival (6/6/02) and praised by UKs NME as probably the best festival in the world (5/11/02), music fans were treated to a satisfying dose of aesthetically pleasing music tucked inside a huge grassy arena surrounded by breathtaking desert sunsets of pink and yellow, and towering palm trees of healthy green.
What set this years Coachella apart from other music festivals is their lineup that featured groundbreaking artists linked to the Asia Pacific.
Three prime acts that captured Asia Pacific Arts eye were N.E.R.D, Ladytron, and the short film Eastside.
Hip-hop sensation N.E.R.D
Attracting several hundred concertgoers at Coachellas main stage, N.E.R.D gave a screaming head banging raw performance.
As one of the many highlights at Coachella, rap group N.E.R.D stirred the audience into a heightened frenzy when frontman Pharell Williams opened by singing, "What the world needs now is a little bit of peace." With an immediate reference to peace and the war in Iraq, Williams experienced the crowd pandemonium and involvement he was looking for.
Fashioning funk beats and rhythm rock, N.E.R.D not only charmed the stage with invigorating lyrical wordplay but also enchanted audiences with colorful keyboard playing by Filipino genius Chad Hugo.
As N.E.R.D energetically took to the stage by finessing their moves with their contemporary hip hop beats, audiences absorbed the music with remarks like Hell Yah and intensified movements in body language and arm waving.
The highpoint of the performance was marked by the smirk on Williams face when he sang the emotion-laden song, Beautiful, to a crowd that indeed saw something beautiful, honest and above all brilliant in their music.
Simply looking for what everybody on earth looks for: happiness, N.E.R.D was able to bring that concept to Coachella with a memorable and inspirational performance molded by an aesthetic edge.
Electronic synth group Ladytron
Possessing that new wave techno pop sound, Ladytron kept its fans earnestly waiting for nearly an hour as the Mojave tent stage experienced its share of technical difficulties.
Despite the wait, this artsy electro-synth glam group from Liverpool waltzed onto stage and all the tension conjured by the wait was soon forgotten.
With their similar retro haircuts and androgynous appeal, Ladytron are reminiscent of existentialistic teens from the 60s. Wearing black from head to toe made it a very good thing that Ladytron were not playing outside in the boiling heat.
Standing stiff like cardboard boxes, they treated us to sounds of spacey electronica. To top it off, the unforgettable rigid keyboarding of Reuben Woo, the musical architect in the background, gives the group that extra dimension in experimental sound.
Mira Aroyo handled her robotic-like vocal duties well with the song, Light and Magic. The songs lush, atmospheric harmonies swooped the crowd not only on a musical level but also on an intergalactic one as stage beam rays and colorful lights created that futuristic appeal Ladytron seeks to invoke.
With the song, Black Plastic, Ladytron was aided with a big flashing eyeball in the background screen during their performance. As if their obscure lyrics were not enough to mystify a myriad of sweaty devoted fans, Ladytron were able to prove that their new wave beats set them apart from any musical genre. Playing with ease and determination, they have in many respects swallowed huge gulps of barium and are glowing in their own radioactive bubble. They are indeed the music of the future.
Independent director Kuang Lee with his skatemovie Eastside
Working on 16mm film, Chinese-American director, Kuang Lee, whipped up an excellent thirty-minute documentary on the skateboarding culture in Asia.
Eastside is a groundbreaking documentary that explores the unexplored world of underground Asian skateboarding fun. With emotionally touching personal stories and documentary-style storytelling, Eastside offer viewers a glimpse into what extreme sport is all about.
The documentary not only focuses on the lives of three professional skateboarders by delving into their individual passion for skateboarding but it also explores each of their spiritual quests on their journey from West to East. Skateboarding, in many ways, becomes the skateboarders vicarious redemption. The physical pain from skateboard falls and accidents are endured, and ultimately such painful conquest is what mentally saves each of them.
Asian skateboarding culture becomes a niche in and of itself, where skateboarders from around the world can unite and not fall victim to racial or cultural discrimination. This skateboarding family contributes to a society where individuals tackle the dilemmas of loneliness. It is this Asian skateboarding niche that helps Asian kids find an identity that they can call their own, because through these Asian pro skateboarders they see someone that looks like them and can speak their native tongue. This fact alone propels these kids to aim higher by testing their own abilities in an extreme sport such as skateboarding.
Eastside shows us that skateboarding is not about the glamour or fame. It is about the fierce, raw passion that people can have about a sport, which can, in the end, be so intense that it can inspire achievement in personal dreams and goals.
As this years Coachella offers us a glimpse of the Asia Pacific, we hope that next years festival will give us a kaleidoscope view of Asian representation in both music and film.
We must remember that this is not the end in this diversified musical slideshow of performances from the Asia Pacific Rim, it is only the very beginning.
There is definitely more to come folks!
May 8, 2003