By Todd Martens
The first ever Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was held in 1999, the same year rapper Dr. Dre released his last album. Compton’s hip-hop pioneer and production ace will close this year’s sold-out desert festival, to be held over two consecutive weekends in Indio, Calif. Meanwhile, Dr. Dre‘s upcoming “Detox,” long said to be near release, continues to reside only in the artist’s closely guarded possession, but Dr. Dre doesn’t need any new music to feel right at home among the Coachella lineup.
Coachella, which launches April 13 and features the same lineup both weekends, has no shortage of rising stars, including bluesy rock headliners the Black Keys. Yet the festival also increasingly operates in its own universe, one that revolves around artists that came of age in the ’90s.
Although the fortysomething rapper has remained active as a producer and is now a brand icon, Coachella 2012 is making heroes out of a number of former cult acts from more than a decade ago. Jeff Mangum’s homemade orchestral pop with Neutral Milk Hotel found a niche audience in the mid-’90s, but he’ll be given the victory-lap treatment at Coachella. Likewise, the still-topical Brit pop of Pulp, a group that was overshadowed by the likes of Oasis and Blur, is now the third act billed on Coachella’s opening night.
Many eyes will be on relative hip-hop newcomers such as Azealia Banks and Death Grips, but among the upper-tier acts, it’s reunions and resurrections that dominate. Sweden’s punk rockers Refused found an American audience as the band was calling it quits (for the first time) in the late ’90s, and the experimental hard rock of At the Drive-In grew in myth only after its members went on to form Mars Volta and Sparta in the 2000s.
Coachella, run by AEG-owned concert promoter Goldenvoice, continues to defy trends even as it sets them (where else would a long-dormant hard-core band from Sweden be given equal billing as the Grammy-winning Bon Iver?). Yet many consider Coachella the tone-setter and unofficial start of the summer festival season, which includes Chicago’s Lollapalooza and the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. But it’s at Coachella where the ’90s are alive and well, where Dr. Dre serves as the grand finale each weekend, and the likes of Radiohead, Mazzy Star, fIREHOSE and indie supergroup Wild Flag are resurrecting the alternative nation banner.