Coachella isn’t just the most important North American music festival; on a personal level, it’s the single most influential musical entity I’ve got. I’ve been attending the fest for 12 consecutive years, dating back to my senior year of high school when my parents gifted me tickets as a graduation present. A lot has changed since Rage Against The Machine and Björk topped that bill. Everyone and their mother now attends Coachella. I’m not kidding – my actual 60-year-old mom now attends every single year.
The musical lineups have changed as well. If I’m being totally honest, the last few years have been a bit underwhelming as far as my tastes go. We’ve gotten some really amazing headlining acts like Beyonce, Kendrick and Radiohead, but the undercards have left a lot to be desired. The headlining acts are fun, but the undercard is what makes or breaks your weekend. Don’t get me wrong – there’s always some gold in there, but it feels like as though Coachella has lately skimped on including truly ambitious, forward-thinking up-and-comers (especially rock bands). Instead, it has skewed towards corporate-backed pop, hip-hop, EDM, and Sirius/XM-core indie pop. Safe is a word I’ve often used to describe recent lineups.
Which is why this year’s lineup is such a breath of fresh air! Not only are the top lines filled with revolutionary mainstream titans (Tame Impala! Solange! Janelle Monae! Gesaffelstein! APHEX FUCKING TWIN!), but the undercard is absolutely stacked with smaller, cutting edge names. Really, this lineup is right up our alley! As a blog, our niche is covering DIY/under-the-radar/up-and-coming musical acts, and this Coachella lineup is littered with them. So if you’re in the mood for discovery, then take a look at this in-depth guide to 15 of the best acts on the poster’s bottom three lines. If you’re a regular patron of our site, most of these artists will be familiar to you; many of them rank amongst our favorite acts in the game at the moment. For each, I’ve posted a description of their sound, a suggestion of where to dive in, and one music video and one live performance clip to view. Perfect for you and your mom. Have fun diving in, and happy Coachella, everyone! As I see it, this year’s gonna be legendary.
Who Are They: San Diego’s prodigal sons! The Frights are a lo-fi surf-punk outfit, and one of the two most important bands to come out of SD in the last several years. The Poway quartet make crowd-pleasing, moshpit-inducing garage rock featuring pummeling punk instrumentals, catchy hooks, and self-deprecating lyrics drawing on heavy slacker vibes. If you’re a regular to our site, you’d know we write about them often. They have an almost god-like reverence within the local DIY scene, and their latest album for legendary label Epitaph, Hypochondriac, really helped expand their international fanbase. They will absolutely destroy the Sonora Tent on Friday.
Where To Start: The group’s sophomore LP, 2016’s You Are Going To Hate This, is probably the most accessible entry-point. It really hits a perfect sweet spot of noisy lo-fi garage mixed with catchy, anthemic pop-punk. From there, you can either go backwards to their raw self-titled debut, or forwards to the cleaner, more mature and eclectic Hypochondriac.
For Fans Of: FIDLAR, Wavves, SWMRS
Who Is He: A chameleonic experimental electronic producer and singer (real name Sean Bowie) based in Turin, Italy and originally from Tennessee. His early sounds have been characterized as “post-chillwave,” though his recent output is far more slithery and psychedelic. He makes dance music that runs the entire sonic gamut. Staticky breakbeats, off-kilter loops, piercing samples, and shimmering neo-disco experiments round out his endlessly heady soundscapes. His music also has a highly visual component to it, and his live sets are known to be quirky and hypnotizing, as he often dons outlandish outfits and embraces a flamboyant glam-rock persona. Wherever he plays, it will be one seriously trippy dance party.
Where To Start: Last year’s album on Warp, Safe in the Hands of Love, was one of our 50 favorite albums of 2018. From start to finish, it’s a bold, mind-bending, and forward-thinking tapestry of groovy and often frightening experimental dance music. Yves Tumor is definitely one of the big wild cards of Coachella weekend. Listening to his recorded material still might not adequately prepare you for the madness that awaits.
For Fans Of: Jlin, Oneohtrix Point Never, Amnesia Scanner
Kero Kero Bonito
Who Are They: Indie trio from London who combine modern twee-pop and ’90s lo-fi garage rock, with dashes of electronic dissonance. Their songs are supremely catchy and filled with infectious hooks and melodies, but are also balanced out with dense layers of noise, glitchy synths and skittering drum machines. Their earlier material leans more heavily into their electro-pop sensibilities, while their most recent output highlights a heavier dose of shoegazy alt-rock. They’re also known for their scrappy DIY live shows. With the amount of confidence they possess, they’ll kill it on whichever stage they play.
Where To Start: Their third full-length Time ‘n’ Place, released just a few months ago, is a lush, warm, and fully-formed encapsulation of all their various musical impulses. Lead single “Only Acting” is a massive power-pop jam showcasing their deft songwriting and unique ability to blend different genre aesthetics. It’s a rollicking entry-point to the rest of their material.
For Fans Of: Iglooghost, Charly Bliss, Death Grips, Grimes
Who Is He: A former Air Force veteran, and one of the most interesting emerging hip-hop artists in the game. The Baltimore rapper and producer has a fiery and candid persona, a combative flow, an arsenal of vicious one-liners, and some of the glitchiest, most inventive beats you’ll ever hear. Affectionately nicknamed “Peggy,” JPEGMAFIA combines smart, relevant subject matter and motifs with a blown-out, visceral production style that incites mosh-pits wherever he performs. He is absolutely notorious for his blistering live shows. Coachella will be no different.
Where To Start: His third studio album Veteran made our Top 50 Albums of 2018 list. And even though that list was officially unranked, this album probably would have landed somewhere in the top 5. It’s brutal, deceptively melodic, laser-focused, deeply personal, and as our own John Warlick put it, “the most engaging rap album of the year in a year when seemingly every rapper was vying for attention.” “Baby I’m Bleeding” is a ferocious, show-stopping banger, and a perfect jumping off point into the rest of his material.
For Fans Of: Danny Brown, Denzel Curry, Lil Ugly Mane, Ratking
Let’s Eat Grandma
Who Are They: An enchanting experimental electro-pop duo from the small coastal town of Norwich, England. Vibrantly blending new wave poetics, dance floor meditations, catchy dream-pop hooks, and trippy, momentum-shifting detours, Let’s Eat Grandma are one of the most ambitious up-and-coming groups out there – and they’re still just teenagers! A knack for pin-balling electronic beats, soaring synth melodies, passionate lyricism, and dynamic vocal performances round out a truly diverse aesthetic. They possess a level of talent, care, and perspective that goes way beyond their years. In all seriousness, they’re our #1 can’t miss act for Friday.
Where To Start: Start out with I, Gemini – their quirky, wondrous debut – but prepared to be absolutely enthralled by its follow-up – last year’s I’m All Ears. It’s a towering art-pop masterpiece that demonstrates an enormous leap forward in their songwriting and musicianship. It’s also a poignant, wide-ranging deconstruction of adolescence and the coming-of-age journey, and our favorite album of 2018.
For Fans Of: Kate Bush, Lorde, Gang Gang Dance, SOPHIE, CHVRCHES