Every Act Playing Coachella This Year, Ranked
Courtney Barnett: not No. 1, but close
Photo by Pooneh Ghana
After you've decided to start ranking all the acts on the Coachella lineup, there comes a moment when you realize you've made a terrible mistake.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is way too big, too ambitious in scale and scope, too sonically diverse to be reduced to a mere listicle. No one could ever hope to come up with a ranking system that could fairly and accurately reflect its more than 180 performing artists, who collectively represent virtually every genre of music from every corner of the globe.
Unfortunately, you don't come to this realization until you're about halfway through your rankings. So you plow forward.
Inevitably, in its final form, ranked from worst to best (because starting with No. 1 would ruin the suspense), this list makes its creator (hi!) sound like a complete asshole for the first 30-odd bands. And hey, I probably am a complete asshole. After all, I actually thought it would be a good idea to rank every single Coachella act. But bear with the list, and I promise it gets way less dickish around No. 139 or so.
A couple of caveats.
First, I make no pretense or claim that this list is in any way objective. How could it be? Bands aren't baseball teams and this isn't a crib sheet for your Coachella fantasy league. These rankings reflect my personal opinions and mine alone. (Trust me, plenty of Dallas Observer writers and staff will read this and also think I'm a complete asshole.)
Second, this list includes not just every act on the flier, but also many of the acts playing the Do Lab stage, who were only just announced last week — but only the ones playing weekend one, because dammit, I had to draw the line somewhere. (I also decided to note within the list which acts are playing the Do Lab stage, since they're not on the Coachella flier — which makes it sound like I'm obsessed with the Do Lab stage. Which I probably am.)
OK. Ready to find out who you absolutely cannot afford to miss, and who, if you defy my advice, will leave you feeling cheated and empty inside? Then let's get this ranking party started!
Photo by Bobby Bruderle
If Asher Roth were bitten by a radioactive college mascot while doing a keg stand, he would mutate into G-Eazy, a frat-rap supervillain who flashes his white privilege like a gang sign as he raps about getting money and fucking your girlfriend.
179. The 1975
Former emo band discovers the '80s, decides they'd rather sing about how miserable they are over shiny synths and faux-funk bass lines than grinding guitars. So, basically, Cobra Starship with British accents. Explain to me again why these guys are so hot right now?
178. Lost Frequencies
176. Sam Feldt
175. Years & Years
In the year 2076, when today's EDM kids are pushing their tricked-out walkers (with blinky lights and telescoping selfie sticks) around the assisted-living facility, this will be what's playing in the elevators instead of Muzak. Wait, what am I saying? In 60 years, no one will listen to this shit.
They combine metal and rockabilly! It's soooo original! And I suppose it is, except that when you parse out the component parts, basically all they're doing is combining the worst aspects of latter-day Metallica and Social Distortion.
Photo by Nick Walker
The Nickelback of EDM: inexplicably popular and/or inexplicably reviled, depending on your point of view. Count me among the revilers, because I can't dance when the lyrics suck this bad. Seriously, people: "Stranded together, our worlds have collided/This won't be forever, so why try to fight it?" Even Nickelback are rolling their eyes.
170. Rae Sremmurd
Swag rap that pretty much owes its entire existence to the fact that "stripper" rhymes with "tip her."
167. The Front Bottoms
How is hyper-verbose, John Darnielle–obsessed slacker rock still a thing in 2016?
I'm sure somebody somewhere heard this girl and was like, "We've found the Australian Adele!" Um, no, you haven't.
When the single most interesting, clever thing about your post-shoegaze garage-pop band is that the W in your name is actually two V's, it's not a good sign.
Courtesy of Windish Agency
162. The Chainsmokers
Yes, "#Selfie" is one of the best, smartest EDM singles of the last three years, and if you wanna go HAM when they drop it in the Sahara Tent, you totally should. But lately, Chainsmokers have gone all, "No, wait! We're serious artists!" Which is almost never a good move.
161. Purity Ring
I know I'm supposed to like Purity Ring, but I dunno, something about them just feels corny and calculated to me, especially when they give their songs titles like "heartsigh" and "bodyache," which sound less like song titles and more like a line of scented candles for goths.
Jack Ü at Hard Summer, with Diplo on flag-waving duty
159. Jack Ü
One has "Harlem Shake," one has "Where Are U Now." One will likely play a set comprised mainly of air horns and "Harlem Shake" remixes, one will likely play a set comprised mainly of Diplo running around exhorting the crowd to "Make some fucking noise!" while Skrillex does all the work. Either way, I'll be in the Yuma Tent, guys.
158. Steady Holiday
157. SG Lewis
155. Moon Taxi
152. Nina Kraviz
151. Amine Edge & Dance
150. Alessia Cara
149. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats
This is the part of the list where I run out of haterade and lack the strength to whip up a new batch. Do you want me to tell you why all of the above acts aren't particularly good? Sorry, can't do it. I'm all hated out.
Still with me? Congratulations. You've made it to the (mostly) good stuff.
147. Marco Carola
In baseball, there's a benchmark of mediocrity called the Mendoza Line. For Coachella 2016, I propose a similar concept called the Marco Carola Line. Being above it doesn't necessarily mean you're good, but it at least means that you're deserving enough of a festival lineup slot that dickhead critics like me should refrain from throwing shade your way. So with that theory in mind — and with a respectful nod to Mr. Carola, a perfectly respectable Italian DJ/producer whose fans all rightly hate me now — let's shift gears and start finding some nice things to say about this year's Coachella lineup.
146. Calvin Harris
Oh, crap. Did I say I would only say nice things? Shit. Um ... oh, wait, I got it! When paired with great pop singers like Rihanna and Ellie Goulding, Calvin Harris' cheeseball anthems are actually kinda great. (I'm trying here, people.)
145. Silversun Pickups
144. Cold War Kids
143. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
L.A. represent! I would rank all of these bands much higher if this were, say, Coachella 2009, but ... yeah. Let's just say they're all polished, veteran live acts and leave it at that.
142. Crystal Fighters
There's something a little ridiculous about these hippie psych-rock warriors, whose lyrics tend to sound like something a friendly homeless person shouts at passing rollerbladers on the Venice boardwalk: "Hear the same groove/Get on the wave, universal suns, one thousand suns!" But their music is sunny and festival-friendly, and they're a U.K. band with a song about Los Angeles ("L.A. Calling") that isn't about how much L.A. sucks. So rock on, you crazy hippies.
I'm not crazy about this Vancouver electro-pop duo's early stuff, but their latest EP, Water Water, is fantastic, with a mix of seductive house grooves and intricate synth lines reminiscent of fellow Canadian Caribou. One of several worthy acts playing the Do Lab stage the first weekend.
140. Nina Las Vegas
From Australia, not Las Vegas, where they know how to deploy a massive synth hook without pandering to the bottle-service crowd. She's (now formerly) on Fool's Gold, if that means anything to you (and it should).
Kudos to Coachella for booking some actual reggae in 2016 (no, Major Lazer doesn't count). Both these guys represent the next generation of the genre's Jamaican stars. Dub Club regulars should be front and center for both sets.
137. Speaker of the House
136. San Holo
135. Le Youth
134. Jerry Folk
I love the Do Lab stage. During the hottest part of the afternoon, it's an oasis of shade, Super Soakers and beautiful, smiling people, all vibing out to the kind of chill EDM you can move to without sweating like a lunatic even in Indio temperatures. These acts all specialize in that kind of music in different ways, so if you see their names on the schedule during a break between your must-sees, wander on over and lend your own beautiful, smiling face to the proceedings. You won't regret it.
133. Strangers You Know
This local duo's early stuff is the kind of sugary power-pop that can be fun, but I'm way more into their recent single "Queen of Venice Beach," which skillfully carves its own lane through the same electro-soul sounds as Sam Sparro and early Jamie Lidell.
132. Hudson Mohawke
Anyone endorsed by both Warp Records and Kanye West can't be all bad, and this Scottish producer's best stuff does have an army-of-hip-hop-robots-coming-to-party-and/or-crush-humankind quality to it that's pretty cool. I'd rank him higher, but sometimes the "crush humankind" part of his music gets to be a little much.
Twenty years ago, a friend of mine described Rancid as the "Sha Na Na of punk rock." Today, that description seems even more accurate. But hey, if California skater bros trying to sound like The Clash are your thing, it's hard to beat Tim Armstrong and co.
This Maine-bred, L.A.-based rapper can be a little corny, but he's also self-aware enough to bust rhymes about Seinfeld (on the legitimately funky "Cosmos Like Kramer") and his sound, courtesy of producers like Orphic, Sugarpill and the late Nick “Pumpkin” Alvarado (a much-loved figure in the Do Lab community, who recently died in a car accident), combines hip-hop and trippy, glitchy electronica in fresh, interesting ways. At the Do Lab stage.
L.A. producer David "Ghastly" Crow combines dubstep, trap and electro-house into a sound he sardonically calls "awkward drunk sex music." It probably would be awkward to have sex to, drunken or otherwise, but it's aces for dancing, especially at the Do Lab stage. (Have we established yet that I love the Do Lab stage?)
128. Soul Clap
This Boston duo keeps the old-school house vibes alive but mixes things up with touches of soul, funk and an occasional offbeat sense of humor. They've collaborated with George Clinton and been remixed by the likes of Louie Vega and Egyptian Lover, a co-sign trifecta that even James Murphy would probably bow down to.
A lot of serious techno heads would probably rank Ali "Dubfire" Shirazinia, best-known as one-half of progressive-house duo Deep Dish, much higher. But while I certainly give the man props for following his muse back into the underground, his original tracks veer a little too much into repetitive, minimal techno for my taste. That said, if you like losing yourself in the kind of DJ set that sounds like one long, hypnotic, subliminally ebbing and flowing track, Dubfire's your ticket to dance-floor nirvana.
I'm probably supposed to rank these Brit rockers higher, too, and they're fine, in that long tradition of arty but slightly bombastic Brit-rock bands like The Verve and Travis and Doves and Bombay Bicycle Club. But I'd be lying if I said I understood why they get the second-largest font on the Coachella flyer. They're not adding much new to that tradition, as far as I can tell.
125. The Funk Hunters
I know, I know — "Funk Hunters" sounds like the name of the world's whitest Parliament-Funkadelic cover band. But check out some of their SoundCloud mixes and tell me you can't picture yourself getting down with your bad self to this stuff in the Do Lab tent. Well, OK, I can picture myself doing it. If that's a sight you'd rather not see, don't say I didn't warn you.
Can this veteran U.K. grime star, who has lately been making inroads in American hip-hop, become grime's first legit trans-Atlantic phenom? Who cares? Fans of Wiley and Dizzee Rascal who haven't yet discovered this North London MC's hard-hitting sound are in for a treat.
123. Zella Day
On her debut album, Kicker, this Arizona singer comes off a bit like a Southwestern Lana Del Rey, mixing dreamy-yet-doomed balladry with a hint of desert twang. I saw her at the Fonda last year and her performance felt a little tentative, as if she's still figuring out what her sound is, but her talent was undeniable — especially when she channeled her inner Stevie Nicks on a hair-raising cover of "Rhiannon."
122. Big Wild
This Venice-based producer is part of a younger generation of electronic music producers I'm pretty stoked about, the ones who mix pretty much every genre and subgenre under the sun into a big, gloppy ball of fun because they DGAF. So think Pretty Lights, Griz (whom he has remixed), maybe a little RL Grime or Trippy Turtle. If his biggest track, "Aftergold," doesn't put a big ol' goofy grin on your face, you're taking this shit too serious. At the Do Lab stage.
121. Beach House
What they should do is play that fake Beach House track that fooled Wayne Coyne into "premiering" it on his podcast. What they probably will do is lean heavily on new material from last year's twin LPs, the very Stereolab-ish Thank Your Lucky Stars and the spacier, somewhat more interesting Depression Cherry. Neither album carries the promise of a riveting live show, but all that hazy dream-pop sure will sound purty floating across the polo fields.
"Sounds like 'Diamonds and Pearls'–era Prince" is how we described this Maryland-born, L.A.-based singer when we profiled him last year. I'd add D'Angelo, The Weeknd and maybe even Backstreet Boys in full heavy-breathing ballad mode to the "sounds like" list. If he's playing one of the tents, it's gonna get steamy.
119. Mano Le Tough
Berlin-based Irish producer mixes the crisp, moody techno of his adopted hometown with the more melodic windchimes-and-synths sounds of artists like Caribou (whom he's remixed) and Pantha du Prince. In a word, gorgeous.
117. Dreamers Delight
More sunny SoCal vibes from the Do Lab stage, this time courtesy of L.A.-based producer Reed Krafft, whose music lives up to its name with a particularly dreamy take on future beat science.
116. Nora En Pure
114. George FitzGerald
Three completely different but equally intriguing takes on melodic deep house: South Africa–via-Switzerland DJ/producer Nora En Pure tends to take her cues from the genre's more classic sounds (as well as classic sounds in general — check out her luscious, Spandau Ballet–sampling "Saltwater"). French duo FDVM take a more modern approach, with catchy vocal melodies and touches of world music and tropical house. Berlin-based Englishman George FitzGerald mixes in elements of techno while still keeping a soulful vibe, especially on vocal tracks such as "Full Circle" featuring fellow Brit Boxed In. It's all good stuff — and we're not even in the Top 100 yet.
French-Cuban twin sisters channel their African (specifically, Nigerian) roots into beautifully genre-less music that mixes Afrobeat, salsa and contemporary folk-pop.
112. DJ Mustard
Let's be honest: I have no idea whether seeing the ratchet king at Coachella is a must or a miss, and you don't either. It all depends on who else makes an appearance. If Big Sean and Travis $cott show up, it's gonna go off; if his biggest guest is, say, Jay 305 (no disrespect), your desert time is best spent elsewhere. I'm ranking him here on the assumption that he'll at least get one of his longtime collaborators like Tyga or Kid Ink to jump on the mic for a few verses.
At just 21, Halsey's star power is already undeniable, and she's got a bona fide generational anthem in "New Americana." But the rest of her material is hit-or-miss, and her ability to rock a festival stage remains untested. Still, I'd put her chances of making me look stupid for not ranking her higher at about 50 percent.
For old-school dance-music snobs, Snails' music is basically aural haterade: big, dumb, glitchy bass lines mixed with trap, hip-hop, house and reggae beats, air horns, disco diva vocal samples, crunk chants and whatever other party-starting dirty tricks he decides to spike his lowest-common-denominator brew with. And you know what? It's awesome. If you're a Jack Ü fan, please trust me on this — Snails will make you completely lose your shit.
Pronounced "Sizza," SZA became the first female artist signed to Top Dawg Entertainment in 2011. She hasn't reached the same commercial heights as her male labelmates, but she should; she's a terrific singer and songwriter in the genre-defying mold of a Solange or a J*Davey, more than able to hold her own alongside a Kendrick guest verse.
108. Imagined Herbal Flows
107. The Drifter
106. Dena Army
Are we really back in the Do Lab tent again? Yep, sure are. These three acts could not be more different, but all are worth a look. Aussie house DJ Dena Amy gets my vote as the most promising of the bunch; her SoundCloud mixes are funky as fuck and practically scream "desert dance party freak fest." The Drifter hails from Berlin and is, as you might expect, more on the techno tip. I hear you snickering at the name Imagined Herbal Flows, but before you break out the crystals and the rainstick, visit the D.C. producer's SoundCloud (link above), which is full of classically beautiful ambient electronica in the vein of early Bonobo and Boards of Canada.
105. Parov Stelar
One of the godfathers of electro-swing, a combination of house, breakbeat and jazz (mostly of the Prohibition-era variety) that can sound gimmicky but, in the right hands, might be the most fun to dance to of any style of music ever invented. And Stelar's hands are definitely the right ones.
104. Black Coffee
Say it with me now: Nkosinathi Maphumulo. That's this South African DJ/producer's birth name. Fine, just call him Black Coffee, and call his Afrobeat-tinged take on deep house awesome.
Masha Martinovic is one-half of Dig Deeper, an up-and-coming DJ/promoter duo we recently profiled. She's earned her Coachella stripes earlier than most (she's 25, and has only been DJing for about three years) with a freewheeling style that combines house and techno with elements of classic synth-pop and the more accessible corners of experimental electronic music.
Speaking of youngsters crashing the Coachella lineup: This genderqueer electro-pop singer/songwriter is just 21. I don't know about you, but when I was 21 my greatest accomplishment was owning a belt and pair of shoes that matched.
101. Wolf Alice
More dreamy, post-shoegaze guitar pop from England, the nation where every phaser pedal must come bundled with a Slowdive CD.
100. Pete Yorn
I know it's tempting to write Yorn off as L.A.'s answer to Jack Johnson, but his new album, ArrangingTime, is actually really good. Plus, he's a closet Cure fan, so he's cooler than you think he is.
99. Mint Field
This is one of those bands I honestly knew nothing about prior to seeing them on the Coachella lineup, but after zoning out to their reverb-soaked post-punk EP, Primeras Salidas, I'm officially a fan. They're sorta Tijuana's answer to Drinking Flowers or whatever Burger/Lolipop-approved neo-psychedelic band you care to insert in this sentence.
98. Melody's Echo Chamber
Speaking of neo-psych-rock: Tame Impala–approved French singer-songwriter Melody Prochet makes prettily trippy, occasionally rockin' dream-pop that reminds me of Stereolab, but probably only because of the accent. But hey, everyone else says the same thing, so at least I'm not the only lazy music journalist on the French psych-rock beat.
97. Paper Diamond
Alexander Botwin used to produce super-cool, super-moody instrumental hip-hop under the name Alex B. As Paper Diamond, he's more in the vein of his fellow Coloradan, Pretty Lights, which would seem like a calculated rebrand if he wasn't so damn good at it. Oakland-based producer KRNE mixes a similar palette of trap, glitch-hop and future bass into configurations that are poppier but no less compelling. Both at the Do Lab stage.
95. Bat for Lashes
For me, I'm not sure anything Bat for Lashes' Natasha Khan ever does will top "What's a Girl to Do?" and its creepy video with the animal-masked bicycle gang. But "In God's House," the first single from her fourth album, The Bride (out July 1), comes close.
94. A$AP Rocky
As a left coaster, I'm biased, but I think A$AP Mob can't hold a handle to their West Coast counterparts, Odd Future. That being said, A$AP Rocky is sort of the Mob's answer to Earl Sweatshirt — a talent too unique to be contained by the group that spawned him.
If any voice at Coachella can silence a rowdy festival crowd, it's the androgynous purr of Rhye's Michael Milosh.
92. RL Grime
The dude born Henry Steinway became the biggest star of L.A.-based beat collective WeDidIt by producing deeply emotive tracks that manage to feel both soaring and bone-crushing. Live, he likes to dial up the trap elements in his tracks until the crowd is a sea of waving arms and snapping necks.
Aluna Francis and George Reid make the music that sounds like the world's sexiest videogame. "You know you like it but it drives you insane," Francis teases on the U.K. duo's biggest hit, and she's kinda right on both counts.
Hey, know what this is? The halfway point! This list is almost as much of an endurance test as Coachella itself, but at least you won't have to inhale half a pound of desert dust on your way back to the parking lot when it's over.
Onward ...Next Page
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