The music, the fashion, the parties: an insider’s guide to Coachella 2017

    With Lady Gaga, Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar headlining and more stages than ever, this years desert festival promises to be the biggest, and best, to date

    Coachella has been the most important music festival in the US for so long that its difficult to remember what it was like back in the salad days of 1999, when it began as a plucky little one-day dust-up in the California desert with modest crowds and esoteric booking. Now in its 17th edition (they skipped 2000), Coachella is a three-day, two-weekend, nine-stage cultural phenomenon that draws almost 100,000 people a day, anchors the worldwide festival season, and defines the years music, fashion and even gastronomical trends. Truly, the whole world is watching, so make sure that flower crown is on straight!

    The early buzz this year was about glam-pop deity Lady Gaga replacing a very pregnant Beyonc for Saturdays headline slot. Bookended by the-last-great-rock-band Radiohead on Friday and the saviour of conscious hip-hop Kendrick Lamar on Sunday, Gaga rounds out the most solid headlining trio Coachella has put forth in years. The half-maimed Axl Rose of Guns N Roses in 2016 and the much maligned Drake snoozefest of 2015 may have been quickly forgotten, but all three of this years marquee acts are guaranteed showstoppers.

    The burgeoning thump of electronic dance music has been ascending Coachella billing for some time now, but in 2017 a brand-new, daytime-only stage named Sonora will buck the trend by featuring up-and-coming indie rock acts all weekend long. The inaugural headline duties are bestowed upon underdog legacy bands like punk legends T.S.O.L and Guided by Voices. The stage will open up a whole new section of the Empire Polo Fields, effectively maxing out the grounds reach. It seems we have reached peak Coachella.

    Many indie acts that turned in star-making performances on smaller stages in previous years have now made it to the big league stages: Future Islands, Bon Iver, the xx and Father John Misty will all enjoy much larger berths and bigger crowds on the outdoor theater and Coachella stage. The surprise booking of the year, though, has to be cinematic composer Hans Zimmer, who will lug a whole orchestra on stage with him on Sunday evening to draw from an enormous repertoire of memorable scores. Were keeping our fingers crossed for either The Lion King or Inception.

    Dance music at Coachella has split distinctly into two voices over the past few years. At the Sahara tent, its all blinding lights and big room EDM sounds Dutch wunderkind Martin Garrix, ex-Swedish House Mafioso Steve Angello, local hero Dillon Francis a relentless barrage of energy cranked up to 11. On the other hand, underground club grooves reign in the Yuma, Coachellas very own indoor, air-conditioned, dark and dank nightclub. There an absolutely stacked selection of the worlds most talented selectors will rove through house and techno wrought from Detroit to Berlin to Ibiza. Names such as Dixon, Solomun, Tale of Us, Marcel Dettmann and The Belleville Three may be foreign to the main-stage masses, but in the dance music underground they dont get any bigger.

    DJ Shadow, who played the very first Coachella in 1999, will return to the desert. Photograph: Ross Gilmore/Redferns

    Friday will feature the return of sample-bashing visionary DJ Shadow (who played the first Coachella back in 1999) and a brand-new live setup by techno icon Richie Hawtin in the Mojave tent. On Saturday, electronically inclined chinstrokers will have their plates full as they run from Four Tet, Floating Points and Daphni (perhaps better known as Caribou) going back to back in the Yuma to a set by mercurial art-dance provocateur Nicolas Jaar. Make sure you have some dancing left in you for Sunday night, when era-defining French electro duo Justice rinse out their new comeback album and New Order roll back the years to when new wave meant new wave.

    Over the past decade, the Do Lab at Coachella has grown from a glorified misting tent no bigger than your living room into a massive, colorful, bombastic stage teeming with its own unique culture. Its like Burning Man was dipped in glitter, charged up with youthful vigor and plopped right upon the Coachella grounds. Tucked away on the terrace, the Do Lab lineup favors boisterous bass music, up-and-coming post-EDM acts, and (often bearded) indie-tronic crooners. The scent of sage and palo santo will waft over an audience of gloriously dusty weirdos that dance harder than anywhere else at the festival. The Do Lab is headlined every night by a surprise guest performer previous editions featured Major Lazer, Kaskade and Bonobo so keep your ears peeled for news as the weekend progresses.

    Skepta. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

    The long-awaited debut Coachella performance by UK grime scion Skepta has hip-hop heads aflutter. Last year, Skeptas visa was canceled at the last minute and he was barred from entering the US. This year, hes been upgraded to the gargantuan Sahara tent. When the detuned horns and bad boy posturing of grime hit the speakers, the place will rattle with energy thats been bottled up in the UK for years and is finally ready to blow up stateside. This is, of course, presuming Skeptas visa hasnt been canceled again. If that turns out to be the case, sets by American rappers Gucci Mane, Travis Scott and mumble-rap iconoclast Future will more than suffice.

    A number of new installations will debut this year in Indio and most of them bear a distinctly lysergic air. The Antarctic tent is a monumental spherical structure within which high-definition, three-dimensional projections mapped on the walls in head-spinning 360 degrees. (The name suggests it may also be air-conditioned!) Elsewhere, a virtual reality experience named Microdose, put on by legendarily psychedelic Burner visual artist Android Jones, will throw users face-first into a different dimension. Lastly, what appears to be a giant, technicolored rhino wearing a party hat has been dropped smack dab in the middle of the grounds. And on the topic of psychedelia, George Clinton and Funkadelic will turn the Heineken tent from branded activation into a funktastic space voyage on Saturday night if youre lucky enough to get in.

    Warning! Acts to avoid at all costs: DJ Khaled, Marshmello, Bastille, Grouplove. One is a glorified Snapchatter, another a grown man who wears a helmet shaped like a cylindrical marshmallow, and the last two are largely responsible for that unfortunate style of maudlin, milquetoast sing-a-long mushy banjo-rock that fizzed out of any semblance of relevance years ago. If you harbor any temptation to check out any of the above, remember: youre at Coachella. You can do better.

    The crowd at Coachella 2016. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Coachella

    Style-wise, that whole flower-crown fad may be nearing its conclusion, but longline T-shirts, drop-crotch pants, bright metallic hues, draped outerwear, visible underwear, busy prints inspired by nature, chokers and round-framed sunglasses will be in abundance. Oh, and lots and lots of underbutt. This should be no surprise to anyone who has been to an H&M or Urban Outfitters recently; the latter is even being sued by the festival for impinging upon trademark with their unofficial Coachella-themed line of clothing. For the record, H&Ms Coachella line is officially licensed.

    Off-site, the hotels, pools, gated estates, campgrounds and secluded desert compounds will be hosting parties all weekend in the surrounding area. Notable soirees include WeedMaps Marijuana Oasis, which will celebrate weeds legal status in California with five geodesic dome structures, a fully operational greenhouse and free samples of marijuana. The jewel of the afterparty calendar, though, is LA party squad A Club Called Rhondas Queen of the Desert bash at the Palm Springs Air Museum, featuring the already gushed-upon Solomun and Dixon. Day or night, the party doesnt stop in the desert during Coachella weekend. And if all that isnt enough for you, it will all happen again next week.

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