The Death of Rock in the Desert: Coachella Then vs Now

Shannon Durazo

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Rock music, whether in its pure Rolling Stones-esque form or manifested into its many different sub-genres, has been steadily declining in the American music festival circuit. And this year’s Coachella Music Festival, with the exception of some independent heavy hitters like Ty Segall and White Fence, has had the lowest numbers of rock acts on record. In a tweet from Consequence of Sound there is a visible difference between the rock dominance of yester-year and the pop-centered lineup of today. Whereas in 1999 the then two-day festival boasted rock and metal front-runners such as Tool, Morrissey, Beck and Rage Against the Machine, 20 years later the same lineup can be found sporting the likes of Childish Gambino, Ariana Grande, and indie-pop acts like Tame Impala and the 1975. The sole purist rock headliner this year is Weezer, and even they aren’t performing rock music. A lot has certainly changed, but is this necessarily a bad thing?

Making Room for Diversity   

Even though rock music has exponentially declined in the Palm desert, it has also made room for a diverse array of other genres to take its place. Coachella as a whole is more global than ever, with European electronic artists like Aphex Twin having as much room to showcase their sounds as Latin artists like J Balvin and Bad Bunny. Blackpink made Coachella history as the first k-pop group to perform there, and the most obvious shift has been the dominance of in hip hop and R&B artist in recent years. This year’s biggest acts ranged from Janelle Monae to Childish Gambino and Pusha T, mixed in with plenty of lesser known artists like Playboi Carti and Lizzo.  This year’s Coachella hasn’t necessarily been all on new artists either, with festival veterans like Weezer and Charlotte Gainsbourg being featured as integral members of the lineup.


Coachella’s Always Been About the Benjamins

As much as it would like to label itself as an independent music festival, Coachella has always been designed to bring in acts that will garner the most ticket sales, and in the modern age the most streams on Youtube, so it was only a matter of time before dated rock acts were replaced by top-40 hit makers. Whether its Ariana Grande or Billie Eilish, whoever is garnering the most streams on Spotify at the moment is who is going to perform at Coachella. The more independent acts claims to fame are found in the fine print of the festival lineup. As an event that is as famous for its celebrity VIP lounges, influencer fashion shows and gourmet food trucks as its music, this is not a surprise . Coachella is ingrained in pop culture, and LA pop culture at that, so it is understandable that the music is as commercial as the crowd it draws.

Rock May Not Be Deceased, Just Different

David Brendan Hall
Soccer Mommy by David Brendan Hall

While traditionalists may disagree with the likes of Beach Fossils, Soccer Mommy, and Mac Demarco as defined under the “rock” genre, these guitar-driven indie acts do embody rock music to an extent in construction and performance. There are also some hidden traditional rock acts in this year’s lineup like White Fence, the Frights and Yellow Days. Yes, this is a far cry from the Tool and Modest Mouse headliners of the past, but it’s something. Music has always progressed with time, and whether this progression away from rock in the mainstream festival circuit is positive depends on the perspective of the listener. With this being said, there are lots of other music festivals with plenty of rock music, especially British music festivals, and even though Coachella may reflect the current trends in music it certainly doesn’t reflect everyone’s taste. Besides, Bonnaroo’s in June and is way better anyway.