The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is always first out of the starting block and sets the tone for the season.
Held at Empire Polo Field in Indio, Calif. (outside of Palm Springs), the event broke ticket sales records again last year, drawing 99,000 attendees over two consecutive sold out three-day weekends.
Coachella has gained a reputation for landing sought after reunions (like Lush, pictured above), spotlighting red hot hit makers, esteemed veterans and unheralded musicians in multiple genres that everyone will probably be talking about in the future.
For the 17th edition this month, two EDM-minded acts (LCD Soundsystem, Calvin Harris) will headline different days – marking a festival first. Guns N’ Roses, with Slash and Duff McKagan finally rejoining co-founder/frontman Axl Rose, topline the day between. The LA hard rock band continues an increased classic rock presence that began in the late 2000s with Roger Waters, Paul McCartney and more recently, AC/DC.
With just over 200 music acts and DJs performing on half a dozen stages, charting your course can be a daunting prospect. Here are some “best bet” picks to help guide the process…
APRIL 15 & 22
Last Shadow Puppets
Latest album: “Everything You’ve Come to Expect” (Domino)
Best known song: “The Age of the Understatement”
Backstory: The Sheffield, England chamber pop band was formed by Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, Miles Kane and Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford. On “Everything,” Turner’s Monkeys bandmate Matt Helders contributes backing vocals and Owen Pallet (Arcade Fire) handles orchestrations.Turner has said in interviews that some songs were inspired by Style Council and Isaac Hayes.
Latest album: “Strange Trails” (iamsound)
Best known song: “Fool for Love,” featured in the end credits of HBO drama “Girls.”
Backstory: Initially a solo project for singer/guitarist Ben Schneider, the LA-based indie folk band came together in 2010. “Strange” landed on many music critics' year end best lists.
Years & Years
Latest album: “Communion” (Polydor/Interscope)
Best known songs: “King,” “Shine”
Backstory: Singer Olly Alexander amassed impressive acting credits (hit teen UK TV series “Skins,” Belle and Sebastian-affiliated film “God Help the Girl,” theater production “Peter and Alice” with Judi Dench) before his synthpop trio’s frothy debut entered the UK charts at No. 1 and two singles went Top 5 there.
Also noteworthy: M83, St Germain, BORNS, Foals
APRIL 16 & 23
Latest album: “Yours, Dreamily” (Nonesuch)
Best known song: “Outta My Mind”
Backstory: Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach is no stranger to Coachella, having headlined in 2012 with The Black Keys. His latest endeavor delves into old school soul, rock and psychedelia alongside Keys tour mate Richard Swift and Dap-Kings associates Nick Movshon and Homer Steinweiss and others.
Latest album: “Every Open Eye” (Glassnote)
Best known songs: “Leave a Trace,” “The Mother We Share”
Backstory: Fronted by Lauren Mayberry, who has a law degree, worked as a music journalist and activist, the Scottish electro-pop trio had a song featured on the “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” soundtrack. Their sophomore release made the upper tier of last year’s Pazz+Jop critics poll in the Village Voice.
Latest EP: “Blind Spot” (Edamame)
Best known songs: “Sweetness and Light,” “For Love,” “De-Luxe,” “Ladykillers”
Backstory: One of the leading lights of the early ‘90s English shoegaze (and later Britpop) music scene, the band put out three popular studio CDs, racked up several US modern rock radio hits and took part in the second Lollapalooza Festival before splitting in 1998. Back together with original members Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson and Phil King, plus former Elastica drummer Justin Welsh, they just put out their first new music in 20 years, sounding like they never left.
Latest album: “For Life” (Warner Bros.)
Best known songs: “I’m in Love with My Life,” “Cooler”
Backstory: Together since 2009, the LA electro-pop group recently toured with Maroon 5 (James Valentine was part of an early incarnation). Its members, well-known from stints in other alt-rock bands, include: Alex Greenwald (Phantom Planet), Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley), Michael Runion and Z Berg (The Like). The latter just partnered with designer Christy Dawn Petersen to create Coachella-inspired sustainably made dresses.
Also noteworthy: James Bay, The Damned
APRIL 17 & 24
Latest album: “I Like it When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful…” (Interscope)
Best known songs: “Chocolate,” “Girls,” “Love Me,” “The Sound”
Backstory: When I caught The 1975’s mid-afternoon set on the Outdoor Theater stage at Coachella ’14, lanky singer Matthew Healey had an extremely low key presence. But there’s no denying the British alt-rock band’s knack for crafting alluring earworms like those found on 2013’s self-titled gold certified debut album. The more expansive follow up features a choir, Roy Hargrove on flugelhorn and debuted in the pole position on both sides of the Atlantic.
Latest album: “iii” (Downtown/Atlantic)
Best known songs: “Genghis Khan,” “Heart is Full,” “Black & Blue”
Backstory: Grammy Award-winning Swedish production team/remixers Bloodshy & Avant and NYC singer Andrew Wyatt first teamed up in the mid-2000s. The alt-dance collaboration yielded an eponymous debut album in 2009. Instead of using laptops in concert, they often utilize a self-commissioned hexagonal synthesizer dubbed “The Blob.”
Latest albums: “Depression Cherry”; “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (Sub Pop)
Backstory: This critically acclaimed dream pop band from Baltimore consisting of French-born singer Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally started in 2004. They’ve released half a dozen full length albums (including two last year!) and several EPs since then.
Also noteworthy: Cold War Kids, Joywave, Pete Yorn
For updates, lineups and more details, go to www.coachella.com