Coachella Music Festival: The Complete Guide

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Today marks the first major sonic pilgrimage of summer season, as thousands flock to the desert in Indio, California for the 11th Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. 2010 has been an interesting experiment for the festival—Coachella promoters stirred up controversy when they announced they would be discontinuing single-day tickets, leaving fans only the option to purchase a $269 ticket for the full three days of the festival. While many fans cried at the financial constraints this move created, the festival seems not to have suffered, having sold out the entire weekend.

For those not lucky enough to make the trek out to Indio for the weekend (or, if you prefer, lucky enough to avoid baking under the sweltering heat of the sun), there are a variety of ways to join in on the festival fun without having to troll YouTube all night for videos. The Coachella site offers the opportunity for fans to live stream performances and build playlists of their favorite acts, either on Facebook or MySpace through a partnership with 5 REACT. Additionally, Verizon Wireless plans to offer select performances live streaming to mobile phones to subscribers of its V Cast Video service.

Whether you're about to head out to the desert, or planning to watch from home, we've compiled a list of the acts you're most likely to see, and—more importantly—the ones you should.

FRIDAY

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Little Dragon/Peacefrog

You're probably planning to see:
The music festival season kicks off in what might be the biggest way possible, in the form of one man: Hova. Hip hop's current "elder statesman" Jay-Z takes the stage as the headliner of the whole darn thing, having already proven at Glastonbury that rap can, in fact, command a crowd of tens of thousands.

Also playing one of the bigger time slots of the evening is the breezy, easy Vampire Weekend, who are sure to cash in on the success of their recent Contra release. Having surpassed their title as a little favorite in the blogosphere and transformed into a full-fledged band within popular culture, the college boys did well for themselves. Overhyped or not, the band's sound of marimbas, tambourines, and calypso rhythms set against the backdrop of the starry desert sky sounds nothing short of divine.

But we also recommend:
Sleigh Bells, the Brooklyn duo set to make waves this year. The band may not have an album to its name yet, but Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss burst out at CMJ, and their buzz was slowly building over 2009. They're an unlikely pair—Miller was part of hardcore band Poison the Well, while Krauss did time in a sugary pop group before becoming a schoolteacher. But Krauss has the swagger of a badass rap emcee and this hip-hop sensibility acts as the heartbeat pumping their blown-out, aggressive synth aesthetic, artfully (and simultaneously haphazardly) constructed by Miller. Their breakout song, the thrash-pop "Crown on the Ground" sounds, as one critic puts it, "like DMX's 'Party Up' re-imagined as an anthem for the skinny jeans crowd."

They've re-recorded many of their tracks, hopefully keeping some of the grit that makes them so refreshing, on their Treats LP, due out May 11th. (We also hear a little lady by the name of M.I.A. has been collaborating with them for their album, which can only signal good things.) If these videos are any indication, their live performance should be just the electric primer for the night ahead.

Little Dragon, the latest electro-pop import from Europe—Gothenburg, Sweden, more specifically—to enchant listeners in the U.S. Anyone who doesn't immediately fall in love with Yukimi Nagano, the Japanese-Swedish chanteuse of the band, after watching her sing live needs to go get their head checked. Her voice explores otherworldly territory as she slips in and out of a seductive lower register, and her earnestness makes it seem as though she's singing about something only the two of you understand. Little Dragon's dreamy brand of what has been termed "electronic soul," isn't so strange that it feels inaccessible, but rather contains just the right amount of quirk and joyous blips and glitches to spice up an otherwise straightforward jazz foundation. Their sophomore album Machine Dreams was released late last summer to glowing reviews, so the chance of seeing some new material in the warm desert night from the quartet seems nothing short of magical.

Wale, a Washington D.C. rapper who has been poised to change the rap game since his acclaimed breakout mixtape, The Mixtape About Nothing, in 2008. He released his first album, Attention Deficit, late last year, but it somehow got lost in the shuffle, overlooked and underappreciated. Besides being easily one of the hardest-working and most attentive rappers around, his talent alone sets him apart. Lyrical wordplay with references spanning sports and politics to the obscure pop culture trivia are only a part of Wale's canon; his ability to explore deeper themes of relationships and race without ever coming off contrived or cliché, and lyrics honest to the point where his work demands multiple listens is what sets him apart from other emcees considered part of the "new school." It's not as gloom and doom as it sounds, though; touring with go-go band UCB, a Wale live show is all about the funk and energy that lies at the root of his D.C. upbringing.

For those seeking a more frenetic start to the weekend marathon of music, they need look no further than the Sahara dance tent, where everyone's favorite house music producer bearing a giant mouse head will be spinning. He's called deadmau5, born Joel Zimmerman, and he's easily become one of the biggest DJs and producers in the dance music world in recent years. His live performances are as much about the visuals as they are about the sonic journey, and he promises Coachella is no exception.

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