Every Act Playing Coachella 2017, Ranked
Originally published on Monday, April 3, 2017.
The year 2017 probably will be remembered as a turning point for Coachella. Now in its 18th year, and fighting to retain its reputation as the pacesetter for all American festivals against stiff competition both locally (FYF) and nationally (Governors Ball, Outside Lands), Coachella seems to be moving away from the "anything as long as it's cool" model that guided its programming over most of its history, and more toward an approach that might best be described as "anything as long as the kids love it."
This year, that meant no more legacy rock bookings (unless you count Radiohead, which at this point you probably could) and way more pop, hip-hop, and EDM. While the guitar shortage drew some criticism — and the festival later addressed the haters by adding a slew of late bookings heavy on punk, garage, and indie rock — in the long run, it's probably a smart move for Coachella and its organizers, Goldenvoice. For now at least, guitar-based music no longer drives the culture the way it once did, and having a headliner like Green Day, Metallica, or even Beck would have generated as much confusion as excitement.
Assuming you're not a hardcore rocker, this year's Coachella lineup is one of the strongest in recent memory, even without Beyoncé (see you next year, Bey!). I'm especially excited about (most of) the dance music bookings, which you'll see reflected in this highly subjective ranking of every single act on the Coachella flier. (Unlike last year's rankings, this list does not include the Do Lab stage's bookings. I still love you, Do Lab, but I decided to cut myself a little slack this time.)
Ready to get good and mad at me because your favorite band didn't crack the top 100? Then hop on board — the ranking train is leaving the station.
Bonus: If you read all the way to the end of the list (okay, fine, you can just scroll, too), you'll be rewarded with an all-Coachella-artists Spotify playlist that is pretty damn lit, if I do say so myself. You're welcome.
Every generation gets the masked EDM superstar it deserves. We Gen-Xers got Daft Punk. Millennials got Deadmau5. Post-millennials — or Gen-Z or whatever stupid name some Time magazine cover story has slapped them with — gets a dude in a marshmallow helmet who sounds like Avicii getting stomped by a methed-out gang of Teletubbies. Sorry, Gen-Z!
161. The Atomics
Four H&M models (the faces of their "Coachella collection") release a couple of crappy surf-rock tunes and — surprise! — get booked to play the festival. This isn't a band; it's product placement.
160. Martin Garrix
159. Big Gigantic
158. Steve Angello
EDM's four horsemen of the apocalypse (Big Gigantic are a duo — and if you didn't already know that, congratulations). Only the biblical Four Horsemen, who will probably be here any day now, will almost certainly have a much better soundtrack.
This Canadian band's bio says that they write "songs about punching clocks and punching faces." I know, right? Canadians rock so hard, especially when they're trying really hard to sound like The Killers circa 2006.
My favorite thing about this British electro-soul duo is that their singer is named Andy Clutterbuck. Andy Clutterbuck! How do you not just name your band Clutterbuck and call it a day? Instead, they're called Honne, a name as forgettable and vaguely pretentious (it means "real intention" in Japanese, apparently) as their watery music.
I hate to bag on a local band, but then again, Grouplove are the kind of band that just reinforce everything outsiders hate about Los Angeles. Their music is all unearned anthemic choruses and vapid lyrics masquerading as hippie enlightenment ("The lesson of my life is to never comprehend it") — like Arcade Fire with less songcraft, or Edward Sharpe stripped of any shred of folksy charm. Above all, it's their relentlessly sunny optimism that makes songs like "Ways to Go" and "Standing in the Sun" the aural equivalent of an uninvited backrub. My shoulders are fine, Grouplove!
EDM meets adult contemporary. Except even worse than that sounds.
153. Zipper Club
152. Capital Cities
151. Oh Wonder
Coachella doubled down this year on electronic music, especially synth-pop — and results are, predictably, mixed. Zipper Club come with a great pedigree — producer James Iha, Cerebral Ballzy guitarist Mason James, and singer-songwriter Lissy Trullie — but weirdly forgettable songs that find a bland middle ground between The Submarines and early Katy Perry. Capital Cities' "Safe and Sound" is pretty undeniable, but once you get past that hit, the dropoff in quality is steep. London's Oh Wonder is the most interesting of the three, but that's not saying much.
French cheese, anyone? I want to like this producer's shiny, happy disco jams more than I do, and I feel like I probably should. He's signed to Ed Banger Records, which is generally awesome. But songs like "Get Lost" just leave me wanting to throw on some Chromeo.
149. Grace Mitchell
145. The Lemon Twigs
Most of you probably have never heard of any of these bands, so I see no point in dwelling on all the various reasons I don't much like them. Let's just say that sometimes the font size on the Coachella poster doesn't lie and move on.
144. Bishop Briggs
I suspect this British singer-songwriter, now based in LA, is genuinely talented, but her music sounds like it's been put into the same "Lana Del Rey but slightly more hip-hop" box into which the music industry currently seems determined to jam every promising young female solo artist (see also: Zella Day, Ryn Weaver, the aforementioned Grace Mitchell). Maybe that's genuinely what she wants to sound like, but for now, singles such as "Wild Horses" are just too generic for her to stand out.
143. Mura Masa
There's a lot going on in British producer Alex Crossan's tracks — steel drums, toy piano, chopped chipmunk vocals, a marimba or something that sounds like one — and for a while, I was digging it. But after repeat listens, tracks like "Love$ick" and "Lotus Eater" begin to seem like less than the sum of their parts.
141. Travis Scott
140. Lil Uzi Vert
Listen, everybody: This trend of rappers delivering every verse in a sing-song, Auto-Tuned croon has officially gone too far and it needs to stop. It was cool the first time Kanye and Drake did it, but now it's just become a crutch mediocre rappers use to make their uninspired verses more fun to chant along to. If that makes me a crotchety old-school hater, then so be it. Get off my lawn, Auto-Tuned rappers!
139. Francis and the Lights
Am I the only one who doesn't get what all the fuss is about over Francis Farewell Starlite? I know he's endorsed by Drake and Bon Iver and Lin-Manuel Miranda and pretty much everyone cool ever, but to me all his stuff just sounds like the least interesting parts of Peter Gabriel, James Blake, and the aforementioned Bon Iver patched together with some sparkly synths to make it sound contemporary.
If Imagine Dragons were British and slightly less terrible, they would probably be Bastille, a band with a couple of catchy, percussive singles ("Pompeii," "Good Grief") and a singer in Dan Smith who's a slightly less insufferable Chris Martin.
This LA producer's big claim to fame is that he got the rights to turn Nate Dogg's "Gangsta Walk" into a funky house stomper. How he pulled that off I'm not sure, because the rest of his output to date is decidedly not gangsta.
136. Car Seat Headrest
There's a certain type of fellow music journalist — male, white, straight, probably attended a New England liberal arts college, probably owns at least one Pavement record on colored vinyl — who automatically assumes without asking that I must be a huge fan of this band. Nope! Stop assuming, bro. Don't worry, though, I'm still impressed with your Pavement colored vinyl.
135. Majid Jordan
This Toronto R&B duo are signed to Drake's OVO label, and it's easy to hear why; their music has that soulful, slightly woozy vibe that has long been the weapon of choice in Drizzy's production arsenal. Take Drake himself out of the equation, however, and it's a sound that wears out its welcome pretty quickly.
134. Banks & Steelz
You'd think a collaboration between Interpol's Paul Banks and Wu-Tang's RZA would be like catnip to the hipster music blogs of the world. But not even Pitchfork could get behind last year's weirdly lifeless Anything But Words. "For those who think Chris Martin might just the best part of Graduation," sniffed Pitchfork, which pretty much nails it.
This British indie-pop quintet reps the great music city of Manchester. Not well, mind you. They just happen to be from there.
Of all the ways a collaboration between AFI's Davey Havok and everyone from No Doubt not named Gwen Stefani could have gone, lead single "Kill for Candy" is hardly the worst. But it's not particularly great, either. With that much talent in the room, you'd think they could manage to sound like something more interesting than a Killers tribute band. (And yes, I know that's my second Killers reference already. Hey, a lot of rock music just kinda sounds like second-rate Killers right now for some reason. Don't shoot the messenger, people.)
The most interesting thing about this rootsy band from the hollers of Eastern Kentucky is that it turns out they're actually from Iceland. Which probably explains why, despite some undeniable talent — especially the ragged pipes of frontman Jökull Júlíusson (aka JJ Julius Son) — they sound like a contrived cross between the Avett Brothers and Cage the Elephant.
130. Crystal Castles
Does anyone still care about this band since Alice Glass left? No? Moving on, then ...
129. The Head and the Heart
Is it just me, or does every song in this Seattle band's catalog sound as if it could soundtrack either a cellphone commercial or that part of the rom-com movie trailer where the lovers fling their arms around each other on a boat dock?
If you wish more of today's dance music sounded like the neon-colored nu-disco stuff that was popular 10 years ago, this LA duo is for you. They're really, really good at it — and it all really, really sounds like stuff that came out 10 years ago.
Even other Brooklyn bands probably hear this Brooklyn band and think, "Dude, this is way too Brooklyn."
126. Jen Ferrer
This LA DJ and manager of the excellent Friends of Friends label has the dubious distinction of being the very last artist listed on the Coachella flier this year. I hope she won't take my placing her here, relatively low on this list, as a diss — anyone who begins a house set for Boiler Room with a little Stevie Wonder is aces in my book. Really, I'm ranking her here as a signpost of sorts — from here on out, I'll have to (mostly) put away the haterade and acknowledge that every single remaining act on this list is pretty solid (even if some of them still aren't my jam). Yeah, the Coachella lineup's that good.
125. Surf Curse
124. Twin Peaks
The beautiful thing about rock 'n' roll is that you don't need to reinvent the wheel to make it work; you just need conviction, good riffs, and something to say. That's both these bands in a nutshell. Reno, Nevada's Surf Curse transplant jangly, lo-fi surf-rock from the beach to the desert and somehow make their deceptively sunny music an ironic commentary on the landlocked ennui of their lyrics. Chicagoans Twin Peaks find a beer-soaked middle ground between Lou Reed and Cheap Trick, stripping everything down to just a few meaty guitar hooks and vocals that toggle between laconic croons and throat-shredding, so-bad-they're-great Jagger impersonations. Each, in their own way, rock like fucking champs.
Empire of the Sun
123. Empire of the Sun
At what point does an amazing live show stop being an amazing live show? By now, we all know what to expect from an Empire of the Sun set: a crazy headdress on Luke Steele, backup dancers in shiny bodysuits, lava lamp-meets-Windows 95 screensaver video projections. If you've never seen them before, it's totally worth it; if you have, well, I guess how much you enjoy their show depends on how many of their songs beyond "Walking on a Dream" you actually like.
I can't tell if this Illinois pop singer is for real or not. On the one hand, her combination of ethereal vocals and hip-hop-influenced beats and lyrics (lots of lines about hopping in people's whips and whatnot) seems like it was concocted in a marketing meeting at her label, Atlantic Records; on the other hand, every 21-year-old's playlist probably has some Lana Del Rey, Flume, and Future on it these days, and the intersection of those sounds seems to be what she's aiming for. When she hits her mark, as on hit single "Gold" (co-written and produced by savvy production duo EFFESS), it totally works.
121. Dillon Francis
We called Francis the "class clown of EDM" back in 2014, and that still sums up most of his appeal. All the elements of his tracks are familiar — poppy synth hooks, trap and moombahton beats, smack-you-in-the-face bass drops — but he shuffles them together with a playfulness that most of his peers can't match.
Very soon, a music journalist smarter than me will write a book explaining why so many millennials are obsessed with the soulful synth-pop of the 1980s. And this British singer-songwriter-producer could very well get her own chapter.
119. The Martinez Brothers
Bronx brothers Steven and Chris Martinez favor a purist style of tech-house that, depending on what gets your feet moving, is either the kind of hypnotic stuff you can lose yourself in for hours, or the kind of monotonous stuff that can send you toward the exit after five minutes. I'll probably get all kinds of hate-tweets from the purists for making that observation, but deep down, they all love the fact that most people don't get dance music this stripped down.
I can't decide if this Virginia rapper's cartoonish style (which he himself has called "trappy go lucky") is ingenious or stupid, and that's probably the point. But hey, it's hard to argue that pickup lines like "I choose you like a Pokémon" (from "Cute") are a nice change of pace from the casual misogyny that permeates most male rappers' lyrics.
117. Mac Miller
If nothing else, I can't wait to see whether he's changed any of the lyrics to "Donald Trump."
I'm pretty sure if it weren't for Lorde, this New Zealand synth-pop duo would not be touring internationally. But hey, good for them. The fans love 'em for their pretty, emotive power ballads, but I think they get more interesting in full-on anthem mode, as on the very Chvrches-like "Free," from their latest album, Conscious.
115. Jai Wolf
At his best, this Bangladeshi-American producer makes blissed-out ambient electronica with nifty little Eastern flourishes and a cinematic sense of grandeur. At his worst, he does corny electro-pop like "Diamonds for Breakfast," which is literally an entire song about missing a call because your phone is set to silent.
Irish bloggers/crate-diggers turned ace house/techno production duo. I presume their name is a reference to how ripped their arms are from lugging all their obscure vinyl to gigs. Their original tracks and remixes get pretty heavy, too.
113. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
Aside from having the best band name on this year's lineup, these Australian psych-rockers also have a great sound somewhere between fellow antipodean freak Connan Mockasin and local hero Ty Segall in full turned-up-to-11 mode. Also, their latest album, released in February, is called Flying Microtonal Banana, so everyone else putting out an album in 2017 may as well just give up now and call theirs Untitled.
112. Jagwar Ma
More Australian psych-rock, less weird but catchier than King Gizzard. I personally gravitate more toward KG's retro-leaning style but, objectively speaking, JM's sound is definitely the more festival-friendly of the two.
111. Declan McKenna
Did you know England's Glastonbury Festival has an emerging-talent competition? Me neither, but this kid won it in 2015, when he was just 16 years old. He's now all of 18 and already sounds like a young cross between Boxed In and Badly Drawn Boy, with a gift for slightly twisted earworm melodies and a charmingly sleepy vocal style. And yes, we're all allowed to hate him a little for being that young and that insanely talented.
110. Porter Robinson & Madeon
As of this writing, Coachella is the final stop on this EDM wunderkind duo's Shelter Live Tour — and believe me, to young dance music fans, this is a very, very big deal. Whether you love their bright, shiny synths and sing-along melodies or think they're the worst dance-music collab since David Guetta and Black Eyed Peas, the energy at their sets should be off the scale.
109. Ben UFO
This British DJ is a rarity in today's dance-music world: an actual DJ. He doesn't dabble in production or press play on a laptop while he lets the light show do all the work. His sets are actual, handcrafted, in-the-moment creations, assembled from obscure corners of the worlds of deep house, minimal techno, dubstep, ambient, and beyond. Listen and learn, kids.
108. Show Me the Body
This New York hardcore band had the most punk-rock reaction to getting booked to play Coachella of all time: They denied they had ever agreed to play and added, "Hopefully Goldenvoice and Coachella will not exploit our name." Coming from a band that has a whopping 2,500 Twitter followers, that is pure gold, people. They seemed a little less punk when they later announced that they would play after Goldenvoice "amended their offer," but that kind of no-fucks-given attitude should be a welcome change of pace on this year's synth-and-EDM-dominated lineup.
107. Tall Juan
This Queens-based Argentine rocker has a co-sign from Mac DeMarco, who recorded and mixed his debut EP, Why Not? His cover of The Ramones' "Chinese Rock" gives you an idea of the sound here: short, strummy blasts of primitive pop-punk, carried by Juan's yelpy, charismatic vocals.
106. Hans Zimmer
Everyone seems to be freaking out that the guy who did the Inception and Dark Knight scores is playing a music festival. A film composer! Playing Coachella! Has the world gone mad? Personally, I would've been far more excited if they had booked John Carpenter, but yeah, it might be fun to hear Zimmer's big, melodramatic compositions played by a big, melodramatic orchestra on the Polo Grounds.
This British producer's big claim to fame is that he co-wrote Sam Smith's "Stay With Me." His own music tends to favor the gauzy synths and trap/hip-hop beats that are all the rage right now, although he definitely adds some cool, Four Tet–like wrinkles to the formula.
Orange County native Jillian Rose Banks has shown flashes of brilliance since emerging in 2013, but except for singles "Beggin for Thread" and "Gemini Feed," her material is never quite as interesting as she is (though "Fuck With Myself" sure tries really hard). But even her weaker tracks might go over live thanks to her swooping, alluring vocals.
103. DJ Snake
I know what you're thinking: Has this guy done anything since "Turn Down for What"? (Okay, that's what I was thinking.) Turns out he has, and while none of it is quite as awesome as his signature anthem, anyone who tells you they're not feeling "Let Me Love You," his collaboration with Justin Bieber, is taking this shit too seriously.
102. Real Estate
On paper, I should love Real Estate. They do blissed-out, slightly intricate (but not too intricate) guitar pop. I love blissed-out, intricate guitar pop! They're from New Jersey. I'm from New Jersey! And they're fine, I guess — the way New Jersey is fine, and I'm also glad I don't actually live there anymore.
This Chicago trio favors productions and remixes that are more about vibing out than dancing your ass off, although everything from the beats to the soulful vocals nods to the four-on-the-floor traditions of their hometown. They're way better at remixing Lorde than Stevie Wonder, but that's okay. Even Stevie Wonder probably shouldn't remix Stevie Wonder at this point.
I still love this Norwegian electronic duo, even though I feel they've lost the plot a little, chasing increasingly pop sounds on their most recent album, 2014's The Inevitable End, and latest single "Never Ever." That being said, they remain masters of making bubbly, vaguely retro synths sound as epic as a 70-piece orchestra.
99. Loco Dice
German-Tunisian DJ/producer Yassine Ben Achour likes to keep it deep, dark, and dirty. His home country's official soundtrack, techno, is part of the sound, but so is Chicago house, especially the witty, thumping variety practiced by Derrick Carter and Green Velvet. It's definitely not daytime music, so even if he's in the Yuma Tent, here's hoping they give him a late time slot.
98. Two Door Cinema Club
If Ben Gibbard fronted an arty, Irish post-punk band, this is probably what it would sound like. I've never found their songs to be particularly memorable, but the interplay between Sam Halliday's spiraling guitar leads and Kevin Baird's bouncy basslines is pretty hard to deny.
95. Tory Lanez
This rapper split his childhood between Toronto, New York, Miami, and Atlanta, and you can hear elements of each in his music and vocal style — on one track, he's crooning Auto-Tuned cloud rap; on another, he's spitting bars comparing himself to Tony Montana over gunshot sound effects and trunk-rattling bass. Not everything he tries works, but his unpredictability is definitely part of his appeal.
Though he's only 20, producer Valentin "Kungs" Brunel has clearly learned a trick or two from his fellow Frenchman Ludovic Navarre and his house project St. Germain's classic 2000 album, Tourist. Kungs' best songs, like "Don't You Know," feature very St. Germain-like bluesy vocals, jazzy guitar licks, and horn sections, though the underlying tracks are bouncier and more dance floor-friendly than Navarre's more chilled-out take on the genre. If you're a burnt-out former tropical house fan, you'll totally vibe out to this stuff.
93. Lee Field & the Expressions
Also known as "that other soul guy who's not Charles Bradley." I kid! Fields is great, too. Although I'm pretty sure Bradley is better at dropping to his knees midsong because he's feeling it so goddamned hard.
92. The Interrupters
This year's token ska-punk band are local and relatively new arrivals on the scene, having formed in 2011. They have a cool lead singer in Aimee Allen, a.k.a. Aimee Interrupter, and a song called "Take Back the Power" that should ignite quite the anti-Trump mosh pit.
91. DJ Khaled
Your best chance all weekend to make the "bless up!" gesture and strike up conversations with cute strangers in which you both try to figure out who all those guest rappers are.
This Riverside Afro-Latin tropical combo's name means "remove worries," and that's exactly what their music does.
Something about French seems to lend itself really well to rapping (see also: MC Solaar and TTC, among many others). These brothers landed on the cover of Fader with their distinctly French take on blunted cloud rap, and already seem to be gaining a bigger stateside following than any of their predecessors.
87. Jack Garratt
Sensitive singer-songwriter dudes who, even just 10 years ago, would've been content to hit the road with an acoustic guitar and maybe a loop pedal are now delving into all sorts of bedroom electronica and making music that is generally far more interesting. That's certainly the case with these two British lads, both of whom write soulful folk songs and then explode them with layered and filtered vocals, cinematic synths, and trip-hop beats.
Even people who've never heard a note of this Oakland R&B artist's music have strong opinions about her, after she became the high-profile target of misogynistic internet trolls in early 2016. It's tough for a young artist to bounce back from that sort of unwelcome media attention, but Kehlani's clearly got the talent to do it. Her debut studio album, SweetSexySavage, released in January, is state-of-the-art, pop-minded R&B — maybe a little too slickly produced for its own good, but full of catchy earworms like "CRZY" that showcase her versatile vocals and DGAF attitude.
Considering how great some of his work is with his other projects, Miike Snow and Bloodshy & Avant, much of Christian Karlsson's work in Galantis, his duo with fellow Swedish producer Linus Eklöw, can feel a bit throwaway. But when you're as talented as Karlsson, even your throwaways are still pretty great. Hating the caffeinated disco grooves and tropical house vibes of a song like "Love on Me" is like hating cookies or something. It's just weird.
84. Los Blenders
I don't know much about this band, but they sound like Mexico City's answer to The Black Lips, which probably means they could whip The Black Lips' asses.
I know "Prince meets Foxygen" sounds kind of terrible, but listen to this Australian band's "Sweep Me Off My Feet" and you will see that, in the right hands, such a combination can be insanely great. The rest of their psych-pop catalog is a little all over the place but has its moments. But "Sweep Me Off My Feet." Hot damn. Remember that song title, because something tells me you'll be hearing it everywhere this summer (even if the trying-too-hard-to-be-weird video isn't doing it any favors).
82. Preservation Jazz Hall Band
After booking several jazz groups last year, Coachella seems to have backed away from the genre — this venerable New Orleans combo are its only real representatives on this year's lineup, and they're a far cry from the adventurous, forward-thinking sounds of Kamasi Washington and BadBadNotGood, who graced the Polo Grounds in 2016. Their rollicking, Big Easy sound is tailor-made for big outdoor festivals, but it'll be interesting to see how it goes over with Coachella's EDM- and hip-hop-loving masses.
San Francisco multihyphenate (composer, designer, photographer) Scott Hansen works at the same intersection of dream-pop and ambient electronica occupied by producer Ulrich Schnauss and guitarist Mark McGuire. His work can be lush and at times almost breathtakingly beautiful, but it also adheres to a definite formula — all triumphant, roll-credits emotional release — that can wear on anyone who likes their music with a little dramatic tension. Still, those breathtakingly beautiful moments can make the journey worthwhile.
Hey, guess what? You've made it to the halfway mark. Congratulations! And if you're actually still reading every blurb, you're even crazier than I am. Onward ...
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