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Sound Bites From the Pop Buffet

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a chance to sample some of today's most cutting-edge music. But with so many choices, it pays to know which acts are worth fighting the crowds.

April 25, 2002|Natalie Nichols, Robert Hilburn, Steve Hochman, Steve Baltin, Richard Cromelin

SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES

Even at a cutting-edge music festival, someone's got to represent the old school. So why not veteran British goth-punk Siouxsie Sioux and her gang, who reunited this month for a five-show tour set to end at Coachella?

The band, which broke up shortly after the release of 1995's "The Rapture," reconvenes with vocalist Sioux, co-founding bassist Steve Severin, ex-Vibrators guitarist Knox and Sioux's drummer (and husband) Budgie.

After turning their late-'70s worship of the Sex Pistols into their own abrasively bleak original thing, Sioux et al became one of British punk's most enduring and influential acts. Erotic, dispassionate, playful and dire (sometimes all at once), the music made countless disaffected souls feel as if someone understood. Saturday.

--Natalie Nichols

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ZERO 7

The British duo of producers Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns fuses modern dance music styles with the feel of classic funk, jazz and soul into a relaxed yet sprightly vibe on its debut album, "Simple Things." The pair has remixed songs for acts as diverse as Radiohead, Lenny Kravitz and Lambchop. But don't expect much knob-twiddling on stage--this act comes complete with three vocalists and an 11-piece band. Sunday. --N.N.

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THE (INTERNATIONAL) NOISE CONSPIRACY

Sick of modern punks moaning about personal turmoil? Then c'mon and fight the good fight with these Swedish political provocateurs, who blend '60s garage-rock catchiness with '70s punk urgency for an explosive cocktail of rock 'n' revolution. Though intellectuals on paper, the identically dressed players evoke the MC5's smash-the-state intensity in concert. Although the group righteously skewers global capitalism and its attendant ills, its high-energy calls to arms won't make you feel stuck in the middle of some boring lecture. That's edu-tainment, baby! Saturday. --N.N.

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THE STROKES

If rock greatness were all about creating a buzz, these New Yorkers already would be assured a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 18 months, they went from being a nonentity on the New York club scene to being featured in almost every pop magazine in the free world and selling half a million albums in this country.

But are the Strokes anything more than a cheeky walk down memory lane? The quintet does a knockout Lou Reed on its debut album, "Is This It?," and they remind you of Reed's old band the Velvet Underground, as well as other New York outfits such as Television and the New York Dolls.

I'm not convinced, but Coachella will be a major test. If the crowd is entranced during "Last Nite," the MTV hit from the album, the Strokes might be it after all. Sunday.

--Robert Hilburn

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BELLE & SEBASTIAN

The English ensemble is the poster act for a new wave of twee-pop--poetic sensibilities, hushed vocals from Stuart Murdoch and Isobel Campbell, restrained but colorful chamber-folk arrangements dealing more in nuance than immediacy. Their 2000 album, "Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant," saw the band expanding its textural and emotional range, and last year the group stretched further, composing songs and the score for the Todd Solondz film "Storytelling," with a soundtrack album due in June.

Some find B&S seductive, others too precious. Most of the time it's both. Sunday.

--Steve Hochman

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CHEMICAL BROTHERS

Arguably the most influential act on today's electronic scene, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have established themselves as true stars of the genre, largely based on such big-beat hits as "Block Rockin' Beats" and "It Began in Afrika." Though the duo is mostly known for its original music, it tore up the main DJ tent at last year's Coachella festival with an invigorating mix that ranged from house and trance to world. After the excellent studio album "Come With Us," there's no reason to believe this year's appearance will be any less impressive. Part of the appeal of the Chemical Brothers is that the duo loves all types of music, something that certainly comes across in its DJ sets. So don't be surprised when the familiar refrain of "Block Rockin' Beats" or "Music: Response" leads into a scintillating African rhythm or a Brazilian samba. Saturday.

--S.B.

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SASHA & DIGWEED, JIMMY VAN M

During a triumphant though brief reunion tour last year, DJs Sasha and John Digweed dazzled a sold-out crowd at the Mayan Theatre. Buoyed by that success, the pair, along with opening act and friend Jimmy Van M, are undertaking the first arena tour by a DJ act, with Coachella as its Southern California stop.

Close followers of the DJ world know Sasha and Digweed as the most formidable pair of DJs in the genre. When they take turns bouncing keyboard-rich trance hooks and delivering show-stopping rises, fans beyond dance will understand the fuss. Saturday. --S.B.

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KOSHEEN

The English trio built its European following around its energetic live show, and at Coachella, the core lineup will be augmented by a bassist and a cellist, bringing new life to the songs from the band's stirring debut, "Resist." Saturday.

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