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Coachella 2013: The '90s thrive in today's dance scene

April 15, 2013|By August Brown
  • The talent in the Sahara Tent captivated large crowds.
The talent in the Sahara Tent captivated large crowds. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles…)

With apologies to "Portlandia," the dream of the '90s is alive in the Coachella dance tents this year.

Both the lineups and sonics Sunday were indebted to Clinton-era sounds and that decade's mix of smarts and populism in dance music. In the Sahara tent, acts new and old mined that era for inspiration.

German producer Paul Kalkbrenner owed debts to Underworld for his rousing but spacious and emotional house. His single "Sky and Sand" in particular built heady storms of soulful vocals punctuated by big liftoff moments and sad minor-key chords. It was party music, but a reminder of what we escape by partying.

Immediately after him, '90s titan Paul Oakenfold reasserted his case for why his many decades in dance music have been some of its most fruitful. His stylish but hard-hitting productions essentially wrote the play book for what EDM became, and his deft samples of spy-noir guitar and herky-jerky drum edits are of their time, but now again entirely contemporary.

COACHELLA:  Festival  photos since 2004 | Day 2 photos

It's sometimes been tough to visit the Yuma tent, as the air-conditioned underground dance room has been the overachieving addition of the fest (with lines moving accordingly). But once inside, we heard the avant-techno progenitor Richie Hawtin and a young acolyte of that era, Maya Jane Coles, slaying the room with hypnotic and heartfelt house.  Both those artists are students of classic Detroit and Chicago sounds, and as dance music today is ceaseless in its pursuit of new rushes, their pacing and mood-setting are welcome slower virtues. Cool air and luxe vibes aren't the only things keeping the lines at the Yuma tent long.

EDM crowds want to hear more involved sets, and given two hours apiece, both Hawtin and Coles had a story to tell. Electronic music is relentlessly pursuing the future, but Sunday's acts were looking to old souls to get there.


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