Each year, California’s premier music festival outdoes itself by booking an eclectic array of artists from throughout the dance music realm alongside its smattering of other genres. In 2019, these acts spread — perhaps more than ever before — throughout the event’s numerous stages, lending the opportunity to experience the diverse roster within equally diverse environs. While there are, of course, a number of fantastic performances from Coachella’s first weekend that are not represented on this list, we’ve narrowed down 10 sets which particularly impressed us.
Anytime a Frenchman takes the stage in a metal mask, Coachella history is soon to be made. And, amid a lineup filled with prodigal artists from the festival’s past, Gesaffelstein stood out as one of the its most formidable acts. After releasing the pop-laden album Hyperion in March, fans weren’t sure what to expect from Michel Lévy’s Indio return — would he focus on his newer, more mainstream fare, or return to his darker days of yore? Once he took the stage, donned in a shimmering, Vantablack metal suit, little question remained. For the first hour of nightfall in Coachella’s final day, Gesaffelstein melded his new releases with classic favorites and overwhelming live edits, synchronized against an ominously spectacular visual production. Indubitably, a new era lies on the horizon for the harrowing luminary, and Coachella provided the perfect backdrop for its debut.
Gesaffelstein will play the Outdoor stage from 7:40-8:40 PM on Sunday, April 21.
There are few acts in electronic who better embody the descriptor of “stunning” than Jon Hopkins. The British artist’s fusion of melodic ambient with erratic techno influences would set him a cut above the rest of his class, were there anyone else in his class at all. His Coachella set, which closed the Gobi tent for the weekend, dutifully matched the quality of his catalogue. Hopkins dove into mesmerizing, cathartic live edits of Singularity, his Grammy-nominated 2018 album, accompanied by a transcendent selection of video arrangements which culminated in one of the festival’s most emotionally evocative performances.
Jon Hopkins will close out the Gobi tent from 9:40-10:40 PM on Sunday, April 21.
For years, Richard James has been one of the most hoped-for additions to the Coachella lineup. Anyone with a semblance of dance music knowledge knows that his Aphex Twin project is one of the most influential pieces of electronic music history. Because James’ last appearance at the festival, in 2008, predated the “EDM boom,” his 2019 appearance marked the first time that many recent fans have been able to see him perform. Suffice it to say, he did not disappoint. Standing before a surprisingly roomy Mojave tent crowd, Aphex Twin put forth more than 90 minutes of eclectically arresting garage, techno, EBM, IDM, and downtempo music. Piercing lasers and a hysteria of often-unsettling visuals accompanied his arrhythmic score in a chaotic fashion which demonstrably proved that Richard James’ bite easily equals the bark of his hype.
Aphex Twin will close out the Mojave tent from 9:05-10:35 PM on Saturday, April 20.
Within the techno community, Nina Kraviz’s Coachella set was likely the most polarizing of the weekend. The Russian artist and Trip label-head is known for her highly energetic DJ sets, so the confusion at her decision to break from this mold in her live show debut is understandable. Indeed, for the lion’s share of her set, Kraviz dabbled more in avant-garde performance art, interacting bizarrely with set pieces more primed for a playhouse than a nightclub. However, once the peculiar producer moved on to the techno portion in her set’s second act, the patience of those who remained was duly rewarded. Kraviz’s cerebral, thunderous dance selections were awe-inspiring to say the least. And, when paired with the unique visual components which reflected her moves onstage, her set’s climax echoed Richie Hawtin’s stunning CLOSE performance, which debuted in the same Friday closing slot at Mojave two years earlier.
Nina Kraviz will close out the Mojave tent from 10:15-11:15 PM on Friday, April 19.
Anytime Âme graces an American festival roster, they are an absolute must-see. More accurately, “he” is a must-see, as generally, Kristian Beyer performs DJ sets without his partner, Frank Wiedemann. Seeing Âme in the Yuma tent at the height of Saturday afternoon is a sensorily peculiar experience. As a benchmark of Dixon’s coveted Innervisions imprint, Beyer’s deftly crafted mixes of soulful balearic house, deep techno, and tribal club music transport the listener to after-hours parties in the White Isle or Berlin. Therefore, it’s easy to forget that the sun is shining brightly just outside the walls of Yuma’s pitch-black interior. A trip to the bathroom during Âme is a smack in the face from reality, but this just makes the imminent return to Beyer’s darkened fantasy realm all the more delectable.
Âme will play the Yuma tent from 4:30-6:00 PM on Saturday, April 20.
Undoubtedly, Deep Dish is the best kept secret on Coachella’s 2019 lineup. For those unaware, the duo, which disbanded in 2006, is comprised of Dubfire and Sharam. The Yuma tent provided an impeccable setting for this storied reunion, which Deep Dish more than duly reciprocated throughout their 90-minute set. Ranging from the house influences of Sharam to Dubfire’s favored brand of apoplectic techno, the duo’s reign over Yuma stood out as one of the tent’s most diverse — and best — sets of the weekend.
Deep Dish will play the Yuma tent from 6:00-7:30 PM on Saturday, April 20.
Charlotte de Witte
Over the past two years, Charlotte de Witte has grown from a hero of techno’s underground into one of the genre’s most sought-after acts for the festival circuit, and it’s easy to see why. During her prime Sunday slot, the Belgian DJ provided one of the Yuma tent’s darkest sets of the entire weekend — no small feat, considering her competition from ominous legends sharing the roster, such as Nicole Moudaber and Cirez D. From the moment she took the stage, de Witte plunged her audience into a uniquely aggressive realm, ensuring that all in attendance would be reinvigorated for the festivals final sets thereafter.
Charlotte de Witte will play the Yuma tent from 7:00-8:30 PM on Sunday, April 21.
In 2019, Coachella poured more resources into their preeminent onsite nightclub than ever before. The intricate lighting arrangements throughout the stage and ceiling of the Yuma tent exceptionally accentuated the deftly-curated soundsystem for each act on the weekend’s stellar lineup. With this pristine setup, Goldenvoice would be hard-pressed to find a better weekend closer than Eric Prydz. Impressively, albeit unsurprisingly, the Swedish icon artfully claimed the stage as his own during his sinister, 2-hour set as Cirez D. Prydz’s team masterfully executed the lighting system of the Yuma to its fullest potential, creating a monolithic experience which mirrored the environs of the artist’s former residency at Hï Ibiza. Though the bass often obscured the top-lines of Cirez D’s fast-paced, techno-heavy set, the aggressively sleek selections culminated in a larger than life experience, providing Yuma — indeed, all of Coachella — with the conclusion it deserved.
Cirez D will close out the Yuma tent at 10:00 PM on Sunday, April 21.
In the realm of live electronic music, an intricate visual production can be as defining (or more) an element of an artist’s set as the music itself. An artist’s decision to eschew any video or lighting component whatsoever is, therefore, quite the statement. As the sun set on Coachella’s second day, Four Tet shrugged off the visual effects at his disposal, opting to perform his entire slot in front of the Mojave tent’s black screens. With no other stimuli competing for attention, Four Tet’s eclectic selection of experimental house and garage-infused tech took center stage, leaving a masterful impact on all in attendance.
Four Tet will play the Mojave tent from 7:35-8:35 PM on Saturday, April 20.
Chances are, those who catch Bassnectar’s closing Saturday night set at the Outdoor stage at this year’s Coachella won’t be seeing him for the first time. Over the last two decades, Lorin Ashton has cultivated one of dance music’s most dedicated fanbases. And, thanks to his high-octane brand of amorphous bass music and vibrantly chaotic visual productions, bass heads will attend as many of his shows as they feasibly can. However, Bassnectar’s set during the first week proved to be a unique experience in its own way.
2019 marks Ashton’s first Coachella appearance since he performed the Sahara tent six years ago, and the rare opportunity to witness the iconic artist from a spacious, open-air crowd is certainly one to be relished. During the first week, Bassnectar’s setlist echoed performances from one of his most beloved eras, the early 2010s. Perhaps due to his relatively brief time-slot, Ashton spent little time exploring his softer, more melodic influences. Instead, he opted to put forth formidable classics from his own catalogue alongside cuts from the likes of Gesaffelstein and a visually stunning, at times political, light show.
Bassnectar will close out the Outdoor stage at 12:05 AM on Saturday, April 20 (technically Sunday).
Featured image via Coachella 2019 by Charles Reagan.