Sunday, May 06, 2007

Coachella (this post contains swear words...)

Just to keep you up to date, this last weekend Eyal and I drove south into the desert of California to go to Coachella. Coachella is the name of a very small town near Palm Springs, and also the sight of a yearly music festival, that has over the years taken on epic proportions. This year it was estimated about 40, 000 people would attend, and the headlining acts were Bjork, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Manu Chao, The Roots, Crowded House, Willie Nelson, Air- and most significantly the reunion of Rage Against the Machine.

For those who do not know, RATM are well known for there strong lyrics and activism against, well, the machine(!!), currently cited as the Bush administration, in fact it was suggested that because of the current political climate that they decided to re-unite. There message is a very strong one, powerfully expressed, between songs, the singer Zach de la Roche said:

"A good friend of ours said that if the same laws were applied to U.S. Presidents as were applied to the Nazi's after World War II, then every single one of 'em, every last rich white one of 'em from Truman on would have been hung to death, and shot. And this current administration is no exception. They should be hung, and tried, and shot. As any war criminal should be. But the challenges that we face, they go way beyond administrations. Way beyond elections. Way Beyond every four years of pulling levers. Way beyond that, because this whole rotten system has become so vicious and cruel, that in order to sustain itself, it needs to destroy entire countries, and profit from their reconstruction, in order to survive, and that's not a system that changes every four years, it's a system that we have to break down generation after generation after generation after generation after generation. Wake up."

They have been known to say other things, such as:

"America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you've lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn't belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don't care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve".. their biggest hits include songs such as: 'Killing in the name of', 'bombtrack' and 'bulls on parade'. They have also been known to burn and/or invert the US national flag at times.

So perhaps you can imagine this band re-uniting with at least 20- 30 000 young adults, mainly men, late at night... I didn't really like what he was saying about 'killing' or executing leaders, no matter how bad they may be. It doesn't sound all that sophisticated a way to bring about peace... And there was talk, rumours drifting about the 'riot', or even possibly revolution that would be ignited by seeing RATM perform. Clearly the police thought this was a possibility too. The first two days of the festival were very relaxed, being a group of Aussies we were a bit surprised to see so few people dancing, even to Red Hot Chilli Peppers. There was always plenty of room, it was very clean, lots of water around, the restrictions on drugs and alcohol were so tight that very few people looked drug-affected.

There were also some incredible installments of art and performance, truly mind blowing light and lightning and fire displays, beautiful sculptures everywhere and 5 or 6 stages with all kinds of music . Next to the festival grounds there was a huge campsite where about 17 000 people were camping, us included. On the first night at about 4am, we were woken up by a helicopter and huge lights flashing.

You could hear people drumming, singing and dancing somewhere down the other end of the campsite, and then the helicopter: 'This is your first and final notice, DISPERSE or you WILL BE ARRESTED'. It continued to circle low (waking everyone else up) and then eventually flew off, as I suppose the crowd dispersed. Apparently the story goes that a large group of rowdy people had gathered and were playing music and dancing well into the night. Some staff camping nearby complained and asked them to stop, and the rowdy group refused (perhaps rudely?), and the police were called. One person claimed they had been shot with a rubber bullet- but we never heard if this was true...

One Sunday (the RATM was to play) the security was tighter, every single person and their bags was searched as they entered the festival, they took my little plastic fan and two sprayer bottles to fill with water ( it was over 37 degrees Celsius both days!!). They had a policy of not allowing any water bottles in (sometimes if they were unopened you could)- but instead if you collected ten plastic water bottles off the ground and gave them to recycling you got a bottle of water free. We did this with big garbage bags and ended up with about 30 bottles of water!

The RATM performance was incredible, so was Manu Chao and Crowded House who performed before them, as the exhausted crowd was leaving, not a riot in sight, but 30 or so riot police lined up in formation at the exit. Provocatively standing with bullet proof vests, face masks and M16s. I wondered what or who they were there to protect... or if it were really just a show of power in the face of the the anti-establishment music and atmosphere of the festival.

It made me a bit sad think of all the happy teenagers (as I realised they were, here to listen to music), exhausted and scantily clad (due to the heat), forced to walk past the adrenaline pumped, trained and overarmed police. Perhaps the establishment is a little scared...

The night was fairly uneventful, some people started a fire and burnt a tent and danced around and talked and yelled and sung, a few police were around, not many, and as we drove home through the desert the next day with aching muscles, we stopped in a dusty no-where town and ate food cooked by a friendly El Salvadorean woman who spoke no English, it all began to feel like a dream...


Blogger Catalin said...

Thanks for writing about that experience. Riot police always seem to increase the tension, and I assume the likelihood of something "bad" happening. I wonder if they know what kind of energy they bring to an event? I always think those helmets are especially harmful because they make the people inside them seem less like people to the protesters (or concert-goers)and they must make the police themselves feel that they are in danger.

Regarding the lack of dancing--maybe it was the tight controls on liquor and drugs that was the cause? Sad, but possibly true.

Have you considered going to the Burning Man Festival this summer in Nevada? You might really like it.

11:30 am  

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