On Sunday, December 16, the inaugural voyage of the S.S. Coachella, the mega-fest’s first trip to the Atlantic Ocean, left Ft. Lauderdale, Florida en route to the Bahamas. Pulp, Sleigh Bells, Girl Talk, El-P, Hot Chip, Black Lips, and a host of other bands are along for the ride. Ever intrepid, SPIN is documenting the entire experiment bit by waterlogged bit. Impossible fun abounds as the threat of total annihilation looms ever present. Ahoy!
Day One: Shipsters, Seapunks, and Broaters … unite?
Day Two: “I love this city!”
Today’s stowaways: Killer Mike, El-P, James Murphy, Warpaint, Sleigh Bells and more
1:30 p.m.: Against our better judgment, we bounce back from Black Lips’ 4 a.m. mosh pit, where we nearly drew blood defending the honor of Cloud Nothings’ Dylan Baldi against a sloshed goon who’d been sling-shotting himself into people whose backs were turned. We get up early in order to catch Father John Misty up on Deck 15, the top of the boat and the only bit covered with actual Coachella-like grass. It was apparently his idea to interrupt the steady stream of club beats, being enjoyed by a particularly wealthy-looking set of Broaters, with an on-stool acoustic set. His wry Costello-sharp lyrics and honest-to-goodness musical ability seem extra out-of-context here, but this honey badger don’t give a shit. “When did adult leisurewear become ‘overgrown 8th grader’?” he quips after playing “Only Son of the Ladiesman” to an indifferent audience. “I feel like I’m in Big. It’s fucking gross. Stop doing it.” But he rewards us anyway (“because nobody gives a fuck…and you can’t put it on YouTube”) by debuting a handful of strummers from the new record he’s writing.
3:15 p.m.: Grimes and her two dancers — again, Sacred and Lafayette — are hosting bingo on the same lawn. The one with the Danny Brown hair and a dream catcher tattooed on her neck is spinning the cage, while Claire Boucher reads the numbers and giggles about the absurdity of it all. “O-69” gets more whoops than her joke about “B-12” being “a good vitamin,” and when two people call “Bingo!” at the same time, she orders a dance-off. After the lithe young female victor executes an acrobatic backbend in a bikini, the brawny bro nearest us shouts, “I love this city!” Which city would that be, dear sir?
6:10 p.m.: Goldenvoice president Paul Tollett, at a staff roundtable: “We love this thing. We’re not sure if it should be ‘Coachella’ or not, but we love it.” Also, he slips up and says that Misty will be playing Coachella 2013, and admits that they’re still working to get the Smiths back together. “We try every year.”
7:30 p.m.: Only 15 hours after they left the Sky Lounge stage soaked in booze, Black Lips, God bless ’em, are back at it. The Celebrity staff has smartened up though and, to our disappointment, laid mats on the dance floor. Last night, everyone was Tom Cruise in Risky Business or Bambi on ice. Tonight they’ll be forced to stay upright, but they’ll be compensated too. “Ladies and gentlemen, we just went back to the studio and recorded us some new songs and this is one of them,” says lead guitarist Ian Saint Pé. It’s a Misfits-inspired cowpunk twanger about redemption sung by rhythm guitarist Cole Alexander whose chorus goes something like: “Drive, drive off! Drive, drive away!”
8:15 p.m.: As we walk into the still improbably huge double-deck Silhouette Theatre, we pass a stream of older people exiting, shaking their heads. Ah, yes, Sleigh Bells have begun. Inside, Alexis Krauss is strutting her fish-netted stuff wearing a captain’s hat while their trademark Marshall wall-stack blares the sort of sounds these waters have only ever heard during wartime. Every note is a bomb bursting overhead or a buzzsaw grinding into our skulls. Her cap slips off during “Crown on the Ground,” so she tosses it to a fan. She is a raspy-throated pirate in tie-dye booty shorts up there, shrieking “Dance with me!” or “Sing it with me!” or “This song is called [insert here]!” in between every new assault. This is a hostile takeover. We have been boarded. It is scary. People were right to run.
9:50 p.m.: Jarvis Cocker is dead center at the Warpaint show, watching Los Angeles’ first ladies of dream-shred impress the hell out of an audience that doesn’t seem to have known them previously. When they start playing the unreleased “Hi,” with its Krautrock chug, woozy atmosphere, and pained wail, half of Black Lips emerge from a hidden space behind the Sky Lounge stage to watch in reverential silence.
11:00 p.m.: The boat is seriously pitching as we attempt to locate James Murphy, the source of so much disco-kissed noise, within the grand theater he is currently DJing. We follow the spun sounds of shakers, clappers, congas and drum thumps, grasping at handrails as we descend. We pass Cocker, who’s found a sturdy column to lean on, stumble, and land at the foot of the stage. We climb up and push our way through a near-solid mass of grinding, tongue-entwined bodies and at last gaze upon the hirsute wizard, lording over his turntables from within the throng.
1:40 a.m.: El-P: “Are you guys ready for the end of the Mayan Calendar.” Sky Lounge: [wild cheering]. El-P: “Really? Because I feel unprepared.” Jamie Meline’s dystopian poems and claustrophobic beats are only boat-appropriate if you’ve accepted as fact the possibility that you will meet a watery grave before you ever set foot on dry land again. Fortunately, we’ve all made our peace and so revel in his brilliant muck, from “Drones Over Brooklyn” back to “Deep Space 9mm.” He brings out Killer Mike twice — once for a B-boy pose-off, and once for “Tougher Colder Killer” — who excitedly shows us his cutoff Sean Johns while proclaiming, “I’m Gilligan as fuck!” And to El: “Okay, I love you, I’m going to go do some drugs.
3:30 a.m.: Killer Mike is sitting on the back bar at the Lounge, rapping via a wireless mic as we flock to gather his exposed ankles. It was a seamless transition an hour before, with El happily playing the hypeman to his R.A.P. Music collaborator. Mike opened with “Big Beast” (the “pow motherfucker” song), regaled us with a tale about the time his wife requested a cruise vacay for two (“I told her the last time black got on a boat, they didn’t get to go home.”), and even rapped his verse of “Bombs Over Baghdad.” When he wraps up, he sticks around until every fan who wants to gets a chance to shake hands and speak with the Atlanta MC.
4:10 a.m.: We are among those fans, and Killer Mike tells SPIN he’s turned down a couple of record deals to make (and self-release) another full-length with El-P. It is safe to say that we too love this city.