The Coachella Arts and Music Festival was described as “The Best American Festival” by Rolling Stone Magazine and, “Probably the best festival in the world” by England’s NME. I have to agree. The location is idyllic, and the line-up is usually what’s playing on my itunes list; a nice combination of new music and old favorites which have aged just the right amount of time, like vintage wine. Coachella attracts the brightest stars from the relatively local city of Hollywood, as well as 75,000 music lovers (every day, for three days) from all around America, and from all around the world.
I don’t mind waiting for things, but I’ve never liked standing in line. It feels like I’m being herded, as if I’m a sheep. As I write this, today, so far, I have seen two long lines, and walked away. One for coffee, one for pizza. For the coffee, I found another place with no line that sold good coffee, and instead of buying the pizza, I bought some groceries and cooked instead. I don’t wait at a red traffic light in the middle of the night either, (please check for traffic first, if you decide to do the same). It feels wrong to submit to a metal box in the first place, and even more wrong at 3 am when there’s nobody around.
I wouldn’t to go to Disneyland and wait three hours for a three minute ride, and I wouldn’t stand in line for Coachella. Call me a brat, but I have never stood in line to get into a bar, or a party, and yet, since my teenage years, I have still been to thousands of clubs, bars and parties. When I was 18 years old, I was a photographer for a UK house music magazine. They sent me around the country to take photographs at clubs and parties almost every day. It was like OK magazine, but for the house music scene. I was on every VIP list for every club, every night. I became quite spoiled.
I continued to be spoiled when I started working at A&A Graphics (now APC), in Buena Park, also the home of Disneyland. It was hub for clubs, raves and parties in Southern California. They designed and printed almost everyone’s flyers, and funded some of the biggest parties themselves, particularly the desert raves. A&A was a place for promoters to network, and spread the word about their parties. There were technics decks throughout the building, with both designers and DJs spinning records constantly. Anybody that worked for A&A was on every VIP list, for every club, every night.
A&A doubled in size over the years. Then it doubled again, and then again. Now, APC is a much larger company, in a much larger building, which they have purchased after years of ever increasing business. Their success is well deserved. A&A may have once been a playground for adults, but only for those that could work hard, and work quickly. The studio was open 24 hours, 6 days a week, and the presses ran day and night. They still do. It was as busy at 3 am as it was at 3 pm. There were beds and showers for employees. It was loud, fast and unforgiving, and I loved every minute of it.
The working arrangements of the people at A&A were not typical of a normal company. Pressmen were on salary, but designers were independent contractors, and got paid by the job. If they didn’t produce results they didn’t get paid. Designers wouldn’t get another job if they failed to produce just once, and they wouldn’t get another job if they didn’t deliver work of an acceptable quality. Designers were never fired, they were ignored, and would eventually leave of their own accord. For the workers that survived this Darwinian process, came the benefits of being part of a large and dynamic family.
A&A Graphics produced the artwork and printed the marketing materials for the original Coachella Arts and Music Festival. Now, APC still produces the marketing materials, though now there’s a lot more of it, since Coachella became the best and biggest party in the world. The festival’s popularity also means that there were, and still are, countless photographers, film-makers and artists looking to score the much coveted Coachella photo pass. These people have to compete with representatives from the best and biggest of the world’s media, who are also looking to score the same passes.
I got my photo pass, thanks to my friend Carlos, head of artist hospitality for Goldenvoice, producers of the Coachella festival. He made sure all the artists were accommodated and fed, as well as fulfilling the riders. A rider is a condition or special request from the performer. In the case of the Beastie Boys, they requested a meeting with Vin Diesel, which Carlos was either unable or unwilling to deliver. I was there when he looked at the request. “Fuck that.” he said. Carlos was as hard a worker as anybody I’ve met. He had a no-nonsense approach and military-like discipline.
I was given an artists’ area pass, a photo pass, a camping pass, and a vendors’ pass. My arm weighed heavy with wristbands. I had seen Cameron Diaz a few different times around the festival, accompanied by Johnny Knoxville. “Dude! You’re everywhere!“ she exclaimed in the most California tongue possible. “Yes, I’m omnipresent,” I replied jokingly. “So, what’s with all the wristbands? I’ve noticed you don’t have this one,” she teased, and promptly flaunted her wristband in front of my face. It had Access All Areas on it. I pulled a frown. Suddenly my wrist band collection wasn’t as impressive.
I took two cameras to Coachella. I’d recently made the switch to digital, with a Sony F-707 and a Casio Exilim EX-S2. The Sony was 5 megapixels, (respectable at the time), the Casio was just 2 megapixels and fit snugly in my pocket. The Sony had a twisting back, so I could hold it directly above my head in the pit, with the viewfinder at a right angle, like a half-periscope. There were fifty other photographers in the same pit, all at the same time, competing for space. Most of them, with their SLRs, were frustrated at only being able to photograph the backs of each other’s cameras and heads.
The Sony performed well, but the pocketable little Casio was my favorite. I was able to hold the camera backwards, automatically framing myself and whoever I was standing next to. The “Me And” photograph is a Hollywood tradition, and I had the chance to make quite a collection. I used the same expression that I always ask models to use. “Look bored!” I say. Pick up any fashion magazine and flip through the pages; all the models have the same look. Here, my uniform expression is a neutral counterpart which highlights the expressions of the people next to me. Every face tells its own story.