It's never just been about the headliners at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. In fact, many of the 100,000-plus fans who bought tickets to this year's two consecutive Coachella weekends (April 13th-15th and 20th-22nd) signed up before the lineup was even announced. Most knew that the biggest names would be part of a much longer list of exciting rock, dance, hip-hop and more gathered for the desert fest in Indio, California. Here are just 10 of the acts further down the bill not to be missed.
Listen to our Spotify playlist of 10 Coachella Can't-Miss Acts:
They've existed barely a year, but already Wild Flag are one of the most anticipated bands playing at Coachella. Led by Helium singer Mary Timony, the band is a kind of all-female supergroup of uncompromising indie rockers, a two-guitar assault powered by former members of Sleater-Kinney and the Minders. The playing is loose and loud, rolling along tumbling beats and constant motion. You can hear a bit of Sleater-Kinney and their other former bands in the songs, but Wild Flag is a band looking forward, not back.
Key track: "Future Crimes"
Oasis and Blur got more headlines and chart action on both sides of the Atlantic, but Pulp and its wiry lead singer Jarvis Cocker were essential figures from the mid-Nineties Britpop movement. After years of struggle, the band released Different Class in 1995 and delivered a singular blend of danceable post-punk pop and the occasional sour lyric, sung by Cocker with smirk, melancholy and razzamatazz. Pulp broke apart just three years later. Cocker now leads the reunited band he first started as a teenager in Sheffield, England, bringing the classic lineup to the appropriately epic landscape of Coachella. The band's website asks, "Can we make the desert bloom?"
Key track: "Common People"
With last year's streetwise and sexually charged "212," 20-year-old Azealia Banks stepped out from her Harlem neighborhood with edgy wordplay and rapid-fire rhymes (and a relentless beat from Lazy Jay). Then came the post-modern R&B of "NEEDSUMLUV," matching anxious beats with a slow-jam groove. She was soon being compared to Nicki Minaj (another "Fame" school alum), but Banks keeps her words and beats at street level. She's worked with Diplo and co-wrote the Scissor Sisters' "Shady Love," and has lately been tweeting about upcoming collaborations with Kanye West and Lana Del Rey. Banks makes her Coachella debut on Saturday, days ahead of her EP release 1991, with a debut album coming later this year.
Key track: "212"
Recruited by Madonna for her MDNA, this fast-rising house DJ and producer is in high demand to help craft hits for other acts while landing some of his own across Europe with his Smash album, released last year. He has a weakness for polo shirts and ecstatic beats, as tracks bounce with pop hooks, wild club energy and a playful state of mind. (See his sketch comedy videos for Smash.) It's a party of colliding beats, electro-pop and inspired guests vocalists, including Dragonette on "Hello."
Atari Teenage Riot
Few bands this year will ignite mosh pits across Coachella's desert dancefloor with quite the intensity of Atari Teenage Riot. The German anarchist band reunited in 2010 and last year released Is This Hyperreal?, with songs of hackers, protest and human trafficking. Frontman Alec Empire call's the band's apocalyptic punk/electronic blend "digital hardcore," and it lands right at the sweet spot between Coachella's rock and dance constituencies.
Key track: "Revolution Action"
Le Bucherettes Le Butcherettes
This explosive indie/punk-rock trio is led by Guadalajara singer-guitarist Teri Gender Bender, whose sound and fury land somewhere in the Jack White/PJ Harvey tradition. Songs from last year's Sin Sin Sin are all hooks and sharp edges, and Gender Bender's known to act out onstage – climbing scaffolds, stage-diving and even suddenly clipping at her hair. They're at work on a new album produced by Mars Volta guitarist Omar Rodriquez-Lopez, now officially Le Butcherettes' bassist. He'll be pulling double duty at this year's Coachella, shredding guitar with the reunited At the Drive-In and laying down a driving rhythm for Gender Bender's wild and crazy rock.
Key track: "Bang!"
Gary Clark Jr.
The Austin, Texas, guitar phenom and singer is as comfortable wailing on straight blues as he is with simmering soul, shifting easily from funk to a fine Stones-y grind on his electric and acoustic guitars. He's collaborated with Alicia Keys and Nas and was part of the blues contingent that performed at the White House in February, and he'll be at festivals across the U.S. this year. But don't miss him at Coachella. Reason enough is the fiery rock and blues on 2011's The Bright Lights EP, to be followed by a full album due in the fall, bringing loud guitars and soul to a new generation of listeners with the blues.
Key track: "Bright Lights"
This prolific English singer-songwriter comes from the same folk scene that birthed Mumford & Sons, but she shares little of that band's brotherly foot-stomping euphoria. Her songs are seething meditations on human entanglements, at times stark and delicate or layered with evocative sounds and feeling. At 22, Marling has already released three albums, and on her latest, A Creature I Don't Know, she's commanding and confident enough to put her securely in a tradition that stretches from Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell to Ani DiFranco.
Key track: "Night After Night"
After nearly a dozen years of silence (but no official breakup), Mazzy Star are reuniting this year with the duo's first new album of spectral rock and honky-tonk since 1996, plus two rare performances at Coachella. It's long overdue, but two songs released online last year ("Common Burn" and "Lay Myself Down") show a band reconnecting with the ethereal twang that once represented Mazzy Star's private, smoky corner of the Nineties alternative boom. Singer Hope Sandoval's vocals remain distant and sultry, wounded and wistful amid layers of haunted guitar and gently psychedelic atmosphere from musical partner David Roback.
Key track: "Be My Angel"
The most unexpected reunion at this year's Coachella just might be Refused, the aggressively anti-capitalist Nineties hardcore band from Sweden. The quartet put out three albums of intense grind and wail that decade, and they came apart on the road soon after the 1998 release of The Shape of Punk to Come, widely regarded as their most accomplished recording. As before, that album kept lucrative hardcore formulas at arm's length, choosing to experiment with tempo, bits of techno and even violin amid bonebreak beats. Musicianship gave clarity to the chaos that the band itself has called "incredibly violent rock music." Coachella brought them back together to tour "one last time." Another chance to see this influential act may never come again.
Key track: "The Shape of Punk to Come"