When I think back on my first Coachella experience, I’d like to say I picture The Black Keys’ epic set as the sun melted like a lozenge over the dusty fields of Indio or hear Thom Yorke’s quivering voice wafting over thousands of swaying bodies from the main stage. Instead, the most tangible thing I remember from Coachella 2012 is… sweating. A lot. Also, being covered in dirt.
That year, my friends and I decided that we would make use of Coachella’s “camping” option, which is really just a sprawling, dust-filled parking lot where loads of unspeakable things happen under haphazardly raised tarps and the cover of night. At the time, this felt like the only logical choice. Why spend time looking for housing when we could set up a mobile home mere minutes from the festival? The older (read: boring) crowd could have their air-conditioned hotel rooms and spacious Airbnbs; for us, strolling over to the festival grounds directly from our campsite felt like the ultimate luxury.
Growing up in Seattle, I consider myself a fairly well-versed camper—I can set up a tent (if forced) and don’t think I’m too good for an outdoor shower (or lack of one). But if camping in Washington State was akin to the part in The Lord of the Rings when Frodo and the hobbits journey through the lush, elvish forest Lothlórien, camping at Coachella was like Frodo’s final moments in the fiery heart of Mount Doom: smoky and dust-filled with an unnerving feeling that you’re perilously close to the precipice of hell.
That and the fact that our “campsite” happened to be the one closest to a long line of Porta Potties… You can imagine what delicate scents my nose experienced during that weekend. Each night, I went to sleep, shivering as the desert temps dipped below 60; each morning, I woke up drenched in sweat, rising from the heat like a Pillsbury biscuit that had seen better days.
But if all this sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not—quite the opposite. In fact, I’ve gone to Coachella every single year since that first time just as eager and shiny-eyed as I was in 2012. Why? Simple: that feeling. It’s the all-encompassing one you experience the second you step foot into the festival grounds—a freeness that swells in you and instantly overshadows everything else. The giddiness starts as you walk up to the main gate, rising with each step you take closer to the squawking security guards patting down festival-goers for illicit substances.
It grows, even as you witness a man in a bro tank getting thrown out for hiding MDMA in his underwear, and it blossoms ever still as a lithe woman in a bikini top marches over to the trash can closest to you, bends over, and promptly vomits. Still, the bounce in your step remains and grows into a skip, a hop, and then a jump until you’re in—finally!—and literally frolicking in a field and shrieking with joy because, like the Israelites post-Moses, you’ve made it inside the Promised Land (though you had only walked for a very dust-filled 20 minutes and not 40 years).
Once you’re inside sacred festival grounds, societal rules fly out the window. Within the invisible line that separates the dull reality of tedious adult responsibilities exists a Technicolor utopia where glitter-flecked people are friendly and forthcoming and are united by a common love of both the mainstream (i.e., music, comedy, art, and food) and also more obscure (see: the Kanamara Matsuri festival in Japan, a celebration of all things phallic—yes, really!). Since their start, festivals have been a place of self-expression and openness—but isn’t it ironic that it’s only within the confines of a set space that people can feel the freest?
In April, we’re exploring (and celebrating) this feeling as it pertains to beauty and self-expression with our theme, Freestyle Beauty. We’ll be deep-diving into the history of festival beauty and its cultural implications from Woodstock to Coachella (as well as examining the whole cultural appropriation issue). Beyond festivals, we’re investigating the idea of Freestyle Beauty in relation to our current beauty landscape—a world that seems to grow more trend-agnostic by the day. Does anyone care about trends anymore?
Or is everything just inspiration that’s open up to interpretation?
For our April Beauty Test, we’re shooting someone who epitomizes the idea of Freestyle Beauty: DJ and model Marley Parker, whose Instagram feed serves up all the beauty inspiration you’ll need for your Friday night plans and beyond. And lastly, keep an eye out for interviews with some of our favorite musicians, who freestyle not only with their lyrics but with their personas and how they present themselves to the world. Whether or not you plan on attending any sort of festival—music, phallic, or anything in between—we hope you’ll find joy in our celebration of the whimsical, freestyling side of beauty that delights and defies the rules.
And in case you’re wondering, I am attending Coachella again this year, although I’m not camping. Some things are better left to be experienced once then tucked away and remembered fondly—tents, dust, and all.
— Faith Xue, editorial director