Blake Sennett sighs in amazement. It’s Sunday afternoon at Coachella, and he and his band Night Terrors of 1927 have been onsite since 9am. Formerly the guitarist with Rilo Kiley, he played the California music festival in its early days. Now, he says, it’s a very different beast.
“The people-watching is pretty incredible,” he says. “It used to have an indie rock vibe but now it’s like Las Vegas spring break. The girls – it’s cosplay and ‘let’s see how far I can get my shorts up my ass’, the boobs are everywhere and it’s surreal.” Not that he minds. “I’m kind of loving the bizarre atrocities. And if Rihanna’s here, I fucking hope I see her, and let’s party.”
Coachella sees festival fashion at its most extreme. While even Kate Moss has to wear wellies to handle the Glastonbury slime, at the Empire Polo club in Indio, where the festival takes place, the sun is beating down, so there’s no need to pack your old trainers and a cagoule – though bandanas are ubiquitous, partly as a defence against the dust if it get windy, and partly to create a spaghetti western, man-with-no-name vibe. A look we might call the “sexy cowboy” is popular. One young man in the beer garden had it down pat – all black apart from brown pointy boots, with tight jeans, a gaucho-style brimmed hat (Cody Simpson was also seen in one), a bandana over his face, a few chains – and no shirt.
Ah, the shirtlessness. Fans of the male torso would be in hog heaven at Coachella. While the fashion choices of female festivalgoers are well-known – wafty maxidresses and hotpants that may need to be removed with the aid of a proctologist, both of which can be bought onsite at the pop-up HM – less attention has been paid to what the blokes are wearing. It can be summarised in two words: not much. Tattooed, ripped and plucked, there’s a chest displayed for every taste – unless you’re a fan of the pasty British pigeon chest and fuzzy beer belly, both of which are conspicuous by their absence.
All this peacocking of the abs and pecs is largely thanks to the “bros” who have started coming to Coachella in droves, partly attracted by the lairy EDM laid on by the organisers in the cavernous Sahara tent, this year headlined by David Guetta. Baldly described by Urban Dictionary as “obnoxious partying males,” the bros can’t wait to get down to their short shorts, though when the temperature plunges after dark they might put on a singlet with an obnoxious slogan on it if pushed.
Their allergy to clothing has been transmitted to other social groups, too. After arty popsters Marina and the Diamonds played (one man in the audience’s entire outfit consisted of flip-flops, a blue bandana and some stripy swimming trunks), I talk to Steven van Zandt, a handsome, hippyish 23-year-old, about his outfit: a bandana, dots of makeup across his forehead, shorts and – oh yes – no shirt, the better to show off his floral tattoo around his shoulders and collarbone.
“This is my fifth year coming here and I always think ‘What is my best way to improve my look?’” he says. “All I bring is my shorts, my underwear, socks, shoes and a bandana. This is my first time I’ve done makeup on my face for five years – one of my friends has put it across my nose and down my eye. I love it, I’ve got a lot of compliments.”
There’s another dandy wandering in the opposite direction over the field – although he turns out to be musician Spencer Ludwig. Lean rather than built like the bros, he’s fully dressed in “a fringey sort of Native American western-inspired suede jacket in a traditional suede colour, and the hat is from a Swedish boutique in Brooklyn.” He’s also wearing metal trinkets on a long chain, one of the festival’s big trends, and one sure to be copied by the high street – if it hasn’t been already. Speaking of which, what does Ludwig think of HM having a shop onsite? “I don’t really know,” he says coolly. “I don’t really shop there.”
Though classic indie kids seem like an endangered species at the festival – despite the likes of Jack White and Belle and Sebastian on the bill – there are other notable subcultures taking their place. Rappers including A$AP Rocky, with his all-black Rick Owens and Hood By Air wardrobe, have started to inspire a very distinctive and definitely glamorous rap-goth hybrid involving black net ponchos, weird silhouettes, and an overall effect that’s both menacing and camp.
Then there are the guys who just want to wear fancy dress, like the man in a full caveman costume, and the Radical Faery-type who made the impressively counterintuitive decision to come in a huge fur coat and psychedelic leggings.
As Coachella’s identity as an indie festival diminishes, so the idea of appropriate festival attire will change. Backstage, I interview Flosstradamus, two DJs from Chicago who make a hybrid of house, trap music and EDM. They’re both wearing white tracksuits, hi-tops and grills and are very against Coachella’s ban on selfie-sticks (“selfie-sticks are the shit!” they protest). After we talk, one of them, Curt Cameruci, looks down at my feet. “Oh, you’re wearing Birkenstocks,” he says. “You’re going to be the most comfortable guy at the festival.” Something tells me it’s not a compliment. While practicality still rules the day at Glastonbury, at Coachella you’re expected to suffer to look good. Gentlemen, start those press-ups now.