Sunset at Coachella. Outside the white walls of the Yuma tent, the skies around the Empire Polo Grounds are exploding in hues so rich, your eyes water just trying to take them all in. In nearly impossible washes of color, purples bleed into oranges only seen on the covers of sci-fi novels about the moons of Jupiter. Beyond the giant Ferris wheel blinking in the dusk are a row of palm trees so majestic you’d think they were placed there as part of a production set. And underneath it all, a sea of humanity meanders from one end of the field to the other in crossing currents. The excitement is palpable, the energy seeming almost to distort the scene like heat waves.
But on the other side of those flapping white walls, inside the simmering Yuma tent, a sensory experience transpires that threatens to melt the flimsy plastic. On a turntable booth fashioned of corrugated aluminium, set under a giant shark-shaped disco ball, DJ Koze has begun a journey that holds the hundreds inside rapt.
Deep, pulsing waves of bass throb from the bins at a tempo more aligned for an opening set than the Saturday night slot at one of the world’s biggest music festivals. It is an atmospheric, slow build: the drop of a cowbell line, the swelling rises of synths, the introduction of maracas. It’s music of nuance, which you might think lost on the oft-maligned Coachella crowd. But with every shaker introduced, and every punter dancing with eyes closed and head bobbing euphorically, that fear fades.
Despite what the high street might try to sell you as ‘the Coachella look’ the festival is huge and diverse, and you see just about every tribe. In the Yuma tent, however, things get a little more focused: the outlook lies somewhere between dirty downtown techno afterhours and Coldwater Canyon pool party.
“Yuma is meant to be a nightclub-style environment – reminiscent of an underground club,” the production designer of the tent, Steve Lieberman, will tell us later that week. “We are the antithesis of the stage set-up: we have no video and no production riders. DJs and artists come into the room and they play: down and dirty.”
With that mandate you can see why Koze was hand-picked to play here, on this night, at the coveted sunset slot. The path the cerebral German producer blazes is not so much climbing up a mountain of drum fills and canyon-bombing down bass drops. It’s more like crossing a flowering pasture, slowly and steadily, each step as vivid and aromatic as the next.
All of which is to be expected given his production output. First releasing three albums on Kompakt, Koze founded his own Pampa Records in 2010 and has since further defined his sound on tracks like last year’s ‘XTC’ (#8 in Mixmag’s tunes of 2015), and his remix of Moderat’s ‘Bad Kingdom’ (#4 in 2014). His quirky, sonically diverse DJ Kicks #50 mix was splendid, but it’s his ‘Pampa Vol 1’ comp, featuring artists from Axel Boman and Stimming to Roman Flügel, Michel Cleis and Jamie xx — that reads like a resume for his particular sound.
“Through my heart, my heart, my heart…” filters out of the speakers, new material from Koze sparking a huge rise in energy. One smiling young woman shimmies in front of the stage in white vest and pink acid-wash Daisy Dukes while her boyfriend pogoes up and down in trunks, red Vans and a striped blue-and-white headband. His T-shirt reads “Go Get Staff”, and he couldn't grow a beard if he were stranded on a desert island. These kids are clearly having a blast. Matter of fact, everyone is.