meta-scriptAgoria On Making His First Album In Eight Years, Playing Coachella & The Architecture Of Dance Music | GRAMMY.com

Agoria at Coachella 2019

Photo: Valerie MaconAFP/Getty Images

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Agoria On Making His First Album In Eight Years, Playing Coachella & The Architecture Of Dance Music

The French DJ/producer discusses the long road to his return with a new album, his set at the desert fest's Yuma tent and how he builds songs like stories

GRAMMYs/Apr 15, 2019 - 01:04 am

French DJ/producer/composer Agoria is passionate about musical freedom and the pursuit of playing beautiful music free of genre limits. With his forthcoming fifth studio album, Drift, which is rich with collaborators and diverse sounds and his first LP in over eight years, he is ready to take listeners on a well-executed musical drift.

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Before you can listen to the LP on April 26, read on to hear more about his passion, influences and more from Agoria himself, who we caught up with at Coachella, after a rare U.S. performance from him, at the fest's underground-club-evoking Yuma tent.

What does playing Coachella and in the Yuma tent mean to you? How do you feel after your set today?

Actually, it is my first ever Coachella, so I feel blessed to come for the first time. And being invited to play, not just randomly just coming and going. So it's a privilege... Yesterday [during a suprise DoLab stage set] was fantastic, I'm just starting to play in the U.S., and so the crowd was huge. I don't know, five or seven thousand people, it was fantastic. This morning [at Yuma] it was a bit early, so not the same, but what I love when I come here is like the positive vibes, everywhere.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="und" dir="ltr"> <a href="https://twitter.com/agoriamusic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@agoriamusic</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Astralwerks?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Astralwerks</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/coachella?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#coachella</a> <a href="https://t.co/Njzu1oTpKd">pic.twitter.com/Njzu1oTpKd</a></p>&mdash; Capitol Records (@CapitolRecords) <a href="https://twitter.com/CapitolRecords/status/1117199152226562048?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 13, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Are there any other acts that you've been able to see or are excited to see this weekend?

I really wanted to see bit of Rosalía. So just before I played [yesterday][, I caught 10-15 minutes. I loved getting the energy!

As a musician growing up, what were your biggest influences? What do you feel is the base of your sound?

Well, it's good that I come to the United States because I'm the kid of Detroit and Chicago scene... I grew up on the [French] countryside, around Lyon, close to the Alps. So I organized many parties, I run my own festival in Valencin… When I started it was much more U.S. [influenced] than Lyon and French. Definitely much more. And my mum is an Opera singer, and so I started then to call this new album Drift. I worked a lot with musicians, singers because I felt the life of a DJ is kind of lonely. You travel alone all week, or with your tour manager, but you don't get to see your friends, and so when you're in the studio, or your home studio, it's just you and your sound engineer. So that’s why I really wanted to do collaborations with further acts and get the influence and feed me. And then we're moving forward. I love that.

Your album all flows together so well, it's different, but it all makes sense.

The best thing you could tell me. That's really what I tried to achieve. That's why it took me so much time to finish this album.

How long have you been working on it?

Four years. I wanted it to be very diverse but meantime homogenic, which is tough to achieve because sometimes it can sound like a compilation of tracks. And that wouldn't make sense for me. So I really did as fast as I could, and at the end I had to delay it, because I could not do a 20-track album. I had to delay, delay, delay it. Just one month before it released, I took off three tracks, because I thought, exactly as you said, the flow [is more important], and you can start [listening to the album] from the first track. I know its, nowadays, difficult to listen to an album from the first track to the last one, because it used to peak here and there. But I really wanted to make this like, just press play. Be lazy, and let you go.

Did you feel a lot of pressure because there's been so much anticipation going into this album? How does it feel to have it almost out in the world?

I'm super excited. I can't wait actually, for it to be out. Because when you work that much, the difficult thing is that you're already on the next one… But I'm so excited. Because I want to see, also my scene, what they're going to say, because its goes beyond just a niche techno underground electronic scene. There are pop tracks like "Remedy" or "Call Of The Wild" with STS. And that's why I call it Drift. Because I want it to be like you don't [have] control, you don't doubt [it]… It's like when you're between the innocence and the guilty pleasure, when you surf in between both. That's what I tried to achieve in this.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">« My new album “Drift” will be out on April 26th. Pre-order now and get my new track « Call of the Wild » featuring STS : <a href="https://t.co/GTBe72yRhg">https://t.co/GTBe72yRhg</a> <a href="https://t.co/u0blG2Cbdr">pic.twitter.com/u0blG2Cbdr</a></p>&mdash; AGORIA (@agoriamusic) <a href="https://twitter.com/agoriamusic/status/1106520718479630337?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 15, 2019</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

What do you think makes a dance track stand out?

It really depends, because there are so many moments you can play club tracks. A very good track for warmup is not a very good track for, of course, a daytime moment. And so, you don't build the track the same way and let's say for a club track, a festival track, I think you need to set up the mood, to bring the audience into the track, to let them go into your tunnel.

And then when you are in the tunnel, you need to put the lights. And the lights, most of the time arrive and they break (finger snap), and then you go out with the light in the tunnel. That's exactly how I feel when I do the track. Actually, it's funny you ask me this question because I love to write.

Actually, the architecture of a track, it's similar to what a story is. I mean, when you have your story, or your book, you have kind of the vertebral column. Even if you do like this then, you know what's the direction? The same way when I do a track I have the main loop, and the name, the base, the drum. The whole thing is existing and then from this I need to write the whole song… Sorry it's a visual, I don't know how you will translate this, but you know.

Lastly, what are you looking forward to the most in 2019?

I hope in 2019, we will all be Drifted [laughs].

Mon Laferte Talks First Coachella Performance, 'Norma' & More

Photo of Skepta performing at Wireless Festival on September 11, 2021, in London, England. Skepta is wearing dark black sunglasses, a black shirt, and a vest made of bullets.
Skepta performs a headline set at Wireless Festival on September 11, 2021, in London, England

Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

list

10 Must-See Artists At Coachella 2024: Skepta, The Last Dinner Party, Mdou Moctar, Cimafunk & More

Peso Pluma, Lana Del Rey, Doja Cat, Tyler, The Creator, J Balvin and a reunited No Doubt may be some of the biggest draws at Coachella 2024, but the beloved festival will host a multitude of must-see artists whose names appear in smaller text.

GRAMMYs/Apr 22, 2024 - 03:00 pm

Ah, springtime. For the average person, that means sunshine, flora in bloom, perhaps a figurative fresh start in the new year. But for music festival fans, it signals another season starter: Coachella.

An estimated 125,000 people will flock to the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, California for the first weekend (April 12-14) of the 23rd Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. While the first weekend is already sold out, tickets are still available for the second weekend (April 19-21).

Coachella's headliners have been busy: Both Lana Del Rey (headlining Friday) and Doja Cat (slated to close out Sunday) just wrapped extensive tours at the end of 2023 and, while Saturday closer Tyler, the Creator's only other 2024 festival date is at Lollapalooza, he did stage a large-scale appearance in 2023 at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in Los Angeles. Still, it stands to reason that there are scores of fans who missed out on those tour stops, and Coachella would be an ideal chance to catch them in a particularly special setting. 

There's also the potential to see a slew of surprise guests (a long-standing Chella tradition) and much-hyped reunions. Coachella 2024 attendees will likely flock to see a reunited No Doubt and Sublime, the latter with a Nowell back at the helm (Bradley’s son, Jakob).

Then there’s the economic logic behind opting to see those bigger acts at a festival: for a price not much more than what you’d pay for an arena ticket, you get the bonus of catching dozens of other incredible artists while you’re at it. The diversity and quality of music throughout even the lower tiers of the Coachella lineup is staggering, so overall the price for a pass is quite the steal. Read on for the inside scoop on 10 of this year’s most exciting undercard performances.

Read More: Music Festivals 2024 Guide: Lineups & Dates For Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo & Much More

Cimafunk

Cuban artist Cimafunk has been relatively quiet since releasing a third studio album, El Alimento, in 2021. But the success of that record — which garnered his first GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Rock or Alternative album at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards — appears to have propelled him to new career heights. He will be the first Cuban-born artist to perform at the festival, kicking off a string of worldwide shows that begin with his appearance at Coachella on April 12 and 19. 

Read more: At Getting Funky In Havana, Young Musicians Feel The Power Of Cross-Cultural Connection

Cimafunk’s sole release since his last album was the December 2023 single “Te tango en salsa,” which expands upon his self-designated brand of Afro Cuban Funk with accents of disco and grooves filled with New Orleans-style horns. Though the track hasn’t been publicly connected to any upcoming EP or album, one might presume that his impending run of concerts is a precursor to a complete body of new music. Perhaps Coachella will function as a testing ground, and considering the inclusion on El Ailmento of prominent artists George Clinton, CeeLo Green and Lupe Fiasco, who knows what other surprises might be in store at the desert festival known for delighting audiences with plenty of guest features.

L’Imperatrice

Through the years following their inception in 2012, French pop band L’Imperatrice have played primarily in Europe and surrounding regions, so it’s no small feat that they’re poised to make their second appearance at Coachella in two years. They first played the fest in 2022, a makeup show for Coachella's 2020 COVID-19 cancellation. 

Their slots on April 12 and 19, stops on their just-launched Double Trouble Tour, follow the 2018 release of debut full-length Matahari and performances at prominent festivals like Austin City Limits and Outside Lands. Self-produced sophomore album Pulsar arrives on June 7, and its infectiously groovy and sensual debut single “Me Da Iqual” promises a Coachella set sure to incite emotional release among the masses — ideally during one of the fest’s famed golden hours to match the music’s euphoric vibes. 

Skepta

Regarded as one of the most influential rappers in the UK grime scene, Skepta is set to commence his latest return to stateside stages with appearances at Coachella on both Fridays, which marks his second time at the festival after lauded dual appearances in 2017. 

Following a semi-secret DJ set at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in March, these shows will preview a run of summer dates in the UK and Europe and the release of upcoming sixth solo album Knife and Fork

With that record’s release date still in question but imminent, it’s a good bet that he’ll introduce new material to build upon the January drop of lead single "Gas Me Up (Diligent)," which adopts a flow and melodic structure more akin to popular American rap. To that end, Skepta’s previous collaborations with U.S. rappers like Drake, Ye and members of ASAP Mob could lead to a loaded lineup of guests during his Coachella set. It has the potential to be a huge moment, though his reputation for high-energy and rowdy gigs are reasons enough to prioritize his performance. 

Read More: UK Drill Is An International Sensation. Will It Be Censored To Death?

Mandy, Indiana

English-French noise rock upstarts Mandy, Indiana make music that isn’t necessarily easy to digest. Minimalist and chaotic compositions, primarily from their widely celebrated 2023 debut album I’ve Seen a Way, resonate as tunes tailor-made for technically minded music nerds. Still, danceable moments emerge among the sonic helter-skelter, which combines experimental elements of industrial, classic house music and samples aplenty (think Death Grips with more palatable melodies and exclusively French lyrics). 

So far, the dynamic four-piece hasn’t played much on this side of the pond — their debut shows at Coachella arrive on the heels of a handful of U.S. appearances in 2023 that included the SXSW Music Festival. Which means Mandy, Indiana’s sets on April 13 and 20 will mark relatively rare (and therefore must-see) chances to embrace their overtly wonderful weirdness in the desert among the more prominent pop-leaning artists on the roster.

The Last Dinner Party

If you’re not yet keen on British indie rock band the Last Dinner Party, it’s time to get with the program. With only one album under their belt, Prelude to Ecstasy (released Feb. 2) — which echoes various influences ranging from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Kate Bush and ABBA —the quintet has already earned multiple awards and accolades, including topping the UK Album Chart. To boot, they opened for the Rolling Stones in London’s Hyde Park two years prior to putting out their record.

The band’s performances are reportedly jaw-dropping, further evidenced by the complete sell-out of their current U.S. tour. That jaunt wraps with their April 20 appearance at Coachella (they also play during the first weekend on April 13), so, unless you want to pay ridiculous resale prices for one of their club shows, this is a prime chance to see them live with the added benefit of catching many more amazing acts while you’re there.

Young Fathers

Young Fathers are often categorized under the umbrella of hip-hop, but it would be wrong to pigeonhole them that way. True, one can pinpoint elements of a spitting, old-school style — especially on debut album Dead (winner of the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2014.. However, their sound spans the landscape of many genres, often weaving in threads of electronic, industrial, and trip-hop. It should be telling that they’ve collaborated multiple times with Massive Attack.

The music clearly resonates with a substantial audience. They’ve reached prime positions on the UK Album charts, their fourth and latest album Heavy Heavy (released Feb. 3, 2023) won them their third Scottish Album of the Year Award, and this year marks their second invitation to Coachella (catch them on Sundays: April 13 and 20). With a full year gone since putting out new songs, there’s no telling if they’ll serve up anything fresh. Regardless, fans of heavy-hitting experimental music, assuredly energizing at any time of day or night, should prioritize seeing their set.

Oneohtrix Point Never

It’s a wonder that Oneohtrix Point Never has never played Coachellal until now given his string of consistent releases since emerging in the early 2000s (with never more than three years between albums) and Coachella’s penchant for historically championing experimental electronic artists. Following the Feb. 29 release of his latest EP “Oneohtrix Point Never - Ambients,” he debuts in the desert on April 13, with his second weekend encore on April 20. 

The Massachusetts-bred beatmaker’s music swings from sparse to compositionally complex. It's not geared toward a typical EDM dance party, but always cinematic and hypnotizing, creating a space where listeners can truly lose themselves in the sonics. Given his style, it’s safe to assume he’ll occupy an evening time slot, so if you’re the type who prefers something a little more raw to the mainstream big-timers topping the bill, Oneohtrix Point Never might be just the ticket.

Mdou Moctar

If there’s one artist on this year’s Coachella lineup that will truly thrive in a desert setting, it’s Mdou Moctar. The Niger-based musician plays rock music steeped in the style of Tuareg, guitar-based blues-rock fusion that originates in the Sahara region. However, Moctar’s music decidedly transcends the traditional sound, often reverberating as sublimely psychedelic.

His performances in Indio on April 14 and 21 precede the release of his sixth album Funeral For Justice (arriving May 3). Based on the two singles made available from that record so far (title track “Funeral for Justice” and “Imouhar”), the people of Coachella are in for a true desert trip.

Atarashii Gakko!

When Japanese “girl group” Atarashii Gakko! make their Coachella debut on April 14 and 21, anticipate the unexpected. The four singers’ have a stated goal of “redefining what it means to be a girl group.” They’re technically categorized as J-Pop, but among the many catchy choruses, their music also incorporates shades of speed metal, trap beats and alt-rap à la Rage Against the Machine, all of which you can hear on their latest album ICHIJIKIKOKU.

What you can certainly expect is an outrageously high-energy show chock-full of nonstop, self-designed choreography performed in colorful sailor-fuku uniforms (essentially sailor suits worn by Japanese students in the ‘70s and ‘80s … think Sailor Moon but intentionally less provocative). If you need an adrenaline boost on the final day of the fest, look no further than Atarashii Gakko!.

Olivia Dean

Dear America, it’s time to give a proper welcome to an artist destined for stardom:  Olivia Dean. With only a handful of U.S. shows in the bank, the 25-year-old British neo-soul singer’s debut at Coachella on April 14 — arguably her biggest U.S. gig yet — will serve as the most well-deserved of receptions. 

Sure, her nominations for the 2023 Mercury Prize (for debut album Messy) and 2024 Brit Awards (Best Pop Act, British Artist of the Year and Best New Artist) should merit attention enough for those who don’t know her. But even a few moments of listening to key album tracks “Dive” and “The Hardest Part” (don’t sleep on the alternate version featuring Leon Bridges) are the real deal-sealers. The richness of Dean’s recorded vocals are absolutely arresting, evocative of and equal to top-tier divas who preceded her. It’s thrilling just thinking about the impact she’ll make at Coachella — do yourself a favor if you have the chance and go witness it firsthand. 

The Taylor Swift Effect: 8 Ways The Eras Tour Broke Records & Shattered Sales

Chappell Roan at Coachella 2024 Weekend 1
Chappell Roan performs during Weekend 1 of Coachella 2024.

Photo: Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

interview

Chappell Roan's Big Year: The 'Midwest Princess' Examines How She Became A Pop "Feminomenon"

Just after Chappell Roan made her festival debut at Coachella, hear from the pop starlet about some of the defining moments of her career thus far — and how it all helped earn her a spot at one of music's biggest fests.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2024 - 07:49 pm

Before this year, Chappell Roan had never even been to Coachella. Now, not only can she say she's attended — she's performed in the desert, too. 

Roan played an evening set on the Gobi Stage on April 12, and is set to return for Weekend 2. Fans clad in everything from cowboy boots, Sandy Liang-inspired bows and, perhaps most importantly, jorts, gathered to celebrate their shared love of Roan's radiance, karmic kink and gay cowgirl doctrine.  

Throughout her performance, bubbles breezed through the air as Roan belted out her infectious (and aptly titled) track "Femininomenon," which speaks to lover girls forced to live in an online-dating hellscape. "Ladies, you know what I mean?/ And you know what you need and so does he/ But does it happen? No!" Following collective screams of pure joy, the already enlivened crowd roused to match Roan beat-for-beat, shouting back in perfect unison, "Well, what we really need is a femininomenon!" 

In an era of bedroom pop and sad-girl music, Roan has been hailed by both critics and fans for bringing fun back to pop music. Along with her staunch sense of self, Roan's penchant for explicit lyrics that are equally parts introspective and horny makes her dance-pop anthems all the more infectious. 

Roan's ambitiously experimental debut album, 2023's The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, cemented her status as one of the most exciting pop stars on the rise. While she only recently landed her first single on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Good Luck, Babe!," her rapidly growing fan base — and an opening slot on Olivia Rodrigo's sold-out GUTS World Tour — indicate that she's on her way to superstardom.

Perhaps part of Roan's magic is that it was all on her own terms. After parting ways with her first label, Atlantic Records, she built a loyal following as an independent artist before signing with Island Records last year. Even as a major label artist, she's determined to only do things her way; her indefatigable commitment to her craft — as well as writing her own rules when it comes to fashion and makeup — is precisely why her fans are so enraptured by both her music and persona. 

Her fearlessness was on full display during her first Coachella set, where the words emblazoned on her bodysuit read "Eat Me." She talks the talk, and walks the walk (in fabulous, knee-high boots, of course), matching her unabashed aesthetic with equally bold career moves; for one, the openers for her headlining tour are local drag queens.

With eyeliner winged to the heavens, near-perfect vocal stability and fiery curls ablaze, Roan's shimmering Coachella Weekend 1 performance proved that her stage presence is equally dynamic. And if she had any doubters, she had one thing to say to them: "B—, I know you're watching!" 

In between rehearsals for her Coachella debut, Roan took a look back on her journey to one of music's most coveted stages. Below, hear from Roan about five of the most impactful milestones in her career — so far. 

Releasing Her Debut Album, The Rise And Fall Of A Midwest Princess

I ended up signing [with Island Records in 2023] because this project honestly got too big to be independent anymore. I just wasn't willing to give up anything, any creative control or for any amount of money. 

Being an independent artist was really special because I proved to myself that I could do all these hard things that I had never done. I built it with an entire friend group and many, many years of work. So it wasn't just me, but it proved a lot to me.

It proved I can make it through hard circumstances — with no money. You truly can. You do not need a label to do a lot of what an artist's career requires. You don't need a label to put on your own show, or make a music video, or even write a song, or find creative people. You don't need that s—t. I mean, a label is just money, you know? You don't need a lot of money to do this. To make it grow is, I think, where it takes a lot of money. That's what was difficult.

Music allows me to express anything, even things that I've never experienced before. It allows me to express queerness, even if it was only daydreams at that point. It allows me to express parts of me that I'm not even ready to accept yet.

I don't give a f— if you don't  f— with the music. You don't have to come to the concert. That's the whole point of it. You don't have to like it. I think throughout the year, I'm like, "What can I get away with?" Because right now it's pretty tame for what it is like to be a gay artist. But I just want to push it to see how far can I go — with the most controversial outfits or things to rile people up. I'm not really afraid to do that.

Having a song [like "Casual] with the lyric, "Knee deep in the passenger seat/ And you're eating me out," and it's being considered to go to radio. That's kind of a big thing to get away with. 

It's not even that big of a thing. What's that song? Is it Flo Rida? That's like, "Can you blow my whistle, baby/ whistle baby." Okay, that's obviously about like a f—ing blowjob. [Laughs.] No one cares about that. To me, I'm like, Let's talk about eating out on the radio. I actually think it has to be bleeped, but still, if I can get away with it, that's cool.

Feeling Financial Freedom & Stability

Not making money at all just sucked. But I learned how to do my own makeup and bedazzle and sew a little bit. I think that the scrappiness came from [the idea that] it's scrappy if it's fun. 

I think that's what kept me going — because if this wasn't fun, I would not even be here. But it was scrappy and fun, and it was with my friends. It didn't feel dire. I was also just working at a coffee shop, and I was a nanny, and I was working at a donut shop. I was doing part time jobs all on the side too. So it was all just rough [in the beginning].

I have freedom because now [singing] is my full-time job. It provides for me now. As the project grows, I can do bigger shows and be like, I want outfit changes now, and I want more lights, and I want confetti. I can afford confetti now! 

It's about expanding the universe in a thoughtful way. And not just like throwing a s— ton of money at things to make things look expensive or wear all this designer s— for no reason. 

I just try to look at how we are starting to gain momentum financially and see how can I intentionally use that to, one, pay the team in a way where they're not bare bones anymore, and two, [ask ourselves] how can we honor this project and this album and the queer community? Can we pay drag queens more? Can we bring drag on the road? Now, financially, doors have opened where we can walk through them with love and intention. Just recklessly, throwing money at s— to see if it works. 

Opening Olivia Rodrigo's Arena Tour

Olivia [Rodrigo] just asked. It was official, we went through our management. But I was like, Oh my God

Preparing a 40-minute set is a different vibe than headlining, obviously. You are going out to an audience that is not there for you and doesn't necessarily care if you're there or not.

This is, like, my fourth or fifth artist I've opened for. But for an arena tour, I just needed to gather my nerves. I think that's the difference between any other show. Like, F—, there's 20,000 people out there right now. I've never performed in front of that many people. I don't know what this emotion is, and I just have to tame it right now.

Standing Up For Herself Creatively, Even When There's Pushback

I stand up for myself, I would say, every day. Sometimes, you get this opportunity, a huge opportunity with a lot of money on the table. [Yet,] I'm just like, That just doesn't make sense creatively. That doesn't align with my values. I'm not doing that. 

One huge creative decision was I stood up and pushed the entire headlining Midwest Princess tour back to the fall. The album was supposed to come out while we were on tour. I was like, "This is a horrible idea!" 

That caused a big ruckus, but it ended up being fine, and I was right. I'm usually right. [Laughs.] It's like a mother with her kid — a mother knows best. I feel like [that] when it comes to the integrity of my project.

I know how it is to not be able to afford a ticket or even f—ing food. A concert ticket, a lot of times, means multiple meals for someone. I get it, I couldn't afford some artists' tickets. That's why it's really important to me to try to keep them as low as I can and my merch as low as I can. 

There's pushback of ticket prices being low and we're playing rooms that are so expensive. The fee to even play them is so expensive. So, you have to raise the ticket prices to just even be able to afford to play the room. There's always an argument [with my team] there, every tour. I'm in control of stuff and if I'm saying this is how it's going to be —- it's just going to be that way.

Performing At Coachella For The First Time 

[After the first weekend of Coachella] I am feeling very relieved. I was so stressed about many things. How is the outfit going to work? Will the crowd really be engaged? It went so well, I have no qualms with anything. I loved every second of it.

It feels like I am partying with [my fans]. I am not performing to them; I’m performing with them. [I want people to remember] a really fun, freeing show. Very campy but very meaningful too. 

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Curtis Jones, aka Cajmere & Green Velvet, performing live. Jones is wearing dark sunglasses amid a dark background and green strobe lights.
Curtis Jones performs as Green Velvet

Photo: Matt Jelonek/WireImage

interview

Dance Legend Curtis Jones On Cajmere, Green Velvet & 30 Years Of Cajual Records

As Green Velvet and Cajmere, DJ/producer Curtis Jones celebrates everything from Chicago to acid house. With a new party and revived record label, Jones says he wants to "shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive."

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 02:19 pm

Curtis Jones is a dance music legend, whose multiple monikers only begin to demonstrate his deep and varied influence in the genre.

Jones has been active as a producer and DJ for decades, and is among a cadre of dance music acts forging a connection between the genre's origins and its modern iterations. Crucially, he  joined Chicago house legends Honey Dijon and Terry Hunter on Beyoncé's house-infused RENAISSANCE, providing a sample for "Cozy." He’s also produced tracks with house favorites Chris Lake and Oliver Heldens, and DJed with Dom Dolla and John Summit.

Jones contributed to the aforementioned collaborations, young and old, as Green Velvet. He’s been releasing dance hits like "Flash" and "Answering Machine" under that name since the mid- '90s. He is also currently a staple of the live circuit, his signature green mohawk vibing in clubs and festivals around the globe — including at his own La La Land parties in Los Angeles, Denver, Orlando, and elsewhere.

Green Velvet is appropriately braggadocious, even releasing the popular "Bigger Than Prince" in 2013. But by the time Jones had released the heavy-grooving tech house track, his artistry had been percolating for decades as Cajmere.

Where Green Velvet releases lean into acid house and Detroit techno, Cajmere is all about the traditional house sound of Jones’ hometown of Chicago. When Jones first debuted Cajmere in 1991, Chicago’s now-historic reputation for house music was still developing. Decades after the original release, Cajmere tracks like "Percolator,” have sustained the Windy City sound via remixes by prominent house artists like Will Clarke, Jamie Jones, and Claude VonStroke.

"I love doing music under both of my aliases, so it’s great when fans discover the truth,” Jones tells GRAMMY.com over email. Often, Jones performs as Cajmere to open his La La Land parties, and closes as Green Velvet. 

But beyond a few scattered performances and new tracks, Cajmere has remained dormant while Green Velvet became a worldwide headliner, topping bills in Mexico City, Toronto, Bogotá and other international dance destinations. He’s only shared two original releases as Cajmere since 2016: "Baby Talk,” and "Love Foundation,” a co-production with fellow veteran Chicago producer/DJ Gene Farris.

This year, Jones is reviving Cajmere to headliner status with his new live event series, Legends. First held in March in Miami, Jones' Legends aims to highlight other dance music legends, from Detroit techno pioneers Stacey Pullen and Carl Craig, to Chicago house maven Marshall Jefferson. 

"My intention is to shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive," Jones writes. "The sad reality is that most of the legendary artists aren’t celebrated or compensated as well as they should be."

Given that dance music came into the popular music zeitgeist relatively recently, the originators of the genre — like the artists Jones booked for his Legends party — are still in their prime. Giving them space to perform allows them to apply the same innovation they had in the early '90s in 2024.

Jones says the Miami Legends launch was an amazing success."Seeing the passion everyone, young and old, displayed was so inspiring."

Curtis Jones Talks House, Cajmere & Green Velvet performs at Legends Miami

Curtis Jones, center, DJs at the Miami Legends party ┃Courtesy of the artist

The first Legends party also served as a celebration of Cajual Records, the label Jones launched in 1992 as a home for his Cajmere music. Over the past three decades, Cajual has also released tracks from dance music veterans such as Riva Starr, as well as contemporary tastemakers like Sonny Fodera and DJ E-Clyps. 

Furthermore, Jones’ partnership with revered singers such as Russoul and Dajae (the latter of whom still performs with him to this day) on Cajual releases like "Say U Will” and "Waterfall” helped to define the vocal-house style.

Like the Cajmere project, Cajual Records has been moving slower in recent years. The label has only shared four releases since 2018. True to form, though, Jones started another label; Relief Records, the home of Green Velvet's music, shared 10 releases in 2023 alone.

Jones says he's been particularly prolific as Green Velvet because "the genres of tech house and techno have allowed me the creative freedom I require as an artist."

Now Jones is making "loads of music” as Cajmere again and recently signed a new distribution deal for Cajual Records. The true sound of Chicago is resonating with audiences in 2024, Jones says, adding "it's nice that house is making a comeback."

Jones remembers when house music was especially unpopular. He used to call radio stations in the '80s to play tracks like Jamie Principle's underground classic "Waiting On My Angel,” only to be told they didn’t play house music whatsoever. In 2024, house music records like FISHER’s "Losing It” were certified gold, and received nominations for Best Dance Recording at the 66th GRAMMY Awards. Jones is embracing this popularity with open arms.

Read more: The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

"The new audience it’s attracting is excited to hear unique underground-style house records now. This is perfect for my Cajmere sets,” Jones says. "I never saw Green Velvet being more popular than Cajmere, and both sounds being as popular as they are even today.” 

While Jones is finding success in his own artistic endeavors, he points to a general lack of appreciation for Black dance artists in festival bookings. Looking at the run-of-show for ARC Festival, a festival in Chicago dedicated to house and techno music, legendary artists play some of the earliest slots. 

For the 2023 edition, Carl Craig played at 3 p.m on Saturday while the young, white John Summit, closed the festival the same night. In 2021, the acid house inventor, Chicago’s DJ Pierre, played the opening set at 2 p.m. on Saturday, while FISHER, another younger white artist, was the headliner.

In 2020, Marshall Jefferson penned an op-ed in Mixmag about the losing battle he is fighting as a Black DJ from the '90s. He mentions that younger white artists often receive upwards of $250,000 for one gig, whereas he receives around $2,000, despite the fact that he still DJs to packed crowds 30 years after he started.

Jones is doing his part to even the playing field with Legends, and according to him, things are going well after the first edition. "Seeing how much respect the fans have for the Legends was so special,” Jones says. "Hopefully they become trendy again.” 

The story of Curtis Jones is already one of legend, but it is far from over. "I feel it’s my duty to continue to make creative and innovative tracks as well as musical events. I love shining the light on new upcoming and emerging artists as well as giving the originators their proper dues,” Jones says. 

How LP Giobbi & Femme House Are Making Space For Women In Dance Music: "If You Really Want To Make A Change, It Can Be Done"

Excited fans in a crowd shot at Coachella 2024
Fans at weekend one of Coachella 2024

Photo: Christina House / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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Meet The Coachella Die-Hards: 5 Super Fans You'll Find In The Desert

It's not only influencers and celebrities heading to Indio, California. The "real Coachella" brings together people from across the country, including super fans who come year after year for the killer live show, community, and the occasional beer chug.

GRAMMYs/Apr 16, 2024 - 01:32 pm

After 25 years, Coachella is like a live music holiday. Every year, thousands of people from all walks of life descend upon the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California to enjoy artists whose music is as diverse as the crowd assembled. No matter what style anyone prefers, an artist they love is playing at Coachella.

This year alone, attendees can enjoy the classic Britpop sounds of Blur, trendy house music beats from John Summit, a reunion of the ska-punk icons, Sublime (featuring the late frontman's son, Jakob Nowell), and a headlining set from enigmatic rapper Tyler, The Creator.

Coachella also offers the opportunity for audiences to see artists they may never see elsewhere, like a rare American performance by the jazz-house master St.Germain, a shared set from the now-defunct dance music supergroup J.E.S.u.S. (Jackmaster, Eats Everything, Seth Troxler, and Skream), or pop legend Jai Paul’s first live show ever. 

Then, of course, there are the Coachella sets that will live in infamy: From Daft Punk’s debut of The Pyramid, which is largely credited with launching the popularity of electronic music in the United States, to Tupac’s resurrection in hologram, to Beyoncé's marching band of HBCU students soundtracking a reunion of Destiny’s Child.

The people of Coachella revel in these eclectic and epic offerings. Approximately 125,000 people per day touch down on the grass at the Empire Polo Club, and upwards of 100,000 have been reported to gather for a single set. And while hundreds of thousands of people are on the ground worshiping the music, 40 million people are watching the magic through YouTube, wishing they were there.

Coachella is a spectacle. So often the people who went one year bring their friends or family the next, and those people become obsessed. Others meet people at the festival and become best friends, family, and lovers — relationships born from a shared reverence for live music. 

With its massive popularity, it's easy to assume influencers and celebrities have taken over the polo grounds. A key moment in Billie Eilish’s documentary, Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry, the young pop sensation meets her lifelong hero, Justin Bieber, for the first time at Coachella. But any long-time attendee will tell you, that the celebrities and influencers don’t engage with the true Coachella.

"The Kardashians are having one experience, and I’m having a different experience out in the field," says Ashton Aellarose who’s attended Coachella 12 times in eight years. "If you don’t want to be that, then you don’t see that…there’s the real Coachella for real people."

Real fans of Coachella stay all day and night, braving the heat and the dust, to engage with the epic performances and their fellow music lovers. Alaskan Alex Rodriguez creates an Artist of the Day post on the Coachella Reddit, posting every day from when the lineup drops until the festival. He flies in from the Last Frontier because Coachella provides something that other festivals simply can’t.

"Whether it be over-the-top productions, unexpected guest appearances or simply the chance to let others hear your unfamiliar sound to others, Coachella invites performances that you simply won’t see anywhere else," Rodriguez tells GRAMMY.com via email. 

Coachella’s community is built on the idea that music is the universal language. Whether you’re coming for the first time or the 25th time, whether you’re a senior citizen, a new parent, or a college kid on spring break, Coachella is a space for live music fans to celebrate what they love more than anything, and celebrate each other. GRAMMY.com spoke to five Coachella die-hards — attendees who count Coachella as an annual, important part of their year — to learn what Coachella means to them.

From Fan To Music Industry Professional: The 25-Year Attendee 

Coachella Die-Hards: 5 Fans To Meet In The Desert Josh Brooks

Josh Brooks DJing in 2011┃Josh Brooks

Name: Josh Brooks

Number of Coachellas attended: 26

Favorite set: The Chemical Brothers, 1999

Josh Brooks has attended every year of Coachella since the first edition in 1999, and credits the festival for his career in music. To date, he's worked as a booking agent, tour manager, and DJ who has played Coachella on several occasions. In 2023, he played a slot during the after-hours silent disco in the campgrounds. 

Back in 1999, Brooks had just started college at UCLA and was studying physical science, geology, and geography. He went to Coachella on a whim because tickets were $50 per day to see Rage Against The Machine, Tool, Beck, Morrissey, and the Chemical Brothers. Everything in his musical life snowballed from there. 

"[Coachella] really opened my eyes to this whole world of music that I didn’t know existed," Brooks tells GRAMMY.com. "I’ve played music my whole life. I played clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone. I was in the California Young Musicians Orchestra for a year in high school. Music has always been really important to me. But that’s where I really started to find myself musically." 

In 2011, Brooks found himself as a part of Coachella. That year, Global Inheritance — the nonprofit that organizes all of Coachella’s sustainability efforts —hosted a human-powered stage called the Energy Factory. Brooks submitted a DJ mix as part of a contest to play a slot on that stage, and he won. 

"I just played at the festival that I have been enamored with for the last 12 years. I just made a dream come true," Brooks said.

A year after that, he got laid off as a high school science teacher, and he’s been working in music ever since. Currently, he’s the booking agent and tour manager for respected house music artist Sacha Robotti, and revitalizing their SLOTHACID brand. But in between his workload, he’s still taking time for a trip to the desert for some live music. 

The Fan That Made Coachella A Family Affair

Meet The Coachella Die-Hards: A family affair

The Glazer family┃MIkey Glazer

Name: Mikey Glazer

Number of Coachellas attended:  16

Favorite set: M.I.A., 2008

Every year at Coachella, you see a handful of parents celebrating live music with their children. In fact, there are meetups for families at the festival. Among this somewhat unusual sight, you'll find Mikey Glazer and his 5-year-old son, Axwell. 

Glazer has been attending Coachella since 2003, and used to be one of the festival's more typical attendees (a 20-something attending for the party and the tunes). Now, at age 47, Coachella has become his yearly family vacation. Glazer and his wife, Melissa, brought Axwell to the festival four times: three in the flesh, and once in utero.

During the pandemic, Mikey, Melissa, and Axwell listened to music as a family. Especially electronic artists like Skrillex and Tiësto. (Axwell is also the artist moniker of one of the members of the GRAMMY-nominated electronic trio Swedish House Mafia.) When the family went to Coachella together, they saw Axwell express that love of music in full force.

"Seeing a DJ and the visuals, he just loved it. To see it through his eyes is absolutely amazing," Glazer says. "Nobody who doesn’t have kids would ever want to have a kid with them at Coachella. But when you spend every day with your kid, you’re going through new music Friday; he’s picking out songs he likes, and you listen to music together every day; when you get to Coachella, to see him enjoy it is great."

Ranking Coachella: The Fan Who Listens To Every Single Artist 

Fans inside the ferris wheel at Coachella

Brian Downing (second from right) with friends from Cincinnati┃Brian Downing

Name: Brian Downing

Number of Coachellas attended: 4

Favorite set: Madeon, 2022

For decades, Brian Downing has been ranking all the live artists he sees. He saw hundreds of artists the year he turned 50, and condensed all of them into a top 20 list.

When he comes to Coachella, he does the same thing, except instead of creating a list over the course of a year, he does it for three days. In the weeks leading up to the festival, he listens to every one of the 150 artists performing at the festival and gives them all a ranking.

"There are so many acts I don’t know going into it," Downing says. "Someone else might look at [the lineup] and go, ‘Oh my god, this is so overwhelming.’ I look at it and go, ‘Oh my god, I get to rank so many things’."

He ranks every artist on the lineup 1–10 and organizes the rankings on a spreadsheet that he shares with his friends who come to Coachella with him. A 10 is reserved for someone he is going to see, no matter what; one signifies someone he’s going to skip. That way, his group will know who they may or may not enjoy as well. 

Brian also frequently adds commentary to each artist. Here’s what he has to say about the drag-ready pop star Chappell Roan, who is performing on Friday at Coachella this year:

"I do loves me some Chapell Roan! She is an indie pop darling, and for good reason. Red Wine Supernova is an absolute bop! But she has so many other great songs too that haven't been hits yet. Don't want to miss this fun show! Side note: Remember to learn the entire H-O-T-T-O-G-O dance. You’re gonna thank me later. 10’s all day, baby! - 10."

The Fan Who Would Spend Eternity At Coachella 

Coachella Die-Hards: 5 Fans To Meet In The Desert Ashton Aellarose

At Coachella 2011┃Ashton Aellarose

Name: Ashton Aellarose

Number of Coachellas attended:  9

Favorite set: Postal Service, 2013

Throughout her life, Ashton Aellarose has lived in many places: Northern California, North Carolina, Colorado, even a few extended stints abroad. But no matter where she was residing, Aellarose would see the Coachella lineup in copies of SPIN magazine and dream of going somewhere with such vast musical offerings.

Now she’s attended nine Coachellas, and Coachella is the one place she calls home. Simply put, her life wouldn’t be the same without Coachella.

When she attended in 2014, Aellarose worked at an on-site lemonade stand. Not only did the experience lead to her working in festival vendor management for a time, but Aellarose met her best friend during her very first shift at the stand. That same friend introduced Aellarose to her boyfriend, whom she brought to Coachella for the first time last year. 

When she brought him, she showed him all the traditions she’d developed over numerous editions: Picking up last-minute camping supplies at the Wal-Mart in Indio; watching the first sunset performance of the weekend (one of her favorites was Violent Femmes in 2013); enjoying her favorite foods like the spicy pie and the arepas.

"It’s nice to have this place that’s so spiritual and consistent in such an inconsistent world," Aellarose says. "I thought it was cool when Skrillex said during the TBA set [in 2023], ‘This is the biggest party in the world right now where you’re at.’ I say that every year."

Coachella is such an important place for Aellarose, that she would like it to be her final resting place: "When I die, I want my ashes thrown around Coachella. No joke."

Creating Community With Beer & Cheer: The Fan Who Learned To Love At Coachella 

Coachella Die-Hards: 5 Fans To Meet In The Desert Joe Stamey

Joe Stamey and friend┃Joe Stamey

Name: Joe Stamey

Number of Coachellas attended: 16

Favorite set:  Beyoncé, 2018

At 1:32:14 in the Coachella documentary, Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert, Joe Stamey says:

"I come because I genuinely love music. I’ve seen more music here than I’ve seen in my entire life in other places. I see acts here that I will never see at the other festivals all over."

The filmmakers followed multiple attendees around the festival in 2019. Stamey is the only one who made it into the documentary. His love of music is a significant factor in why.

But more than his love of music, he genuinely wants everyone at Coachella to have an amazing time enjoying the live music like he does. Before our call is over, he even offers me to stay at his campsite. 

"​​I meet people that are my friends now forever because of things that I've done like that. Caring for people," Stamey says. "The festival did that to me."

Every year, Stamey organizes a beer chug at 10:40 a.m. on Friday in the campgrounds through the Coachella subreddit. Mikey Glazer (who you met above) attends every year as well. 

"It's literally just hundreds of people sitting around chugging beers at 10:40 a.m. And I just give everyone I can as big a hug as I can," Stamey says. "It’s a huge friend reunion. I run into so many people from 15 years of my life, and I love them all."

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