Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Coachella's influence on the modern music festival
How the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has formed the template for the modern music festival and grown to become a destination for everyone
Coachella is this weekend. Are you going?
Whether you'll be attending or not, chances are favorable that you'll interact with the festival by way of news coverage over the next two weeks. If you wish you could attend, but can't, you'll be able to live stream more than 50 artist sets from this year's festival to the comfort of your living room or mobile device.
Launched in 1999, Coachella holds a singular relevance in the development of the modern music festival, and its influence in shaping the aesthetic and popularity of other contemporary American festivals is undeniable. Where once it may have been true to claim only a certain faction of artists would be booked to play, or only fans of certain genres would choose to attend Coachella (versus, say, Bonnaroo), that distinction no longer holds water. Case in point, this year's diverse lineup features headliners Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga on down to the likes of the Allah-Las, Eli & Fur, Red Axes, and Zipper Club.
"There is no underground anymore. It's all kind of pop, in a way," said Coachella founder Paul Tollett regarding the dissolving borders between targeted genres to book for the festival each year. His recent interview with The New Yorker gives a fascinating recount of the journey that took him from passing out flyers for Goldenvoice founder Gary Tovar in the late '80s to strategizing plans to expand the scope and reach of his iconic two-weekend festival, which is now approaching its 20th anniversary.
Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella
Touring In A Post-Pandemic World: How Costs, Personnel & Festival Culture Have Affected 2023 Performances
The live music business is still dealing with the repercussions of the pandemic. GRAMMY.com spoke with a cross section of professionals about the industry's most profound changes, how they’re being addressed, and what it all might mean for the future.
The pandemic wreaked global havoc on many levels. Beyond the human toll, the disruptions brought on by the spread of COVID-19 caused deep and lasting damage to nearly every business sector, including live entertainment. Virtually overnight, workers lost their livelihoods, businesses closed their doors or drastically curtailed operations, and supply chains were hobbled.
Within days of lockdown, multiple outlets published sobering articles detailing the tours, concerts and festivals that had been affected by the outbreak; Insider.com article identified at least 170 postponements or cancellations. In a flash, every artist across the globe witnessed the live performance side of their careers vaporize. Crews were sent home, and all of the businesses that served the sector — logistics, audio gear, food service and more — found a barren landscape.
During the pandemic, major promoter Live Nation saw a drastic drop in the number of concerts and festivals under its banner: from over 40,000 events in 2019 to just over 8,000 in 2020. But by the end of 2022, Pollstar.com reported that the year’s top 100 tours sold approximately 59 million tickets — more than 2019's sales.
Three years after the beginning of the pandemic, life is in many ways returning to normal. Yet the costs associated with putting on a concert have risen dramatically, due to both the pandemic's inflationary pressures and a surge in demand for the goods and services necessary to sustain tours. For those working in and around the live music business, the "new normal" means some things work as they did before COVID-19 while others have altered radically — either temporarily or for good.
GRAMMY.com spoke with a cross section of industry professionals about some of the most profound changes, how they’re being addressed, and what it all might mean for the future.
New Touring Paradigms
With the return of live music has come a corresponding, pent-up surge in demand, notes Christy Castillo Butcher, Senior VP, Programming & Booking at the 70,000 seat SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. "To satiate that demand, you have to have a bigger venue."
In 2023 alone, SoFi Stadium is hosting several megashows: Billy Joel & Stevie Nicks, Grupo Firme, Romeo Santos, a five-night Taylor Swift residency, Metallica, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and P!nk are all on the venue’s calendar, with additional shows awaiting announcement. Madison Square Garden saw multiple sold-out performances by Janet Jackson, and will host a seven-night Phish residency.
Since the pandemic, some artists have taken different approaches to touring. Tandem tours and residencies are just two of the phenomena that seem to be increasing in popularity with touring artists and their management teams.
Teaming up for a tandem tour isn’t a new idea; package tours have been part of the concert landscape from the days of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars in the mid 1960s. And in an era when post-pandemic-related shortages and logistical snags make touring even more challenging, the practice is finding renewed interest.
One of the highest-profile tandem tours of 2023 is the ZZ Top/Lynyrd Skynyrd Sharp Dressed Simple Man tour. Visiting more than 22 cities across the U.S, the tour brings together three-time GRAMMY nominees ZZ Top with the popular Southern rock band.
"You want to give the fans the value of seeing two bands together," says Ross Schilling, Lynyrd Skynyrd's Tour Manager. (Pollstar reported an average ticket price for the top 100 North American tours in the first half of 2022 at more than $108. Meanwhile, ticket prices for megastars such as Beyoncé and Swift have reached astronomical levels.)
Schilling acknowledges that there are pros and cons for the artists as well. "You're sharing the expenses and the revenues," he notes, adding that the production is often halved. "Video, pyro, smoke, whatever kind of elements you want to add" can be shared on a tandem tour.
Another option experiencing a renaissance is the concert residency. "Residencies are not new, of course," says Phil Carson, a touring and management veteran who spent many years on the road with high-profile rock bands including Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, AC/DC and Yes. "They started with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. when there was really only one place to go: Las Vegas."
Today there are many more options, but the motivations are often the same as before. "Sammy, Dean Martin… all those guys wanted to hang out together, and didn't want to go on the bloody road," Carson explains. As their audiences grew older, they too were interested in the idea of going to one place to see their favorite performers.
And Carson thinks that the multi-night approach may well be part of a trend for the future. "We’re starting to get two-and three-night runs in casinos across America," he says. Adele, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood and Carlos Santana are just a few of the artists eschewing the road in favor of a series of dates in one venue.
The trend is extending to smaller venues as well. Singer/songwriter James McMutry and his band launched a residency at Austin' Continental Club in November 2021; that booking continues to the present day. And just last August, Robert Glasper announced a 48-show residency at the Blue Note Club in New York City; it’s his fourth extended run of dates at the famed jazz venue.
Festivals Return En Force
Following increased demand for live entertainment post-lockdown, major music festivals returned with a force in 2022 and continue to do so in 2023. Coachella and Lollapalooza were among the multi-day, multi-weekend events returning after COVID-forced cancellations, while mid-level events such as San Francisco's Outside Lands also saw over 220,000 attendees in 2022 — a major boon for a live music industry that had been in crisis only a year before.
Celebrating and featuring a multigenerational lineup of Latinx artists and performers, the Bésame Mucho Festival premiered in December 2022 at the 56,000 capacity Dodger Stadium. Tickets sold out within 70 minutes. The lineup for the 2023 event was announced in February; once again, the event sold out almost immediately.
Ashley Capps has been wholly immersed in the festival scene; former head of AC Entertainment, for many years he oversaw the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. These days he has scaled back his activities but still curates the adventurous Big Ears Festival which he founded in 2009 in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"The post-pandemic Big Ears has seen extraordinary growth," he says, noting a pre-COVID trajectory of growth, with an annual 20 percent increase in ticket sales. The 2022 Big Ears — the first after a two-year pause — experienced a 35 percent growth. "That led us to declare our first full-on sellout," he says, "five weeks before the festival happened."
In 2023, Big Ears noted another surge in ticket sales, surpassing 50 percent over the previous year. The multiple-venue festival added additional larger venues to accommodate the increased demand. Concertgoers "are certainly hungry to get back into the live music experience," Capps says. "And the artists we’re working with at Big Ears are eager to be back out and in front of appreciative audiences."
That pent-up demand on both sides of the equation can result in a crowded field, with many events — even beyond music — competing both for attention, staffing and gear.
The Cost Of Making Music
Global logistical bottlenecks that plagued every industry continue to take a toll on the live music industry. Worldwide economic inflation — which hit 8.8 percent in 2022, nearly doubling year-over-year, a partial result of the pandemic — has increased costs and cut profits, laying the groundwork for a "rocky road to recovery." Finding themselves without opportunities for work during the pandemic, untold numbers of skilled tour technicians left the business.
"People got out of the industry across the board, from musicians to agents to managers to bartenders to production staff," says Morgan Margolis, CEO/President of Knitting Factory Entertainment. "'I’ve got to do something else.' I saw a lot of that." Some never returned, causing a personnel shortage once live touring resumed.
All that affected live music venues, too. "We were shuffling around tour managers, production managers, box office personnel," says Margolis. He characterizes his company — active nationwide in venue operations, festivals, artist management, touring and more — as an "all hands on deck" operation. "I actually slung some drinks in Walla Walla at an Aaron Lewis concert," he says.
Increased costs mean it’s essential to run the leanest operation possible while maintaining quality. Margolis recalls the landscape when live music started coming back in 2022. "Vans and buses: everything was running out, even rental cars," he remembers. "And everything — generators, lighting rigs, staging rigs – was now 20-30 percent more expensive, because everybody was spread so thin."
But like many in the business, Margolis simply made the best of things. "Personally, I was excited to be on the ground again," he says. "I wanted to be around people."
After a nearly overwhelming surge of music artists getting back into live performance, he says that he is seeing a "more methodical" mindset taking hold. That compares to how he characterizes 2022: "Throw it all against the wall: we’re going everywhere!"
Another new wrinkle: proposed rule changes by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would increase the costs to international musicians of obtaining a U.S. visa by as much as 260 percent. "The more these policies are made, the harder it is for us to share our music,” says Sampa the Great. The Zambian singer/songwriter and rapper notes that the proposed changes will hit independent artists especially hard: "Touring is the only way our music gets heard globally."
Such across-the-board cost increases can mean that some international artists have to have tough conversations. If not through touring, Sampa the Great wonders, "How else do we connect with the people who support our music? And how else do we independent artists sustain our careers making music?"
Schilling admits that during the worst of the shutdown, he thought about retiring — and so did one of his biggest clients. Skynyrd began a farewell tour in 2018, which was ultimately cut short by the pandemic, prompting serious soul searching. "When everyone’s livelihood was ripped out from under them, they decided 'We want to go out on our own terms.'" This year’s tandem tour with ZZ Top puts things right, Schilling adds.
That kind of thinking is widespread among the professionals who remain in the game post-COVID. From many working as venue owners to tour managers to crew to artists, the chance to get back on the road outweighs the challenges that they will inevitably encounter. There are many career paths easier than working in the live music industry, but few can compare with its rewards.
Changes Backstage And Post-Show
Before the pandemic, many touring artists arranged meet-and-greet sessions before or after their shows. They provided an opportunity for interaction between fans and artists, and represented an additional revenue stream for the artists. During the pandemic era, those sessions disappeared, even for the new shows that could still take place. Today, even while enforced social distancing has largely disappeared, the state of meet-and-greets is not what it was.
"My last three artists aren’t doing meet-and-greets, because there's still that concern of COVID," says David Norman, a longtime promoter, tour director, manager and accountant currently on tour with Evanescence; his past clients have included Prince, John Fogerty, Earth Wind & Fire, Green Day, Alicia Keys, Tyler, the Creator and many others.
Norman points out that his artists take a financial hit by eliminating the meet-and-greets. "But it’s better to be safe than sorry," he says, noting that a musician who tests positive for COVID can "shut down [performances] for weeks. Then you have to reroute [the tour], and refund money to people who aren’t able to come to rescheduled shows."
Others take a different approach. "Lynyrd Skynyrd will do meet-and-greets," says Schilling, adding that his team "wants to get back to as normal as we possibly can, as fast as we possibly can." André Cholmondeley is a musician, longtime tour manager and tech support professional who worked as guitar tech for Yes guitarist Steve Howe.
Before 2020, "if you bought the meet-and-greet package, you could shake their hands," he says. "There were lots of hugs and pictures." Now the experience involves more waving and fist-bumping. Foreigner, meanwhile, has recently swapped meet-and-greets for Q&A sessions. “Everybody has a great time, and the band is not bored with it because it's different every night," says Phil Carson, the band's Tour Manager.
Life away from the audience has changed, too.
"One major change across the board is the huge difference in catering," says Cholmondeley, who has recently toured with Pat Metheny and Ani DiFranco. Before COVID, touring artists and their crews would typically find a buffet backstage. "We order a lot more food now," Cholmondeley explains. "You get a couple of menus texted to you each day."
Carson notes that the band has found an alternative solution that works for them. "Our singer Kelly Hansen is a chef who won an episode of Food Network’s 'Chopped,'" he says with pride. "He's got a whole kitchen range on our tour bus. He makes breakfast, he makes tacos after the show."
Carson readily admits that such an approach stands in sharp contrast to rock‘n’roll road dining in the ‘70s. "Back then," he says with a hearty laugh, "it was a few lines of coke and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s!"
Bridging The Gap
Beginning in March 2020, the cancellations and disruptions brought upon by the pandemic reverberated throughout the live music industry. But as the business sector enters the third quarter of 2023, the focus is once again on the future, and guarded optimism is the prevailing perspective.
Festival season is officially underway, with Coachella wrapping up two weekends of massive-scale excitement, and a host of other events slated throughout the summer promising an active several months for touring musicians and crews. Taylor Swift's Eras tour is selling out fast, while Beyoncé's Renaissance tour has only just begun (to much fanfare, as expected). It seems as if touring as we once knew it is falling back into place.
Even with her focus on recording — she counts two albums, an EP, two mixtapes and nearly 30 singles — Sampa the Great emphasizes the appeal of live music for both audience and entertainer.
"Performing is the best way to connect with an audience," she says. "You're translating your music from audio to something visual, something physical. It bridges that gap from just hearing an artist or seeing them on social [media] to actually experiencing the artist."
Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella
11 Electric Coachella Surprise Guest Moments From Weekend 1: Post Malone, Billie Eilish, Rauw Alejandro & More
Weekend 1 of Coachella 2023 has come and gone, but not without countless surprises and viral moments. Take a look at some of the most exhilarating surprise guests — from Billie Eilish and Rauw Alejandro — from one of the year's biggest music festivals.
As delightfully dizzying as its famous ferris wheel, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival fills Indio's Colorado Desert with never-ending fun.
This year, Coachella booked history-making headliners Bad Bunny, BLACKPINK, and Frank Ocean, along with more than 150 other artists to perform across six stages. But one of the festival's most exciting parts, however, is its surprise performers.
The first weekend of Coachella is traditionally known for its big surprises and busy crowds — and this year didn't disappoint, offering surprise performances from global superstars to underground darlings.
Metro Boomin Astonished With Not One, But 7 Star Guests
In perhaps the most star-studded performance of the weekend, Metro Boomin welcomed a slew of collaborators to color his already spectacular set at the Sahara Tent. Throughout the night, The Weeknd, Future, 21 Savage, Don Toliver, Diddy, John Legend, and Mike Dean all joined the producer on stage to perform highlights from Heroes & Villains, Savage Mode, and more. Metro Boomin ended the evening with a live debut of "Creepin" alongside 21 Savage and Diddy.
MUNA Brought Out boygenius For "Silk Chiffon"
Life's so fun, life's so fun. While many festival goers anticipated Phoebe Bridgers to join MUNA for their bubbly collaboration "Silk Chiffon," the band shocked their audience by bringing out not just Bridgers, but Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus as well — all members of the supergroup boygenius, who performed their own lively set at Coachella the next day.
Bad Bunny Tapped Post Malone, Jhayco & More Stars
Now a headliner four years after making his Coachella debut, Bad Bunny made sure to pull out all the stops for his highly-anticipated performance. The Puerto Rican superstar brought out Post Malone for guitar-driven renditions of “La Canción” and “Yonaguni"; Jhayco (and a jet ski) for “Dákiti”; and Ñengo Flow and Jowell & Randy for “Safaera.”
Among Many Guests, Gorillaz Brought Out De La Soul To Dedicate "Feel Good Inc." To Late David Jolicoeur
On the festival's main stage, Gorillaz brightened their already glowing set with many surprise stars. Thundercat appeared first for "Cracker Island," shortly followed by individual performers Peven Everett, Jamie Principle, Bootie Brown, and Slowthai.
De La Soul appeared for their collaboration "Feel Good Inc.," dedicating the song to their late member, David ‘Trugoy The Dove’ Jolicoeur. For the closer "Clint Eastwood," Del The Funky Homosapien returned to the stage, after assisting with "Rock The House" earlier in the set.
Becky G Enlisted Marca MP, Jesús Ortiz Paz, Peso Pluma & Natti Natasha
Becky G made her Coachella debut this year, and she made sure to fill her 45-minute set with several guest stars. Marca MP joined her for “Ya Acabó," and Jesús Ortiz Paz of Fuerza Regida sang “Te Quiero Besar" and "Bebe Dame" alongside the star. Fans went wild when Peso Pluma showed up to perform his collaboration “Chanel," and after an outfit change, Becky G welcomed Natti Natasha for their joint track “Sin Pijama.”
Kali Uchis Amazed With Tyler, The Creator, Omar Apollo & Don Toliver
Kali Uchis' performances are always magical, and her surprise guests helped enchant audiences during her Coachella set. Tyler, The Creator joined Uchis to perform their Flower Boy collaboration “See You Again,” and later, Omar Apollo and Don Toliver took the stage to perform "Worth the Wait" and “Fantasy" respectively, both duets from her hypnotic latest album Red Moon In Venus.
Charli XCX And Troye Sivan Took It Back To "1999"
For one of the last few explosive shows of her CRASH era, Charli XCX brought the lightning by inviting Troye Sivan on stage to perform their poppy joint song "1999." Donning shades and silver accessories, the close friends and collaborators wore all-black attire but still shined during their shared performance.
DOMi & JD Beck Welcomed Mac DeMarco & Thundercat
During their bouncy set on Friday, innovative jazz duo DOMi & JD Beck surprised with two high-profile guests: Mac DeMarco and Thundercat. At the Mojave Tent, the four celebrated DOMi & JD Beck's bright debut album NOT TIGHT.
Rosalía Shared Stage With Fiancé Rauw Alejandro
Partway through an already invigorating, dance-filled set, Rosalía took her show to a new level: her fiancé, Rauw Alejandro, joined her to perform "Beso" and "Vampiros" from their joint EP RR. The music video for the former song announced the global superstar couple's engagement last month, showing off Rosalía’s stunning diamond ring.
Ellie Goulding Was The "Miracle" Calvin Harris' Set Needed
With his set starting around midnight, Calvin Harris was just getting Coachella's party started on Saturday. After playing several high-profile collaboration mixes, Harris finally introduced his one guest of the evening — and a major one at that. Frequent collaborator Ellie Goulding appeared to perform "Miracle," the duo's single that dropped last month.
Labrinth Surprised Everyone With Billie Eilish
Loneliness didn't last long at Labrinth's Saturday set. The singer's massive crowd was pleased to see former Coachella headliner Billie Eilish stop by to perform the pair's latest collaboration, "Never Felt So Alone." The track originally premiered on HBO's Euphoria, and Labrinth and Eilish made its live debut at Eilish's headline show at California's Kia Forum back in December.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].