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Coachella 2012 Preview: 20 Must-See Artists, Old and New

Coachella kicks off Friday — here are the artists, from the Black Keys to the Weeknd to Kendrick Lamar

When Coachella kicks off Friday, it will mark the music festival's biggest year ever — and not just because it will stretch over two weekends for the first time ever. 

Nearly 150 acts will perform across five stages, with not just the biggest rock band of the year — the Black Keys — but a lengthy list of upcoming indie darlings like the Weeknd, tUnE-yArDs and Kendrick Lamar. And in between, a rap act for the ages (Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg), Radiohead and a heavy emphasis on DJs like David Guetta and Afrojack.

How to filter through all the noise? Here's TheWrap's musical guide to the start of the summer festival season — 20 must-see artists (and genres). 

Let's start with Friday's headliner, the Keys, because it's important to remember where these big festivals began – with rock 'n' roll.


When the Black Keys (1) headline Friday, they will cement their status as the year’s most critically beloved band but also — along with Saturday's headliner Radiohead — one of the biggest.

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have never been a showy pair, nor did they soar to the apex of rock 'n’ roll with their early, juke-jointy guitar riffs. They took a gradual approach, as chronicled here.

When their latest offering, “El Camino,” debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 charts last December, it was the band's best opening yet. Since then, the media coverage has been constant, as have the commercials. If you watch sports on TV, chances are you’ve heard “Gold on the Ceiling” used in a promo more than once.



Coachella will host artists from across the globe, but there are a few local bands worth checking out. Here are three (and a half):

Popsters Grouplove (2) didn't perform its first show until 2010 and just released its debut album, “Never Trust a Happy Song" last September. Still, they’ve already made a tour of the late-night shows and licensed songs to major videogames like the “Madden” and “FIFA” franchises.

Check them out now, or risk paying a fortune in the future.

Dawes (3) has a far more Old School sound. They've elicited comparisons to Crosby, Stills and  Nash — in fact, Jackson Browne has given them his imprimatur: They performed together at Occupy Wall Street, and Browne joined them on stage at the Troubadour. Browne might not appear this weekend, but don’t hold that against them if he doesn't.

Long Beach-based The Growlers' (4) "Sea Lion Goth" sounds like a mix of surf rock and the Doors. A true Southern California treat.

Childish Gambino (5). OK, we’re cheating. Donald Glover, who you might recognize from “Community,” was not raised in Los Angeles. But he was born at Edwards Air Force Base and now lives in the City of Angels. Gambino's his rapper alias, and he's released four albums and three mixtapes — all since 2008. 


The raucous electronic beats like house, techno and dubstep — long popular in Europe — are finally nestling into the brains of American youths, driving them to drop hundreds of dollars on live performances (not to mention, ahem, drugs).

The New York Times just realized this last week (it's called “The Gray Lady” for a reason!), but Coachella has recognized the form's popularity  for some time. And this year in particular is heavy on EDM artists

While one’s inclination might be to just see the biggest names stateside – David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, Kaskade, et al. – there are other acts worth making time for as well.

Some, like Justice (6) and Afrojack (7), already have fan bases here. Others, like SebastiAn (8), Breakbot (9), Modeskeletor (10) and Alesso (11) have bigger followings overseas.

It may not be the best EDM lineup Coachella has seen, but it may be the biggest.


Jamaica native Jimmy Cliff (12) has been a reggae fixture since breaking out in 1972's cult film "The Harder They Come," and everyone from Willie Nelson to New Order has covered his work.

Well, the man is still producing music, with a new album coming out later this year. He'll be playing with Rancid's Tim Armstrong around sunset, so there's no better time to lie down and steel yourself for the night ahead.


In the past year, a soulful Canadian has stolen the hearts of many Americans — and, no, it's not Drake. We’re talking The Weeknd (13) (real name Abel Tesfaye).

Tesfaye was an unknown YouTube sensation in 2010; now he's one of the year's most critically acclaimed R&B singers of the year. He's not only secured the undying love of indie music blogs, his three mixtapes also have drawn rave reviews from Rolling Stone, The Source and MTV. And speaking of Drake, he's featured all over the rapper's latest album.

In other words, it's just like seeing Drake.


Feist and Florence and the Machine are the obvious heavy-hitters. But there are others you might too easily overlook.

tUnE-yArDs (14) mixes African beats with low-fi pop. Trust us, it works.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (15) collaborated with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on their upcoming album.  Doesn't hurt that Potter's mix of blues and rock has spawned comparisons to everyone from Janis Joplin to Bonnie Raitt.

St. Vincent (16) a.k.a. Annie Clark is riding a wave of critical acclaim. Her latest album, "Strange Mercy," was near the top of countless top 10 lists from last year and prompted Pitchfork to dub her a "master of subverting her picture-perfectness with violence, rage, and mystery." Maybe that doesn't sound appealing, but it should.

Girls (17). Just kidding. This is a male duo from San Francisco that music blogs obsessed over last year. But does the name make it OK?


A$AP Rocky (18). Just put on “Peso” and you'll see why they're on this list.


While a world-famous duo will close the festival (see below). But don't miss these: 

Compton native Kendrick Lamar (19) native exploded onto the scene last year with his album, "Section.80," which L.A. Weekly named the best album out of Los Angeles for all of 2011. Dr. Dre, who has an eye for talented rappers, signed him up at Aftermath, his record label, and now Lamar is the latest to carry flag for the West Coast.

Lamar is performing early by Coachella standards (at 2:40 p.m. Friday), but if you want to see a socially conscious rapper with Compton credentials, check him out.


Back in 1999, Dr. Dre released an entire album about how he was still on top of the rap game. “Still D.R.E.” was the anthem that best conveyed that message, which will likely be the same message when Dre and Snoop Dogg (20) close the festival.

At this point, Dr. Dre hardly counts as an active rapper. Though one of the most respected producers of his generation, he has been stingy when it comes to releasing his own music.

For God’s sake, how long had his latest effort, “Detox,” been rumored about? Count on him playing some of those new songs, and pray he throws in plenty of “The Chronic,” “2001” — not to mention some of Snoop’s hits.

United, Dre and Snoop can do more than just put on a good show, they can represent and uphold one of California’s most powerful and distinctive musical genres. And this year, they get to do it twice.