2019 American Music Awards

Backbeat Coachella 2013: Action Bronson, Dropkick Murphys, Portugal. The Man, Reignwolf and Moby Celebrate Records, 4/20

Vello Virkhaus provides his epic visuals to Moby's DJ set at Coachella 2013 (Jeff Miller)

There was definitely a smokey air of celebration on Record Store Day... er, 4/20... at the polo grounds for Coachella. Onstage, Action Bronson threw medical marijuana canisters out into the crowd, while industry people like Steve Berman watched 2 Chainz pass a massive joint around the front row and invited newly reunited rockers Fall Out Boy to join him for a song.

But the band with the most to celebrate was definitely the Celtic punks Dropkick Murphys, whose dedication to their hometown of Boston has never been more meaningful than this week. We caught up with bassist Ken Casey in the media area, where he talked with us about being on the road during such a traumatic week for his city. "I own a bar two blocks from the second blast site, my wife and kids were at the Red Sox game -- we have an office right above the bar that's a great spot to bring the kids to watch, and I couldn't reach them with the cell phone towers down," he said. "It was surreal. It was, in its own way, very tough to be so plugged in and know so many people in that area. First responders, law enforcement, people I grew up with my whole life, [who had] close ties with some of the people who died. I think it was surreal for everybody."

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He said the crowds who've been seeing the band in between the two Coachella weekends had been extra-supportive. "Unbelievable. Huge. You can feel the love coming from them. You always can. But it was extra. You just knew. I'd say it was the most cathartic thing you can do, other than being at home with your families." He also revealed that the band was recording a single for charity in Las Vegas when they caught the second bombing suspects, though he's not sure where it'll be released yet; he also hinted that they've got a major collaboration in the works, though he also wouldn't hint at who it's with.

Back by their trailer, rising psych-rockers Portugal. The Man were hanging with manager Rich Holtzman of The Artists Organization, who talked with us about the long-lost art of artist development and how it applies to Portugal, whose new album, Evil Friends, is the workhorse band's 7th full-length. "The industry talks about artist development all the time, but we don't embrace it," Holtzman said. "This band has actually done that; they'll hit their thousandth show this year. The idea from the beginning, when we first met, was: We're going to do this the right way, we're going to build a core, we're going to take our time. And as you go through the process and your records develop, and your songwriting deveops, and your core [gets] really big -- and you say 'We're ready, and the songwriting's ready.'"

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He continues, "They've taken it to that point. Now what we have to do is put it in front of the mass media, and we've never put it in front of media all that much. We avoided television, and we avoided festivals for quite a while. But now, it's ready."

The band's got a bunch of fests on their schedule already for this year (including the Governors Ball in New York), and are also planning on returning to their homestate of Alaska. "It's crazy [when we play there]," says bassist Zachary Carothers. "Our guest list is intense. There's not a lot of people in Alaska. But half [the seats] are filled with people with my last name -- or people I went to high school with!"

Also working on the development side of things in a unique way is the guitar-shredding Reignwolf, who played early both weekends on the Outdoor Theater stage. We found the Wolfman himself, Jordan Cook, hanging in the artist area with WMA agent Robbie Brown and WMA agent/lawyer Sherry Hines Danzig, who are strategically booking their artist at festivals and one-offs only for now. His Coachella experience was a messy one at first -- the official app mis-listed his stage time for the first weekend. When it was corrected, during his set, Cook says he saw a ton of people running to see him. "I noticed that there was a lot of field runners. It was great watching that -- adds to the energy," Cook said.

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The second weekend went more smoothly, and is surely an arbiter of good things to come at Sasquatch, Lollapalooza, and, as Brown says, "a couple other festivals in October." "Sasquatch was an early play last year - this year [they're] giving us a mainstage play with Macklemore," says Cook.

"There's built in excitement about this guy, and the whole band," Danzig says. "Everyone who hears them is an instant fan."

On the electro end of things, Moby's DJ set was a massive crowdpleaser, thanks in part to a collaboration with the video company V Squared Labs, who teamed with NASA (yes, the space agency), for footage to display on the myriad screens in the massive Sahara tent. Billboard.biz caught up with both Moby and his visuals guru Vello Virkhaus, who let us check out the set from behind the VJ board. Both of them were psyched about the autonomy of the presentation -- essentially, V Squared was given free reign to do whatever they wanted, which meant fractal presentations, space-aged star-sets, and trippy elements that Virkhaus said were obtained organically. "I would never tell Moby what to DJ," said Virkhaus from the mid-venue platform before the set. "We helped get his logo animations where he liked it, because he'd never had that done before. I picked things from where he wanted the logo itself -- he wanted things dirtier and more organic, and I thought, what a perfect way to curate more dirty, more organic footage, and keep it grittier -- static, grunge, old film splatters, old film leader... a little old, a little new."

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Moby was equally excited about the collaboration, which they pulled off completely live, without a setlist or presets. "In the olden days, if this was 1992, and I was talking to someone doing visuals for a rave, I could maybe have some suggestions," Moby told us in the artist trailer backstage before the set. "Now, I went to Panorama City where Vello's labs were, and I was talking to the visuals guys, and they showed me how complicated it is, and basically I said, 'do what you think looks good.' It'd be the equivilant of going to an aerospace lab -- and trying to make suggestions to an aerospace engineer!"   


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