REVIEW: ‘Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert’ is an experience full of nostalgia


(Photo courtesy of Coachella)

The 20th anniversary of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival was set to kick off this past weekend. But with the show rescheduled to October, we are left with the feature-length documentary: “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert,” dubbed“ Couchella” by Twitter users as they tune in from their homes instead of from the festival grounds in Coachella Valley. The YouTube Original premiered on the platform April 10 at noon, the exact moment when the festival doors would’ve opened. 

If you are a music fan of any kind, this is a must-watch. 

From the start, the documentary immerses viewers in multiple genres of music and legendary performances from different decades with never-before-seen footage of the yearly cultural phenomenon. It gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the festival’s humble beginnings and initial struggles to establish itself.

It was particularly fascinating to watch the festival transition over time as popular culture changed. Dispersed throughout the documentary are old concert film and audio clips from the past two decades, making viewers fall in love with the festival’s earlier days. The documentary not only marks Coachella’s changes — moving from punk band and indie rocker performances to EDM, rap and hip hop — but changes in the wider music culture as well. 

The film’s approach to telling the story of co-founders Paul Tollett and Rick Van Santen is energetic, fast-paced and combines the perfect amount of drama with joy — reflective of the experience at the real Coachella. Unexpected was the massive growth and notoriety the festival garnered with the world’s most famous artists, such as Beyonce, eventually headlining. Through interviews with producers, musical icons and more, we not only see the evolution of Coachella but are also placed in its early years with inaugural headliners Rage Against the Machine and Beck. 

At its best, “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert” is a lesson on how some of the festival’s most monumental performances came together. One of those performances is 2012’s Tupac hologram. The documentary goes into how the festival conceived and produced 3D hologram technology while also respecting the artist’s family and fans. American DJ Gregg Gillis, who goes by the stage name Girl Talk, spoke on how the experience was emotionally complex for fans struggling to decipher whether they should be celebrating Tupac’s life or mourning his death. Other interesting trivia and tidbits in the documentary include a look into Kanye West’s Sunday Service from Easter 2019. We find out that his human-made mountain stage was created in only two weeks. 

There’s a certain romance the real-life experience Coachella gives music fans, providing them with a sense of community. “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert” excels in recreating the shared experience among Coachella-goers in a new format as everyone is social distancing or quarantining in their homes.  

With “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert,” you’ll relive some of the festival’s best moments and see exclusive footage of past performances by legends such as Madonna and Prince, along with more recent performances by Tyler, the Creator, Travis Scott and Beyonce. For anyone who had tickets to Coachella this year or is feeling nostalgic, “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert” is a reminder of the festival’s cult-like allure.