Despite the soaring temperatures and throngs of boho-chic poseurs that have come to define the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the desert bacchanal still offers an oasis for up-and-coming bands ready to go big. As headliners Outkast, Arcade Fire and Muse take center stage at the fest, which kicks off the first of two three-day-weekend runs on Friday, here are our best bets for the little bands that could.
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sound: “It’s like atmospheric, left-field alternative pop,” producer Max Hershenow says of their sound. “It’s really epic and dramatic,” adds vocalist Lizzy Plapinger.
Style: As part of her evolution into a “sportier, sexy, Nineties R&B aesthetic,” Plapinger wants to collaborate with designers like Chromat and Andrea Doria, the latter of whom designed her “psychedelic” Coachella ensemble inspired by the twosome’s kaleidoscopic “Think of You” music video. The free spirit, known to rock everything from spandex to neon tresses, also switched her hair color to fuchsia. Hershenow describes his sportswear-inspired fest look, designed by Phlemuns, as “bridging the gap between New York rocker and gay athlete.”
Breakout Moments: Playing for 12,000 people at Splendour in the Grass in Australia last year had a huge impact. “Every single person in the audience was singing along. It was bonkers. It felt like a Beyoncé or Kiss concert,” Plapinger recalls. Another highlight: when “Game of Thrones” included their first original song, “Bones,” in the trailer for season three. “We were just so thrilled,” says Hershenow, who adds that the band watched the entire HBO series on the tour bus.
Fun Fact: The duo both attended Vassar, but didn’t join musical forces until after college. “The first time we ever got in the studio together to make music was really the first time we ever hung out,” Plapinger reveals.
Day Job: Plapinger founded Neon Gold Records with childhood pal Derek Davies and released early singles from Coachella artists including Ellie Goulding, Chvrches and The Naked and Famous. The music executive calls their subsequent success “pretty magical.”
Up Next: A second pop-centric album, which they hope to release next year.
Sound: Alt pop-rock
Band Members: Isabella “Izzi” Manfredi, Gideon Bensen, Jack Moffitt, Thomas Champion and Luke Davison.
Style: Retro rockers with an emphasis on skinny jeans and leather jackets. Manfredi, inspired by Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde, nails New Wave cool with her blunt bangs, willowy frame, highly coveted cheekbones and mix of simple white tanks, high-waisted shorts and tight dresses.
Big Breaks: The quintet’s catchy single, “Is This How You Feel?” garnered the band a Vanda & Young Songwriting Award and an Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards nomination for Best Pop Release.
Coachella Connection: Fellow Aussie Flume — who will also take the stage at the fest — featured Manfredi on his track “The Greatest View.”
Fun Fact: Champion and Moffitt, who met in high school, played covers of The Rolling Stones with Manfredi before the band’s latest incarnation.
Up Next: Their debut full-length album will be out this summer.
Hometown: Essex, U.K.
Sound: Alt R&B with funk, soul and jazz influences.
Band Members: Devonté “Dev” Hynes
Style: Normcore poster boy with British skater roots. Much-documented soft spots for mock turtlenecks, dad jeans and Vans slip-ons.
Fun Fact: Last month, Hynes gave a TED talk about his ability to hear colors through a neurological phenomenon known as synesthesia.
Biggest Obstacle: Hynes lost everything in a fire last year, including his puppy Cupid, bringing new meaning to the title of his second album: “Cupid Deluxe.” The mother of his girlfriend/frequent collaborator, Samantha Urbani of the band Friends, raised money through a crowdfunding campaign, which Hynes plans to donate to charity.
Day Job: Writer-producer on tracks for Florence and the Machine, The Chemical Brothers, Sky Ferreira, Solange Knowles and Mutya Keisha Siobhan. The multihyphenate has also released comic books and short stories.
Up Next: He composed the score for “Palo Alto,” Gia Coppola’s directorial debut, out next month, and will play the international summer festival circuit at Way Out West, Øya, Flow and Lollapalooza.
Hometown: Laguna Beach, Calif.
Sound: Garage punk with folk, glam and psych-rock edges.
Style: Cali surfer dude with shaggy blonde locks, worn-in Ts, jean jackets and tats.
Fun Fact: He has Neil Young’s name inked on his right arm and the logo from Black Sabbath’s “Vol. 4” album tattooed on his left.
Hat Trick: At 26, he has more than a dozen records to his name, including three albums released in 2012 alone: “Hair,” “Slaughterhouse” and “Twins.” He shows off his softer, acoustic side in his latest album, “Sleeper,” recorded in his bedroom to deal with his adoptive father’s death and subsequent estrangement from his mom.
Up Next: More fest gigs, including Primavera Sound, This Is Not a Love Song and Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
YOUNG & SICK
Hometown: Nick Van Hofwegen, the artist behind the music and design project, grew up along the southern tip of the Netherlands. “It was the middle of nowhere, very deserted, beautiful nature,” he says.
Sound: “I take cues from Sixties and Seventies music in terms of harmonizing my voice,” Van Hofwegen says of his trademark wail-falsetto, citing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Simon & Garfunkel as influences. “I’m also really interested in beats and R&B sounds like D’Angelo and Prince.”
Style: He recently unmasked his identity with a portrait from French photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino. What we know so far: intentionally mussed long blonde hair with equally artful mismatched vintage finds. “I’m a thrifter. I’m not a label guy, but I do like clothing,” admits the Los Angeles transplant, whose designs garnered interest from Urban Outfitters. “We are going to treat the Young & Sick merchandise as though it was a fashion label, but we’re going to keep it in-house and do it ourselves,” he says, adding that he hopes to include Ts and silk scarves that double as wall art. As for his Coachella ensemble, think clogs and cheese-wheel hats. “I don’t leave my house without wooden shoes. It’s very uncomfortable, but it’s a pride thing,” teases the Dutchman.
Day Job: He designs album covers for Maroon 5, Robin Thicke and Foster the People, who commissioned him to create a mural in downtown L.A. to coincide with the release of their latest album, “Supermodel.” “I saw a 10-story building with my art on it. That was a pretty crazy moment for sure,” he muses.
Up Next: More gigs with Foster the People, a U.S. summer tour in support of his newly released self-titled album and lots of spur-of-the-moment art projects, including another hush-hush album cover.
Band Members: George Reid and Aluna Francis
Sound: “Our sound was about using traditional musicality in a way that would surprise us and make us feel like dancing, even if we were in George’s bedroom,” Francis sums up. They add equal parts “great melody” and “meaningful lyrics” to the experimental electro-pop mix, too.
Style: Francis gravitates toward bold shapes, see-through layers and pieces from Alexander Wang, DKNY, KTZ and Marc Jacobs. At Coachella, keep an eye out for “an epic outfit.” She hints, “It’s just glitter from head to toe. You just can’t get away from how fabulous that is.” The fashion-forward Brit, who has signed on with Next Model Management, has still been unable to influence Reid’s fashion sensibility. “George will describe his style as literally what he wore as a teenager. When he’s, like, 40 he’ll still squeeze himself into his 18-year-old skinny jeans.”
Big Breaks: When their black-and-white music video for “You Know You Like It” blew up on YouTube in 2011, they realized that “people noticed we existed.” Another career high: The duo, who performed at the 10th anniversary of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, got short-listed for a BBC Sound Award last year. “It was amazing. That made us sit up and go, ‘Oh, we can’t just twiddle along. We’ve got the backing of our country now!’”
Fun Fact: They met on MySpace in 2009. “We exist only because the Internet happened,” Francis says.
Are They/Aren’t They: Despite early promos that featured Francis draped over Reid, they keep it strictly professional. “I’m constantly surprised by how well we work together. When I hear about bands where someone left the room shouting, I’m like, ‘Wow, that would like never happen with us.’”
Coachella Hype: The duo will debut a “bigger” sound and some new tracks. “It will be the first time anyone’s heard them in the entire world, so that’s pretty exciting,” Francis says. Reid, who took a break from playing guitar after his stint in indie-math rock outfit Colour, will shred onstage again, thanks to his band mate’s prodding. “We were writing this song, and I was like, ‘Dude, you need to get your guitar out.’ I didn’t even have to finish my sentence. He had plugged his amp in.’”
Up Next: The band will release a few tracks over the summer in anticipation of their second full-length album, planned for fall.
Hometown: Besançon, France
Sound: “Hardcore electro-punk,” categorizes Engus Fernese, 17, in charge of the duo’s technical elements. But his 18-year-old sister Eleonore, who focuses on their lyrical content, offers a more poetic take: “A mermaid swimming in a rough sea.”
Style: The teens depict themselves as “cyborgs” on the cover of their latest EP, “Black Sun,” which Engus describes as “an extension of ourselves in the studio with all those machines.” Regardless of their form, the siblings, 14 months apart, could pass as twins with their long locks and noir attire. “We only wear black. It matches the music,” says Engus — always in a backwards baseball cap — of their monochromatic “casual” look. While he will “wear whatever is in my closet,” his fashion-minded sister counts Hedi Slimane, Jean Paul Gaultier and Eleven Paris as favorites. “Inevitably, being French, haute couture and designers interest me,” she says, admitting to making style sacrifices by wearing leather boots onstage “even though I would be more comfortable with sport shoes.”
Sibling Synergy: “We have no memory of not being together, so working with him is like working with a part of me,” Eleonore relates. “We love working together. We’re really close and we’re on the same page musically,” concurs her sibling, citing their similar musical upbringing, including stumbling upon Pink Floyd in their parents’ library along with later discoveries of Coachella artists like Muse and Warpaint. Other dream collaborators: Trent Reznor, Alec Empire of Atari Teenage Riot and Liam Howlett of Prodigy. “They shape atmospheres and colors that we love,” gushes Eleonore.
Fun Fact: Their parents, who encouraged them to take up the violin and cello as children, gifted the duo with software and a computer for Christmas five years ago, and then allowed them to set up an in-home recording studio after they switched to guitar and bass. “They love what we do. They’ve always pushed us to be the best and to do what we wanted,” he says. Equally supportive: their high school administrators, who gave them “special permission” to miss class to play the fest.
Big Break: Two years ago, they performed at Ultra Music Festival in Miami, their first U.S. concert. “It was an incredible experience,” Engus recalls of hobnobbing alongside inspirations like Skrillex and Justice.
Up Next: The release of their new EP, “You Walk Away,” this spring and a full-length album due out in July. Also: high school graduation for Eleonore, while her brother plans to follow suit in 2015. “Our goal is to graduate to get into music full-time,” he explains.
Hometown: Based in Baltimore, MD; founded in Greenville, North Carolina
Sound: Synth pop
Band Members: Gerrit Welmers, William Cashion, Samuel T. Herring
Breakout Moment: Their game-changing TV debut on “Late Night with David Letterman” last month went viral thanks to Herring’s meme-worthy dance moves and growly vocal theatrics during “Seasons (Waiting on You),” a single off their fourth album. “I’ll take all of that you got,” an impressed David Letterman raved.
Style: Unassuming everymen in button-downs, flannels and tees. For his Letterman appearance, Herring stepped it up in an all-black ensemble.
Fun Fact: Although seemingly an overnight sensation, the threesome just released their fourth album, “Singles,” and has been hard at work writing songs for over a decade.
Up next: Playing sold-out shows on the U.S. and European legs of their tour.
Sound: Synth-pop with a heavy ‘80s influence
Band Members: Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty
Style: Mayberry has earned a rabid male following, thanks to her sweet vocals and Scottish pixie-next-door vibe. Completing her look: auburn tresses, a signature cat-eye, acid-wash denim, and twee prints like stripes and polka dots. Doherty’s trademark baseball caps and Cook’s button-downs and cool graphic tees garner decidedly less attention from style bloggers.
Big Break: The band, who released their debut album, “The Bones of What You Believe” in September, opened for Depeche Mode on their Delta Machine Tour last year.
Fun Fact: Mayberry, who has fielded marriage proposals on Twitter, won a journalism award in Scotland for an article she penned on body piercing and recently took on Internet sexism in a much-lauded op-ed piece for the Guardian.
Check Out: Their unexpected covers of artists ranging from Prince to Rage Against Machine to fellow fest acts MS MR and Haim.
Up Next: They recently extended their tour, adding dates in the U.S. and Europe through the fall.
JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW
Sound: Often compared to indie folk artists Bon Iver and James Blake, McMorrow’s haunting, soulful falsetto and R&B melodies set him apart.
Style: Bearded Irishman with a penchant for plaid.
Big Breaks: His debut album, “Early in the Morning,” went platinum and picked up a Choice Music Prize nomination in Ireland. In 2011, he scored a breakout hit with his melancholic take on Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love,” a single on his charity album “Silver Lining.”
Biggest Obstacle: The singer-songwriter earned a bad boy rep after throwing tantrums onstage, but has since mellowed out after getting sober a couple of years ago.
Fun Fact: He recorded his second album, “Post Tropical,” near the Mexican border in the same pecan farm that inspired the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House, Animal Collective and At the Drive-In. The results: a textured, electro-acoustic blend, a well-received departure from his folk roots.
Up Next: Playing sold-out shows in Australia and Europe, and a return to his hometown for the Longitude Festival in July.