There is every other music festival and then there is Coachella, the California-desert weekend that, in many ways, set the template for all that followed. The first U.S. festival to boast big-ticket reunions and all-over-the-map booking, Coachella continues to maintain its distinctive, idiosyncratic personality. Needless to say, navigating such a wide array of music can be tricky. We’ve picked 25 acts worth making time for.
Who They Are: Really?
Why They Matter: Because no matter how much they turn their sound inside-out, they're still breathtaking live, making even their sparest songs feel enormous and foreboding.
Download This Now: If you haven't yet, all of OK Computer — J. Edward Keyes
Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg
Who They Are: The original evil class clowns of West Coast gangsta rap. Snoop and Dre have been around so long that their dynamic is starting to give off Rat Pack vibes.
Why They Matters: Dr. Dre may very well never give us Detox, but he could run through his hits until the sun burns out and we wouldn't complain. There is no earthly reason to assume this show will not be ridiculously entertaining.
Download This Now: "Gin and Juice" — Jayson Greene
Who They Are: Recently reunited Britpop champions who built a sterling reputation by pairing the pithy wit of vocalist Jarvis Cocker to choruses as fizzy as shook soda cans.
Why They Matter: Because they're one of the greatest bands of the 1990s, and because Cocker is a charismatic frontman, whipping across the stage like a severed electrical wire.
Download This Now: "Disco 2000" — JEK
At the Drive-In
Who They Are: The creative core of the Mars Volta and Sparta (remember them?), revisiting their youth-in-revolt days before they're too old to get away with it.
Why They Matter: At the Drive-In imploded at the height of their hype cycle, making this reunion a much-needed reminder of when their members were making music that felt like a kick in the teeth, not meandering and hopelessly emo.
Download This Now: "One Armed Scissor" — Andrew Parks
Who They Are: The California dream pop band had '90s pop culture on lock with their ubiquitous breakout single "Fade Into You".
Why They Matter: They're ripe for a comeback. You can sense their influence on modern favorites like Beach House and the Dum Dum Girls, and now it's time for them to show the youngsters how it's done.
Download This Now: "Fade Into You" — Maris Kreizman
Who He Is: Legendary reggae singer best known for songs of relentless optimism, all of which feature his bright, limber voice bounding across the bobbing rhythms like a little kid jumping from trampoline to trampoline.
Why He Matters: Because he's kept his music fresh and vital; pairing with longtime admirer Tim Armstrong of Rancid assures he'll keep the arrangements lean and the performance focused.
Download This Now: "The Harder They Come" — JEK
The Black Keys
Who They Are: Onetime unwashed blues duo from Ohio that somehow turned into this generation's Led Zeppelin, rounding out their greasy grooves with giant-sized FM radio hooks.
Why They Matter: Because their live show has scaled up accordingly. Recent shows in New York City were stunning, the group commanding attention and provoking rapture with big, bone-rattling riffage.
Download This Now: "Gold on the Ceiling" — JEK
Who He Is: The French musician Anthony Gonzalez has been spinning tender-hearted synth-pop anthems as M83 for nearly a decade now, but hit a dizzying peak with last year's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.
Why He Matters: M83 felt like one man's labor of love until Hurry Up broke Gonzalez into new territory; now, with "Midnight City" scaling the actual pop charts and his live act growing bolder by the second, Gonzalez looks to be turning himself into something resembling an actual pop star. He deserves it: Hurry Up takes every starry-eyed sound a synthesizer has ever made and collapsed it into two-plus hours of childlike innocence and bliss.
Download This Now: "Steve McQueen" — JG
Who She Is: Back when she was known as Santogold with an "o," Santi White released a killer 2008 debut that positioned her as the second coming of M.I.A.
Why She Matters: With her sophomore effort due out on May 1, Santigold is poised to reassert her authority over the downtown art scene and the dance floor.
Download This Now: "L.E.S. Artistes" — MK
Who He Is: Chicago singer/songwriter/composer Andrew Bird is best known for his use of loop pedals and lots of whistling. (And, yes, he used to be in the Squirrel Nut Zippers.)
Why He Matters: It's one thing to hear layers of instruments on record, but seeing the sounds as they're being made one by one is fascinating. On stage, Bird builds up layers of violin loops before adding vocals and bells, leaving little room for error.
Download This Now: "Eyeoneye" — Laura Leebove
Who They Are: Hyperactive art-punkers who turned the underground on its ear with The Shape of Punk to Come, a defiant, obtuse record as much informed by free jazz and French situationism as the church of DIY.
Why They Matter: Because this reunion has been a longtime coming, and because so few people saw them on the initial tour for Shape of Punk that this show will surely feel like a well-earned, decades-in-the-making do-over.
Download This Now: "Liberation Frequency" — JEK
Who He Is: One of the most influential yet sorely overlooked staples on Ninja Tune's sample-centric roster.
Why He Matters: Unlike the sensory overload shows of Deadmau5 and other rising stars of the 'EDM scene', which pride ecstatic peaks over tension-building valleys, Amon Tobin's carefully crafted ISAM set is a dynamic, 3-D journey through a sci-fi landscape only he truly understands. Definitely one of the festival's must-see-to-believe situations.
Download This Now: "Journeyman" — AP
First Aid Kit
Who They Are: Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg, who released their first songs as First Aid Kit when they were just in their mid teens.
Why They Matter: Since their debut EP in 2008, the Soderbergs' songs have grown from sparse instrumentation and stark vocals to full-band romps that still keep their stunning harmonies front and center.
Download This Now: "Emmylou" — LL
Who He Is: Alice Coltrane's nephew, though nepotism isn't how Steven Ellison's evolved from a Stones Throw internship to the pole position of L.A.'s long-running beat-head scene. His bewildering productions — in many ways, a future-shocked extension of Coltrane's spiritual jazz legacy — are.
Why He Matters: FlyLo's last record (2010's Cosmogramma) was mailed as one long, winding song suite to critics. Which makes sense: His albums are long-players in every sense of the word. With a new one on the way later this year, Coachella may be the first place to catch the next logical progression in what's quickly becoming one of electronic music's most intriguing 21st-century careers.
Download This Now: "Do the Astral Plane" — AP
Who He Is: The sleepy-eyed, silver-tongued, intellectual prince of West Coast rap, Kendrick Lamar has been handed the mantle of Next Great Hope crown by none other than Dr. Dre himself.
Why He Matters: Because with his slippery, darting flow, easy way with sung hooks, and quizzical mind, he is feeling his way around all of the roadblocks to originality that keep his peers stuck in place. Right now, there is not a rap fan on Earth that is not eagerly watching what Kendrick Lamar will do next.
Download This Now: "A.D.H.D." — JG
Seun Kuti & the Egypt 80
Who He Is: Son of the legendary Fela, Seun Kuti is committed to carrying on his father's legacy, sticking close to his rambunctious Afrobeat sound and even touring with members of his old band.
Why He Matters: Because, against all odds, he has all of his father's passion, charisma and conviction, and his live shows inevitably turn into sweaty, ecstatic dance parties.
Download This Now: "Mr. Big Thief" — JEK
Who They Are: Enflamed, gnomic Mancunian teens, armed with ringing guitars and unshakeable convictions.
Why They Matter: Because lead singer Ellery Robert's gasping, unintelligible lead vocals hit upon some primal nerve, and the spiraling, silvery guitars behind him transform his exhortations into life-affirming anthems.
Download This Now: "We Bros." — JG
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Who They Are: A collective of cranky Canadians who just so happened to help launch hundreds of post-rock acts along the lines of Explosions in the Sky, Mono and Mogwai.
Why They Matter: If you're willing to wait out their 20-to-30-minute songs — melodramatic film projections and all — seeing Godspeed live can be draining but deeply moving, as if someone finally figured out a way to create bullshit-free music for imaginary movies.
Download This Now: The entire two-disc experience that is Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. — AP
Who They Are: British indie rockers with Strokes-ish appeal and a knack for oddball, squirmy-in-a-good-way lyrics (we're looking at you, "Post-Break Up Sex").
Why They Matter: Because their debut — one of the most underrated albums of 2011 — is the opposite of generic. In their hands, straight up indie rock sounds vital and fresh.
Download This Now: "If You Wanna" — MK
Who She Is: A British folksinger/songwriter who used to sing in Noah and the Whale and years ago had Mumford & Sons as her backing band.
Why She Matters: Though she's only 22, she's already put out three solid LPs (she wrote her debut album at 16) and continues to be one of today's smartest, most talented songwriters. On 2011's A Creature I Don't Know, she experimented with unconventional song structures and a wider pool of instruments.
Download This Now: "Sophia" — LL
We Are Augustines
Who They Are: Brooklyn rock trio that rose from the ashes of the band Pela.
Why They Matter: We Are Augustines' 2011 debut Rise Ye Sunken Ships is largely based on frontman Billy McCarthy's brother James, who committed suicide after a long battle with mental illness (as did their mother years earlier). It's heartbreaking, but the obvious passion and strength behind it makes the story easier to swallow.
Download This Now: "Book of James" — LL
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
Who They Are: Noel minus Liam plus a great backing band form a formidable rock group named for a Jefferson Airplane song.
Why They Matter: If nothing else can equal the magic of the Gallagher brothers at their Oasis peak, High Flying Birds might be the closest we'll get.
Download This Now: "The Death of You and Me" — MK
Who He Is: Stephen Bruner, a rock and soul bassist with mind-blowing technical chops and a gently warped sensibility that melts together Ariel Pink, Mouse On Mars and Erykah Badu into something indescribably funky and colorful.
Why He Matters: As one of the flagship artists on Flying Lotus's weird and wonderful Brainfeeder label, Thundercat makes music that represents all of the scene's best qualities: an endless tinkerer's infectious curiosity, a quirky sense of humor, and a desire to melt their entire record collection into one inseparable lump.
Download This Now: "Daylight" — JG
Who They Are: A group of pop-punk kids from Bowling Green Kentucky, who bear nicknames like "Kidd," "Grizzlee" and "Keyser."
Why They Matter: This sugar-high band is a blast. 2011's Celabrasion is full of catchy shout-along choruses sure to pump up your hot afternoon.
Download This Now: "Force A Smile" — LL
Who She Is: A folk-rock up-and-comer with popular appeal. Her 2011 cover of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" managed to sound sweet and soulful and not even a little bit like a Glee castoff.
Why She Matters: Her AM-radio voice brings the Carole King sound to the teen soap opera set.
Download This Now:"Bully" — MK