As the veteran Coachella party hoe of my Millennial generation, I wear each custom-embroidered fabric wristband proudly stacked cutting off circulation to my arms like the medals of a decorated Spanish conquistador, each evident proof of my nonstop weekend party spree across Inland Empire’s magical desert, where everything is beautiful and nothing is impossible.
I’ve been going to Coachella since 2009, starting when I was in college during the glorious Pre-EDM Bloghouse Era and the fest’s pre-two weekend cash grab, which has altogether tainted the once special single weekend experience. I’ve been doing the parties exclusively for the past six years, the last four of which I’ve reported on for VICE. The shift came in 2012 when a rave friend Adam Bawany exposed me to the lavish branded party scene that happens outside the fest, and I was hooked on site ever since. I’d found myself another freak in an “Influencer’s Paradise” I could die (and actually almost died) in. Here, you can eat endless amounts of bomb gourmet catering, drink fancy craft cocktails, get more free shit than you can carry in your vehicle, have Instagram shoots for days, and party (or chill) as hard and as comfortably as you want within breathing proximity to excruciatingly beautiful and stylish industry heads and “famous” people, all for the cost of a non-transferrable email invite.
The parties have always been the greatest hack, an economic turn up for someone like myself who owes mad college loans and has limited disposable income to burn on a pricey Coachella excursion, but needs to take a healthy mental break from having to process being a brown gay male living in Trump’s America by thotting off in a desert Wonderland where all my senses—physical, digital, and spiritual—are fully activated. Besides, after tasting the Tastemaker life, who would want to spend another dime being trapped struggling to survive the grody fest when you can partyhop and get totally swagged out for free? Coachella fest is an overpriced, uncomfortable, and simply basic AF scam. Avoiding falling into this horrid money pit at all costs, a far finer, funner experience lays just outside its perimeters.
This year, the biggest branded parties produced another epic soirée of events, offering even more wild activations from years past, with some major newcomers out to make a lasting first impression amongst the Influencer elite, namely Diddy, Rihanna, Jack Dorsey, and The Kardashians. However, local law enforcement put a temporary halt on the hijinks, cracking down on the nighttime parties to a more intense and unprecedented degree. As I experienced, numerous events like those put on by Jeremy Scott and Cash App got rolled before their scheduled end at sunrise, but of course I didn’t let the narcs hinder my turn up. The party is in me… FUCK 12!
“COMBSFEST” FKA “COMBSCHELLA”
On the night of Friday the 13th, I arrived at the “Combs Compound” in Bermuda Dunes for party legend Sean P. “Diddy” Comb’s “Combsfest,” a weekend-long event presented by PrettyLittleThing and BooHooMan, centered around hip-hop. More than the massive lucite skate ramp with Louis Vuitton skateboards (paying homage to Virgil Abloh’s contribution to #BLACKEXCELLENCE), lambos casually laid out like benches, or headlining performance by Lil Wayne, what humored me the most was the controversy surrounding the party’s name. Tech entrepreneur and brand strategist David Bullock registered the combschella.com domain on March 31st prior to registering combsfest.com on April 11th, after receiving an aggressive cease and desist from Goldenvoice who owns the rights to the term “Coachella.” Y’all already cashing out and still mad… FOH! Anyway, the best part of the party was Lil Wayne sharing some motivational words at the end of his medley of Young Money hits: “MAKE SOME NOISE IF EVERYDAY YOU LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND ARE PROUD OF THAT MOTHAFUCKA YOU SEE STARING BACK AT YOU!” Words to live by, truly.
POPPY x KYLIE x KOURTNEY x BMWi x BEATS 1 “PARADISE IN THE DESERT” PIZZA BOYS RADIO LAUNCH
After getting high off 92 cucumber vapes at Combsfest, I found myself in La Quinta for *take a deep breathe here* Poppy nightclub x Kylie Cosmetics x Kourt x Kylie x BMW i x Beats 1’s party for the launch of “Pizza Boys Radio” with performances by Cactus Jack and Sheck Wes, and DJ sets by Diplo and Pedro Cavaliere. No one knew who the fuck “Pizza Boys” even were, but turns out it’s Kendall Jenner and her DJ friend Daniel Chetrit who discuss “all things Millennial” on their new Beats 1 Radio podcast, who, funny enough, have also been slammed with a cease and desist from “Pizza Boyzzz,” a merch company who’s owned the rights to the name since 2015. Can Kendall handle taking anymore Ls? I’m done…
Since Diplo chose to ignore my DMs about list even though I got him tatted on my ass, I still managed to crash the party. Riding in a luxury shuttle bus through a sandstorm to get to the massive outdoor compound miles away, I felt like one of the three kings on a horseback pilgrimage, mobbing through Bethlehem to see the birth of Kylie and Travis Scott’s holy trap baby, Stormi Jenner.
As the shuttle pulled up to the drop off, we were held hostage on the bus waiting for security clearance to disembark as an exodus of partygoers were impatiently trying to bounce out and hop to their next location. Claustrophobia hit, and I started to have PTSD from The Weeknd’s 27th birthday party. After 15 minutes of everyone on the bus having an anxiety attack ready to shatter the windows, we were finally let off. I breathed a sigh of relief, and ran through the line of neon-lit palm trees and Keith Haring-esque rainbow print BMWs like Moses parting the seas, stopping onto the grassy dancefloor flanked between a lagoon and the mainstage where Travis was performing with Diplo, Pedro, and their entourages. Allofasudden, two helicopters started circling over the dancefloor shining their searchlights down on the party crowd, causing everyone to be in a dusty, confused haze… were they actually looking for someone, or was this all a stunt orchestrated by mastermind momager Kris Jenner? For a moment, I thought I was an Instagram model who’d called in a SWAT team to evacuate me from Ja Rule's Fyre Fest.
While security was distracted by this frenzy, I waltzed past them, climbed onto the stage and found myself chilling in the DJ booth with Diplo, Pedro, Travis, a neon orange wig Kylie, Jordyn Woods, Kourtney, Younes Bendjima, Kendall, and Post Malone showing off his new face tatt… ISSA KNIFE! The stage was eventually cleared for Lil Wayne who was now following my every move. I exited motioning to feed myself some free pizza, but the Pizza Boys’ 1950s-themed pizzeria diner had run out. I wasn’t the only Influencer whose maneuvers had worked them up an appetite.
FENTY X PUMA “DRIPPIN’”
Saturday afternoon, Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma brand threw a grand lakeside estate pool party in Coachella that was their pretty pastel version of the X Games. Debuting collab merch exclusive to the event, partygoers could pose with branded surfboards, go down a jumbo blow up slide, or race one another on a track of dirt buggies, when they weren’t lounging in pool cabanas or dancing to Pedro setting the perfect dancehall vibe with a DJ set of Rihanna bangers.
CASH APP “FRIENDS KEEP SECRETS”
After watching Timbaland’s DJ set from the stage at Levi’s Neon Carnival with its queen Paris Hilton, I pulled up to the “Friends Keep Secrets” party in Indio for Cash App, the Influencer version of Venmo. Upon my arrival, police had “shut it down” blockading the entrance from any additional guests from passing through. #RESISTING the authority, I took one for THE CULTURE and tiptoed down the dark dirt road lining the party, hopped the fence, scraped myself getting through some gnarly tree branches, and waltzed straight through the party and onto the dancefloor. Invited attendees arrived in transportation provided by Lyft with a neon sign prominently displayed on the American flag wrapped lambo from Rae Sremmurd’s “Powerglide” music video. The last survivors, about 70 of us, were all huddled around Pedro (again) in the DJ booth, dancing ‘til the world’s end, rowdy, carefree, and vibrant. By its scant numbers, the party crowd of Influencer celebs made it feel more like an intimate living room loft function than any party I’d ever been to at Coachella. While Alexander Wang frolicked about with his long Azn mane swaying side-to-side, A$AP Rocky lit up a blunt for the mob from Canndescent, who hosted a V.I.P. cannabar of its portable pre-rolls. As I took a hit, the sun peaked above the desert mountains, and at once, I felt God’s presence come down on me, blessed with another year of iconic party memories.