Talking Dildo Art, Doomsday Prep, and Geodesic Domes With the Campers of Coachella
A study of the sorts of people who travel across the country just to sleep outdoors after a Radiohead set.
All photos by Alexandra Bolinder-Gibsand
As one of the biggest festivals in the world—this year drew almost 100,000 people daily—Coachella caters to an immeasurable number of musical genres and the lifestyles that accompany them. Nowhere else in the world are Instagram models, crusty burners, shitfaced frat bros, normcore daytrippers, dad rock...dads, professional ravers, doomsday preppers, suburban high schoolers, and all sorts of other niche subcultural scene dwellers shoved into such close proximity for half a week of overindulgence in the stifling heat.
Many of the fest's wealthier attendees find alternate accommodations in the surrounding area—communities from Indio to Palm Springs empty out to accommodate price-gouged rentals for the weekends. But the campgrounds at Coachella are still a teeming social petri dish, oozing with weirdos and norms from all walks of life who didn't want to spend thousands of dollars on couch space in a McMansion.
Taking a stroll through Coachella's sprawling campgrounds, you realize there's a whole ecosystem of real estate going on. Some crews show up early on Thursday morning and wait in line for up to ten hours to get a prime location. Some camps are multi-unit compounds for communities up to 20-people strong with more amenities than most Brooklyn studios. On the other hand, some people sleep under their car or next to a pile of trash.
In an attempt to figure out what life is like in the endless burbs of tarp and plastic that are the campgrounds, we took a tour to see what people come home to after a night watching Radiohead struggle against sound issues or creepily following Rihanna around the festival. From geodesic domes to dildo art and quasi-doomsday preppers, here are the people we met and their campsites at Coachella 2017.
1. There's No Place Like Dome
THUMP: Holy moly. You guys have built a whole geodesic dome here!
We can have like 15 people climb on this at a time. We normally set it up right before sunset, climb to the top, and then howl at the sun as it comes down. It only takes a couple hours for us to do it now. It originally was a sleeping area, but these days it's mostly a communal area. People pop their head in and stop by all the time. It's an awesome vibe. It invites curious people. That's been really cool. People are outgoing and wanna see what it's all about.
You guys must be pretty deep in festival life...
This is our fourth time here. We go to Lightning in a Bottle and Burning Man, but one of the first festivals I ever went to was Coachella, so there's definitely a nostalgic element to crawling out of your tent at 8AM when it's hot as balls. After doing everything else, the amenities are what stick out here. There are showers, trash cans everywhere. We still try to do a 'leave no trace' policy, but that's the biggest difference.
What's the key to a successful camping experience?
Having a clean campsite. This morning, it was kinda dirty in here and that made me uncomfortable. Once you clean up, having a nice space for everyone, it's a lot more peaceful of an area. People think that part of the price of the ticket is someone coming and cleaning up after you. And technically, I guess they do here, but we're all adults. Just because we're at a festival doesn't mean we should be inconsiderate of the environment we create around us.
This is probably the loudest campsite party I've ever heard
Thanks! It's fueled by this speaker [blasting trap music]. We've been doing this for like three years and this speaker just rules over all the campsites around. We got a good spot
So you love Marshmello so much that you dedicated your campsite to him?
I made the flag just before we flew down. We live in Alaska, so we don't get a chance to see him. I heard he's amazing live.
But don't you think it's kinda stupid that he wears a marshmallow on his head?
It's his thing! He was another DJ before, and he wasn't that popular. And then he put on this persona and then he blew up.
What's the gnarliest thing you've seen go down in a campsite?
We woke up this morning and there was a piece of poop in that bucket over there. I dunno how that happened!
3. The Dil-Doll Camp
Can you explain this piece of conceptual art on your car?
Well, somebody pulled out a dildo— I dunno where it came from—and just stuck it on my car. Somebody randomly had a doll in their trunk, and that is the end result. It's my best friend's daughter's doll. I don't think she's ever getting it back. It's been there all weekend, I'm surprised it hasn't melted yet.
Are you guys the problem children of your block?
No, we're pretty good, except for that we're really dirty. I think we have the messiest campsite here. We actually already cleaned a little bit today. This is the cleanest that it's been.
What the key to surviving a port-a-potty on a Sunday?
Bring your own toilet paper! They always run out and I'm in there for like 15 minutes wiping the place down before I go. Or just try not to pee! I've just been peeing in random spots.
4. The "In a Van Down by the River" Camp
What is this big, ugly thing? I've seen like twenty of them in the campgrounds
It's called a Jucy van. I saw one when I was driving around the Bay Area. I thought it was crazy looking so I checked them out. There's a full bed in the back, and another up top. It's called the penthouse. There's a kitchen with a fridge, sink, two burners. You could probably live in this thing. We have been for four days! It's cheaper than AirBnB and we wanted to be part of the camping experience. It even came with a spatula.
So it's worth it, despite how silly it looks?
People would drive by us laughing. We call him Barney because he's green and purple. But yeah, it's totally worth it.
5. The Most Prepared Camp in the Whole Place
This is a whole camping compound! You made this yourself?
We've made a 20-by-20 shade structure with tubing and canvas. My girlfriend sewed together the canvas and I did the welding. I fitted the structure with a misting rig to keep the place cool. We've also got air conditioning running from a car battery through this bucket. There's a grill over there, too. And we've got a shower. Would you like something to drink, a margarita?
Are you guys, like, doomsday preppers or something?
No! We go to Burning Man every year and take this stuff, but this is my eighth Coachella. The thing about Coachella is: I get older, everyone else stays the same age. But I've committed. I'm coming to this every year. I love the music, I love the desert. I live about an hour away. Bonnaroo, Sasquatch, Governor's Ball, they seem cool, but they're on the other side of the country. The camping aspect is what really does it for me. We make friends every year. We always end up adopting people from nearby campsites.
Who are the most annoying people on the campgrounds?
Most people are just trying to have a good time, for the most part, everyone's down to hang out. You get a lot of younger people that don't respect other people's space or territory. But sometimes it's the people you'd expect to have their shit together. Last year at Desert Trip, someone walked by and stole our shower!
What's a simple campsite hack that everyone should know?
This is super easy. You can run it off a car battery and it'll last all weekend. It's a swab cooler. Basically, you take a 5-gallon bucket, line it with swab cooler mesh—standard stuff you can get on Amazon—and you put a pump in the bottom and a fan on top. The pump recirculates the water. You pull a vacuum through it, and pipe the cool air to wherever you want. You can find guides on how to do it online, it's really easy.
6. A Struggling Afterparty
What is going on here? It's like 4AM.
1014th and Main St. Afterparty! Tell all your hot friends! We're just drinking beer, y'know, whatever.
Is it your intention to grow this party into a full on rave in the campgrounds?
Fuck yeah! Why can't we? I guess, our intention is just, like, your intention. If you've got any drugs to offer...My DJ friend, he's kinda killing it. He accepts, like, tips. It's my homeboy, he does different tours around the Coachella Valley. He's probably gonna play The Do LaB next year.