You can only really know if you were there that night to witness live — Daft Punk’s set at the 2006 iteration of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. Guy and Thomas as their Robot personas atop a pyramid of light, Close Encounters’ famous five notes signaling to us their landing. They would play for us a cosmic mass in an earthly church, forty thousand of us in and then around the Sahara tent made for ten, connecting us in the desert to something greater than ourselves, a feeling not easily described, but inside of us all and that can only be summoned from one place — the dance floor.
I’d fueled into that Friday night first by psychedelic Mushrooms during the day, followed by an E and then a pot cookie with Parker and her lot as the sun went down. She’s a Hollywood writer and was my partner at the time, we were there with her best friend, Thom, his partner, J. You could say I lived another life, once upon a quasi curse’d time. Thom and J’d had to bail — the pot cookie proved too much for J. Or maybe the crowd. It’s always so hard to tell at these sort of things.
I inched into the back of the crowd with Parker, both of us still in the throes of our drugs, me the more experienced in such a navigation, we found our spot, out of the crush of the congregants inside the crowded tent. I danced in my own little world back there, enveloped in the debauched, secular mass before us, the spectacle none of us had seen before. Looking around me my eyes filled with tears as we all reveled in the experience, the journey they were taking us on, that feeling run rampant, the one you’re always chasing — the magic of the underground.
The wind picked up the next day, dust devils across the festival from the rotors of Madonna’s helicopter…
I sat at my computer the next day, rapt as a chorus of New Orleanian second line horns signaled Her entrance, a Nefertiti cap crown atop Her head, the face of the Boy King splashed across Her dancers’ costumes. A steel framed triangle, holding a legion of lights pointed outward rose up to reveal still more of Her Chorus. That long ago night an inverted twin, in my mind, connecting us to an otherworldly experience, the only meaning the spectacle itself, mirrored now with a temporal, a real, human experience — a unabashed and joyful celebration of Black culture in modern day America. In a time when our country’s President has characterized the modern white supremacy movement as including “some very fine people,” Beyonce claimed a space not normally political, not normally Black and opened Her performance with the Black National Anthem, Her own shield emblazoned across Her chest — her initials bookending the Greek Alpha.
It was fucking powerful, watching not only Beyonce claim Coachella as Hers, but watching Her chorus do the same, as well. More powerful, still, the utter joy they all took in doing so — She brought Black culture, the drum line and step crew; She evoked radical iconography, outfitting Her dancers in berets and army field jackets and with the voice of Malcolm X; She tipped her hat to the great soul bands of the 1960s, their dancing singers and horn section, only Hers not a handful of artists, but scores. She brought Black Power to a symbolic door of white, privileged America, that is, to a music festival CEO’d by Philip Anchutz, where a general admission ticket costs four hundy, vip passes a grand, and then She streamed it free for The People at home.
Robotic sounds greet the entrance of twin dancers in silver metallic jacket. She’s taking the robots and turning them on their heads as the dancers cascade down the stairs of the triangle, the moon eclipsing the sun in the background, high above the stage, as Hers eclipses theirs now, that night so long ago.
I watched and wept as I did when I watched grainy footage of 2006, cut together from grainy, thirty second snippets. It was the time when cell phones still flipped, digital cameras still the exception, we all were present in that space together, in the music, on a collective journey — the meaning the experience, itself.
In a time when discourse seems to have died, reduced to shouting online, Beyonce speaks, not in answers to questions in a typical celebrity interview or in narcissistic, nonsensical tweets, but in her work, in the spectacle. In doing so she allows those of us in the audience not of The Culture to read our own meaning, while giving those that are a space to celebrate their collective journey together, in Her music.