“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d walk along [that runway.] I saw Ariana Grande walk along there, and now it’s going to be me. We have to do that.”
So declared Four Tet in a video posted to Fred again..’s Instagram Sunday afternoon (April 23), hours before the pair — along with their frequent companion Skrillex – closed out Coachella 2023 with a mainstage performance as thrilling as it was both improbable and historic.
The trio secured the Sunday night slot only after weekend one’s Sunday night headliner, Frank Ocean, dropped out of weekend two following a leg injury and a controversial weekend one performance that, for many in the audience, fell flat. Ocean left behind not only an open set time, but an absurdly unlikely remnant – an ice-skating rink/satellite stage built for his weekend one performance that was never used, but connected to the main stage via the aforementioned runway.
It was there that Four Tet got his pop star moment, as he Skrillex and Fred again.. walked down it to the satellite stage in a side-by-side formation similar to Destiny’s Child’s segment from Beyoncé’s 2018 headlining show. The level of frenzy in the crowd as the guys made their way to the stage (which was circular, and sans ice) had a very frantic pop hysteria vibe, with people screaming for the trio of electronic music producers as if they were Kelly, Michelle and Bey, or the Backstreet Boys, or Grande herself.
It was the culmination of not only a wild week for the trio – whose addition to the Coachella lineup was first reported this past Thursday night — but also a pretty remarkable four months. The three producers representing different sounds and generations of electronic music are widely recognized to be among the best artists of their respective realm of dance music and are now also frequent collaborators and seemingly BFFS. They played their first show together at a club in London this past January, sold out Madison Square Garden in February and have now closed out Coachella, marking a landmark moment not only for them personally, but for dance music at the festival.
Upon their arrival to the satellite stage — where they played the entirety of their set — a beam of white light composed of roughly 20 lasers organized around the circle stretched far into the sky, as a siren sound blasted through the speakers, leading to peak anticipation. The hour and 15-minute set then launched with Skrillex’s “Leave Me Like This” from his February LP, Quest For Fire, which was blended with “Baby Again,” the latest in a list of cross-collaborations from the trio, and punctuated with the iconic “OH MY GOD” from Skrillex’s 2010 “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.”
Coachella’s hierarchical structure is one the festival’s most pronounced elements, with those in possession of VIP and artist wristbands typically getting the best real estate in front of the mainstage. Not so with this show! Instead, the guys played to the GA section surrounding their circular stage, while their faces were projected on the main stage big screens behind them. The main stage itself was populated by a bank of bright white lights, giving the whole scene a cinematic glow.
The set list took equally from each of the producer’s catalogs – including Four Tet’s “Baby,” Fred and Skrillex’s collaborative “Rumble,” Fred’s “Strong,” “Billie (Loving Arms),” Four Tet’s simply undeniable remix of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” the intro riff of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” melded with dubstep and long stretches of straightforward drum & bass, riddim and garage. It altogether formed what was arguably the weirdest, hardest, purest and most EDM-antithetical dance music played on the Coachella main stage since the festival’s early days, when acts like Chemical Brothers and Underworld topped the bill.
As it was with their MSG show in New York, the guys were clearly having a ball, also intermittently appearing sort of gobsmacked by the size of the audience before them – with this show certainly being among the largest any of them have ever played. Skrillex and Fred, dressed in black and white t-shirts, respectively, expressed their excitement about it all with a sort of boyish delight while dancing around on the decks. Meanwhile, Four Tet gave more satisfied dad energy while just walking around the stage in his green t-shirt and cargo shorts with a stunned look on his face.
And who could blame him? If you had said last year — or even last weekend — that Four Tet would close the Coachella mainstage, many people, maybe even Four Tet himself (born Kieran Hebden) — would have said it was impossible. The IDM pioneer, or “the grandmaster Four Tet” as Fred called him during the show, is one of the most well-respected electronic music producers of the last two-plus decades. But he has long been contained to Coachella’s smaller stages.
Last year it also would have been hard to predict a headlining set for Skrillex, who’s played Coachella Outdoor and Sahara Stages multiple times, but who up until this past February hadn’t released a new solo album in nine years. And while Fred’s breakout moment at Coachella 2022 basically functioned as a rocket launcher for his star-making last 12 months, few would have pinned him as a 2023 headliner.
But there they were, playing for the tens of thousands of people in the flesh and countless more watching around the world via livestream. The show felt like an exclamation point on this current moment of dance music, which feels ripe and rich with fresh energy, artists, sounds and fans.
During the EDM heyday, a headlining spot at Coachella was basically the gold standard of crossover success. Over the last few years dance music on the festival’s main stage has relied on stars of the EDM era, with Swedish House Mafia headlining last year and Calvin Harris closing the main stage on Saturday night (April 22). While Skrillex is certainly a peer of the latter two acts, what he’s doing with Fred and Four Tet feels more like the future of the genre than any sort of homage to past eras or hits as the lines between underground and commercial become blurrier and popular dance music becomes increasingly less reliant on pop structures. (And to be clear, we love those past hits, too.)
The last 20 minutes of the set were its best, with Skrilex winding up the crowd by starting, then stopping, then restarting, his recent Missy Elliot collaboration “RATATA” four or five times before letting it just play out as everyone danced — like really, truly raved. The guys then played Fisher’s new classic “Losin’ It,” subbing its tech house drop for bass music so heavy it could be felt rippling through the nervous system.
“We have three more” Fred said as the clock got closer to Coachella’s 12 a.m. sound curfew, and – incredibly, blissully unpretentiously – one of the songs they decided to close the show with was Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” Fred then got on the mic to say the next song would be one he learned to play on the drums as a kid, then playing an edit of “Miss You,” by Blink-182, an homage to the band who’d played the main stage before the three producers took it over. The whole thing ended with a mix of Skrillex’s 2011 “Cinema” remix and Four Tet’s “Teenage Birdsong,” – which got the full Coachella climactic fireworks treatment.
Then it was over. Onstage the guys hugged each other a few times, Four Tet grabbed his tote bag, Fred put his backpack on, and they trio walked back down the runway — a bit like actual pop stars, but more like three dance music stars who deserved to be there as much as anyone else.