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Frank Ocean and a laptop saying 'no you can't stream me'.
According to reports, Frank Ocean – pictured performing at the 2012 Coachella – scrapped his stage production and cancelled his livestream at the last minute. (Photo: Getty Images / Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureApril 18, 2023

Coachella’s livestream was fire – until Frank Ocean flamed out spectacularly

Frank Ocean and a laptop saying 'no you can't stream me'.
According to reports, Frank Ocean – pictured performing at the 2012 Coachella – scrapped his stage production and cancelled his livestream at the last minute. (Photo: Getty Images / Design: Tina Tiller)

Everything that happened at Coachella also happened on the livestream. Until one headliner decided they wanted no part of it.

Benee revved things up in her Green Honda. The Chemical Brothers danced with clowns. Wet Leg made everyone scream. Charli XCX played like the pop powerhouse she’s become. Bad Bunny beefed with Harry Styles then had technical difficulties. Reclusive singer Jai Paul performed for the first time ever. Calvin Harris did whatever it is that Calvin Harris does. Blink-182 needed better jokes. Rosalía completely and utterly owned everyone. Blackpink slayed.

Benee performs at coachella.
Benee’s apocalyptic vibe at Coachella. (Photo: Getty Images)

Then there was Mark Rebillet. In an afternoon set so stupidly entertaining I’ve seen the whole thing three times, the French-American producer – think dubstep Andrew WK – seemed to think he was in a WWF wrestling ring, stripping down to a pair of tight togs before throwing tables and chairs, smashing his laptop and punching a hole in the wall so hard he appeared to break his finger. Behind him on the big screen, giant chickens ran across burning city scapes.

Rebillet yelled, raged, hollered and screamed. At one point, he growled: “I’m off my meds … I’m fucking pissed!” then mixed his words into a song. At another he jumped into the crowd, twerked, then got lost trying to get back on stage with a blow-up banana. Between the increasingly borderline cancellable moments, he sometimes played some damned fine impromptu electronica too. “Just making shit up up here,” he deadpanned at the end. 

Unless you were in Palm Springs yourself, the best time you could have over the weekend was with the Coachella festival livestream. It’s done this for several years now, but this was the first time all six of the packed Palm Springs festival’s stages were beamed around the world via YouTube. It gave viewers the chance to catch the action and skip around performers without the stress of using music festival toilets and dealing with the smell and sweat of 125,000 punters.

(Clearly, with expanded online coverage that includes streaming Coachella’s second upcoming weekend – also a first – organisers are gearing up to turn the online event into a stream of another kind, one that delivers more revenue. Next year, expect to be charged single or multi-day fees.)

Rosalía performs at Coachella.
Rosalía’s Coachella set resembled a one-hour music video. (Photo: Getty Images)

After the first two days, I would have happily paid good money for the experience. For those who can’t afford to be there, Coachella’s free stream is a chance for music lovers to catch up on exactly what’s happening out there in festival land after three stalled years. Some themes quickly emerged: Mad Max-inspired retro-futurism rules, according to Benee, who proved her new rave-pop direction is working for her thanks to her hot new single ‘Green Honda,’ and Ashnikko, a recent Aotearoa visitor who raged like the lovechild of Nine Inch Nails and Gwen Stefani.

Add into the mix Charli XCX’s studious pop bangers, Blackpink’s brand of genre-mashing perfectionism, Latto’s R18, Missy Elliott-indebted showcases, and a set from the Spanish singer Rosalía that was so stunningly choreographed it resembled a one-hour music video, and it’s clear Coachella is doing its best to keep the mostly-male festival line-ups of old well in the past. 

Fans in the crowd watch Blankpink play at Coachella.
Fans enjoy Blackpink’s main stage headlining set at Coachella. (Photo: Getty Images)

Another trend I’m less happy to report: superstar DJs are here to stay. Coachella was full of pounding oonst-oonst delivered with the kind of monster stage production that can quickly give you a headache. I hated every second that I saw of Fisher, Chris Lake and Calvin Harris, but the antidote, if you needed one, were the more thoughtful, throbbing sets by veterans Underworld and The Chemical Brothers.

Emo in all its forms, whether it was Dominic Fike’s bleeding heart balladeering to the bleak rap vibes of $uicideboy$ and Yung Lean, also got a major showcase. For my money – of which I paid none – those that invited their friends up on stage with them had the better time. Labrinth’s space-age set with just the heads visible of his backing singers was a thing of beauty, while Metro Boomin’s set featured guest spots from The Weeknd and Diddy and rivalled Rebillet’s for maxed-out OTT intensity.

Even better was Kenny Beats, the hip-hop producer who delivered one of the most joyous hours of music I think I’ve seen. Anyone who can mix Nirvana, Kylie Minogue, Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A and Basement Jaxx into a delicious sunny groove gets my approval. If there’s any more storm, Covid or political strife coming, or just another two weeks of school holidays to survive, YouTube replays of Beats’ beats will from now on be my permanent happy place. 

For two days, the Coachella stream provided brilliant, unmissable, addictive, compelling content. Then came day three. The night’s mysterious headliner Frank Ocean hasn’t played live since 2017, and his performance has been hyped since 2020, when he was due to headline but couldn’t because of Covid cancellations. Fans were pumped and YouTube advertised its “Frankchella” livestream for weeks. A frenzy emerged, building towards exactly the kind of closing performance a festival like Coachella needs.

A DJ performs at Coachella on a massive stage packed with happy people.
Kenny Beats performs at Coachella. (Photo: Getty Images)

And then … Ocean’s stream disappeared. Along with Björk, another reclusive and mysterious Sunday performer, Ocean’s name suddenly disappeared from the main stage livestream guide, replaced instead by a replay of that bonkers Mark Rebillet show. Online, fans seethed, stomped and raged. Photos of Rebillet smashing his stage and yelling, “I’m fucking pissed!” were turned into memes about Frank Ocean fans. His name soon started trending on Twitter. “I’m going to bed,” reported one former fan.

What happened is still being investigated. Unconfirmed rumours suggest Ocean had major stage production plans, including an ice rink and hockey players, but pulled the plug on that, and the livestream, at the last minute. He made it on stage an hour late (one report says this is so the rink’s ice had time to melt), and shaky crowd footage doing the rounds on TikTok and Twitter shows long gaps between songs, the crowd being asked to do much of the singing, many of his biggest songs being remixed into oblivion and the inclusion of a six-song DJ set of bangers. A midnight curfew cut Ocean’s set short.

Rolling Stone reports Ocean broke his ankle earlier in the week in an on-site bike mishap, perhaps why he was wearing slippers. Whatever happened, his performance has left those that were there bewildered, and those at home bereft. After that shambles, Coachella organisers are probably on the phone to The Weeknd right now, asking if he can step in (again) to replace Ocean for weekend two. You can see how it all shakes down in a few days when Coachella’s livestream once again and, possibly for the last time, streams for free.

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