Coachella has been the site of some of the most iconic electronic/DJ sets ever. The Chemical Brothers have become a classic Coachella act; Depeche Mode, Swedish House Mafia and Eric Prydz have all left their mark; and, of course, in 2006, Daft Punk brought the pyramid.
Dance acts have changed Coachella, and 2023 is aiming to be the most diverse year yet at the festival, in multiple ways—and that’s one reason why South African producer and DJ Kyle Watson is excited to be performing at Coachella on Friday, April 14 and 21.
“It’s pretty amazing when you get the news and the offer that it is actually going to happen,” Watson said during a recent Zoom interview.
This wasn’t the first time Watson has received that news; he was part of the 2020 lineup for the festival that never came to be.
“It was pretty brutal and demotivating when it got canceled, and everything kind of was, like, up in the air,” Watson said. “But when I had the offer come through last year for 2023, it kickstarted all of that excitement again. Now (I’m) getting closer to the festival, and it’s a mixture of excitement and nervous energy. The pressure’s on. We’ve got to go there and play a really cool set, and I’m super-stoked for it and really looking forward to it.”
Electronic acts continue to bring out all the stops at Coachella to make their sets something more than just musical experiences. However, Watson said he’s content in knowing the festival wants him for him.
“There is a reason why you get asked to play there, so obviously, there’s a belief in you and your talents and your skills in what you’re putting up,” he said. “I think really, at the end of the day, all you can do is just perform as best you can. There’s a lot of work that goes in, from a music production point of view. The months leading up to a performance like this involve a lot of time in the studio making edits, and writing new tracks to make sure that you’ve got a set that is as new and fresh and interesting as possible. I think that’s really all you can do—just tap into that part of you that makes you the artist that you are, that sort of magic sauce, and just make sure that you stay true to that.
“I’ve been writing a lot of stuff. I’ve been playing around with different sounds, and I’m hoping that the set will feel a little bit different from the types of sets that I’ve been playing.”
Watson has continued to experiment with the DJ dance formula since the pandemic’s start. The bitcrushed nature of 2020’s “Major Games” sounds like he grabbed samples from classic Atari games, and in 2021, Watson mixed electronica, pop, funk and more with “Magic Carpet.” His Coachella 2023 set will sound different than what would have been in April 2020.
“There’s definitely been more of a shift in where I’m pulling inspiration from, and the type of music that I’ve been working on, and the ideas that I’ve been entertaining,” Watson said. “Before, perhaps I’d relied on formulas, not too heavily, but there were definitely patterns and things; I think producers fall into these kinds of traps, and I’ve become very aware of that. The last sort of 12 months, there’s been a bit of a shift in that.”
Bringing the DJ experience to a festival means Watson will be aiming to captivate attendees in a different way.
“If you’re playing a club, it’s likely that most of the people who are at the club have bought tickets to come and see you, if you’re playing a headline show there,” Watson said. “They kind of know what to expect. At a festival, though, you’re playing to people who came to see you, but also a lot of people who perhaps haven’t even heard of you, or maybe have only heard rumors about your stuff. You have to play differently in that sense. You have to, obviously, please a lot more people.
“The other thing is that there’s much more of a feeling of connection when you’re in a smaller room, whereas something like Coachella … you’re kind of connecting with a body of people as a whole. You have to keep that in the back of your mind, and from a DJing and mixing point of view, keep things moving, and keep the energy up. I think you can take less risks at a festival than you could perhaps in a room of people that have bought tickets just to come and see you.”
On a stage as big as Coachella, Watson is still ready to make changes to his set on the fly.
“It’s not any less improv than it would be at a club show,” Watson said. “I think in the moment, and depending on how you’re feeling, and the energy that you’re getting from the crowd, all of that just factors in.”
Even though Watson has been a DJ since 2007, he said he feels “reassured” to be asked to play at Coachella.
“As a creative, you can live inside your head sometimes, especially if you have long sections or periods of time where you may not be on the road and may be spending a couple of months at home,” he said. “You can kind of get in your head and start self-doubting; I think that’s also just pretty much a natural aspect of being a creative person. When you get something like this, or a booking comes through, or (you get) a release on a label that was a target, it is reassuring that you are doing something right. … That’s where I’m at my happiest—making beats. It’s just an absolute bonus that I get the chance to take this product, these pieces of music, and actually go and play them to people. Obviously, to play them on a stage like Coachella is just mind-blowing, so it’s definitely not something I take for granted.”
In 2018, Watson released his first and only album, Into the Morning. Since then, he’s dropped three EPs—and more than 30 singles.
“On mass, that’s the way music is consumed now. People are wanting a single that they can listen to for a month, and then something new,” Watson said. “Even EPs … now there’s one track which will get all of the features, all of the interest, and the other track will just kind of live there and be a very ignored B-side, which is kind of a shame.
“Albums are interesting, because on one hand, I see albums getting less and less traction, but a lot of producers who I know are working on albums, or putting albums out. I don’t know if that’s a product of coming off the back of COVID and maybe having a lot of music, or maybe having a lot of ideas and just sitting on them. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but right now, singles are the focus for me.”