The craft beer area is swarming with humanity. There are dudes drinking IPAs while charging their phones, sharply dressed women resting their eyes between saisons, and kids who look barely old enough to drink sipping golden wheats in a slim patch of shade being thrown by a palm tree. It is 93 degrees and hundreds of Coachella attendees are attempting to beat the heat of the late afternoon desert sun with one of the world’s most beloved warm weather beverages: beer.
On tap at the festival’s Craft Beer Barn are selections from more than a dozen Southern California breweries including Strand Brewing Company, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, Bagby Beer Company, and Coachella Valley Brewing, the latter of which is located twelve miles down the road from where the world renowned three-day music festival is happening this weekend.
Along with these local brews, the Barn offers selections from breweries in Montana, Michigan, and beyond, making Coachella’s craft beer lineup almost as sprawling as its musical offerings. Radiohead and Lady Gaga headlined the past two nights, and later this evening Kendrick Lamar will dazzle the massive with a huge headlining show coming on the heels of his just-released LP, DAMN.
While these superstars and most of the other artists playing this weekend are not likely to ever see a general admission area of the festival, Matt Flegel and Monty Munro of the Canadian post punk outfit Preoccupations have braved the crowds to have a beer in the Barn. Both dressed in jeans despite the heat, and vocalist Flegel and guitarist Munro stand in the crowd wide-eyed at the sheer number of people gathered here to drink.
Their band – which formed in Calgary in 2013 and was known as Viet Cong until internet backlash necessitated a name change last year – played earlier today in Coachella’s roomy Mojave Tent. The four-man band has been touring the world behind their sophomore LP, the droning, darkly anthemic Preoccupations, since the album’s release last September. Many beers have been consumed along the way.
“Being a musician is one of the few professions where you can drink while you’re working, but you still need to be slightly on the ball,” Flegel says, explaining his predilection for pilsners and other lighter styles. At the counter he and Munro both order pilsners from Figueroa Mountain, which sway precariously in plastic cups as the duo sits on an unoccupied patch of grass to discuss beer, Belgium and the perks of backstage access.
As musicians, when is the perfect time of day for a beer?
MM: Like, 10:30am. Not quite 11 but you feel like it’s almost eleven.
MF: It depends on what you have to do that day. If you have to play a festival set at two o’ clock in the afternoon, then 9am is an okay time for beer.
MM: Yeah, this morning at nine was the time.
MF: If you’re in an airport in the morning, it’s completely allowed.
MM: 6:45am, fine to drink in the airport.
MF: If you’re on an early ferry, you’re allowed to drink beer. People don’t shun you.
There’s obviously a famous and longstanding relationship between rock and roll and alcohol—to what extent does beer play into that for you guys?
MF: Let’s do some quick math Monty.
MM: Oh man, we figured out how many beers we probably had drank in our lives. Let me just figure out the number for the last four years.
MF: So we average six beers a day probably, especially when we’re recording. For four years.
MM: [Does calculations on his phone.] Over four the last years I’d say we’ve each drank about 8,760 beers each.
MF: Times an average of five or six dollars, how much money is that?
MM: Let’s figure it out! [Does additional calculations.] It’s $43,800 each. For the whole band it’s $175,200.
MF: To some people it would look obscene, but it definitely helps the musical process.
I have to believe you guys get a lot of beer for free when you play shows.
MM: Somebody bought those beers though. I’d say honestly that we’re really pumping up some local economies.
You guys are all from Calgary. Are there any Canadian beers you’re especially fond of?
MM: There’s a company out of Victoria, BC called Phillips, and they make a couple good ones. There’s one called the Blue Buck that I really like, and also the Slipstream is really good.
MF: What’s the classic Quebec one we drink all the time?
MM: Unibroue! They make one called La Fin du Monde. That’s some top-notch shit. They also make a [Belgian Ale called] Maudit. Unibroue is the best beer company in Canada.
MF: I’m living in Quebec now, and it really is probably the best beer company in Canada. It’s more traditional Belgian trappist beers.
MM: Like nine percent [ABV], and they come in a wine bottle. We did drink a lot of La Fin du Monde when we were making the last album, but only because we made a bunch of it in Quebec and that’s where that beer is.
MF: That brewery has gotten down into the States at this point. I’ve seen it around. I do love the Belgian styles though, and I feel like Unibroue is doing the best job of making the classic style trappist beers. When we go to Belgium, you can drink like, fifteen high test beers, and the next day you feel fine. They don’t add any garbage. Fifteen is maybe pushing it, but we’ve probably done it. I feel like Belgium wins at beer, still.
Really our main demographic is old record nerds.”
You guys must get to drink a lot of international beers while you’re on tour.
MF: We do get to drink a lot of the local standard, whatever that may be.
MM: I feel like there are countries that aren’t known as much for beer, but they still have good beer. France isn’t known as a beer country, but Kronenberg is awesome. In Italy, Perroni is awesome.
Who is the typical person in the crowd at the Preoccupations’ Coachella set?
MF: Old record nerds. It like, the dudes that brought their sons here. Their sons are still sleeping, and the old men are seeing us play at two o’clock in the afternoon.
MM: When the sons get here the dads are like, “You totally missed it!” and the sons are like, “Dad, I just want to go see Lorde.” Which is fair. No diss to Lorde.
MF: Especially in Europe, I would say our main audience is forty to sixty year-old men.
How did that happen? You’re all young guys.
MM: Old at heart!
MF: It’s not one hundred percent true, but it’s probably ninety percent true. Really our main demographic is old record nerds.
I feel like that’s a compliment to what you do.
MF: I think so too. They always have good stories; they’re always like “I saw Sonic Youth doing the Confusion Is Sex tour in 1984” It’s like, “cool.”
In the context of this festival, there’s been a lot of discussion in the past few years about how dance music and hip-hop and to a certain extent pop are taking over a lineup that used to be very guitar rock focused. Obviously you guys play analog instruments. Where do you think rock music is right now?
MF: Wandering from where we were earlier to over here, we basically covered all of the festival grounds, I didn’t hear any rock music.
MM: I didn’t either, actually.
MF: We were sandwiched between a couple of DJs for our set. I feel like people don’t come to things like this to listen to music, they come to get fucked up and dance.
MM: I feel like that’s true.
MF: All the power to you if that’s what you want to do, but I don’t feel like people are coming to music festivals to see bands as much.
What’s your preferred venue?
MM: Honestly I don’t mind festivals necessarily. They can be pretty strange. I like playing bars.
MF: I like playing a 500-capacity room that’s packed at one ‘o clock in the morning with people who paid to come see you and the bands you’re playing with. It’s more intimate, and I can yell into the microphone and hear my voice bouncing off the walls. I really appreciate that and love that. Outdoor festivals have their place, of course, obviously, and I can’t knock it because we were invited here and we said yes.
MM: I’ve had a fun time today. I’d say even in the last three years we’ve probably gone to more music festivals than any people will ever go to in their lives, and certainly more than people should go to in their lives. You know how when NASA sends people to space they figure out how much radiation you’re going to take on and the maximum allowance they can give to the astronauts before they can’t send the mission anymore? I feel like if we were in NASA, we wouldn’t be at any more music festivals, they would be like “No, that was more than enough for those guys!”
MF: “You’re on the verge of radiation poisoning!”
MM: The red light would be flashing right now.
What differences do you find in festival cultures from country to country, or even region to region in the States?
MF: I think fundamentally they’re kind of all the same. I feel like in Europe it’s more the old guard, like we’re playing Primavera and it’s all the fifty year olds playing, Like Shellac and This Is Not This Heat. I feel like people kind of kept up their attention a bit more with trends going up and down people and there stuck with the bands a little bit more there than they did here. I feel like here it’s really easy for you to wake up and no one gives a shit about you at all. In Europe the fan base is a bit more loyal. Maybe that’s bullshit.
MM: Sometimes you get the one odd festival where the backstage is better than the other ones, but mostly they’re all the same.
Who has the best backstage area?
MM: Osheaga in Montreal had one of the craziest catering tents that I’ve ever been in, with like, an oyster bar and shit. We played a festival in the Netherlands – I saw Kendrick Lamar there for the first time and he’s playing here tonight – and they had a boat that would take you to an island where they had saunas. I didn’t go.
What festival has really hooked you up as far as your rider goes?
MF: I feel like Ireland the past few times has been really good.
MM: We did a festival in Tullamore called Castlepalooza, and the green room was in a fucking castle.
MF: We always get treated way better than we deserve to be treated.
MM: Well said, and true.