The festival lineup is full of bands they’ve influenced. Morrissey will perform Friday.
For a gathering that’s mostly about new music, this weekend’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival will see performances from many key figures from rock history. Paul McCartney still stands as a symbol of the glories of ’60s rock, Leonard Cohen is the elusive and legendary god of singer-songwriters and shoe-gaze outfit My Bloody Valentine is among the most influential guitar bands of the last three decades.
Sometime Los Angeles resident Morrissey, who is due to perform in the desert Friday, fits squarely in their company. His legacy stands as one of the key inspirations of the alternative-rock and do-it-yourself movements that came out of, and transcended, the 1980s. In so many ways, the English icon patented the template for modern indie rock, first as the frontman for seminal mope-pop band the Smiths and then during his ongoing, though sometimes creatively uneven, solo career.
Morrissey’s contributions are particularly striking when glancing through the Coachella lineup. Many of the younger bands on the bill would not be there -- or at least, would not sound the same -- were it not for him.
"They were my whole introduction to a world of smart, literate, coy people," said Mikel Jollet, whose L.A.-based band the Airborne Toxic Event also will play the festival Friday, referring to the Smiths.
Jollet sees the band’s influence as "enormous," marking "entire subgenres," and in truth, he’s right. Almost any British band that picked up a guitar in the ’80s and banished synthesizers from its sound was marked by the Smiths, a quartet that favored street clothes to haute couture and played ringing, hook-rich songs sung by the always eccentric and outspoken vocalist.
The ’90s Britpop movement -- the way groups including Blur and Oasis and Pulp placed emphasis on a specifically English lineage -- grew from the Smiths, and bands that upend traditional notions about gender and sexuality -- Suede, Antony and the Johnsons, Bloc Party, Of Montreal, the Magnetic Fields -- come from the same place.
"Their sound founded the indie movement," said Wendy Fonarow, an anthropologist and author of "Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music." "The values they represented keep getting reproduced."