Solar Imperialism Conquers All

Empire of the Sun was too big for Coachella. Can Outside Lands do them justice?

Empire of the Sun (Courtesy of Empire of the Sun)

The biggest traffic jam during Weekend One at Coachella was on the first night, when tens of thousands of people left The XX and Little Dragon’s sets in an attempt to see Empire of the Sun in the Sahara Tent.

It did not work out for everybody.

Ten or 15 minutes in, when the Australian electronic duo with the fantastical headpieces were in the middle of “DNA” or “Way to Go,” it became obvious that the tent was well over capacity and no one else would be getting in — and that to accommodate fan desires, Coachella really ought to consider a logistical restructuring.

“I’ve had quite a lot of people say that,” Empire’s Luke Steele says, reluctant to blame anyone but chalking the mass disappointment up to “visual construction in the tent.”

Well, Outside Lands doesn’t have quite the immersive sensory capabilities as Coachella, but when Steele, his bandmate Nick Littlemore, and the entire multimedia apparatus that is Empire of the Sun headline the Twin Peaks stage Friday night, that deficiency (so to speak) should work to everyone’s benefit.

In defiance of a cultural marketplace that demands instant gratification, Empire’s growth has been slow and steady. Owing to its placement in a Honda commercial, their song “Walking on a Dream” — which was recorded in 2009, didn’t hit the Billboard 100 for almost eight years. Worldwide tours and a penchant for over-the-top bombast solidified their reputation as a festival juggernaut, and it paid off on the production end, as well. For 2016’s Twin Vines, Empire worked with all-star session bassist (and David Bowie collaborator) Tim Lefebvre, plus Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac.

While the world seems like it plays catch-up vis-a-vis Empire, Steele sees that dynamic nearly in reverse.

“We’re real excited to embrace things a lot more and go a lot deeper with it,” he says. “I think for us, we’re always — and this is a good thing — we’re about two years behind where our minds and our creativity want to be. We have so much love for technology and what it can do, but we’re trying to catch up to it. So if anything, we’ve embraced it a lot more.”

Along the way, it’s brought some moments that can weird out a member of a band whose entire stage presence relies on looking like high priests of some extraterrestrial space-cult, by way of Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon.

“I went to dinner the other night, and one by one, Fleetwood Mac started rolling up to this restaurant,” he says. “It was quite strange.”

Empire of the Sun plays Saturday at 8:55 p.m. at the Twin Peaks Stage.

Check out more coverage from our Outside Lands issue here:

Who’s They?
New York dance-pop duo Sofi Tukker are about to blow up, period.

Fleet Foxes Emerge from Hibernation
Robin Pecknold details the band’s new record and the six-year wait that preceded it.

Future Islands: Perfecting the Imperfect
Despite disparate musical backgrounds, the Baltimore trio make it work.

Belle and Sebastian in Peacetime
Guitarist Stevie Jackson says the band’s best years are yet to come.

Warpaint’s Second Coming
With third album Heads Up!, the Los Angeles art rockers return from the brink.

The Original Noname
Her album Telefone calls and leaves a message with listeners.

Real Estate Lets Good Music Speak for Itself
Avoiding all drama, the band continues to churn out great tunes.

The She’s Take Control
The local surf-rock favorites are determined to build their own future.

There Will Never Be Another You, Lee Fields
The 65-year-old owns the stage with soulful love songs.

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