Congratulations, we’ve made it everyone—we’ve finally reached Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival’s first weekend of 2023. As celebrities and festival goers alike parade around the Empire Polo Club, presumably to flaunt their carefully curated outfits and take Instagram-worthy pictures rather than actually make time to see some of the incredible artists featured on the event’s lineup, most of us are left with having to watch from the sidelines, aka through our social media feeds.
But this collective FOMO has not gone unnoticed by the people behind the popular music festival. In 2022, we saw a Coachella-themed fashion item drop in Fortnite. This year, the festival has expanded even further into gaming with the launch of Coachella Island, a new destination in Fortnite where players are invited to virtually experience the event.
Coachella Island launched on Friday 14 April, aka the festival’s first day IRL. If you’re keen to go and check the digital rendition of the event for yourself, gamers can find the new destination via the ‘Epic’s Picks’ Discover row in Fortnite or by simply typing in the island code, 5449-4207-12803.
The island has a virtual merch tent and ‘Art Park’, along with desert skies, mountains, Polo Fields and palm trees inspired by the festival’s iconic landscape. Art Park features virtual replicas of the festival’s most recognised art installations, which Fortnite community creators recreated.
This includes the Coachella Ferris Wheel (also often described as “the hottest hook-up spot”), Spectra, an architectural installation inspired by the sunrise and sunset of the event’s desert, balloon chains, as well as two new art installations debuting at this year’s festival.
Similar to 2022 players can purchase Coachella-inspired outfits and in-game items in the Fortnite Item Shop. There are two new outfits for 2023, dubbed ‘Sunset Alto’ and ‘Desert Dawn Lyric’.
The Sunset Alto outfit includes an orange tank top, shorts, and a beach hat. “It comes with a bonus Aurora Visualizer alt style that reacts to music, a reactive Sunset Swirl Back Bling and Crystalline Cactus Pickaxe,” TechCrunch added, whatever that means.
Meanwhile, the Desert Dawn Lyric outfit includes a graphic tee, and comes “with the reactive Aurora Visualizer alt style, an Airflow Vibes Back Bling and Electropalm Staff Pickaxe.” Sadly, no thigh highs or chaps were featured in the outfit packages.
The music-reactive elements play songs by two of this year’s festival’s top performers, Bad Bunny and Burna Boy. Gamers can also participate in creator-made music and art experiences like minigames and quests.
“The future of in-game music and art experiences should not mimic the real-world, but reimagine the magic and make it more accessible via a new medium,” said Sam Schoonover, innovation lead for Coachella, in a statement.
“We believe that the best way to do that is to enable and empower artists to show us the way. Just like the festival IRL is a stage for musicians, Coachella Island is now a canvas for gaming creators. Fortnite provides the tools needed to invite creators and fans to participate in this creative process,” Schoonover concluded.
If you were hoping to spot any celebrities, even if only digitally, unfortunately, I’ve got some bad news for you. There’ll be no sightings of Timothée Chalamet or rumoured love interest Kylie Jenner on Coachella Island. Hopefully, however, we’ll be able to get our hands on some smooching pictures of them at the actual event.
Let me start by clarifying one thing: I’m fully aware of the fact that you don’t actually need another reason to boycott the annual two weekend-long, infamous carnage of a festival that is Coachella. From the part it played in the rise of cultural appropriation in festival fashion and beauty to more recently being compared to Fyre Festival (no less), the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is no stranger to controversy. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the unavoidable celebrity drama it leads to every year—though, admittedly, I’m here for it most of the time, this year, witnessing Timothée Chalamet snogging a yet to be named lady has proved to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. But I digress.
We’re not here to speak about Lil Timmy Tim’s love life—if you are, please feel free to slide into my DMs—we’re on a mission to unveil what is probably Coachella’s most problematic aspect, its very owner, American billionaire and openly homophobic businessman Philip Anschutz.
Known as “the man who owns Los Angeles,” Anschutz is, you guessed it, an old white man who was born wealthy and proceeded to make even more money for himself. Born in 1939 to a Kansas family, Anschutz first followed in his father’s footsteps as a land operator and oilman before investing in railroads, telecommunications, newspapers and entertainment. With an estimated $11 billion fortune, one of his many assets is one of the world’s best-attended and most profitable music events, Coachella.
Through his company the Anschutz Corporation, and one of its subsidiaries, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the billionaire also operates more than 90 clubs and theatres around the world and produces or supports more than 25 music festivals. Oh, and the man also owns the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a one-third stake of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, as well as both teams’ home arena, the Crypto.com Arena (formerly and colloquially known as the Staples Center).
As previously mentioned, Anschutz has been a billionaire for a long time. In fact, according to Business Insider, he’s one of only two people who’ve made the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans every year since the first version was published in 1982. But it comes as no surprise that billionaires have shady beliefs and hobbies.
In April 2018, Cara Delevingne shared on Instagram a message explaining why she had decided to boycott the festival despite previously saying that Beyoncé’s “iconic” headline performance had left her speechless. She wrote, “I still refuse to go to a festival that is owned by someone who is anti-LGBT and pro-gun.”
In response to the model’s remarks, AEG released a statement saying it “wholeheartedly” supports the LGBT community. Anschutz himself went on to express “regret” if any money given to charities “may have worked against these values.”
“That was not my intention, it does not reflect my beliefs, and I am committed to making sure it does not happen again,” he stated.
The accusations—which Anschutz has kept on denying ever since—relate to payments made to hard-line conservative religious and political groups across the US through his charitable foundation. These include allegedly supporting: anti-gay laws, same-sex marriage opposition and pro-gun support.
According to US campaign group Freedom For All Americans, Anschutz gave £35,000 to the National Christian Foundation (NCF) between 2011 and 2013. NCF is known to fund a lot of the groups aggressively working to chip away at the equal rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.
The FADER also detailed alleged payments made by Anschutz to a number of hard-line conservative politicians. This included a payment of £1,900 to Republican Scott Tipton, a strong opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion, in October 2017.
Last but not least, the same investigation also alleged that in March 2018, Anschutz gave £3,780 to Senator Cory Gardner, a vocal pro-gun advocate. Following the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, Gardner came out against gun control. “This is a tragedy, if you’re trying to politicise it, or if anyone is trying to politicise it, then shame on them,” he told TIME.
In January 2018, the pro-legalisation publication Freedom Leaf reported that the Anschutz Foundation had handed over more than $200,000 to fund anti-marijuana efforts in Colorado as recently as 2016.
Under pressure from all these accusations, which were clearly bad for business, Anschutz made a $1 million donation to the Elton John AIDS Foundation which, among other things, provides help and protection to sexual minorities. Yet just a few months later, he was found once again to have made significant donations to evangelical institutions promoting LGBTQ+ discrimination, such as Colorado Christian University (CCU), whose charter states that “no one shall teach, defend, support or condone homosexuality.”
Since then, Anschutz has had to remain as discreet as possible in order to not overshadow the festival. According to Bloomberg, he has only ever given two public press conferences in his career. But, as Los Angeles economist Jack Kyser described in the Los Angeles Times in 2006, Anschutz is still “the man behind the curtain pulling the levers. Nobody sees him, yet he has a huge impact on Los Angeles.”