How Childish Gambino Turned His Coachella Headlining Set Into An Interactive Experience

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If you happened to miss the enormous spectacle that was Childish Gambino’s headlining set on Friday night at Coachella 2019, there was another way to hear snippets of new music from the rapper-turned-funk-God-turned-TV-producer-and-film-star: By walking into Google’s installation across the grounds from the main stage. Squarely in the middle of two smaller, discovery-oriented stages (I saw Rico Nasty perform at the Gobi tent and Lizzo on the Mojave stage), the black towers rising against the desert backdrop certainly stood out among the more casual tents in the area.

Glover said the installation was designed to invoke the look and feel of his own late-2018 festival, telling Complex that “the Coachella experience made with Google is meant to give fans an opportunity to explore a space inspired by Pharos New Zealand,” and noting “each area focuses on a distinct sensory experience.” While attendees should be sure to go inside to experience both installations, the external impact is also very Instagrammable, and plenty of fans stopped by during weekend one just to use it as a backdrop.

Courtesy of Google

Taking inspiration from the line “we shine brighter in the dark” in the as-yet-unreleased Childish Gambino song “Human Sacrifice,” which he performed at the festival on Friday night (and fans might remember from the dance-off commercial that debuted during the 2019 Grammys), the two festival installations each emphasized sight and sound. But even more than that, they let Glover’s presence be felt across the three-day fest, and not just confined to the single night he was headlining. For those who made it to Pharos, the similarities in striking, futuristic architecture were there, and for superfans holding onto every chance to hear new music from Childish Gambino, they offered another chance to interact with new material.

In the first installation, a whirl of sound and light slowly circles the room, with the emphasis on what you can hear, and in the second, a beam of light shoots down from the sky and begins singing more unreleased Childish Gambino music. The light moves and dips like a Disney character so it looks like the beam itself is singing, one of the more playful features of the project that definitely felt like it had Glover’s fingerprints on it. As an artist who has been insistent on his ability to simultaneously work across mediums, the impact of this visual representation of his vocal performance gained momentum over the weekend.

It also made me wonder when, if ever, another collection of Childish Gambino songs is going to drop? Glover is rumored to be ditching the moniker soon, but given his billing under the name at the fest, and the existence of new music, what better time to release an album than at Coachella, buoyed by tech installations singing the music? Still, it seems like part of what Glover wanted to accomplish with the installation was creating a full, in-person experience that goes along with the music throughout the event. And, according to Google, Glover was given complete freedom in the partnership to create the experience he wanted fans to have.

After the beam of light is done singing, fans can use the Pixel 3’s “Night Sight” setting to take photos of themselves in the otherwise pitch black room. The camera adjusts color and tone, so photos look much different than those taken with a flash, and truer to the color palette of the room. The camera also suggests the setting when light is low enough, so it’s convenient to move into that mode naturally. Both experiences offer the kind of Instagrammable moment that most fans are looking for in their festival pictures, and Night Sight is also useful if you’re trying to take photos of a rapper who keeps jumping on and off the stage to smoke a blunt during his late night set.

Courtesy of Google

It’s all but impossible to tell if the blunt that later turned up on eBay is really Donald Glover’s, but having decent photos of the moment is almost as good. And if weekend two attendees don’t make that Friday night set for some reason, then they can still get a taste of Donald Glover’s vision by visiting Brighter In The Dark.

Uproxx was hosted for this event by Google. However, Google did not review or approve this story. You can learn more about the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.