Arts & Design

Immersive tech helps bring art and audience closer together at Coachella

Festivalgoers discover new ways to connect through creative and interactive experiences.

By Harley Brown — April 19, 2019

Deep in the California desert on the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, the largest temporary geodesic projection dome in the world, built by HP, opened a portal to another world. The dome was light years away from the hot sun and bustling crowds outside with its cool, cavernous inside and pliable yet supportive seating. As music fans settled in to view a 360-degree music video for the dreamily propulsive “Underwater” by Australian electronic and live band RÜFÜS DU SOL, the track’s opening synthesizers swelled from the speakers placed throughout the space. Everyone hushed and looked up at the jaw-dropping images arcing on the vast screen overhead, all the while rocking slightly back and forth in time with the song’s steady kick drum and rumbling bass.

For 20 years, Coachella has brought people together through its confluence of music, art and technology, driven by festivalgoers’ ever-increasing desire to get their hands on innovative and engaging products and be immersed in a shared experience. In its third year as the festival’s tech sponsor, HP delivered stunning visual experiences in the 11,000-square-foot Antarctic Dome, as well as the opportunity for festivalgoers to experiment and express their own creativity through technology.

“There are great festivals that happen all throughout the year,” says Daryl Butler, head of marketing for U.S. consumer personal systems at HP. “None of them can boast of having the kind of gravitational pull that Coachella has.”

Festivals are an ideal environment for the convergence of tech and humanity because attendees arrive already open to trying new things – whether it’s seeing an artist for the first time, meeting other music fans from different places or experiencing the mind-altering mechanics of technology at the vanguard. At festivals, adds Butler, “We get the chance to talk about how the product can be used based on how this consumer is living their lives.”


In HP’s Antarctic Dome, a 360-degree display of digital art created the experience of being submerged underwater, with visuals moving in sync with music from RÜFÜS DU SOL.

Space, light and water

It’s almost too easy to get distracted at Coachella, which wraps up this weekend, April 19-21. Interactive art projects are placed on the three-day event’s grass-covered grounds, while brands beckon hot, dusty attendees with immersive installations. And then there’s the music. Eight stages and tents pump out crystalline sound as some of the world’s most inventive artists captivate audiences with performances enhanced by facial recognition, augmented reality and devices that take creative expression to the next level.

HP’s Antarctic Dome is a welcome escape, giving viewers seven minutes to be utterly absorbed in just one transportive experience. “Who among us remembers ye olde days of spacing out in front of the computer, listening to your favorite music in headphones while WinAmp visualizers morphed and moved through digital space?” writes Kat Bein in an article for Billboard. “Take that idea, expand the screen into a 11,000-square foot projection dome, and you've got the reality of HP's heat-beating Coachella activation.”  

“This HP Dome is such an extra and special way to penetrate people’s minds and experiences throughout the weekend,” says RÜFÜS DU SOL vocalist Tyrone Lindqvist. “It’s been a bit of a dream to make it come to life visually and play in this whole new world and be able to emote something other than the live show.”

“Underwater” director James Frost (who has worked with the White Stripes, Robyn and Radiohead, among others) used powerful HP Z8 and HP Z4 PCs and other Z by HP products to design the mesmerizing visuals of water molecules, geometric pinwheels and shafts of light.

“I tried to make it so the audience can absorb more of what’s going on and have it creep in from the sides, so it hits peripheral vision as well as your main focus,” says Frost.

To realize his and the band’s vision, Frost sent a “road map” of his creative intent to five digital artists that worked on the video, each leaving their distinctive mark on the part of the clip that they designed. Since they lived all over the world, this process was easier than scheduling a call or meeting, but it meant that Frost’s instructions were up for interpretation.

The result was a multimedia creative collaboration that felt “serendipitous,” says RÜFÜS DU SOL keyboardist, Jon George. “The submersion, the push-and-pull of water, the push-and-pull of emotion — which we were imbuing into the track — is exactly what he extrapolated from it. So there’s been a really nice alignment of our ideas of what this song means, and the feeling of it.”


In the Dreamland experience at the HP Lounge, fans got the chance to create their own personalized festival merch and capture one-of-a-kind selfies in the Lucid Dreaming photo booth.

Inspired art

If the line for the Antarctic Dome was too long, festival goers can pop into nearby “Dreamland” at the HP Lounge, which HP’s Butler categorizes as “very inviting, lots of shapes and colors.”

“It’s as if Willy Wonka took place in Austin Powers,” observed Tim Gould, an artist manager and talent buyer attending the festival.

It was hard not to reach for pop culture metaphors to describe the psychedelic interior of the HP Lounge, which was also reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, or the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, with its vibrant colors and plush, pink carpet that greeted weary feet. There were cushioned squiggles, abstractly shaped, that folks could sit or lay on while they absorbed the sounds of house and disco emanating from the DJ booth.

Fans listened to sets by jazz-trained Detroiter Shigeto, Los Angeles neo-funk ambassador Dam-Funk and more while waiting for their turn at HP’s “Inspired Ink” experience. Using HP Spectre x360 laptops and HP Latex 365 printers to create customized drawstring backpacks, they could choose from an assortment of lava lamp-like shapes, fill them in with swirling colors, and add simple but powerful symbols including two hands carrying a heart and a sketch of the planet Earth.

Selfie-takers chose their own adventure in “Lucid Dreaming,” where HP Spectre Folio laptops conjured customizable backgrounds like liquid droplets or rainbow ribbons that moved in sync with the person in the frame — the millennial version of high school photos, which subjects could keep and share on social media.


At HP’s Affirmation Wall, fans could manipulate the visual landscape with their own movement, revealing inspirational phrases celebrating diversity and inclusivity in the process.

Virtually real

Users who were paying attention to their own screens could access a variety of festival-specific augmented realities. The Coachella app featured an AR camera that could be deployed at the Sahara Tent, transforming DJ sets there into an extraterrestrial adventure: Through their phones, audience members could “see” virtual planets orbiting or space shuttles zooming overhead, depending on the sounds booming from the stage.

On Saturday night, U.K. electronic music legend Aphex Twin, aka Richard David James, bewitched the crowd with a combination of AR and personalization. First, he trained the camera on audience members in the first few rows and projected them on screens mounted to the stage. Then, James deployed image recognition and computer programming to apply visual effects to their faces, distorting them or superimposing his own face over theirs.

Adjacent to the Lounge, the Patio featured AR of its own in the form of the HP “Coachella Wall.” A giant screen was filled with large-scale pixelated colors that reacted to the motion of passersby walking, waving or even cartwheeling in front of it, scattering to reveal positive messaging underneath: “Dream big.” “I am beautiful.” “I would marry me.” Those who couldn’t make it to the festival — and even those at the festival who wanted to test it out — could access the wall via a web app, using their fingers instead of their bodies.

As shared expression and shared experiences become more immersive, more creative and more accessible, festivals, with captive audiences ready to open their minds and ears, are a fertile place to try out new tech and new ideas.

“Clearly, you have a cultural phenomenon, where folks are sharing and thinking, and talking about what's happening,” says HP’s Butler. “And technology sits at the heart of culture.”