Remember when Coachella was all about the underground bands? Yeah, us neither. And sure, we're excited for My Bloody Valentine, TV on the Radio and Leonard Cohen (not so much for The Killers, The Cure or any of the other headliners), but for us, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is really all about discovering those under-the-radar bands that pretty much go ignored in the smaller tents while the bigger bands play the main stages. Whether it's dancing with a stranger while The Avett Brothers rocked the Gobi Tent in 2007, or smoking weed with Woody Harrelson in 2003 while The Libertines played three songs and then stormed off in a drunken rage—those are the real memories that you'll walk away with. Not listening to “Friday, I'm in Love” for the millionth time. That in mind, here are a few of our picks that you should seek out amid the hullabaloo. Genghis Tron—Functioning as a missing link between Eddie Van Halen, Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Aphex Twin, Genghis Tron is made up of three grindcore hellions from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. They seek to destroy everything in their path with hyper-speed guitar squalls, quickly settling into down-tempo breaks, before bombing listeners' eardrums with electronic assaults. One of the heaviest bands at this year's festival, they wreck crowds without a drummer or a bassist, despite what metal protocol has dictated. Genghis Tron play on Friday.The Bug featuring Warrior Queen—We're hooked on www.coachella.com, the website that averages out music reviews from every major media outlet into one, concise score for an album. Want to know what the highest-rated record of 2008 was? Not TV on the Radio, not Fleet Foxes, but a little-known London producer named Kevin Martin. Working under the name The Bug, his album, London Zoo, was lauded for good reason. It's a rugged, dub-reggae-inspired electro album that features some of the best MCs in London rapping over downright scary beats. And while we might have preferred a late-night set, sneak a doobie into the dank electro Sahara Tent and zone out for an hour. The Bug plays on Friday.Tinariwen—When it comes to rock music, the southern Sahara Desert is sooo the new Iceland, Well, not really, but if it were, then Tinariwen would be Sigur Rós, Bjork and Mugison all rolled into one. Started in the early-'80s as a roving band of musicians playing tishoumaren (music of the unemployed), their music is beloved in Northern Africa and considered to be the music of the Tuareg people, who seek independence from Mali. Robert Plant and Bono are fans, and both Chris Martin and Thom Yorke have said Tinariwen's music inspired much of their most recent music. Fuck Beirut (the yuppie white boy playing gypsy music, not the country)—this is the real musical sound of the displaced. Tinariwen play on Saturday.
Junior Boys—Not since the mid-'80s heyday of New Order has an act made such pristine, sublime pop that so effectively straddles the line between electronic precision and rock elegance. Each of Junior Boys' three full-lengths to date have been overlooked exercises in sophisticated minimalism and memorable songwriting, and the multi-instrumental Canadian duo adds a drummer for their live shows—which puts many of their lazier knob-twiddling contemporaries to shame. Junior Boys play on Saturday.Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti—Schedule a notoriously scattershot L.A. home-recording artist with fetishes for '80s soft rock and avant-garde performance art to play for the first time with a stable backing band in 100-degree heat, and you have the potential for disaster. However, rumors are circulating that Mr. Pink has finally gotten his act together, and the relatively professional sound of the band's new single, “Can't Hear My Eyes,” could denote a turning point for their infamously erratic live shows. Enjoyable or not, it should be a spectacle. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti play on Saturday.Ida Maria—Meet the closest thing we've seen to Joan Jett in quite awhile. If top-40 and alterna-radio weren't corporate-run, pussy-music-playing, payola machines, then you'd probably already be rocking out to Maria's infectious “I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked.” We'll cut them some slack, though, as Maria's debut was just released stateside (she's from Norway), and it usually takes radio about eight months to get with the program, so here's your chance to see her before she's playing arenas with Green Day or the like. Ida Maria plays on Saturday.Busy P—Under normal circumstances, über-hip French label Ed Banger would be on our no-no list, but if it keeps signing quality acts like this one-man electro phenomenon, EB may be able to outlast prevailing fads of the day. P's mechanical, distorted backbeats and deft turntable skills look as much toward early Detroit house and classic N.Y. hip-hop as they do toward contemporaries Ghislain Poirier and Dabrye, pushing genre boundaries in the process. Plus, it's the only U.S. show he's scheduled so far this year. Busy P plays on Sunday.Gaslight Anthem—Music that's equal parts Springsteen and Social Distortion and a raucous live show led eMusic to proclaim these New Brunswick, N.J., cats' 2008 album (The '59 Sound) as best of the year. This is fist-pumping-out-the-window, dashboard-beating music that will break your heart and inspire you at the same time. The Boss would be proud. Gaslight Anthem play on Sunday. The Coachella Music and Arts Festival runs Friday, April 17, through Sunday, April 19, at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, Calif. www.coachella.com.