Coachella files cease-and-desist to hide Frank

Few musical performances in recent history have been as controversial as Frank Ocean’s headlining set the first weekend of the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Ocean supposedly scrapped an ambitious ice rink concept the morning of the show, shifting to a stripped-down concert in which he appeared an hour late and was largely obscured from the audience.

Coachella surprised fans by pulling Ocean’s set from the livestream schedule, so amateur social media videos are the only documentation that exists of the divisive concert. Brian Kinnes, a 26-year-old NYC-based film editor, followed along live as videos popped up, and while Ocean was still onstage, Kinnes began downloading them to stitch into a cohesive 73-minute concert film.

After eight days of work, he uploaded the video to YouTube, and it was removed in less than two hours. This wasn’t too surprising, as Kinnes had made a similar video of Ocean’s 2017 FYF Festival performance that was also taken down. But then came an email from AEG, Coachella’s parent company.

“I did not expect a legitimate cease-and-desist from the head of legal at AEG,” Kinnes told SFGATE over the phone, speaking about 150 yards from Ocean’s jewelry retail store in Manhattan. “Just the tone of that letter really put me off guard. I didn’t realize how much they didn’t want that being seen in a quote-unquote professionally recorded way.” (AEG did not respond to a request for comment from SFGATE.)

Kinnes argues that his version doesn’t violate copyright law, since it’s just a compilation of over 100 publicly available videos, including a few full recordings of the set that have yet to be removed from YouTube. But Kinnes’ version, which turns those shaky camera-phone videos into a seamless work of art, will never be seen again.

Frank Ocean attends the 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2019, in New York City.

Frank Ocean attends the 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2019, in New York City.

Theo Wargo/WireImage

‘Mind over matter is magic’

Ocean’s set was brilliant musically but often confusing for those in attendance. His stage setup was obscured from fans, and he was only visible on the video screens. There were long pauses between songs where he huddled with a stage manager. It seemed like each song might be the last. In a purposeful decision, Kinnes removed these excruciating moments.

“I was definitely aware that I was maybe revising history a bit in the way that I edited it. But, you know, it is an edited film. I called it a film from day one. In my head, it represents a creative interpretation of an event,” he said, citing Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage.

Due to a healthy fear of a multinational company’s legal department, Kinnes has removed the film from the internet completely. He wishes fans were able to see his version — featuring a professionally polished audio track — particularly for his favorite song of the set, “White Ferrari.” The live version incorporates a roaring modular synthesizer melody and new lyrics.

The song took on a different meaning in that context, especially after a between-songs monologue in which Ocean discussed the death of his brother Ryan in 2020. Ocean told the New York Times that there were 50 versions of the song recorded and that he originally asked his brother to choose which one would be featured on “Blonde,” but Ocean eventually changed his mind because the version “didn’t give [him] peace yet.”  

“As soon as he started playing a different version of ‘White Ferrari,’ in my head, I was like, ‘He’s playing the Ryan version.’ The version is so beautiful and so immaculate and has such a different energy to the song that I already love, that it really blew me away. And the connection that that specific song had with his brother, I knew it was a very intentional thing.”

‘Clearly this isn’t all that there is’

In addition to being shocked by AEG’s legal letter (it hasn’t followed up since), Kinnes found himself surprised by a wealth of new professional opportunities. He has received emails from film directors with scripts, as well as from agents.

“Hollywood was always the end goal, but there was never a way for me to break through those doors. The situation is just so silly. In a matter of 72 hours, working on this little music film in my bedroom is the thing that helped open those doors for me.”

As far as the concert itself goes, Kinnes thinks Ocean’s performance was misunderstood in the moment.

“I think a lot of people wanted something out of the performance that Frank just wasn’t going to give them. Who knows what would’ve happened with the ice rink? He had a chance to give one of the most iconic headlining sets of the century … but there’s something so intriguing to me about stripping all of that down.

“It plays on him as an artist, and his reputation, and his relationship with his fans — the way he’s hiding on stage, the version of the songs, it all comes together in such a beautiful way. That’s what I discovered from watching hours and hours of footage.”

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