As the country moves from moaning about the cold and rain into moaning about a lack of air conditioning, festival season has now well and truly kicked off. As always, one of the most exciting dates on the metal calendar is Desertfest London – a festival focused on (but certainly not limited to) all things loud and slow, showcasing the very best talent in doom, sludge and stoner metal. In a true ode to the desert rock sound of the ’90s that inspired the name of the festival, icons and pioneers of that sound Fu Manchu will be performing the closing headline slot. They will be joined by Om, who will be bringing their hypnotic and spiritual take on doom; and in a bold move, Belgian post-metal masters Amenra will be making a much anticipated appearance with their emotionally intense and harrowing live show.
Desertfest London is a special festival in that it embraces the chaotic heart of capital city life. No fields, no campsites, and no portaloos! Instead Desertfest takes over Camden, spread across a variety of fantastic gig venues big and small – all within walking distance. Despite the snail-paced riffs of many of its acts, the festival itself is fast-paced, especially if you want to catch as many acts as you can.
We at Astral Noize are very excited to have been invited to cover Desertfest London, and, with some considerable brain-wrangling, we’ve chosen ten acts we’re most excited to see.
Om – Friday: The Electric Ballroom, 22:15-23:30
Om form one-third of doom’s holy trinity alongside Sleep and High On Fire. The duo was formed by Sleep’s Al Cisneros as well as the stoner legends’ former drummer Chris Hakius, who has since been replaced by Emil Amos. Of the three bands, Om tend to be the hardest to catch live these days, especially since they have yet to release an album since 2012’s Advaitic Songs. This makes the duo an absolute must-see at this year’s Desertfest, as well as one of their most exciting headliners to date. The eccentric group’s music is deeply hypnotic and spiritual, moving at a slow, meditative pace. Though seriously minimalist in approach, with just Cisneros’ incredible bass playing and Amos’ relaxed approach to drums, Om’s music reaches great sonic depths. Their sound is much calmer than some of their sonic brethren, proving that there are different ways to be heavy, and we can’t wait to hear how that translates in the live setting.
Amenra – Saturday: The Electric Ballroom, 21:00-22:00
Nobody has quite captured the hearts of post-metal fans in recent years quite like Belgian quintet Amenra. Even in such a diverse genre, the band stand in a world of their own and are frankly one of the most emotionally intense acts in metal right now. Their live show is a ritual that sees vocalist Colin H. Van Eeckhout laying his soul bare, in what becomes a very physical outpouring of pain and melancholia. Amenra’s live show is fascinating, using black-and-white projected film that casts over the band as they play. Their music is slow, merging with the blueprints of post-rock, as patiently building, textured riffs agonisingly crescendo into raging climaxes. The quintet have the power to make even the most hardened listener shed a tear, and will be one of the most exciting, heartfelt and unmissable acts at this year’s Desertfest.
Fu Manchu – Sunday: The Roundhouse, 21:45-23:00
Stoner rock Legends Fu Manchu close proceedings at the Roundhouse on Sunday, and with nearly 30 years of fuzz to their name you know what you’re going to get from the Californian rockers – although with thirteen albums in the can they have enough material to fill Desertfest alone. One of the things that sets Fu Manchu out from their slacker surf-rock contemporaries are the hardcore elements the band infuses into their sound, pushing them past being solely about muscle cars and ’70s throwbacks. This stems back from pre-Fu days when the band was called Virulence, with frontman Scott Hill the only surviving founding member. All this, along with an extensive back catalogue, add to their intense live performances which often run way past the allotted set time. The action is go.
Coilguns – Saturday: The Dev, 20:15-21:15
A word of warning: stand clear when watching Coilguns perform, or you may get hurt! The Swiss hardcore punk outfit consists of former members of The Ocean and their live performances are a whole other kind of physical and intense. Coilguns are rarely a band to be confined to the stage, using every bit of the venue and everyone in it as a space to perform! It’s likely that vocalist Louis Jucker will launch himself into the crowd and go insane in the pit from the very first note onwards. Coilguns are consistently fast, unpredictable and completely wild.
Acid Cannibals – Saturday: The Underworld, 17:55-18:35
Glaswegian duo Acid Cannibals bring the bare-chested sleaze on Saturday evening, less than six months on from the release of their latest EP Horny For Tomorrow, which came out on the excellent London label Hominid Sounds. The brand of positive punk they preach is bound to contrast nicely with the surrounding gloom, with tongue-in-cheek tracks such as ‘Kale ’em All’ and ‘Are We Metal?’. The duo is made up of members of The Cosmic Dead and Droves, so expect a fusion of psychedelia and powerviolence wrapped up in one frenzied package.
Blanket – Friday: The Black Heart, 20:30-21:30
Blackpool based post-rock quartet Blanket should stand out well at this year’s Desertfest, with a cinematic sound influenced by the likes of Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky. Last year’s debut How To Let Go saw them touring with Zeal & Ardor, and their vibrant and textured music has a cinematic scope, with a strong emphasis on lighting and visual projections in their live performances. Blanket will bring out a few heavy riffs and densely layered sounds here and there, but ultimately their colourful, emotive and uplifting songs could set them apart as a wild card act of the weekend this year.
Earthless – Sunday: The Roundhouse, 16:30-17:30
It’s amazing to think that in the eight years Desertfest has been running psych rock legends Earthless have yet to grace its stage. The festival and the San Diego trio seem to be a match made in (black) heaven so it was only a matter of time before they were on the bill. Whilst it’s slightly surprising to see them playing such an early slot, there is little doubt that the Roundhouse will be packed out for one of the most anticipated sets of this year’s edition. Guitarist Isiah Mitch provided vocals to last year’s album in a move away from the lengthy built-up instrumental jams of old, leading to mixed reviews, but whatever set they decide on at Desertfest, it’s going to be cosmic.
Sūrya – Sunday: The Underworld, 14:20-15:05
Sūrya are an apocalyptic, mostly instrumental quartet based in London, merging together elements of post-metal and atmospheric black metal seamlessly, with a sound equally inspired by Neurosis and Wolves In The Throne Room. Their lengthy songs ebb and flow majestically, laden with spoken word samples, slow-building textured guitars and crashing, dynamic drums. Sūrya have the power to be reflective and ferocious within the same song, whilst their live shows are loud and dominating, enhanced with the use of projected visuals to great effect. The band are gearing up for the release of their second album, so we’re hoping to hear some new material.
Video Nasties – Sunday: The Black Heart, 16:30-17:15
Video Nasties may be a new band on the circuit, but not necessarily new faces if you happen to be aware of Liverpool’s fantastic extreme music scene. The band consists of former members of Iron Witch, SSS, Magpyes and The Bendal Interlude. As you can probably guess, the quintet are massively inspired by classic ’80s horror movies, reflecting in their visual aesthetic, song lyrics and samples. They’ll no doubt stand out well at Desertfest, with a sound that combines black’n’roll with influences coming from Gothenburg’s melodic death metal scene. The band released their fantastic debut EP Viva Deth last year, and have already teased their hotly anticipated debut full-length to follow soon.
Wren – Sunday: The Black Heart, 15:15-16:00
Before you say it, yes, we are biased here. However there is a reason we were so thrilled to be asked to produce the physical product for Wren’s epic single-track EP Thrall; and that is simply because of how damn good it is. The London post-metal outfit will bring a sense of epic weight to proceedings on what is shaping up to be a packed-out Sunday, with the band’s sound inevitably maturing with each release, it will be interesting to hear new takes on old material, or possibly even some debut airings of the record they are currently writing.
Desertfest London 2019 takes place across Camden on May 3rd-5th. Limited tickets are still available here.
Words: David Brand, Chris “Frenchie” French