Day one here
Saturday APril 30
Surprisingly, the hangovers of yesterday’s antics are barely to be seen on the faces of the festival goers as Saturday’s proceedings begin at the hub of Desertfest, the Black Heart, with Orbital Junction. Enthusiastic bodies are already queuing up the stairs and we have to (politely) push our way into the room for a set that delivers a dirty slab of classic stoner rock, laced with beautifully varied and catchy bluesy vocals. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable set with the occasional ear-worm and the hyped up audience seem to agree.
Over at The Underworld Scottish quartet King Witch have packed out the room, and deservedly so. The vocals are nothing short of huge, cutting through the riffs with incredible versatility. It’s a finely-curated chaos, the guitar and bass intertwining with what is almost an air of grace. Flurries of drum riffs that burst here and there add further colour to the overall sound, making for the sort of set that will blast the hangover right out of you.
Remaining at The Underworld for badass Danish trio Konvent proves a wise choice. The sorrowful stylings of their blackened doom combine with aggressive death metal vocals to create a hateful yet emotively complex sound. Each song is structured in a way that ebbs and flows and tells a painful story. The set truly is clearly structured carefully, keeping you gripped from start to finish. Considering they clash with My Sleeping Karma at the Electric Ballroom, the turnout is incredible.
At the other end of Camden High Street, Part Chimp‘s performance at The Roundhouse is punishingly over-fuzzed with hypnotic, churning riffs despite a relaxed and lolloping approach on the drums that gets you swaying like willow branches in the breeze. The Windows Media Player-type graphics on the backdrop set a tone for a thoroughly ’90s strain of psychedelia, and at one point said graphics morph into images of animals and flowers that only further improve the overall vibe. They are the first of a hat-trick of fucking weird bands to play this stage, so set the tone ready for more perplexing moments.
Over at The Dev, A Gazillion Angry Mexicans (that’s a band name, not a report on some kind of transatlantic pub feud) take over the smallest of stages with their super heavy flavour of stoner that features clean vocals and chugging riffs. The bar is buzzing, with a herd of moving and grooving bodies – today’s festivities are well and truly underway.
Photography by Jake Lewis
The Electric Ballroom is the perfect venue for supergroup Stöner. Comprising of genre stalwarts Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork, they play a self indulgent set tailor-made for the Desertfest audience. It’s familiar to all in attendance, but to see two legends cranking out proper desert rock with plenty of expertise is something you can’t help but enjoy. Undeniably fun, boasting catchy riffs and vocal hooks, Stöner offer up their punchiest songs to serve as ear-worms for the rest of the night, with a good amount of encouraged audience participation to boot.
Photography by Jake Lewis
Green Lung barely need an introduction to regular Astral Noize readers, or indeed to doom fans generally – they have been making quite a name for themselves in the scene, touring extensively following the release of the fantastic Black Harvest released late last year. It’s clear they deserve a bigger stage than The Underworld can provide as it is already ‘one in, one out’ at the door from the very start of their set. The quartet produce a beautifully rich and theatrical performance with stage props and banners further adding to the slick polish of their set. The raucous crowd are clearly in the party mood and at one point frontman Tom Templar crowdsurfs before being turfed back onto the stage like a sack of spuds. To spice up their already beloved occult rock they add an extra helping of heaviness, ensuring the entertainment level is turned all the way up to eleven – exactly what we want at this halfway point of the festival.
Photography by Jake Lewis
Next up it’s back to The Dev to see London trio Old Horn Tooth who delight the pub with their showmanship and (seemingly) effortlessly tight performance. They provide a relentless, dark and brutally heavy style of doom with a persistent rhythm that hypnotically entrances the entire audience. The vocal performance is quite simply superb and the stage presence from all three further contributes to their allure.
The second in the trio of bizarre acts to grace The Roundhouse stage one after the after are Philadelphian post-punk veterans Pissed Jeans. If you don’t know them, the name should just about say it all. Louder-than-life frontman Matt Korvette dramatically prances about in a fetching wrestling-shorts-and-mesh-vest combo, complete with protruding beer gut. He throws himself about with a kind of sarcastically narcissistic swagger in front of a projected slideshow of mainly wasted nightclubbers (presumably British) and the occasional pupper. Punky yet progressive riffs, sometimes veering in a sludgy direction, back up Korvette’s hammy and slightly slurred vocals, whilst the drums have an unhinged discordant rhythm to match the absurdity of the rest of the band. The loud abrasiveness is loved by the grinning and unruly punters who even get a decent-sized mosh-pit going.
Purple Kong take on The Dev for the penultimate act at this venue tonight. The band are always immense fun to watch, with their ballsy stoner that’s packed with attitude and peppered with splashes of outer-space synths to cut through the chunky groove of the riffs and the venomous, ultra-cool delivery of vocals. An extra special mention must be reserved for bassist Alan, who despite being hit by a car and breaking multiple bones the night before, gives a brilliant performance alongside his fellow band members.
There isn’t much to say about this well-loved band that hasn’t already been said, but closing out The Dev Gurt shimmy their way on to the stage to Italian Eurodance outfit Whigfield’s ’90s hit ‘Saturday Night’, which somehow perfectly fits their party stoner-sludge vibes to a tee. Fluffing up the dense and suitably drunk audience, the party-mad quartet blast through their set like a quartet of tornadoes, each with their own loveable stylings. Bill Jacobs on drums never fails to look as though he is having the time of his life as he smashes his way through their tongue-in-cheek, classically themed (i.e. weed and partying) brand of stoner-sludge. A small crowd of people gather outside the pub’s window to observe through the glass. The vibes are immaculate and that comes as no surprise.
Those familiar with Chicago’s Shellac (and the filled Roundhouse suggests there are many fans) will be aware of just how eccentric this trio of post-modern noise makers are. Drummer Todd Trainer is certainly energetic – playing with kooky expressions and off-time signatures. A smattering of dorky jokes thrown around fall awkwardly flat and bassist Bob Weston attempts to interact with the audience by suggesting a quick Q&Q session are barely audible. One joke about signing up for the wrong festival raises the question of whether it is indeed actually true, as the whole thing feels a little uncomfortable. Iconic frontman Steve Albini is generally quite static on stage, but the riffs he plays are layered with fuzz and the blend of his perplexing shouts and abrasive jangly guitar is never less than thrillingly off-kilter.
Words: Abi Coulson and Soozi Coleman
Photography: Abi Coulson (Darktones Photography)