The first part of our review of the 4th DESERTFEST LONDON is up! With its thick and colored lineup and its very chilled-out atmosphere, the THC team got to discover, rejoice, and even get surprised during these three days of full-on doom, psych and rock’n’roll party in the heart of Camden. Between the Ballroom’s grandeur and the darkness of the Underworld, this first day starts off with a roar with Orange Goblin, The Atomic Bitchwax, Floor, Dopethrone and many more… (REVIEW: Thib – PHOTOS: Gaël Mathieu)
THURSDAY, APRIL 23RD: WARM UP TIME!
Our arrival in Camden Town is pretty disorienting as the district is known for being the epicenter of all alternative cultures in London, yet I’m surrounded with an ice-cream-liking tourists, “Keep calm and…” t-shirts stores and cheap tattoo shops. It feels weird, not matching with the sincere passion and the community that drives DESERTFEST LONDON. It doesn’t take long before I see past the discrepancy, and discover the district’s shitload of cool venues, from tiny friendly places like the Black Heart to the huge and fancy Koko. That setup happens to be very convenient setup, allowing you to enjoy the shows in various places with very good sound conditions. A bit like Roadburn without the claustrophobic feeling, or like the Hellfest Valley stage without the “hello-it’s-ten-in-the-morning-let’s-wake-up-with-brutal-death-metal” harm.
My beer instincts drive me to the festival HQ – the Black Heart – which has a bar at ground floor and a concert venue at first floor, and will be the temple for many of the festival’s afterparties. I trade way too much of my hardly earned money for a pint, and snake in my way to the stage to see STUBB performing a cool warmup show. The London trio is playing a multi-fuzz influenced warm and heavy rock’n’roll, somewhere between the warlike force of the almighty Kyuss and the psyched and epic guitar delirium of the 70’s revival hype we bath in these years. Not a very bold adventure, but the job is done and the tone is set for our forthcoming weekend in Camden Town !
FRIDAY, APRIL 24TH: LET THE GAME BEGIN !
WALK THROUGH FIRE @ ELECTRIC BALLROOM
Our first show of the day – and first stylistic lapse – takes place at the Underworld with Swedish post-metal/sludge act WALK THROUGH FIRE, dragging us to a desolated land where nothing grows except a certain form of boredom. This show is the occasion for me to discover the Underworld club, a maze made of bars and corridors that lead to a cool 500 people capacity venue deep inside its wooden and concrete guts. Not for the claustrophobic.
French act Dirge and Belgium’s Amenra are the first names to strike my mind as I’m listening to WALK THROUGH FIRE monolithic and sludgy sound: a primitive form of the first, and deprived of the artistic vision of the latter. Heavy as hell, extremely pared-down and gloomy, their music appears to be a simple succession of strings strokes, lazily hiding behind a massive wall of sound. With not many variations all along the set, the band doesn’t succeed in maintaining tension or a particular mood, and some attendees are simply leaving the show.
At some point, some nasty low frequencies rise in the air with strident guitar feedbacks, conveying a nauseating feeling that makes us expecting something interesting, but it quickly collapses, just like the intro from “Hope Is Misery” that leads to the exact same dull and frustrating slow distorsion blasts once again. I was expecting something else from this band, as I did spot some Khanate influences on their last album, but WALK THROUGH FIRE isn’t one of these bands that mesmerize you but the one who make you think about your shitty job, your shitty life, and the way to end it all.
DOPETHRONE @ THE UNDERWORLD
On the contrary, DOPETHRONE‘s show has been eagerly awaited by a wide part of the audience. The Underworld’s pit is full of supportive dudes and dudettes, and the thermometer is going all red to welcome the Canadian trio. First rows are packed with French fans already liven up the crowd. “Tap Runner” conquering riff immediately sets the tone: brutal headbang and moshpit for the masses! YEAHAAAH !
DOPETHRONE just released one of the top albums of this year, Hochelaga, a filthy stoner/doom blast that we highly recommend if you dig Weedeater and all those dirty and fuzzy acts. This afternoon, Vince (guitar/vocals) isn’t acting as mental as we’ve seen him in the past, for the band just arrived from Strasbourg and has to leave for Berlin shortly after the show – an exhausting trip that’s not spoiling a bit of the performance, 100% worthy of their reputation. Vince’s wild-eyed funny faces are underlining his crazy ghoulish vocals as he bounces on stage like a vicious daemon. The air is filled with sludgy frequencies and filthy grooves, and even though the formula isn’t new, the alchemy here is unique and oozes perfectly through epic blues-oriented hits like “Riff Dealer”. The show swings from crushing parts to higher speed neck-breaking tunes, turning the Underworld into a wet and smelly oven. Despite the apparent simplicity and repetiveness of DOPETHRONE‘s riffs, the band avoids boredom and that’s the key of this brilliant show dripping with sweat and booze.
FLOOR @ ELECTRIC BALLROOM
Equation : (TORCHE – fun – inspiration) = FLOOR. Back once again from the dead to reap the benefits of their supposed post-mortem success, FLOOR kick off at the Electric ballroom, a beautiful 1,200 capacity venue which sound quality remains quite unpredictable. Led by Steve Brooks (Torche), the trio drops their first tunes in front of a well packed but kind of dubious crowd in front of this mismatched proto-Torche band. Steve Brooks is clearly carrying the whole show as his fellow guitarist (no bass player there!) Anthony Vialon remains invisible, static and anti-charismatic as a backing band dude. In the middle of the huge stage of the Ballroom, he seems simply lost. Behind them, drummer Henry Wilson is performing a massive and vivid show that contributes to lift this relatively dull gig. A mid-tempo and mid-motivation show which is hard to enjoy, despite the few moments when crushing torchian heaviness shows up on the surface. One must admit that without the low-as-hell guitar tuning and Brooks’ signature vocals, it would hardly remains something from this pile of neutral riffs which interest – apart from being a primitive form of Torche – totally escapes me.
THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX @ ELECTRIC BALLROOM
The Scottish shower goes on! Shortly after Floor’s peaky show, American trio THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX is now totally turning the place upside down! One hour of fuzz extravaganza that literally blows our minds! WOW! Similarly to their compatriots from Earthless, TAB maintain an exhilarating flow of pure electric madness that takes your body and soul and put a never-ending smile on your face. TAB the Great churns out a perfectly mastered concert with an obvious pleasure, and a kickass sound that highlights the band’s genius in crafting luxuriant riffs that dive you into a whirl of hot soft sand, Cadillacs and LSD visions.
Before this show I was like “yeah, THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX, this good ol’desert rock band, I’m gonna just have a look and quickly go to another stage”. No fucking way! Chris Kosnik’s war machine slapped me in the face so hard I lost my ability to move my feet and to tear away my eyes from this GREAT show.
The setlist is mostly oriented on the band’s last LP Gravitron that was freshly released on Tee Pee Records, when a third of the songs is taken off their first album. New tunes are doing the job pretty well. The hysterical ending on “Coming In Hot” could be a pretender to the Coolest Stoner Tunes pantheon, and “It’s Alright” could easily rival their past glories such as “Giant”. Looking for riffs? There’s more riffs in one TAB song than there is in a whole Floor concert!
Tasty surprise: drummer Bob Pantella puts on a pig mask to perform Pink Floyd’s drum led song “One Of These Days” – the one and only chilled out moment of this highly energetic hour in the shape of a rock’n’roll rollercoaster. THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX is a true hit-loaded war machine that drops bombs on your faces with a constant smile, just as if it was the easiest thing in the world to rock a place with so much groove and energy. More than fifteen years rockin, and how fresh is that! Three relaxed and friendly dudes who casually put on an hell of a show – that will only be equaled by Karma To Burn’s absolute blast at Koko two days later. LIKE. A. BOSS.
ORANGE GOBLIN @ ELECTRIC BALLROOM
Next hammer stroke, please! The Ballroom is now rammed and already won over by Ben Ward’s team, who plays at home tonight. ORANGE GOBLIN enjoy an amped up audience and a clear and powerful sound to celebrate their 20th years and play their third record The Big Black in full. As I’m not particularly moved by the band’s (a bit too ballsy) heavy rock, I feel a bit unable to comment, except that Ben Ward is one hell of a frontman: he just needs to spread his muscled arms to cover half of the Ballroom’s stage. He’s so charismatic, it’s insane. No major surprise in sight: their set is made of super fat tracks filled with fiery and manly grooves. To cope with the absence of The Big Black‘s second guitarist Pete O’Malley, with whom the band wrote the emblematic record, ORANGE GOBLIN invited their long-time friend and guitar tech Neil Kingsbury to join the party. Let’s just say it: OG always do things properly.
It ain’t over! Once The Big Black is entirely performed, the show won’t stop: OG keep going with a handful of songs, including “Beginner’s Guide To Suicide”, which they never played before. Another fat-bluesy-greasy anthem, performed along with two more guests: Jonny Halifax of Jonny Halifax & the Howling Truth on harmonica, and Harry Armstrong (The Earls Of Mars) on hammond organ. The party is everywhere, with an overall atmosphere of smoked-out jam room, perfectly depicted by the tagline on their special anniversary t-shirt: “20 years of Booze, Bongs, Birds, Bikes, Boobs”. The band wraps up this immense show with “Red Tide Rising”, after what Ben Ward invites his crowd to join them on their “20th anniversary” UK tour this winter. Noted, Ben!
GONGA @ THE BLACK HEART
We end this first day with GONGA, in the more intimate and festive location of the Black Heart, getting back to the fundamentals of the music we all here fore: distortion, weed, extreme heaviness. The Londoners – who arrive quite high on stage – look deeper into the path that somehow binds the Wizard and Kyuss, something that would sound quite classic for any stoner lover out here… Yet the originality can be found in the roles among the band: the drummer plays on a such a minimalistic kit but with such creativity that it commands respect, the bass drowns this massive jam in a bath of psych effects, while the guitar remains in the background (which is quite uncanny in a rock band, if you ask me). Nicely played! Okay, over time it might feel a bit repetitive, especially at the end of a 110db day like this one, but GONGA surely deserves to get more attention… Later… Like, after a proper night of sleep.
Last modified: April 8, 2016