It’s no time for farewell yet, people, we’re definitely NOT done with this year’s DESERTFEST LONDON. Of course, the festival closed its doors a week ago, but I really feel like taking you back one last time to the land of possibilities. You know, this magic area at the crossroads of Camden Road, Kentish Road, Greenland Road and Camden High Street ? This place where many of us got enthralled, awestruck and sometimes (why not) a bit high. This last day at the festival went beyond all our expectations, and even though we had to make hard choices when it came to setting our schedule, every second was a fucking blast. Here’s the full report of the Sunday afternoon and evening with live performances of GLOWSUN, NAAM, TRUCKFIGHTERS, THE SHRINE and PENTAGRAM. My mind will keep wandering into the memories of this oh so amazing weekend for a while…
If you read my reports of the first two days of the festival, you’ll understand that Friday was synonymous of getting our bearings, but most importantly, it was synonymous of powerful and out of the range performances (thinking of Kadavar, Hexvessel and The Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell). What about the few gigs we went to on Saturday ? Only top-level moments : we took a lesson of desert rock with the masters of the genre Unida, we lost all composure in front of John Garcia’s talent and charisma, we went in awe in front Lowrider’s mastery, and achieved ear-orgasm with Gurt… A lineup that definitely commanded respect. For this ultimate day, I have two options : spend the afternoon in the temple of doom, the Underworld, to finally see Conan, Belzebong, Cough and Bongripper, or strategically spend the day at the Electric Ballroom to enjoy all the stoner/psyche/heavy headliners. Given that I have appointments with some bands who play the Ballroom, I choose the second option for practical reasons, despite my appetite for dark atmospheres.
Stoned is the definition : GLOWSUN (Facebook)
At first, French northerners Glowsun were planned to play at the Underworld, but they finally get the privilege to be openers at the Ballroom. The venue is half full, but you can feel the people didn’t come here just to fill time, all ears are wide open. I remember discussing with frontman Johan Jaccob about the meaning of “stoner” as a music genre and subculture, and I know he would probably grind his teeth reading this but to me, Glowsun’s music defines perfectly the term “stoner rock”. I’ve always loved their subtle oriental-laden atmospheres, like a super heavy version of My Sleeping Karma. From where I stand in the photo pit, the sound is so loud and heavy that my visceras are about to melt down straight up. The encense stick they put on stage doesn’t help a lot, so I have no other solution than leaving the photo pit after the first song and take refuge far from the PA, near the bar (yeah, again). The band delivers a 80% instrumental setlist, and I can feel the people around being very contemplative and appreciating. Every dude and dudette is super watchful, all chakras wide open. Glowsun end the show a bit earlier than expected and get the recognition they deserve by the crowd. Yeah, WELL deserved if you’d ask me.
After the gig, we meet the three musicians outside to take a few pictures. Originally, I wanted to take them to a hell of a spot with plenty of graffitis and stuff, but they felt a bit lazy so I made do with an average back alley with red brick walls. Back to Camden, we walk past the Vans Store where Tombstones are playing an acoustic set, but we arrive at the end of it. I guess these Vans sessions weren’t for us ! Victor Griffin-Inslaved is now playing in the Ballroom, some very bluesy and old school metal, from what I hear and see, it looks like a guitar hero showcase so… I pass.
Filled with purple haze : NAAM (Facebook)
NAAM is among the bands I most wanted to discover on stage at this festival, so I’m nothing but excited right now. As a fan of 99% of the Tee Pee catalog, no doubt this band from Brooklyn was one of the biggest expectations I had. The setting is a bit long, you can see these guys are perfectionists. Naam is craftsman psyche rock : every little detail is important, so we can’t hold it against them for taking their time. As soon as the show begins, I’m sucked up into a trippy low-tempo music vortex. Think of Pink Floyd or, if you need more recent references, Austin-based rockers Black Angels. For the first time in two days, the sound is perfect in the Ballroom, even though the five musicians don’t have any feedback, which leads them to deliver approximative (yet very intense) vocal harmonies. Naam makes such a multidimensional music that each riff can take an unforeseen turn, without never being boring. Nag Champa infiltrates my sinuses and I spend the rest of the show with eyes closed, enjoying the vibe. It’s all about Ryan Hamilton’s mesmerizing voice, hypnotic guitars, organ improvisations, bass player John Bundy’s wild backing vocals… I feel like the branch of a weeping willow, floating around with the wind… I open my eyes briefly and see the people around me caught in the same whirl of psychedelia… This band is truly good and incredibly powerful. The brotherhood ends the setlist with the dark 10 minutes long track “Kingdom”… Back to reality. What reality ? And who the hell are you !? What…
Craziest Swedish rockers alive : TRUCKFIGHTERS (website)
6.30 PM. My heart tells me “run to the Underworld to see Belzebong while it’s not too late !” but my reason says “stay here, you don’t want to miss Truckfighters”. As I’m pretty sure the Underworld is overcrowded right now, I decide to stay here an wait for my three fave Swedish dudes. It takes no longer than a sip at my tenth can of Monster Energy (I got addicted to this shit) and a visit at the toilet attendant who compliments every girl in order to sell lollipops (dafuq ?) to feel ready for war. I notice that Ozo’s microphone is put on the far left of the stage. To those who don’t get why they have such a stage setting : you’ll get it pretty soon, don’t worry. No sooner do the first notes of “Desert Cruiser” echo in the venue than people get insane in the pit. For the record, the Ballroom is now fully packed with blissfully happy people. As the crowd is being genuinely enthusiastic for the trio, Ozo let us be in control of the song and sing the whole choruses on our own, while Dango is achieving the greatest jumps ever. It’s my third time seeing this guys in one year, and honestly, I’ve never seen them as ecstatic as tonight ! The harmony between them and the crowd is impressive : for the first time this weekend, I see the crowd turning into a human tidal wave. Obviously, Truckfighters are winning unanimous support because I can see VIPs rushing backstage to see the performance. During one of Dango’s guitar solos, I close my eyes and when I reopen them, the dude is just walking past me in the pit ! The guys are all smiling and offer us two new songs from the upcoming record (release date still unknown). The human wave is now ready to welcome Ozo, who stagedives happily at the end of the set. Fuck, what a gig ! What an energy ! Sköl Truckfighters !!!
Because we’re not only fans but also “professionals”, we are now waiting the band backstage for a quick photoshoot. In the meantime, the legendary German psyche band Colour Haze begins to play in the venue. After being held for a few seconds by my photographer for a few test shots, I run, yeah RUN to the Black Heart to catch The Shrine on stage. It’s 8.30 PM, I only have 15 minutes to get the ultimate riff from this band.
Fucking primitive blast : THE SHRINE (Facebook)
What a relief to see their show is not over yet ! I drop my stuff on some random seat upstairs and rush to the front row, while the band is starting to play their famous song “Primitive Blast”. It’s fucking hot and wet here, time to cut loose. The mood is 200% rock’n’roll and punk, might as well say that after 24 hours spent in the giant Ballroom I dig this supercharged underground vibe. Californian band The Shrine in two words ? Atomic. Bomb. The Venice-based skaters are some ardent partisans of the old school punk/hard rock vibe, with all the sweat and dirt that comes in the package. I don’t really care if they are clean rifflords or some kind of virtuosos : all I know is that they deliver the craziest rock ever and happily smash our eardrums. These fifteen minutes are by far the most intense and raw I’ve lived this weekend. These guys are nuts, they’re daredevils who don’t give a fuck, they just want to play some good music and share the vibe. Their show deserved to be longer (but I don’t know if they have enough songs to play a longer gig). After the bass player has stagedived and the show has come to an end, many people come to greet the rockers. As for me, I turn towards lead singer/guitarist Josh to see if we still can make our interview (read here). Thanks to Jeff Edwards at jeffedwardsart.com for the video by the way.
However, before being able to interview the L.A. trio, me and my colleague have to go back to the Ballroom to take a few pics of Pentagram. The band complies, but the mood is a bit compromised by Bobby Liebling’s rantings. Inside, Colour Haze is about to finish playing… I rush back to the Black Heart to interview The Shrine… Probably the most freestyle and random interview I’ve ran in ages, just picture that : interviewing a band in front of the venue where they just played, in a street full of drunk people, including some random drunk homeless dude who absolutely wants to take part to the interview. Best interview ever.
Rise from the dead : PENTAGRAM (Facebook)
I don’t want to pretend I’m some super-skilled rock reviewer who knows everything about everything, I want to be honest with you : I don’t listen to Pentagram. As in “Whut ? You like stoner, doom and all that shit and you DON’T like Pentagram ?”. Yeah, that’s me. Deal with it. So don’t expect some kind of very analytic review of their performance, and forget about any psychologic or historical approach. I can’t do that. Let me just tell you something instead : you should go to a show of Pentagram before it’s too late (i.e before Bobby dies). Because Liebling can be old, he still has that rockstar aura, that huge presence of the old school doomers, when pretending you’re possessed is part of the show. Even though Bobby is overacting with his weird moves, his goggled eyes and his old theatrical facial expressions, the musicians are just fucking solid and efficient. What a sound, what a power, dammit ! Tall (new) guitarist Matt Goldsborough and bassist Greg Turley are playing like Gods, while charismatic drummer Sean Saley is hitting them drums with style. No pun intended, but the song “Petrified” leaves me speechless. Even if Liebling irritates me with his cheesy attitude, I have to admit Pentagram are the definition of H.E.A.V.Y. with a capital H.
Let’s rock it til the world ends : THE AFTER PARTY
The Desertfest team wanted to spoil us, so they had the first floor of the Ballroom privatized until 2PM so that we could aaaallllll party like animals one last time. 11.30 PM, time to get upstairs to enjoy the rock DJ set. Those who were at the Black Heart or the Underworld have to queue outside to have a chance to get in. As I’m super fast to arrive in the room, I receive a voucher to get a free beer. Yep, free beer. On board, we got Kipp from the band Steak, and that other cool DJ who played the two other nights (sorry man, I totally forgot your name). There’s no better way to end such a cool weekend than dancing on Clutch’s “Electric Worry”, or even Red Fang, Slo Burn, Kvelertak, Black Sabbath… Heaven on Earth, I can assure you. Kick yourself if you were getting drunk somewhere else, because you missed THE party, big time. Until 2AM, everyone’s having a blast, everyone’s having a great time, everyone’s fucking cool… We’d like this night to last forever, like in some sort of stoner paradise. But all good things have to come to an end, so we all have to say good bye, sure thing we’ll all be there next year, same place, same time.
This Desertfest 2013 was an amazing experience, full of intense shows and encounters, and most of all : full of fucking good vibrations. In the space of two editions, Desertfest has become a safe bet when it comes to heavy rock and metal events, and I really wish it’ll keep its convivial and “all local” approach, because that’s what make it unique and better than all the other festivals. I’d like to thank the Desertscene team for giving me the opportunity to live this amazing weekend as a journalist : Reece, thanks for your friendliness and availability, Jake, thanks for your patience and for keeping your promises. Shout out to all the boys and girls who worked their ass off to make us feel good at the Underworld, the Black Heart, the Electric Ballroom and Jazz Café during these three crazy days. I’d also like to thank all the bands I met, interviewed, photographed : Steak, Unida and House Of Broken Promises (Emma, nothing would have been possible without your help), The Shrine, Glowsun, Mars Red Sky, Kadavar, Black Moth, Gurt, Truckfighters, Pentagram. Shout out to the DJ’s who ran the afterparties and made the paradise feel even nicer, you rock ! Of course I won’t forget my friend and photographer Gaël Mathieu, for following me the whole weekend and giving his best despite the stress and lack of sleep. SEE YOU NEXT YEAR, DESERTFEST…
Last modified: 11 February 2015