Desertfest London 2023 – Day 3

Written by Featured, Live

It’s a rude awakening, our eyes can barely open but we have to be on top of our game for this huge third day of Desertfest London. We hold her heads up high, invigorate ourselves with a cold shower, and try hard to wait until 2:00 pm for the first pint… We’re ready for a final day full of promises and emotions! (Photos: Tim Bugbee, Sam Huddleston and Jessy Lotti // Text: Matt and Sofie Von Kelen)

Piccadilly Line: Passing through the major touristy spots, this line will take a few surprise detours. Your driver on this journey will be Matt and he wishes you a pleasant journey.

Northern Line: This will take you to an underground world full of discoveries, but it also calls at a few hubs with connections to the Piccadilly Line. This train is piloted by Sofie, who recommends that you hang on tight. 

Piccadilly Line

Acid Mammoth

I kick off this last day with a band that’s dear to my heart. Even though I caught the Greeks in my hometown just a few weeks ago, it’s always a thrill. The Underworld is packed despite the sunny weather, they deliver a burning hot performance in front of a pumped-up crowd… even if the bass sound is a little too loud, making the lead riffs barely audible. Despite the latter, the band is in top form and even spends some extra time taking selfies and giving hugs to their many fans. After the show, I head for the Roundhouse, where I meet up with… guitarist and vocalist Chris Babalis for an interview on lineage, pachyderms, Gibson SG and the band’s projects for the end of the year. Keep an eye out for this one.


This is my first time at the Roundhouse, and only Nebula could entice me to come to this huge venue, which I find a little too aseptic for our scene. Under Camden’s blazing sun (even if it must feel a bit grey for Nebula), the band gave their all, yet the audience remains too scarce for what is nonetheless an undeniable Desertfest headliner. Despite a good performance, you could feel the frustration on the part of both the band and fans, still clueless that 500 Brits were staying on the venue’s terrace when Nebula was in the house.

Nebula – Photo : Jessy Lotti


Ever since their name appeared on the bill, I knew I’d be catching Gnome and that it would be one of these performances that divides Desertfesters. And it was. In a packed and boiling Underworld, we get treated to a high-caliber show: fun, hypnotic, prog, well thought out but also instinctive. What a powerful show. But what can you do, some people are allergic to pointy hats or second-degree (unless it comes from Red Fang or Truckfighters, strangely enough). Whether you succumbed to the hype or not, the Belgian unit absolutely killed it today. One of my highlights of the weekend!

Morass Of Molasses

After Gnome’s excellent set, I was over-pumped and in the front row for one of the shows I was most looking forward to this year. I only discovered Morass Of Molasses very recently, and these guys have everything, absolutely EVERYTHING to please me. I fell under the spell of their albums so wildly that I jumped at the chance to interview them earlier today. We are now inside the Black Heart, I’m about to lose 3 liters of water (plus an unidentified blend of hops and barley). My leopard hair is about to rub off on my neighbors, I’ll lose what’s left of my voice, and my knees and neck will be permanently ruined: in short, I’m having the time of my life. Morass Of Molasses groove, they jam, they riff hard, scream, shout, sing, their music is sharp yet melodic, catchy yet full of surprises, the guys interact perfectly with their audience and the sound is just flawless. This set epitomizes everything that makes me love live music: musicians who end up on their knees but with a smile on their faces and an audience who doesn’t want to leave the room, in short, it’s THE best concert of the weekend by far. A rare and timeless performance. Thank you, gentlemen, really: thank you.

Big | Brave

After a well-deserved lunch break, I head off to the Powerhaus to park myself for Big | Brave and their noisy yet melodic drone. The light show is spellbinding, the music feels like a nihilistic trance, and here I am sinking into gloomy meditations, my legs are heavy, and on stage, a battle rages between light and darkness to win me over. I’m out of breath at the sight of so much beauty and horror. So much so that after 45 minutes, I feel the need to leave and get some fresh air to regain faith in humanity. That’s how deeply the band’s music has touched me.

Photo by Sam Huddleston

Northern Line

Blood Ceremony

3pm feels like 8am. I heading for Chalk Farm, running among Camden’s tourists for my only foray into the Roundhouse today. One thing you should know: I love old school prog. Whenever I get a little drunk, I spin Live in Pompeii or Mike Oldfield’s hypnotic BBC performance from 1973 to fall asleep. Add a weird man with a flute talking about locomotives or a mustachioed guy singing about gypsies or ladies in black, and I smile so broadly that you might doubt my sanity. No wonder why I’m such a fan of Blood Ceremony and their phenomenal frontwoman Alia O’Brien, as they have moved away from the hardcore doom of the early days to less theatrical but more moving prog rock. It’s a pity that this iron and glass cathedral is so unsuited to their subtle sound and that the audience is so apathetic at this time of day. This was a good performance, however, carried by the talent of the regular members as well as the pinpoint accuracy of the substitute drummer Michael Carillo behind the kit.


Let’s go back to a smaller temple for Graywave, the solo shoegaze project of multi-instrumentalist Jess Webberley, who surrounded herself with a full band to pour soft waves of dreamy chords and ethereal strings onto the Powerhaus crowd. Their performance is airy, enveloping, unsettling and soothing all at once, in the purest tradition of the genre, like an invoked pause in the midst of the orgy of heavy riffs.


Catching Venomwolf at the Black Heart right after Graywave feels like going from a half-sleep filled with complex images and textures to a thrash metal battlefield in which any attempt to absorb anything other than raw yang energy would be a complete waste of time… The sound is butchered beyond measure, but who cares? We’re here to raise our fists and break our necks with conviction in front of these genuine Glaswegian thrashers, who might not be very active in the studio, but much more on stage!


Imagine two ethereal silhouettes in chains, togas and corpse paint. Half-Cramps, half-black metal. Between them, subliminal images twirl on a wall of vintage screens. Against all odds, the music delivered by these barely human creatures is a delicious blend of synth-pop, shoegaze and new wave with delicate vocal harmonies flowing like honey over my broken ears. Earplugs aren’t necessary, the sound levels are perfect, as is this completely off-the-wall and endlessly compelling outfit. Legend has it that these two Londoners met on the evening of Halley’s Comet passing. Another tells of a furious Dungeons & Dragons game. We will never know…

Blood Ceremony – Photo: Jessy Lotti

Jo Quail

Thirty minutes of a Shiraz-fueled introspection later, the mind-blowing cellist has taken the stage, tuning her cello, testing her loopers and having a chat with audience members. Jo Quail’s performances are risky as she concocts milfoil of loops. Alone on stage with her electric cello, she drags her audience with modern-sounding pieces of art that oscillate between violence and delicacy. Listeners literally howl in between the songs. We witness a perfectly controlled deluge of riffs that fit together perfectly, without anyone or anything questioning their infinitely more intense nature than what any bunch of bearded dudes with distortion pedals could throw down. If my memories of this festival were to be wiped clean, leaving me with only one set to remember, it would unquestionably be this one.

Celestial Sanctuary

Cramming into the Black Heart to watch some old-school death metal after such borderline experiences could have been risky, but surprisingly, this local outfit easily manages to convince me with their heavy but powerful mid-tempos and riffs that leave all mediums behind in the tradition of the late Bolt Thrower. Their sound is authentic, honest and definitely cut out for moshpits, forcing the less brave to hug the walls of the tiny venue. I’m one of them given that I haven’t set foot in a moshpit for 15 years… A hell of a good time that takes my guts back to the right place.

Great Electric Quest junction

Northern Line: Some bands suffer from their position in the running order, and Great Electric Quest might be one of them. As a festival opener facing fresh ears, the outcome could have been different — at least for Matt and me, as we are both victims of the same relativity crisis: we’ve been listening to so many strange and powerful performances that made us question certain sections of our vinyl collection, that we are unable to properly enjoy the orgy of fun and riff-crazy energy. Getting into the set was mission impossible, however the crowd did seem to do it without a hitch.

Piccadilly Line: Yes, Great Electric Quest play fast, they play tight, they’re generous, but probably a little too generous whereas Sofie and I don’t have a single drop of sweat left to offer after three grueling days. Sharp tongues (I’m one of them) compare this show to an end-of-year fair, but as Sofie pointed out, it’s rather not what both of us needed after such an intense weekend. Yet the crowd seems to be having a helluva time, after what Camden streets keep filling with festival-goers in search of a last drink or meal. The end of the line is near for us too.


For now, we’re looking forward to getting back to the Dev and debriefing this exhilarating day with an inappropriate number of drinks. We’ll soon be joined by our designer friends from Arrache-Toi Un Œil (check their work out, it’s more than worth it). Once again, it’s been a pleasure to share our London ramblings with you, and we hope they’ve sparked your interest, made you laugh, helped you discover new music, and of course, made you want to come to this incredible festival, the elder of all Desertfests!

Last modified: 28 June 2023