Deserfest London 2016: Final Headliner Announced and Lineup Complete

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 28th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Well, that’s a wrap for Desertfest London 2016… unless, you know, you count the actual holding of the fest in April. Which you should probably count. Okay, maybe not a wrap at all.

But the lineup is complete, and that’s something in itself. Spanning genres and geographical borders, I feel like this year’s Desertfest London perfectly emphasizes just how much this festival has grown in its five years into this encompassing celebration of heavy rock, sludge and doom, holding firm to its local roots even in this last batch of bands, while also expanding its reach in pulling legendary acts from beyond the UK and Europe as well.

Russian Circles will headline the second of Desertfest London 2016’s three dog nights, and a slew of others have joined the bill as well, including Mondo DragStinking Lizaveta, underrated Londoners Crystal HeadSiena Root and many more details below:

desertfest london 2016 poster

DESERTFEST LONDON: lineup complete with Russian Circles headlining the Saturday!

Russian Circles to headline the fifth edition of DESERTFEST LONDON this spring in Camden!

It’s finally here: your complete DESERTFEST LONDON 2016 line-up has arrived! Chicago’s majestic instrumental progsters Russian Circles are set to headline the Saturday night with Pelican as lead support. Not only that, but we have the mighty forefathers of doom Trouble celebrating their 30th anniversary with a very special show for us, just before Electric Wizard bring down the Sunday night curtain in style! See you all in April…

Desertfest is all about our passion for heavy music, our love through deep-rooted friendships and above all, our collective appreciation of diversity, musical skill and the broadest range of powerful performances…

RUSSIAN CIRCLES are not from the desert, they’re not exponents of standard 5-minute, 4-4 rock songs and they expose their soundscapes exclusively for us to form our own interpretations without the mask of any form of lyrics. Shrouded in darkness, illuminated only by flashes of white light and the occasionally projected visual, they’re performers worthy of headlining any show in front of an audience who have the ability to think before they roar. With fellow instrumental crusher-destroyers PELICAN primed and ready as their main support, get ready to see, smell and FEEL the sheer weight of these swirls of Siberia.

Desertfest is also proudly joining in with Chicago doom legends TROUBLE’s 30th anniversary celebrations. Original members Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell will be touching the sky with their classic dual guitar leads and now-established front man Kyle Thomas (Alabama Thunderpussy, Floodgate, Exhorder) will be tempting the crowds with his prayers for the dead, it’s going to be a real mind bender!

The rest of final announcement for Desertfest London 2016 goes as follows:
SIENA ROOT
STINKING LIZAVETA
DYSE
MANTAR
MONDO DRAG
GURT
NECRO DEATHMORT
CAROUSEL
THE MOTH
CRYSTAL HEAD
SPIDER KITTEN
SEDULUS
BEASTMAKER
DOG DAYS

– DESERTFEST LONDON 2016 –
April 29th to May 1st in Camden, London (UK)
Weekend tickets available AT THIS LOCATION

https://www.leedstickets.com/eventinfo/4804/Desertfest-2016
http://www.thedesertfest.com/london/
https://twitter.com/DesertFest
https://www.facebook.com/DesertfestLondon
https://instagram.com/desertfest
http://desertfest.bigcartel.com/

Russian Circles, Live at Saint Vitus Bar 2014

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audiObelisk Transmission 052

Posted in Podcasts on October 5th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Click Here to Download

 

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Whenever the hell it was that I started really doing podcasts again on a roughly-monthly basis, I said that there would be no theme from one to the other. That’s a rule I’ve bent a couple times since, and this is one of those instances as well. This podcast takes a look at the rather extensive lineup for Desertfest Belgium 2015 (posted in full here). It was a particular challenge to keep it to what’s become the standard two-hour format, but in the end, I think the tracklisting below brings together the headliners and some of the lesser known bands in a way that speaks to the breadth of the festival itself. Or at least I hope it does. It’s a killer mix, either way.

Worth noting that this is the second podcast this year that has started with Goatsnake. That is not an accident. I tried to keep things as current as possible here, and their new one destroys. I think the only cuts not from the band’s latest album are Bongzilla, Monomyth and Monolord, and well, the songs included speak for themselves either way.

Desertfest Belgium 2015 happens this weekend at Trix in Antwerpen. If, like me, you won’t be there, hope this provides a bit of fodder escapist daydreaming. If you’re going, it’s never to early to get psyched on it. Either way, please enjoy:

First Hour:
0:00:00 Goatsnake, “House of the Moon” from Black Age Blues
0:05:17 Crystal Head, “Wouldn’t You Know” from Crystal Head
0:08:05 Orange Goblin, “Demon Blues” from Back from the Abyss
0:12:40 Ufomammut, “Temple” from Ecate
0:20:08 Fever Dog, “The Great Tree” from Second Wind
0:26:05 Causa Sui, “Echo Springs” from Euporie Tide
0:30:56 Dozer, “Flood” from Beyond Colossal
0:34:46 Monolord, “Icon” from Empress Rising
0:42:56 Mars Red Sky, “The Light Beyond” from Stranded in Arcadia
0:50:55 Stoned Jesus, “Silkworm Confessions” from The Harvest

Second Hour:
1:00:00 Fatso Jetson, “Flesh Trap Blues” from Split with Herba Mate
1:06:25 Bongzilla, “H.P. Keefmaker” from Apogee
1:16:46 Earth, “Badgers Bane” from Primitive and Deadly
1:29:05 The Machine, “Chrysalis (JAM)” from Offblast!
1:45:16 Monomyth, “Huygens” from Monomyth

Total running time: 2:02:20

 

Thank you for listening.

Download audiObelisk Transmission 052

 

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Desertfest Belgium 2015 Adds Earth, Stoned Jesus, Papir, Crystal Head, Pendejo, Banda de la Muerte and USA out of Vietnam

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 2nd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

trix, yo.

They still have more to announce. That might be the most terrifying part of the whole thing. Desertfest Belgium 2015 came out of the gate swinging — I don’t even know what these clichés are supposed to mean; are they boxing horses or something? — and the festival, which is set for Oct. 9, 10 and 11 at Trix in Antwerp has only continued to get more and more lethal. Now Earth are headlining? What, were the fucking Beatles busy? Jesus, guys. Save some for next year.

Next year, I’m sure, will be even more ludicrous in that wish-you-were-there kind of way. But for this year, yes, there’s still one more announcement to come for Desertfest Belgium 2015, and after reading the below news that EarthStoned JesusPapirCrystal HeadPendejoBanda de la Muerte and USA out of Vietnam have joined the already-kicked-ass ranks, it’s less of a question of imagining who might be added than of asking who’s left that’s not already playing.

Heavy rock and roll, my friends:

desertfest belgium 2015

EARTH to headline DESERTFEST BELGIUM 2015, plus seven more bands announced!

For its next-to-last announcement, DESERTFEST BELGIUM is proud to welcome megalithic legends EARTH to the bill, for the first time ever at Desertfest! In addition, the festival also confirmed Ukraine’s number one heavy mongers STONED JESUS, Copenhagen’s instrumental drone trio PAPIR, eclectic foursome USA OUT OF VIETNAM, Argentina’s sludgers BANDA DE LA MUERTE, British rockers CRYSTAL HEAD, Bruges vintage THE HEAVY CROWN and the one and only PENDEJO!

Day tickets on sale next week with final announcement!

Bands already confirmed are:
Earth, Goatsnake, Orange Goblin, Bongzilla, Fatso Jetson, Dozer, Moon Duo, Greenleaf, Valient Thorr, Ufomammut, Stoned Jesus, Causa Sui, Siena Root, Monolord, Mars Red Sky, Glowsun, Papir, Carlton Melton, Monomyth, Child, Harsh Toke, Planet Of Zeus, Pendejo, Vandal X, USA Out Of Vietnam, Banda De La Muerte, Tangled Horns, Psychonaut, The Progerians, Crystal Head, The Heavy Crown, Wheel Of Smoke, Sunder, Fever Dog, Black-Bone and 3rd Ear Experience.

Unfortunately, Sourvein have been forced to cancel their European tour for personal reasons. Full statement from the band follows:

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, a family emergency has occurred and can’t be delayed at this time. We’ll have to postpone our upcoming tour until 2016. Thanks for understanding it’s family first in this type of situation. Shows will be rescheduled and we will see you in 2016. Can’t wait to see everyone in europe. Thank you, Sourvein.”

DESERTFEST BELGIUM 2015
October 9-11th at Trix Muziekcentrum – Antwerp
3 day tickets (96€) on sale HERE

More infos at www.desertfest.be

https://www.facebook.com/desertfestbelgium
https://twitter.com/desertfestBE
http://www.desertfest.be/

Earth, Primitive and Deadly (2014)

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LONDON DESERTFEST 2013 Day One: Gods of Fire! Gods of Fire!

Posted in Features on April 26th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

04.26.13 — 11:28PM GMT — Friday — Holiday Inn, Camden

Housekeeping kicked me out of my hotel room. While I’m staying somewhere, I usually don’t like to have people come through and clean — I’m not making that much of a mess, and what mess I make, I can clean up myself — but sometimes it just has to be done. So they gave me the boot, but I was still early to head down for the official start of London Desertfest 2013. Or late, depending on how you want to look at it. I’ll explain as we go along, though before we get down to it and the rest of my night gets its course, let me just say that some of what I saw today is the kind of stuff that I’ve no doubt will stay with me for as long as I have the capacity to remember it. Really. It was like that. From watching friends kick ass to seeing bands I never thought I’d be lucky enough to see, it was the perfect start to a landmark weekend.

In the spirit of doom, let’s do a slow count-in: 1… 2… 3… 4…

Crystal Head

Native British trio Crystal Head were my favorite find of last year’s Desertfest — a band about whom I really knew nothing who just blew me away on stage. Obviously the surprise factor wasn’t there this go around, but the Londoners were perhaps even more satisfying to watch in 2013 since I knew most of the songs, which came from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here). As such, they made a great launch point for day one of this year’s Desertfest and though the setting was different at the Jazz Cafe, guitarist/vocalist Tom Cameron, bassist/backing vocalist Jon Deal and drummer Dean Deal nonetheless made short work of the room. Self-titled opener “Perfect Weirdo,” was a highlight, and Cameron‘s hollow-body Gretsch was as righteous as I remembered. Curiously, since I thought it was a shoo-in, they didn’t play “True to Say,” but I guess the DJ beforehand had gotten wind of the fact that they weren’t going to, and it was aired over the P.A. nonetheless before they took the stage. I had thought that was weird. Along with “Wouldn’t You Know” — which I might very well have stuck in my head for the rest of this weekend — they kicked into a new song called “Bellicose” that was introduced as being, “about how nice the world is.” So be it. Moody as they get, and they get plenty, Crystal Head never stray too far from the next hook, and even “Bellicose” had a solid crash groove from Dean that slammed into half-speed at just the right moment. When they closed with “Truth Hurts,” I wanted to hear a new record as badly as I wanted to hear the self-titled after they finished at The Underworld in 2012.

Groan


I went back and looked, and I haven’t called a band a hoot yet on this trip. Well, that’s what Groan were. They were a hoot. Just lots and lots and lots of fun. Fun to watch, fun to hear, fun from the moment of their ultra-pretentious classical intro to every over-the-top grandiose song of their set. I dug the hell of it. Not like I’d seen them before, but the now-fivesome have been through some lineup changes since they released The Divine Right of Kings (review here) in the latter half of 2012, shifting drummer Christopher West (also of Trippy Wicked) over to guitar while bringing on new drummer Zel Kaute and new guitarist Mike Pilat to join forces with bassist Leigh Jones and frontman extraordinaire Andreas “Mazzereth” Maslen. They brought the house down early with their unabashed heavy metal shuffle, dipping into their split with Vinum Sabbatum (review here) for “Cosmic Boogie” before “Magic Man” showed off some of the more metallic riotousness that showed up on the last album. They were a top-notch stage act, Mazz playing host to a chaotic carnival while Jones followed suit and the three relative newcomers kept the material in check while adding to the energy. Pilat contributed some vocals along with Jones in a few choruses, and it was cool to hear older songs from 2010’s The Sleeping Wizard (review here) like “Witchy Woman” and their finale, “Sleeping Wizard,” get treated to the band’s newer tones. Foremost, though, Groan were a really good time as they rushed through their set, and Mazz got in the last word of wisdom before they walked off stage: “Let’s have a party!” It seemed like we just had.

Mars Red Sky


The warmth. I guess in the intervening year since I saw them at Roadburn, I’d somehow tricked my brain into thinking there was no way France’s foremost ministers of fuzz Mars Red Sky could actually sound that thick and still be so languid, dreamy, psychedelic on stage. But no, they were. At The Underworld, bassist/vocalist Jimmy Kinast (left above), vocalist/guitarist Julien Pras (middle above) and drummer Matgaz (right above) had the perfect balance of tonal weight and melodic sweetness, and of all the fuzz I’m bound to hear in the next few days, I’ve no doubt that at the end, theirs will have been some of the most satisfying. Most of the new Be My Guide EP (review here) was played, including “Clean White Hands” and the title-track before the trio moved on to “Curse” and “Marble Sky” from their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), Kinast coming to the fore vocally for the latter. “Strong Reflection” from the full-length was even slower coming from the stage, which I didn’t expect, but that only made the rolling, nod-inducer of a riff even richer, Pras‘ vocals echoing but still conveying a single-layer’s fragility that doubling inherently removes from the studio versions of the material, giving what’s already ultra-natural-sounding a rawer vibe. The EP is still new, but the album cuts got a great response, and as Mars Red Sky capped with “Way to Rome,” I felt like I was being issued a reminder that summer is on the way and will be here before I know it. All the better for having Mars Red Sky‘s temperate fuzz to bake in solar scorch. They also let me take their picture outside the venue later. Right on.

Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight

My original intention had been to watch cumbersomely-named appreciated amigos Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (oft just Trippy Wicked) start the day with an acoustic set at the Vans store in Camden. The downside to this plan? I had no idea where said retail outlet was. This was a two-fold downer: First, because I like Trippy Wicked‘s acoustic stuff a lot — they break out a ukulele and really make it interesting and moody and varied — and Second, because the friggin’ Vans store in Camden was right in front of my god damn face the whole time. I walked past it on my way to Jazz Cafe for the start of Crystal Head and actually did a facepalm. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone back and forth in front of it since getting into town, but it’s several. Fortunately, my feeling like a jackass (familiar as it is) was tempered by knowing that Trippy Wicked were also booked for a full-on slot at The Black Heart, which is where I caught the St Albans trio, whose drummer Chris West and guitarist/vocalist Peter Holland had been kind enough to host me earlier this week. Time was a factor, but I did get to see them play a new song, and that was awesome, and I got to see them fill up The Black Heart such that people were queued (yeah, I’m in the UK) through the door and into the hallway to get in. Not really surprising, since last year they played The Purple Turtle (not a part of Desertfest 2013, which has already saved a few long walks, I’m sure) and garnered much the same reaction, and if not for the power of their oh-so-heavy rock and roll, certainly the fancy shirts of Holland and bassist Dicky King would’ve packed the house. I don’t know if anything will ever beat seeing them in Eindhoven last year, but whenever I get to watch them play I’m glad to be there. My only regret of the day was I didn’t get my dose of “Hillbilly Moonshine.”

Yawning Sons


What could’ve possibly drawn me away from such rock-your-socksery? The thing is, to say I have an enduring affection for the Sons of Alpha Centauri/Gary Arce collaboration — he being the “Yawning,” as in his main outfit, Yawning Man, and they being the “Sons” as in the first word of the name of their band — and their 2009 debut album, Ceremony to the Sunset (review here), is to grossly understate the situation. Theirs was the first in a trio of desert-based sets (Sons of Alpha Centauri are from the UK, but Arce counts in atmosphere as well as geography, so we’ll give them credit at least this time), that went from Yawning Sons to Yawning Man to Fatso Jetson as the closers for The Underworld. Frankly, it wasn’t the kind of thing I was going to be able to live with myself if I missed, and it seemed I was lucky when I got there and Yawning Sons hadn’t started yet. Unfortunately, in a couple short seconds within beginning to play, Arce‘s guitar cut out. Gone. The Sons portion of the lineup — guitarist Marlon King, bassist Nick Hannon, soundscaper Andrew Blake and the drummer who held together much of the jams that would ensue — locked in the gorgeousness of “Tomahawk Watercress” on their own while Arce figured out his situation, and just when it seemed to be up and running, off his guitar went again. It went on like that for a while, and was a genuine, visible bummer that cut into their set time. King and company were pros all the way, and the tech crew for Desertfest and even Arce‘s Yawning Man bandmate, Mario Lalli (also of Fatso Jetson), came out to help. Finally they got the guitar working and were able to build a bit of momentum over the remainder of their set. Lalli returned to guest on vocals for “Meadows” from the album, and that helped, and they ended with just King and Arce playing off each other on guitar, which was a cool moment to see, though I don’t think the set turned out the way anyone had anticipated or hoped. Still, I can’t call it a disappointment from where I stood. Getting to see Yawning Sons play any of their material at all was an automatic win.

Yawning Man


I don’t know if it gets more of-the-desert than the Yawning Man lineup of Gary Arce, Mario Lalli and drummer Alfredo Hernandez. There’s plenty of acts and artists who’ve emerged from that vast, beautiful wasteland expanse, but aside from being pivotal to the creation of desert rock — period — is there anyone who so singularly embodies the heavy sound associated with that region? Maybe having Yawning Man play Desertfest 2013 was a way to find out, and if so, I’ll take it. I know they’re American and I’m American, but America’s a big country, and I honestly didn’t ever think I’d get to watching Yawning Man live, so this was something really special for me to witness — these three players jamming out still-unheralded classics for an audience that, if they went through and hand-picked a crowd, they couldn’t have found one more appreciative of what they do and what they’ve done for heavy rock and heavy psychedelia as a whole. And their albums, 2005’s Rock Formations and 2010’s Nomadic Pursuits (review here) — even the latter, for which I still carry a nerd’s torch, don’t do them justice live. The songs are heavier, yeah, but also just plain deeper tonally, Arce‘s guitar expanding to full echo breadth as he signaled changes to Lalli and Hernandez for when to move to the next part. I know Yawning Man have had some lineup shuffles in their time and even recently, but to have these guys come out and start running through “Sand Whip” and “Perpetual Oyster” and get a real flow going from one jam into the next, the massive influence they’ve had on the probably thousands of bands who’ve taken bits and pieces of their sound over the course of a generation — some without even knowing they did it — made a lot of sense. By way of new material, they played “Dark Meet” from their split 12″ with Fatso Jetson, which is only the second piece of vinyl I’ve bought since I left home, and before they started, I got to hold Gary Arce‘s guitar for him while he went and grabbed a replacement part, and I felt honored just for standing where I was even more than I had already.

Fatso Jetson

Boomer’s Blues! Boomer’s Boogie! Moving to guitar and getting a microphone for vocals, Mario Lalli commenced Fatso Jetson‘s set by asking the existential question, “What is desert rock, anyway?” I was going to yell out, “rebranded post-punk!” but thought better of it. In any case, Lalli isn’t quite post his punk. Joined in this iteration of his seminal outfit by drummer Tony Tornay, bassist/cousin Larry Lalli, both mainstays, and his son, guitarist/backing vocalist Dino von Lalli — who may or may not be 16 now; Mario said something on stage about pulling him out of high school to do this show — Lalli and the band answered his question to whatever degree Yawning Man could possibly have left it unanswered. They ran through a fortified, boogie-fied groover set that touched on Fatso Jetson albums like Cruel and Delicious (2002), Toasted (2001), Flames for All (1999) and Power of Three (1997), but conspicuously absent was anything from 2010’s Archaic Volumes (review here). I don’t know if maybe the band decided to leave that material be on account of not having Vince Meghrouni on-hand to contribute sax and vocals as he did on the record, “New Age Android,” “I’ve Got the Shame” and “Tutta Dorma” go a long way. There wasn’t any new material to be had, but having seen them at Roadburn in 2010, I knew Fatso Jetson delivered live, and they did precisely that. To my misfortune, I was standing up front next to The Most Fucked Up Couple In London™ (my only challenge was deciding which between the two was, in local parlance, the bigger cunt) and promptly had beer spilled all down my back, so I wasn’t long for being there, and once wrenched off the floor level of The Underworld, soon decided to pick up that Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson split and head back to The Black Heart to close out the night in local style.

Steak

It was a little like walking into Mos Eisley with the lights off, going back to The Black Heart. All around me, drunken murmurs and shouts in a variety of mumbled languages couldn’t be placed to their source, and even as I turned the corner to go down the alleyway to get to the bar, I knew I was in for it. I’d already been doused — I mean, covered — in beer, so whatever was coming, I felt like I was ready. I saw Steak here last year and dug them, and dug as well their sci-fi/comic thematic Disastronaught EP (review here), and with a new one coming called Corned Beef Colossus, figured this would be a chance both to get in some last-minute fuzz for the day and sample their latest material. The band features guitarist Reece Tee, who also organized Desertfest (not totally on his own, as no great feat is accomplished single-handedly, but still), vocalist Kippa, who set up his mic on the monitor box at the front of the stage, bassist Cam and new drummer Sammy, replacing Dan Kinsey, now of Wizard Fight, and Sammy would soon make the presence of his doubly-floor-tommed kit felt in more than just a busted hammer on a kick pedal as the London four-piece unrolled tones and grooves sliced even thicker than I remembered. Kippa, not content to be on the box, climbed onto the monitor itself to get to the ceiling, and the assembled masses seemed to treat it more as a start to the inevitable after party than the final set of the night. No doubt that was exactly the intent. This is their scene, their friends, their party, and the moment was well earned, both on Tee‘s part and the band’s.

It’s nearly four in the morning as I type this and I still have pictures to sort. Tomorrow is fewer bands, more full sets, and I’m looking forward to that for sure, but today was fantastic front to back, so I’m not about to complain. You can really get a sense being here of the spirit of appreciation with which this fest is executed, and I hope that comes across both in this and in the posts to come tomorrow night and Sunday. Thanks as always for reading.

More pics after the jump.

Read more »

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Six Dumb Questions with Crystal Head

Posted in Six Dumb Questions on May 23rd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

London-based Crystal Head was a band I knew literally nothing about before watching their set at Desertfest. That was half the fun, in fact, and it made it all the better when they kicked my ass with both the professionalism of their approach and the obvious strength of their hooks. They’d turn out to be a highlight of the weekend, and I was even more stoked after listening to their self-titled debut (review here) and finding that the album confirmed what the live set seemed to indicate: that the heavy rocking trio were more than just the sum of their influences.

As regards those influences, though, you really can’t go wrong blending Queens of the Stone Age‘s wooing pop anthems and the distorted crunch of Helmet with progressive structures and a nearly per-track variety of mood, and Crystal Head‘s Crystal Head did just that. Songs like “Perfect Weirdo” and “Mad Dog” nodded in the direction of heavy, but also had some underlying malevolence about them, a subtle darkness, that hinted well at a classically dangerous element the loss of which is often mourned in rock by those whose heads have long since drowned in the barrel of commercial cynicism. Crystal Head, the album, was crisp, and professional, and accessible, but somehow your lip still ended up bloody by the time it was done.

Being that guitarist/vocalist Tom Cameron and the cousinly rhythm section of bassist/vocalist Jon Deal and drummer Dean Deal made such a strong impression live and followed-up with another on the album, it only seemed right to hit them up for more info on their origins and subsequent doings. Their choice to record Crystal Head at Sawmills Studio in Cornwall — essentially a 17th Century water mill converted to a modern studio that’s only accessible by boat at high tide — made for even more curiosity on my end, and I’m glad to report that Cameron was forthcoming on that situation as well as Crystal Head‘s songwriting processes and what went into making the record the beast it is.

Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:

1. Tell me about how the band got together. I know you went through a name or two before you arrived at Crystal Head. What did it take for you to get to the point where you felt like you were ready to put out the self-titled album?

Jon and Dean are cousins. Dean and I met at school and Jon literally just knocked on my door one day and I let him in. We had a mutual friend so I knew of him, but it was still a bit weird…

We all grew up in the same small area just north of London called Welwyn Garden City. It’s quite a dead town, built around a Shredded Wheat factory with very little to do. Jon and I moved down to London five years ago.

We basically started the group from scratch, out of boredom and a shared love of music and rock bands. Dean learned to play the drums. Jon moved from six-string (which we would jam on together) and started playing bass. I was classically trained piano when I was young and had been messing about with guitar for a couple of years before we began putting songs together.

Jon and I originally played some acoustic shows before Dean began drumming and we still perform like this from time to time.

The album for us was well overdue. We’d produced numerous demos and EPs in our previous guises but never a full-length effort. And with the change to Crystal Head it felt like a suitable time to draw a line in the sand and move forward.

2. When were the songs for the record written? The material sounds fresh, but it’s all really well structured as well. Did it take much time for those tracks to come together, and did you know when you were making the album how you wanted to order the songs?

Songwriting has never been a short process for us. Any songs that make it to a live performance would have been formed over many hours of meticulous rehearsal and change. One song that didn’t make it on the album had four different choruses before we ditched it from our live set.

“Mad Dog” is the oldest song on the album and has been in existence for a few years. “Truth Hurts,” on the other hand, we wrote during the first album session at the studio. Most of our songs, like other artists, evolve and mutate over time until they become the finished recorded article. Then in turn they tend to change again when played live. Areas loosen up and spaces are sometimes filled.

The running order of the album was something very important to us. Without trying to sound cliché, we wanted to make the album as much of a journey as possible without being conceptual. Once all the songs were recorded the tracklisting decisions were like brain surgery that we stewed over for a number of weeks.

3. What was it like recording in Cornwall? From what I’ve seen about Sawmills Studio, it looks gorgeous. How did you find that place and decide to do the album there?

The Mill is one of the most beautiful places we’ve all visited. It’s set within a small tidal creek, which is only accessible via boat at high tide. Basically other than between 7AM-10AM and 6PM-8PM, you are stricken on this remote island in this huge mansion surrounded by woodland.

There’s no mobile phone reception or connectivity so you are literally cut-off from the world. A great place to be (in our opinion) if you want to make a record. Add to that the amazing Tom Joyce who engineered and mixed it with us, you’ve really got something very special. We’d recorded a couple of EPs there prior so knew when we decided to record the album that it was the place for us.

4. The songs sound way more modern than a 17th Century water mill might initially indicate. Did you know what you wanted out of the production going into the recording process?

We benefited from having many of the songs in the bank for a long time so were aware of how they could sound from previous demos. Our main challenge was making the album sound “like an album.” So trying to achieve a comprehensive sound for the record in its entirety without each track losing too much of its individuality. Again a very intense process of working day and night listening to every sound over and over until we reached where we wanted to be.

We also were intent on making a “studio” record, which for me means utilizing anything available in the studio, be it other instruments, effects, layers to create a sound that sets the bar for our live performances. Obviously, being a three-piece, this can be difficult to achieve, but as much as we can we’ll play out the tracks as hard and incisively as the album recordings.

5. How was Desertfest for you guys? It seemed like a really strong gathering of bands and fans across the three venues, and being on the outside of London’s scene, I thought it was a cool opportunity to see bands I might otherwise never be able to catch. What was it like for you playing, and how did you feel overall about the fest itself?

DesertFest was just such a positive experience. I think anyone who was involved or came to watch the bands will say the same. It’s like we took over a little corner of London for the weekend and just had a big party. We had two sets, one acoustic and one plugged in and the response from the crowds was really overwhelming. Have to say a big thank you to everyone who came to our performances and shared those moments. We really appreciate it.

We’re good friends with Reece, Dan and the whole Steak crew and what they are doing is an absolute right. We’ll continue to assist them (as they do us) with anything they need to keep momentum going. We played the very first Desertscene show a couple of years ago now and it’s phenomenal to see the way it’s grown so rapidly and successfully. You can expect some big things in the future from the team there I’m sure.

6. Any other plans or closing words you want to mention?

We’ve just been added to BGA Management Groups, who are based out in Europe. Funnily enough they found us at our DesertFest show at The Underworld. They’ve promised us world domination so we’re going to hold them to that!

You’ll see a revamped online presence and tour dates very soon via crystalhead.co.uk and we’ll be looking to get back in the studio to start work on a second album this winter.

Crystal Head on Thee Facebooks

Sawmills Studio website

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Crystal Head, Crystal Head: When the Music’s Over and the Party Ends

Posted in Reviews on May 14th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Self-released in a scuff-ready digipak that’s quick to take on the folds and creases of an oft-visited LP, the self-titled debut full-length from London’s Crystal Head sounds like the trio made origami out of their influences. It’s like guitarist/vocalist Tom Cameron (also keys) and the cousinly rhythm section of bassist Jon Deal and drummer Dean Deal took a sheet of paper made from all their favorite bands and turned it into the album’s 11 tracks, and if that sounds like a familiar process – certainly they’re not the first band to find impetus in the work of others; everyone does it – let the origami analogy stand as a demonstration of the care and precision they put into it. Crystal Head’s Crystal Head, released toward the end of 2011, is both stylized and brutish, working ‘90s hard rock into modern heavy and quickly establishing themselves as an act both aware of the past and working toward their own future. Specific moments on the record are directly relatable to the work of others, beginning with the infectious transposition of the riff progression to Karma to Burn’s “20” that shows up on catchy opener “Perfect Weirdo,” the first of several memorable landmarks spread throughout the album. Several of these songs I recognized instantly from Crystal Head’s set at Desertfest London, even having only heard them that one time, and though that’s true of songs like “Perfect Weirdo,” “Freeloader,” which follows, “True to Say,” “Mad Dog” and “First and Last,” I’ll say as well that the other songs included here have distinct personalities that come through and are well arranged to give the album an overarching flow. The arrangement of the material, which was recorded in the remote Sawmills Studio in Cornwall by the band and Tom Joyce, builds momentum quick through the first six tracks and then uses the last five to expand those ideas sonically and stylistically, giving a sense of both careful construction and vibrant diversity.

That structure is also something of an anomaly in terms of how it sets up the album. The model would seem to be a vinyl split between side A and B, but the flow works best in a linear sense – on a CD or digital format, in other words – where one modus immediately follows the next. Appropriately enough, it’s also the centerpiece track, “True to Say,” acting as the turning point in Crystal Head’s methodology, and where it and the five tracks preceding total 17:40, the five that follow hit 24:52, making the break between sides less cleanly perceptible. They don’t seem confused about it at all, blazing and swaggering their way through under-three-minute early cuts like “Jeremiad,” “Wouldn’t You Know” and the instrumental “The Fox,” which build on the model set forth by “Perfect Weirdo” of paramount hooks and engaging nods at their influences, the most clearly prevalent of which is Queens of the Stone Age. Even on the chorus of “Perfect Weirdo,” Cameron works a Josh Homme-style moan into his delivery, and that comes up elsewhere on the album as well, to excellent effect. “Freeloader” is more aggressive, and probably a specific person lyrically, but vague enough in the tradition of Filter’s “Hey Man Nice Shot” to be applicable in its tale of “the death of an alcoholic,” as Cameron croons in the opening line. The chorus is mean like Meantime-era Helmet and the vocals come across likewise rougher, but the first sense of the skillful craft put into Crystal Head’s arrangements comes through when Deal joins Cameron for an extended verse later into the song. It’s a subtle touch, but just enough to indicate the meticulousness that goes into making something sound so easy. As to Cameron’s Homme-isms, they’re manifold and show up sometimes in the start-stop guitar, but like the rest of the band’s directly-attributable elements, they’re put to work in a context that renders them fresher than perhaps might come across in a review picking them out and analyzing on a track-by-track basis. This is another way the speed with which Crystal Head’s first six songs play out helps them. They’re over before you know what’s hit you.

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2012 Adventure, Pt. 8: Along the Coast of Eternity (Desertfest Day Three)

Posted in Features on April 8th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/08/12 — 22.31 GMT — Sunday — Hotel

I’m gonna be perfectly honest with you. I have no idea from what part of the chicken that doner kebab I just ate was made, nor what constituted the white sauce that topped it, but man, it was delicious. A greasy jolt being oddly enough just what I needed at this point. I picked up a plus-sized bottle of Zywiec (and toasted Elvis Deluxe when I opened it, as is my habit — sorry to not see those dudes in Berlin) and some cheddar cheese and crackers, and I could ask nothing more from the end to the first London Desertfest than what I’ve gotten.

Right now, Viking Skull should be on the stage at The Purple Turtle, and C.O.C. will be shortly wrapping their set at The Underworld, and then the streets of Camden Town will once more flood with weirdos and leather/denim heathens, doubtless to the horror of what seems otherwise like a pretty straightforward section of the city, full of painted ladies and bar-going dudes. I’m glad I got to see it during mating season, or maybe that’s later. Ecosystem studies I don’t do.

Balls-out heavy rock and roll, on the other  hand… Well, that has been done. It’s been an amazingly long weekend. I’ve met a lot of great people, seen a lot of awesome bands. I know it seems like every post is full of, “Wow, these dudes were excellent! Party time alright!” but no shit, that’s pretty much how it’s been — though I’ve limited my partying to be even on all four sides (read: “square”), and even the Zywiec I’m now enjoying was purchased as much because it’s something different than tap water than because I felt like having a beer. I used to drink all night. Now I do this.

And on that note, let’s get started. As you can see below, my intent of making today lower key than yesterday was at least partially successful, though still with a bit of back and forth near the end.

Once more into the fuzz:

Leeds instrumentalists Wiht looked like they hated each other. I don’t know if it was just a contemplative post-metal thing or if each member of the trio is convinced that the other two dudes are bastards, but they hardly looked at each other or at the crowd, and guitarist Chris Wayper made only a cursory mention of it being their last show. Musically, they were right on. They did “The Harrowing of the North” and nailed it part for part, and it was a lot of fun to follow along with that story in my mind as they went along (see the review for more info), but yeah, there wasn’t much question that when the set was over, they wouldn’t be a band anymore. Still, Wiht were a quality act and quality players, both in general and on stage opening up at The Underworld, and I hope they end up in other bands. Though if I could bring the kind of crowd they did being the first act on the bill at 14.00 after a raging Saturday night, I wouldn’t break up.

My plan was to stay put at The Underworld through Gentleman’s Pistols, and though I knew nothing of either Throne nor Crystal Head, who were the two acts between Wiht and Leaf Hound, I’d hit the point where I was willing to trust Desertfest enough to not throw in anything shitty. It had already been two days of nothing but solid heavy bands, I saw no reason to doubt the capacity of the DesertScene crew to come through in the end, and sure enough, they did precisely that. Throne reminded me a bit of a less psychedelic Naam. Their riffs were in several cases lifted directly from Sleep’s Holy Mountain, though reworked — not that I fucking care; play that Sleep riff note for note and I’ll groove out almost every time — and they had a laid back stonerly attitude that went well with the music. The London trio didn’t look like they gave a damn, but it worked for them.

Also native to the city that’s hosting the fest, Crystal Head apparently used to be known as Penny Black. The new name suits them better. Especially immediately following Throne, they had a professional edge to their presentation that only enhanced the music. Floor lights, fog machine, a Gretsch guitar thicker in body than the guy playing it — Crystal Head struck an immediate chord with me for what I perceived to be a Queens of the Stone Age influence coming out. There was some of that Josh Homme-style start-stop jerky riffing, and the vocals (which came from both the bassist and the guitarist) veered occasionally into some characteristic falsetto. Still, they were thicker tonally than QOTSA, and they took the elements from that band to someplace heavier musically. They were a pleasant surprise, though I’m sad to say I failed to buy a CD from them, even later on in the night asking some other dude with a shaved head who I thought was the bass player if he had any merch. Obviously, he did not.

Fucking Leaf Hound. I don’t know where they stood numerically on the list of bands I never thought I’d be able to catch live, but I’d probably give them an ‘X’ either way, just because the idea seemed so ridiculous I wouldn’t have even thought to include them on any such list (one does not exist, surprisingly). And yeah, I know it’s Peter French and a bunch of guys who weren’t in the band when they recorded their classic material — they even had a new bassist, whose name I sadly did not catch — but whatever. I got to see Peter French sing “Growers of Mushroom,” and the jam that the players behind him embarked on in the song’s middle gave me a whole new appreciation for the track. “Sad Road to the Sea” was one of the day’s best performances from any band, and though I  wasn’t on board all the way with guitarist Luke Rayner‘s guitar-face and “I’m gonna stare at the ceiling like I’m having an orgasm because this solo is so good” stage moves, I can’t take away from the fact that they were fucking great.

Shortly before they went on, a guy in the crowd Tony Reed introduced me to the other day told me that Gentlemans Pistols were the best band in Britain. Britain’s got some righteous rock and roll on its  curriculum vitae at this point — to wit, everything I’ve seen this weekend — so I was on my way to intrigued by the time the double-guitar foursome took the stage. That in itself was a cause for celebration, as the band includes axe-man Bill Steer of the always-be-boogieing Firebird, and indeed Gentlemans Pistols were even more upbeat than Firebird on stage, changing places and mics, hoisting guitars aloft for the crowd to see and, in the case of drummer Stuart Dobbins, playing in his skivvies which he made a point to show off before sitting behind his kit. I can understand the impulse, as it was pretty hot and only getting hotter in that room — 20 minutes before Gentlemans Pistols came on, The Underworld was packed out — and while I don’t know if I’d say they were the best band on these Isles, I understood the appeal enough to pick up their 2011 album, At Her Majesty’s Pleasure, and I look forward to getting to know it better. Maybe not “in its underwear” better, but better, anyway.

By the time Gentlemans Pistols were halfway through their set, I was ready for the day’s first bit of traveling and made my way down the block with a mind toward seeing Cultura Tres, winding up at The Purple Turtle in time to catch Widows beforehand. UK natives as well, they thanked the crowd present for not going to see Gentlemans Pistols and delivered a set of that peculiar brand of stoner-type rock that’s not actually so different from post-hardcore in that everyone who plays it looks like they were in a hardcore band seven years ago. Not really my thing sonically, but fun to watch and they clearly had the style down. I bought their albums — they were selling handmade copies of their apparently-soon-to-be-pressed new one, and I got one of those — and enjoyed them for what they were. The Purple Turtle being the “heaviest” of the three Desertfest stages throughout the weekend, Widows were a decent balance between the some of the more aggressive sounds and the more laid back approach that was still to come from Samsara Blues Experiment later.

Cultura Tres are, among other things, well managed. They came all the way from Venezuela to tour Europe and the UK and their promotional team (there were several guys the band brought with them, to roadie, sell merch, street-team, film their set, etc.) has been handing out free DVDs the entire weekend. I have at least three at this point. Clearly a case of a band making the proverbial effort to be noticed, and I can’t hold it against them. They have a viable product. Their style is not quite sludge in the American or even the British sense — thinking Eyehategod and Iron Monkey as respective examples — but more of a slowed-down, malevolent metal. Tonally, it’s pretty clean, and there’s an edge of drama to their presentation on stage that adds to whatever the vague threat their material is making might be. I didn’t know them too well, though I’d checked out the video that I think was also contained on those DVDs (I’ll have to look to confirm that) and thought it was cool enough to post. If nothing else, it was encouraging to see that Cultura Tres were able to stand themselves out atmospherically from the rest of the Desertscene fare. I didn’t see anyone else this weekend who sounded quite like they did.

Back at The Underworld, Zoroaster were just finishing up their signature noisy wash as I walked in and made my way up front for Black Cobra, who, at this point, are a sentimental favorite. Aside from the fact that they kick unholy ass and just released the album of their career so far in Invernal (review here), I remember them from their days around New York, and they were killer even then. This morning as I sat outside whichever cafe it was down the block from the venue, I saw guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian and got to say hey and see how the tour with C.O.C. and Zoroaster was going, and as unassuming as he always is to talk to — real quiet, down to earth guy — is as monstrous has he’s become on stage. He and drummer Rafa Martinez make for one of the tightest live heavy bands on the planet. Reportedly, before they loaded in, the duo also went and had their picture taken in front of a statue of British explorer Ernest Shackleton, on whose writings Invernal is partially based. Perhaps some of Sir Ernest‘s brashness was absorbed into the band, although to say that might give the impression that Black Cobra aren’t always as devastating as they were tonight, so stow that. These dudes just rip. If thrash had become Black Cobra, I’d listen to thrash, and whether it was seeing them destroy this crowd or seeing them with Kyuss Lives! back in December in Jersey (review here), they deserve and they earn every single success they have.

I was worn out. I was down. I didn’t know if I had the hike back to The Purple Turtle in me. Certainly C.O.C. headlining at The Underworld was an enticing offer. But man, there was Samsara Blues Experiment, just waiting with their heavy psych grooves and jams that were just too perfect a close-out to this Desertfest experience. What was I supposed to do? True, Corrosion of Conformity were probably the first heavy band I listened to and one to which I’ve never really lost attachment (we’re talking since I was 10), but I saw them on New Year’s with Clutch, and they’re almost certain to come through NYC again before the Berlin-based Samsara Blues Experiment make it over. So it was back to The Purple Turtle I went. I’d watch Samsara Blues Experiment — who, much to my delight, were selling copies of their original demo — for as long as I could stand up without feeling like my legs were going to give out, and then I’d split. It wasn’t long. I stood right in front of guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters as he had some technical problem with his stage monitor that sent out a rather unpleasant crackle through the P.A. He seemed bummed about it, but once they got going, the band played really well. They are a strong voice in the post-Colour Haze wave of European heavy psych, but like with Sungrazer yesterday, one of the best parts of watching Samsara Blues Experiment was seeing how they’ve come more into their own even in the year’s time since I caught them at Roadburn. I felt like I made the right choice to be where I was, and I can’t think of a better way to cap Desertfest than that, since it’s how I’ve felt this whole time. Coming here was the right choice.

At some point tomorrow, though I don’t know when, really, I will have some concluding-type thoughts on the weekend, so I’ll save the thanks and all that stuff for then, but yeah, that’s definitely on the way. For now, I’ll just say I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts, if not as much as I’ve enjoyed seeing these bands (did I mention fucking Leaf Hound played today?), then enough to make it this far.

Checkout’s at 11.00 and I’ve got pics to sort, more of which you’ll find after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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