When Conan finished their Desertfest set at The Underworld in Camden, I asked guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis what the names of the new songs they played were. “The first was ‘Foehammer,’” he said, “and the second was ‘Gravity Chasm.’” Both titles provoked roughly the same reaction in me: Well that’s fucking awesome. Watching the footage filmed by Monster Riffage (on YouTube here) of the song “Foehammer,” which will reportedly be included on Conan‘s new album, to be recorded this coming summer, my reaction is the same.
If you want to look for it — and probably if you don’t — you can see the back of my big goofball head in front of Davis in this clip, taking pictures on my camera. Someone else had their phone, and there was a pretty considerable crowd press. My memories of it are already good though, and I’m glad to have seen Conan the twice that I have. Whenever their next record arrives, it’s one I’m looking forward to hearing.
Speaking of things I’m looking forward to — this long weekend. This was kind of a nutty week and I won’t miss it when it’s gone. Tomorrow I’m going to make every effort to do as absolutely little as possible, apart from laundry and reheating curry, and Sunday’s more or less booked for a marathon-style viewing. Likely Monday too. And you know, until they make any more. If you haven’t checked it out, the Arrested Development thread on the forum has some anticipatory nerding out that you’re welcome to join in on should you be so inclined.
Next week, that Black Black Black interview and reviews of Bright Curse, Kingsnake and hopefully Naam. Time was short this week on account of both personal/family stuff on my end and work, which as I’m sure you know very well in your own experience, is wont to provide the periodic kick in the junk. So it goes. If I was rich, maybe I’d spend my days blogging about shows around the world and record shopping and maybe I’d have time to transcribe interviews. Or maybe I’d just fuck off and go live in the mountains. Not something really worth considering since it’s not the way it’s turned out. I do the best I can with the limited time and even-more-limited brain power I have.
And I appreciate it that you check in on this site whenever you do and take the time to share links or comment or retweet or whatever. It’s all awesome, and I thank you. If you’re in Maryland this weekend for Maryland Deathfest, I admitted earlier to The Patient Mrs. that I was jealous that people would get to see Sleep this weekend on the East Coast and I wouldn’t be one of them, but if you’re down there, be careful and have a great time. I hope it’s awesome. I’ll get to MDF one of these years.
One last thing before I call it a Friday night, put on more Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and crash out — I don’t know if you’ve had occasion to listen, but I’ve tuned into The Obelisk Radio over the last couple days and it’s been fucking awesome. Yesterday I heard live Clutch into Sungrazer, and today it was Sleep into Ice Dragon. I’m a dork for that stuff, and if you’re looking for something to listen to perhaps on your Memorial Day or just to kill time while you’re doing something else, it’s been filling that gap for me lately and I’d recommend it.
Alright, that should do it for me. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. See you on the forum and back here Monday for more of this to go with these:
I know this is going to sound strange looking at the stack of CDs above, but the truth is, I didn’t buy as much at Roadburn and Desertfest as I could have. For instance, this whole trip, I only picked up two pieces of vinyl — the new Electric Moon 10″ and the Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson split 12″ — and that’s it. I didn’t buy the Dread Sovereign 12″, limited as it was, and there were countless other pieces I could’ve grabbed and justified buying with the sheer fact that it was money I wasn’t spending on booze. I’m not going to go as far as calling it restrained, but it was nowhere near the most reckless I’ve ever been when it comes to spending cash on albums, even with the exchange rate taken into account.
Stuff like Winnebago Deal, Black Skies, Sparzanza and Endless Boogie (good thing I bought that, because indeed, they didn’t have it at the merch table) I’ve already talked about picking up at Sounds in Tilburg, and that was awesome. It came as a surprise though to find a full-on Svart Records table in the merch area when Roadburn itself started up. I guess it made sense, with Svart acts like Victor Griffin’sIn~Graved, Jess and the Ancient Ones and Seremonia playing the fest, but it was still cool to see and I appreciated the chance to buy CDs from the former two acts (the latter I’d already bought my last time at Armageddon Shop in Providence), since although I was sent digital promos for both, I’d rather save myself the trouble of hearing something like Jess and the Ancient Ones‘ Astral Sabbat or Hexvessel‘s Iron Marsh, liking it and then being pissed later and just cut out the middle-man, bite the bullet and buy the album without feeling like I then need to cover it. I got the High Priest of Saturn CD from that table too, and no regrets.
The Burning World Records table at Roadburn also had a few necessities, among them the Mount Wrath live set from Conan — their 2012 Roadburn appearance in the Stage01 room that was so frickin’ loud I feel like I can still hear it — and I also grabbed a disc from The Angelic Process called Coma Waeringthat I’d later learn was a reissue of a full-length from 2006 and not in fact a follow-up to 2007′s Weighing Souls with Sand, which I remember digging a lot when it came out on Profound Lore, and a copy of Slomatics‘ A Hocht, which Burning World released last year but which I hadn’t gotten to hear. Right on the other side of the same room was the Exile on Mainstream table, which was selling Toner Low‘s IIIand from which I also bought the first Tlön album, having remembered digging the second one after getting it from the same source last year.
It’s worth pointing out that neither of those records is actually on the Exile on Mainstream label, but they were selling them nonetheless and I relished the chance to pick them up, along with the self-titled Johnson Noise, which it turns out I already own, and a copy of Electric Moon‘s The Doomsday Machine, of which I’d later buy a double from the band’s table. Admittedly, when Electric Moon showed up, I got impulsive. My instinct was to buy everything they had, and I didn’t go that far, but in addition to a second The Doomsday Machine, I also got the Electric Moon, D-Tune EP, the aforementioned 10″ You Can See the Sound of… and one of guitarist Sula Bassana‘s solo albums, as well as Vibravoid‘s Gravity Zero on Sulatron Records. There was more and I’d have got it, but frankly I didn’t want to embarrass myself.
From bands, well, I got two tapes from The Cosmic Dead – Live at the Noteand Inner Sanctum – in addition to a CD of Orbiting Salvation, both Kadavar discs from their table, the digibook version of Les Discrets‘ Ariettes Oubliées… (review here) after seeing them so thoroughly bring that material to life on stage at Het Patronaat, Black Magician‘s Nature is the Devil’s Church, The Midnight Ghost Train‘s Buffalo, and the Within Time album byKoiramato, which I’d soon understand was being sold by Mr. Peter Hayden because it’s a full-length of complementary textures for MPH‘s Born a Tripsophomore outing. I set up the CD to go at the same time as the Born a TripBandcamp stream and sure enough, even the changes lined up. It was excellent. I’ve never gotten something like that just right before — see Neurosis‘ Times of Grace and Tribes of Neurot‘s Graceand me with my fingers on two very out-of-sync play buttons — so it was exciting on multiple levels.
Aside from a free Van Records compilation, that would be it from Roadburn, and though I tried and failed to hit up a couple stores I’d been to previously in London — goneski — I still did alright at Desertfest and at the pre-show, picking up albums from Enos and 1000mods from the night before the fest-proper began, and filling out the weekend with that already-noted Yawning Man/Fatso Jetson split vinyl, a CD by Black Moth that I haven’t had the chance to hear yet but am very much looking forward to based on the couple minutes of their set that I saw, and Center of Gravity by Croatian heavy riffers Center, which I was given to hopefully review. I haven’t gotten there yet — I’m back a week now and I haven’t even gotten caught up on email, though I’m working on it — but maybe one of these days. The record’s pretty cool, in any case.
A lot of the stuff I’ve not yet had the chance to check out, but the good part about an actual CD is I don’t get pissed off about the real estate on my desktop it’s taking up and delete the folder. Can’t say the same for, well, nearly every digital promo I get these days. The last couple years have definitely seen a decline for the compact disc — more than ever in 2013 were the vinyl-only releases featured — but I still did alright, and hopefully I’ll continue to do alright until CDs go the way of those other dead formats, LPs and tapes. And by that I mean get a retro comeback. I’ve got no shortage to listen to in the meantime.
The photo above is of my wristband for this year’s Desertfest. You’ll note it’s not attached to my wrist. I got back just a little bit ago from the Electric Ballroom and had meant to ask at the front desk of the hotel for them to cut it off with scissors, since it’s pretty sturdy material — it’s had to be to last these several days — but forgot on my way up and wound up just pulling it off around my hand. I feel like I should have it framed.
Late nights beget later nights, so I’m not gonna waste time here. Day three was no less righteous than one would have to expect after the first two. Here’s how it went down for me:
The other day I received a vehement recommendation to check out Throne, to which I responded, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure they played last year and were cool.” Turns out they did play Desertfest 2012, at The Underworld, but this year the trio moved over to The Black Heart, which was where my day began with their unpretentious Sleep riffing and nodding rhythms. They still didn’t have an album for sale downstairs that I could find, but The Black Heart was, as it has been this whole weekend, packed out. On my way through, I watched a couple seconds through the doorway in the spirit of Roadburn and found myself still persuaded by their languid pacing and largely-unfrilled stonery. I had finished my cup of coffee about two minutes before they started playing, so it was a cool way to wake up.
Meanwhile, at The Underworld, Brighton/Manchester-based Blackstorm were dishing out a pounding the likes of which I’d not yet seen here. They were a band about whom I knew next to nothing, but their double-guitar uptempo crushcore was a longer way away from what Throne were doing at The Black Heart than the street that divided the two acts physically. I arrived part of the way through their set, which the five-piece delivered in lively fashion, with lots of movement, a swinging mic stand and big, chunky riffs set to breakdown beats. “Then You’ll Drown” was a burly basher, and I caught “Run with the Wolves” from their late-2012 EP, The Darkness is Getting Closer, which was distinguished by the dual vocals of guitarist Neil Kingsbury and frontman Karl Middleton. They were tight and had it together on stage, though my head was already preparing itself for the cleaving it would no doubt receive from who followed them.
Suddenly I had to wonder why I bothered bringing earplugs in the first place. British trio Conan weren’t through the second verse of “Hawk as Weapon” from last year’s low-end raging Monnos(review here) before I felt like they’d melted in my ear canal. Guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis, bassist/vocalist Phil Coumbe and drummer Paul O’Neil just released their set from last year’s Roadburn as the new Mount WrathCD and vinyl, and while that’s definitely a satisfying listen, I was glad to see them in-person again, because no matter how loud you turn up a record, I don’t know if there’s any way to do justice to what Conan are live. Beastly heavy. Heavy to whatever degree hyperbole you might want to put to it, and while that heaviness and Davis and Coumbe‘s tones are still the star of the show, the three-piece also have grown as a stage act since I last had the good fortune to see them. Coumbe‘s low growls and Davis‘ shouting worked especially well together, and in addition to “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” and “Grim Tormentor” from Monnos, Conan also played two new songs, “Foehammer” and “Gravity Chasm,” which continued the warmongering gallop of the earlier album tracks that set up an excruciatingly slow finale, all the while keeping their fury front and center and proving there’s more to their heaviness than what comes through their amps.The other day, when I got stopped by that customs agent, he accused me of trying to illegally emigrate to the UK. I’m still not planning on it, but Conan make a solid argument in favor of doing so.
Kudos to whoever handled scheduling the bands’ timeslots for putting Conan and Toner Low right next to each other. I’d never seen the Dutch three-piece before — they’re now in their 15th year and have just released their third album — but they actually share a lot in common with Conan in terms of their general ethic. They are unreasonably loud, unremittingly heavy in tone and seem like they’re ready to follow a riff anywhere it might lead them. The difference is aggression. Where Conan are all beheadings and mayhem, Toner Low are purely stoned. Toner Low played in the dark but for a psychedelic lightshow setup they placed in front of their drummer and a sheet with projected falling pot leaves on the guitarist/vocalist, but yeah, they’re about as stoner as stoner gets, working in elements of more primal drone here and there, but keeping a solid foundation of riffs at hand at almost all times. They brought their own rigs, which made sense for the bassist since her gear was different from what seemed to be on hand, but the guitar — which seemed to be actually coated in resin from the look of it — ran through an Orange half-stack and amp they brought, and there’s been so much Orange around Desertfest I can practically taste it. I can’t argue with their having done it, though, since Toner Low sounded unbelievably good. I bought their new record and am looking forward to checking it out.
Naam beckoned. I won’t lie, there was a part of me that was like, “Why the hell would you go to London and see a band you can see in New York?” The other part of me was all, “No way dude, this is gonna be awesome. Naam have a new record coming out,” and that part of me won. Once a trio, now a foursome and tonight playing as a five-piece with the addition of a second guitar — not that they were lacking texture before, but more never hurts – Naam‘s universe seems to be in permanent expansion, both in terms of their lineup and their sound. Tonight was the best I’ve seen them play, and I’ve seen them play a few really killer shows. The integration of John Weingarten‘s keys along with Ryan Lugar‘s guitar/vocals, John Bundy‘s bass/vocals and Eli Pizzuto‘s drums is complete, and to show that, “Starchild” from last year’s The Ballad of the StarchildEP was the highlight of their whole set, though “Beyond” from their forthcoming sophomore full-length, Vow, came pretty close. They’ve nearly perfected a balance between stoner riffing and Hawkwindian space rush, and not surprisingly, their heavy psych went over huge at the Electric Ballroom. Naam are just starting a two-month European and UK tour that will have them in this part of the world for a while — perhaps it’s telling of their relative receptions that they’ll be in Europe when Vow releases — so I imagine they’ll only further solidify, but already they played a headliner’s set, closing as always with “Kingdom” from the EP of the same name (it also appeared on their 2009 debut LP), the layers of which shimmered with psychedelic vibes prior to a full-on freakout at the end of pushed-over drums and guitar destruction. Awesome.
Here’s a direct quote from my notes on Truckfigters‘ set: “Everyone in the world who’s never seen Truckfighters live is a jive sucker and that’s that.” More or less, that covers my feelings on the matter. The Örebro trio — Ozo on vocals/bass, Dango on guitar and now Poncho on drums — are easily the most energetic and engaging fuzz rock acts I’ve ever seen, and before they were through perpetual opener “Desert Cruiser,” both Ozo and Dango had gone past the monitors at the front of the stage to be closer to the crowd, who were singing along loud enough to be heard over the instruments. But Truckfighters – who are fresh off a tour with Norwegian blackened punkers Kvelertak and shortly headed to Australia and New Zealand for a run of shows — aren’t just getting their cardio in, they’re also nailing the material and delivering it with a genuine sense of spontaneity and the impression that anything can happen at any given moment, such as Ozo jumping into the crowd during closer “In Search of The” or the band launching into “Chameleon” after someone in the crowd requested it, jamming on “Desert Cruiser” or unveiling two new songs, the first which fit (“fett?”) well with the bounce of “Monte Gargano,” which came later, and the second which had a fuller, fuzzier shuffle in the beginning and wound up thicker but still moving, with a quick bass and drum break to set up a return to what seemed on first impression to be a solid hook. “Majestic” was welcome, and from their audience interaction to the tightness of their performance — at one point Dango fell on stage after jumping off the drum riser and didn’t even stop playing as he got up — there are few records supposedly coming out before the end of this year that I’m looking forward to as much as the new Truckfighters.
An hour hardly seemed like enough time for a proper Colour Haze set. Back in September 2012, the ultra-influential Munich heavy psych trio rolled through London and did a full three hours, complete with guest appearances, keys, and so on. Still, I’ll take what I can get, and when it came to “Transformation” from She Said (review here) — my album of the year last year — I still heard the horn parts in my head even though no one was playing them live, so I’m not about to bitch that the experience was somehow lacking. It wasn’t. Colour Haze were a complete 180 in terms of presence from Truckfighters, mostly subdued, no jumping, no running around, plenty of grooving, but less about getting the heart rate up than giving the audience something to shut its eyes and get lost in. As guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, bassist Philip Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald jammed past “Moon” from 2008′s Alland into “Love” from their ’04 self-titled, they were so locked into what they were doing that the real miracle of it seemed to be they didn’t lose the crowd in the slightest. An extended take only gave everyone watching more to dig on, so that by the time “Peace, Brothers and Sisters” and “Tempel” came around, the Electric Ballroom was suitably hypnotized. Seriously, I just wanted to give them money. Like, “Here, Colour Haze, I have 50 Euro left over from last weekend. Please take it.” I’ve seen them before — their set at Emissions from the Monolith in 2006 changed my life (ask me about it sometime), and at one or two Roadburn fests along the way — but even though this felt like a sampling, it was ultra-satisfying to watch these godfathers of the modern European scene do what quite simply nobody does better. As I already knew I wouldn’t be staying for the entire Pentagram set, Colour Haze were sort of my closeout for Desertfest, and I couldn’t have asked for a warmer farewell than that. They were masterful.
I got a press release earlier this week that oft-imitated doom pioneers Pentagram had a new guitarist in the form of Philly-based Matt Goldborough, but that the lineup was otherwise the same as when Victor Griffin was still slinging axe, with Sean Saley on drums and Greg Turley on bass with frontman/defining presence Bobby Liebling on vocals. Of course, lineup changes are nothing new for Liebling‘s band — their legacy is as much about tumult as it is about the riff to “Forever My Queen” — but Griffin‘s presence brought a certain legitimacy to Pentagram‘s recent run and their 2011 Last Rites comeback album (review here), and his departure, whatever the circumstances may have been, changes the context of the band, Griffin – who also played today with his new outfit In~Graved – being one of very few others who’ve done time in Pentagram who can lay reasonable claim to the material. He may well have come out to guest on guitar (I recall seeing the band in 2009 when he wasn’t with them and that happened), but if he did, I wasn’t there to see it. I stayed for about four songs and then had to split to come back to the hotel, write and pack for my flight out tomorrow. For the portion I did catch, however — “Day of Reckoning,” “Forever My Queen,” “Treat Me Right” and “Livin’ in a Ram’s Head” — Pentagram were tight and Liebling was Liebling. There are few things as much fun to watch in a concert setting as Bobby Liebling flipping out to a guitar solo. Like he hasn’t been staring at them for 40 years now. Awesome. Turley and Saley have the material on lockdown, and as the new guy, Goldborough more than held his own on guitar, a younger presence giving some freshness to what might just as easily have come across stale otherwise. I’ve seen worse from Pentagram, and though one can dream of this or that reunion lineup, the simple fact that they exist and persist is to be… respected? Maybe. Probably. Definitely gazed at in astonishment. And so they were.
I have work to do. As in, for my job. And so I know that Desertfest, as blissful as it has been, must be over. My plan is to write up some concluding thoughts for this whole trip tomorrow on the plane, and I’ll include a thanks list with that, but before I switch off to picture-sorting mode, I just want to say it’s been an absolute pleasure and an honor to be back here in Camden this weekend, to see the bands I’ve been lucky enough to be here to see and to meet the people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. This place is awesome (but for the weather), the music is great and I feel like even more than last year, Desertfest is developing a genuine vibe all its own. I was beat today, t-i-r-e-d, but at the same time, I knew I wanted to take as much of the proceedings in as possible, because when I’m back home slogging away in the office, I’m going to miss it.
More to come tomorrow, and more pics after the jump. Thanks as always for reading.
It was difficult — even last night — not to look forward to today. I won’t say I was trying extra hard not to get hit by a bus on my way out of the hotel and down the block for day two of the 2013 London Desertfest, but if I had been, I certainly would’ve had reason. Strictly speaking, it was my most straightforward of the three days here. Virtually no running back and forth, just one venue change and that was it for the duration. Even before I saw any bands, today felt like a luxury, and sure enough I was able to kind of nestle my way into the groove of the evening and just let it carry me along as it went. This would turn out to be precisely the right strategy.
On a sheer cause and effect level — I went here and this happened — the results are mostly inarguable. I’ll note that there were a lot of bands who played today who I didn’t see. Some whose music I don’t know, some whose music I know and very much enjoy. Rather than lay out each option for each time slot and justify my decisions one at a time, please just know that I’ve put no lack of consideration into how I’m spending my days here, and that the choices I’ve made for what to see have not been easy.
Alright, let’s go:
The first thing was to get a heaping dose of native Londoner sludge, and for that I headed down to The Underworld to catch Gurt, stopping only for coffee and a blueberry muffin along the way. It was sort of half-slushing on the way — semi-frozen balls of unpleasantness falling from the sky — so I just assumed whatever pagan seabeast is in charge of the weather around here was making it appropriate for the onslaught that was coming. I have dug several of Gurt‘s releases, most recently the Collection tape (more here), but ultimately, that would do little to prepare me for seeing them live, since they proved all around to be a more diverse band than I’d previously given them credit for being, working in influences of post-Superjoint Ritual thickened punk along with their standard Eyehategod — or if we’d like to keep it local, Iron Monkey — fuckall, frontman Gareth Kelly‘s screams all the more vicious and throat-searing from the stage. The trend in terms of vocals has swung the other way to the cleaner, melodic end, but I still like to see a screamer who can really scream and keep it up for the duration of a set without losing power, and Kelly did that, making a highlight of “Fucknose” in the process. I also hadn’t given them credit for their sense of satire. “Dudes with Beards with Cats” was right on, and “You ain’t from around these Parts?” was presented as having an agenda that I hadn’t perceived originally — perhaps because I couldn’t understand the lyrics, perhaps because I’m clueless. Either way. Gurt brought up Diesel King vocalist Mark O’Regan for the finale, “Soapfeast,” the Church of Misery boogie of which was one more example of Gurt being better than I knew. Lesson learned.
It was hard to me to look at frontman Chris of Brighton four-piece Turbowolf and not think of a young Bobby Liebling of Pentagram. The superficial factors were there — moustache, mane, frilly shirt, tight pants and so on — but I doubt if many on the Trail of Dead tour that Turbowolf just wrapped had the same issue. There was also about as little in common with the bands as there could be and still have both of them play the same fest, Turbowolf opening at the Electric Ballroom – a new venue for Desertfest as of this year — playing a speed rock that bordered on punk but never really gave up its classic ethic. I wondered watching them if theirs is the kind of sound that has grown out of the next generation past the likes of Turbonegro and The Hellacopters, though I barely had time to get a mental process underway before Turbowolf were on to the next upbeat, catchy rager. They weren’t really my thing (who likes fast tempo and engaging music, anyway? Oh wait, everyone.), but they sure had the crowd on their side and it was easy to see why. While the rest of the band locked in their next ultra-tight, professional delivery, Chris tossed unopened cans of beer into the audience, from whence they did not return. If the room wasn’t theirs before, and it was, that was bound to help their cause, and though it was still pretty early, Turbowolf worked the larger space easily around its collective finger, stopping only to make sure everyone was getting in on the party.
House of Broken Promises
Though they’d apparently come right from their flight into town from the Berlin Desertfest, it was clear by the time Indio, California, trio House of Broken Promises dug into the start-stop stomp of “Obey the Snake” from their 2009 Using the Useless debut full-length (review here) that they were really just waiting for the strippers to show up. New bassist/vocalist Joe Mora fit right in with the band’s crotch-thrusting dude rock, though even if he’s not singing, guitarist/beard magnate Arthur Seay is doing most of the frontman work. Master of the guitar-face and the beard-bang, Seay is nonetheless a more than solid player, and for all the antics, he, Mora and drummer/backing vocalist Mike Cancino were as tight musically as they were uproarious and working to get the crowd into it. That didn’t take much, incidentally. House of Broken Promises may play what to my ears sounds like a very American take on heavy rock, but the Desertfest crowd knows how to dig into catchy songs delivered with quality heavy and quality energy alike, which is just what they got at Electric Ballroom, plus some old biker movie video backdrop courtesy of Mindzap Visuals. I think of some of the places I’ve seen these guys play — the Trash Bar in Brooklyn comes to mind, also the Brighton in NJ — but they seemed much more suited to the bigger stage, the bigger room than to either of those haunts. While I don’t think I would go as far as to call them desert rock — that would come later when Cancino and Seay returned as half of Unida – the three-piece definitely left a boot print in the Electric Ballroom, closing out their set with “The Hurt (Paid My Dues),” which had arms raised and lyrics sung along from the very start. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they get a follow-up to Using the Uselesstogether, what effect Mora‘s joining might have on their songwriting process or overall sound, but for today, they were dead-on. Rarely can I say the same for myself when I’ve just come from the airport.
If you’ve lived for more than 25 seconds, you know that life long. And if you’ve lived for more than 25 seconds, chances are something has happened to you over the course of your life that you didn’t expect would ever happen. Tonight, I saw Lowrider, the Swedish double-guitar four-piece who released in their day only one full-length album — 2000′s Ode to Io, on MeteorCity — and two splits, with Nebula and Sparzanza, played fewer than 50 shows, and disintegrated, to become in the years subsequent one of the single most pivotal blueprints for European riffing. Yeah, Dozer (wait for it…) came up concurrently, releasing their debut also in 2000, but what Ode to Io offered was a fealty to desert rock really just as the thing was beginning to exist outside of the desert itself. These bands showed not only that it could be done, but gave landmark examples of how to do it. I don’t know where people had come from, if they drove here, got on a plane, train, boat, whatever, but I have to believe that it was the chance to see bands like Lowrider, Dozer and Unida that brought them to Desertfest 2013. And though I don’t really know how a group of individuals could come out onto a stage and live up to that kind of impossible narrative, guitarist Niclas Stålfors, bassist/vocalist Peder Bergstrand, lead guitarist/vocalist Ola Hellquist and drummer Andreas Eriksson did precisely that. Most of what they played came from Ode to Io, as one would hope and expect, but they gave some time as well to the Nebula split, picking up “Lameneshma,” “Shivaree” and “Ol’ Mule Pepe” for anyone who might be looking for a deeper cut out after the mega-hooks of “Flat Earth” or “Caravan,” the latter which rang out as an immediate clarion as if to say, “Yes, this is really happening.” They were visibly glad to be on the stage together at the Electric Ballroom, the tone was right on — having nerded out so many times over for “Texas Pt. 1 & 2,” it was great to hear it announced from stage as the first song they ever wrote — and coming out of it, I have to say that if these dudes had any desire whatsoever to go back and write a new album, nothing I heard from them tonight would stand as argument against doing so. The material — minimum 13 years old — sounded vital and fresh, and when they were done, Bergstrand (who is also in I are Droid), took a picture of the crowd and said he didn’t want to wait another 10 years to do it again. Hell dude, me neither. I never thought I’d get to do it this once, so really, anything on top of tonight is gravy.
Dozer are a big part of the reason why I’m here. Not just here in London for Desertfest, but here, in front of this laptop, writing like I do more or less every day. That’s not hyperbole, it’s just fact. When I first started getting into this kind of music in college, it was acts like Dozer who fueled my curiosity to know more about it. The Swedish outfit announced an indefinite hiatus in 2009, and have been little heard from since — though as early as last summer, guitarist Tommi Holappa was dropping hints of a reunion at Desertfest — so to find them back at it with the lineup of Holappa, guitarist/vocalist Fredrik Nordin, bassist Johan Rockner and drummer Olle Mårthans was special, and for me, something that will mark out this Desertfest among all the fests I’ve seen and any and all I might see. This was the one where I finally saw Dozer. I knew some of what to expect from Holappa‘s thrashing madness on stage from seeing him at Desertfest last year with side-project Greenleaf (another personal highlight), but wow. Opening with “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Exoskeleton Pt. 2,” they stormed through their hour-long set, making the most of their time with cuts from across their five albums like “Rising” from 2002′s Call it Conspiracy, “The Flood” from 2008′s Beyond Colossal(their last album to date), and “From Fire Fell,” “Big Sky Theory,” “Drawing Dead,” “Born a Legend” and “Days of Future Past” from 2005′s Through the Eyes of Heathens, the last of which Nordin singled out as his favorite song Dozer had ever written. It’s a strong candidate, with a memorable melody line and dynamic changes within an overarching moodiness that was not in the slightest lost in a live setting, the guitarist tempering his approach to the music and using a few effects here and there as well for echo and warble. His falsetto, shouts and straight-ahead melodic singing were right on, and with Holappa‘s headbanging his way back and forth on the stage, Rockner‘s quiet but steady low end on the other wise and Mårthans‘ positively huge drum sound — the kind of kick you feel in your chest — seeing Dozer was everything I could’ve asked it to be and more. They even jammed! Of course, they could’ve played twice as long and I wouldn’t have complained, but a track like “Headed for the Sun” from 1999′s Coming Down the MountainEP split with Unida (wait for it…) only underscored for me how much they need to do an early works compilation, like, yesterday. They wrapped with “Rings of Saturn” — the bonus track from the vinyl version of 2001′s Madre de Dios– and the opener of their 2000 debut, In the Tail of a Comet, “Supersoul,” which felt like home from the first note. I don’t know if this is the last time I’ll get to see Dozer play or not — I hope not — but for tonight, I’m just thankful that I got to see them this once at Desertfest. Really. When they were done, I felt like I’d accomplished something.
And if a night like this is going to have an epilogue, a 90-minute headlining set from Cali desert rockers Unida is a good one to have. In a lot of ways, Unida sort of sum up what seems to me to be the whole mentality of this fest. They’re a band who, just when they should’ve hit it big with a major label album produced by a major producer, it all came apart on them, and so what you had tonight was people singing along to tracks from a record that never came out. Without the passion for this music at the heart of this festival, there’s no way a band like Unida would resurface for a headliner spot. Vocalist John Garcia has Vista Chino at work on a new album, and guitarist Athur Seay and drummer Mike Cancino had already done a set in House of Broken Promises – the band was rounded out by Arthur‘s nephew, Owen Seay, on bass — so what made it happen? Money? I’m sure they got paid to be here, but money’s what makes you get up and go to work in the morning. What makes you spend months hammering out a set of songs to get up and deliver them in front of a couple thousand people most of whom (myself included) only caught onto your band after the fact? If it wasn’t passion, it would have to be madness. As he has been the several times I’ve seen him — in Kyuss-minded projects like Garcia Plays Kyuss and KyussLives!, from which Vista Chino springs – Garcia was a relatively subdued frontman, collected on stage if prone to the occasional leg-jerk softshoe. Seay as well was calmer for the Unida set compared to House of Broken Promises, and since some of my favorite Unida tracks are the moodier, more sedate, I thought it worked well. Over the course of their time, they certainly worked in their share of rocking material, whether it was the ultra-catchy “Red” from 1998′s The Best of Wayne-GroEP (which also served as their portion of the split with Dozer the next year) or the groovier “Vince Fontaine” from the unreleased For the Working Man. I was hoping they’d have some bootleg copies of that record on sale, but no such luck. The extended “Last Day” found the Seays and Cancino at some of their tightest, musically, and Garcia‘s voice was, as ever, crucial. “Thorn,” “Nervous” and “Human Tornado” were all met with rapturous welcome — they’d almost have to be — and after leaving the stage, Unida came back out and made a blasting two-song encore out of “Dwarf It” and “Black Woman” that answered back some of the quieter stretches of their set with full-fisted gut-punchery. Standing in the very back of the Electric Ballroom and watching the crowd go apeshit for them, I wondered if Unida might finally be getting the payoff they’ve been waiting for a decade to receive.
No time to think about it, really. They shuffled us out of the venue on the quick, and I decided to end the day with a check-in over at The Black Heart to see how things were shaking out there and pick up a copy of the new tape I’d heard Bong brought with them. No such luck on that one, and there didn’t seem to be much of a pathway to the stairs let alone up them to see the band, so I hightailed it back in the direction of the hotel, stopping to pick up some pizza along the way, since nothing says celebration quite like a pizza party for one.
Tomorrow is the last day of Desertfest 2013, with more running around than I had today, but still a decent amount of full sets I’ll get to watch. This trip is winding down, but we’re not done yet.
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…
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.
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.”
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.
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 Formationsand 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.
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 LarryLalli, 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.
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.
This was it. The official start of London Desertfest 2013. Well, okay, maybe not. That’s tomorrow, but tonight had the banner up and that’s something. The Black Heart hosted what was billed as the “Official Desertfest Pre-Show” with Greek stoner heavies 1000mods and UK rockers Enos and Blasted. Three bands to ease the way into what’s destined to be a landmark weekend of riffs and fuzz. Their task was laid out before them, but if any of the acts was feeling the pressure, the sweat was lost in that from the raging performances. It was a varied bill, with Blasted showcasing punkish roots and Enos hinting at heavier space rock while the headliners basked in European fuzz, but all three were met with a decidedly positive reception.
Since this is the start of the Desertfest 2013 coverage, I’m going to present the show like I will the fest as a whole. Hope you dig it. Let’s get started.
I guess if you had to pick one, Blasted would be the standout act on the bill, less riff-minded than either of the other two and they didn’t get through their soundcheck without shrapnel flying from one of drummer Tommy Randhawa‘s sticks, but it seems to not really matter which end of heavy a band comes from over here to make a good bill, and I like that. I was early to the show, but Blasted got going soon enough and sprinted through a set of speed rock with thoroughly punkish overtones and aggression. Guitarist/vocalist Ben Perrier used to be in Winnebago Deal, but Blasted is by and large faster and meaner, bassist James Phung answering back in call-and-response choruses to “This Place is Nothing” and “Living Nightmare,” both highlights of their set for being catchy as well as blazing. They were crisp and efficient in getting from point-A to punch-you-in-your-kidneys, but not without locking in the occasional heavy groove along the way, as though to portend what would come for the rest of the night.
Despite having some warning of what Enos got up to when I received and added their late-2012 All too Humanalbum and added the tracks to The Obelisk Radio, when the Brighton four-piece actually got to work on stage, they immediately surpassed my expectation. There are a lot of bands who blend heavy psych and stoner riffing to one degree or another, but Enos blur the lines well with a wash of echo and cymbals that nonetheless come underscored by a near-constant forward motion. They had an open sensibility, and with the two guitars of Sean Cox and Chris Rizzanski, there was plenty of room for exploration while bassist George Cobbold and drummer Sparky Rogers held down thick and dense grooves, but Rizzanski‘s vocals also had a throaty, motor rock delivery that grounded the songs well (when he wasn’t using a second mic setup for a talk box, that is). The crowd was obviously more familiar with their breadth than I was, though even with a regular sprawl of effects on Rizzanski‘s guitar, it was easy to dig into Enos‘ gripping material, the band tossing in a hook riff more than often enough to hold attention for the duration. They were a pleasant surprise, and I picked up a copy of All too Human on CD for further investigation. They were also selling glow-in-the-dark shirts, which are always fun, but I didn’t dare.
With riff-worship culled from early Dozer and stoner rock’s alleged ’90s glory days (I happen to think the glory days are going on now, particularly in Europe), 1000mods came up to Camden Town from Greece en route to the Desertfest in Berlin this weekend, and I’m glad they did. Their 2011 full-length debut, Super Van Vacation (review here) took cues from some of modern heavy psych’s laid back atmospheres, but it was the more powerful, rocking moments that stood out live. They got going with a cut listed as “Zamataz” that didn’t appear on the album — maybe new? — and just as they were kicking into The. Big. Groove., the power went out of Giannis and George‘s guitar. Like, gone. No coincidence I’m sure that they were rocking at full throttle. A couple minutes of lost momentum didn’t help — bassist/vocalist Dani (his instrument slung low in the tradition of Church of Misery) and drummer Lab did the best they could to fill the time — but by the time they were into their third song, it was more or less forgotten. They resumed their rush and continued on unabated. Highlights from Super Van Vacation included “7 Flies,” “Set You Free” and “Navy in Alice,” but the best came later into the set, with the sweet guitar interplay of “Vidage” and the sing-along-ready hook of “El Rollito,” The Black Heart crowd fist-pumping and shouting along to the chorus ending with the memorable, “…Nothing can save my soul.” They ended with the opener and closer of Super Van Vacationin that order, and both “Road to Burn” and “Super Van Vacation” locked in rolling riffs that drew likewise vehement response from the audience, duly sauced. They went a few minutes past the 11PM curfew, but fortunately no one seemed to register a complaint, and when it was over, there was as much a sense of something having begun as having ended.
At the downstairs bar, which is awesome, the Desertfest crew were holding an after party DJ’ed by none other than Rich from the The Day After the Sabbath, which, man, if you haven’t checked out his podcasts, you should. Certainly the guy for the job — I don’t think I’ve ever been to London and not heard Leaf Hound‘s “Freelance Fiend” at one point or another — he was holding it down for sure, but I needed to get back to the hotel and write and so didn’t linger as I otherwise might have. Many did, though, and it seemed like Desertfest was getting its due for an opening night pregame.
Tomorrow starts early and runs late, is my busiest day of the festival. I won’t have time to check in during the day, but will report in afterwards with words and pics on the proceedings. I was feeling beat going into today, but after tonight, I’m more geared up and excited for what’s to come over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s going to be a blast, I can tell already.
Posted in Features on April 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I won’t lie, turning on the “Out of Office” for my work email was the most satisfying thing I’ve done at my job in three weeks. It’s been a breaststroke through bullshit to get ready, and I’m already exhausted before I’ve even left, but I know that in an hour’s time when I leave to go to the airport, get pulled out of line as part of a “random” check and finally get on a plane headed (direct!) for Amsterdam, it will have been worth it. I’m looking forward to it the way lungs look forward to air.
Well, not the flight itself — that I’ve been looking forward to the way lungs look forward to water — but certainly what comes after. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be keeping track of what until I can think of a better name I’ll be calling the “Euroventure 2013.” Tomorrow morning, when my plane lands at Schiphol in Amsterdam, I’ll jump on a by-now familiar yellow and blue train to Eindhoven, where I’ll check in at my hotel, probably crash out for a few hours, and then hit up a record store or two in the area — I was bummed to read Bullit Records closed, but maybe I’ll jump on a train and head to Tilburg, where I know there are a few shops — in preparation for what’s to come this weekend.
Thursday starts the Roadburn Festival 2013 at the 013 venue in Tilburg. As I have the last four years, I’ll be covering that as much as possible (one can’t see everything) front to back, words and pics from the whole thing. It’s going to be a massive undertaking, but for the next several days, there’s no place better on the planet to be than there.
Monday morning, I’ll hop a train back to Schiphol, then on to London hopefully in time to catch Elder at The Black Heart. I’ll be staying in London for a few days in advance of the start of Desertfest 2013, which begins with a pre-show Thursday night featuring Greek rockers 1000mods. From there, it’s another mind-boggling weekend of heaviness brought to you in similar fashion, words, pics, complaints about sore feet, and so on.
As with every year, I hope in advance you enjoy keeping up with this trip, and I want to say and advance thanks to the Roadburn and Desertfest crews for hosting me at these festivals, and to The Patient Mrs., who I’ve no doubt will have occasion to live up to her name before the next two weeks are through. I may post some off-topic stuff along the way, news, etc., but I hope you’ll bear with me in that regard, since time will no doubt be limited.
Posted in Whathaveyou on April 11th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Well, it’s a bummer Dutch fuzzonauts The Machine won’t be making the trip to London this year for Desertfest — and not just because it means I won’t get to pick up a copy of their split with Sungrazer in-person — but at least there’s the consolation of knowing Finnish acid folk ritualists Hexvessel are stepping in to fill the vacant slot. The announcement came through earlier today, and if you haven’t yet had the chance to catch wind of Hexvessel‘s No Holier Temple, it’s definitely worth some investigation. A video for the track “His Portal Tomb” is also included below, courtesy of the Desertfest London website:
Hexvessel Set Controls for Desertfest
Here at DesertFest HQ, we’ve got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that Dutch psych jammers The Machine have unfortunately had to pull out of their performance at DesertFest 2013. The good news is that we’re extremely chuffed to announce Finnish doom-folk experimentalists Hexvessel as their replacement!
Hexvessel are a six, sometimes seven, piece band from the Helsinki and Tampere areas. Formed by English musician Mat ‘Kvohst’ McNerney, who recruited several well-established comrades from the likes of Dark Buddha Rising and Galacticka, they set about to realise the frontman’s vision of setting ‘60s and ‘70s acid rock into a mould of puritanical Scandinavian mysticism. The band’s two albums to date, the occultist 2011 debut ‘Dawnbearer’ and the 2012 underground phenomenon ‘No Holier Temple’, have established this psychedelic, transcendental act as one of the great folk-rock forces in world music.
By fusing atmospheric vocals with guitars which abandon all aggression, yet retain the heavily weighted vibes of Amon Düül, The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and throwing non-electric instruments like trumpet and violin into the mix, Hexvessel capture a primitive form of rich enchantment very few can match. Lyrically, McNerney repeatedly approaches themes surrounding the preservation of Finland’s natural woodlands, terrains and forestry, and it’s the understanding of this environmental ethos alongside an esoteric outlook on the darker sides of rock music which holds the key to understanding his band’s inner beauty.
Make sure you’re on the right side of the hex this year at DesertFest 2013, and join us to witness these acid-fried sorcerers perform their magic on a dark Friday night in Camden Town.
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 29th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Similar to being grateful for having the opportunity to catch bands like Alunah, Grifter and Trippy Wicked at last year’s Desertfest in London, I’m excited at the chance to see Groan on stage. Having so thoroughly nerded out over their metallicized 2012 offering, The Divine Right of Kings (review here), it should be fun to see them do some of that material live, and all the more interesting now that they have two guitars. Seems like they can never quite keep still. All the better for the stage show.
Here at DesertFest HQ we’ve been doing some experiments. We ain’t messing around here – there are Bunsen burners, SPSS datasets and white lab coats lying around all over the place! So what have we learned from this cactus-tax funded piece of analysis? Well, during our careful dissection of a certain infamous British hard rock band, we have successfully proven the hypothesis that Groan are, in fact, 67% TRUE DOOM.
So what does this mean for the remaining 33% I hear you exclaim? Well, you can fill out the rest of that pie-chart with righteous segments of HARD rock, THUNDER BOOGIE heavy metal, INSANE trouser choices and a significant quantity of FACIAL hair. Groan were formed roughly around 1967 by guitarist The Riff Wizard who then met lead singer Lord Mazzereth in a field of frolicking, opium-fuelled virgin pagans; such fields as I’m told were in abundance at that time. Soon however the initial line-up became a forgotten myth confined to Celtic folklore and the rarest of parchment inscriptions sealed in a series of long lost mountain caves. Yet in 2009, Groan were resurrected and rose like a phoenix silhouetted by several glow-sticks from their tomb of rock. Lord Mazzereth, who some say is older than Jesus, had forgotten all of the old hymns, but a new line-up of devout worshippers to the altar of the noble ryffe were nonetheless recruited and they wrote some new, better gospels together in haste. Now rounded out as a well-drilled five-piece with the addition of former Invasion and Pettybone drummer Zel Kaute, plus Trippy Wicked drummer Chris West and Mike Pilat (ex-Ocean Collective) on guitars joining frontman Mazzereth and corduroy comedian Leigh Jones on bass, the time to Groan is now!
Here to rock your life out of control with the likes of ‘Witchy Woman’, ‘Throne of Weed’ and ‘Gods of Fire’, this is one party train of David Coverdale fanatics, playing the best riffs that Sabbath threw away, that you’d be a fool to miss. A FOOL I TELL YOU! And if that’s not enough for you, the last time I saw this band, they were all dressed as bananas. Be there, or be somewhere sensible.
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
One more for Desertfest before the week is out. Joining a lineup that features a riff head’s dream roster of acts — Colour Haze and Dozer and Truckfighters and Yawning Man and Lowrider and Conan are playing, but you know, no big deal — is San Francisco’s Castle, who released their sophomore full-length, Blacklands, on Prosthetic Records last year. To be blunt, shit is wild. Here’s the official announcement, swiped from the Desertfest London website:
Castle Announced For Desertfest
Formed in 2009, San Francisco’s Castle have created two albums thus far; “In Witch Order” (2011) and last year’s “Blacklands”, which was produced by the legendary Billy Anderson. The lineup consists of Mat Davis (guitar), Elizabeth Blackwell (bass, vocals) and Al McCartney (drums). Together they mix the best elements of classic doom with early black and thrash metal into a tumultuous and inventive maelstrom of oppressive sonic excess, a power trio touched by the hand of the the opposer himself.
In the short time since they started, they have supported such luminaries as Kylesa, Witch Mountain and Hammers of Misfortune. Those three bands combined give a neat, but by no means comprehensive, indication of what you can expect from their sound, on stage and record.
While undoubtedly giving a big nod (or should that be head bang?) to the old-school, they also make an effort to out-stretch their talents into technically demanding territories, exploring realms that you may not expect of them. This gives their stage show an unpredictable, and at times mystical ambiance. All this is taken further on it’s way by Elizabeth Blackwell’s fearsome vocals, ranging from plaintive despair to blood-curdling desperation. A band that will stand out a little from the rest of the fuzzy, stoned crowd of Desertfest, make sure to catch them this year for something refreshingly different, and decidedly more metal!
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 7th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
More word from the Desertfest camp in that UK monoliths Latitudes will play the Black Heart in London and that Germany’s Oddjobmen — not to be confused with the Italian outfit OJM, who share the initials Oddjobmen use for their logo — will play in Berlin. The hits just keep coming.
“Monolithic and intensely captivating are just 2 descriptions that don’t even come close to representing the immense sound of LATITUDES, who have been hand picked by human_disease_promo to be the latest addition to the bill for DesertFest 2013. Huge, soaring riffs layered in a masterful fashion, cut into with spacey atmospheric synth, create a sound hovering somewhere in the realms of part shoegazer / post metal, part hammering sludge, part dark prog. Latitudes have never been a band tied to a stringent set of rules which has enabled their sound to flourish into the cacophony of noise and ethereal influences found within the latest release Individuation (2012), an album which has received much praise from press though to peers and fans alike, finding its way quite justifiably into Terrorizer’s top 50 albums of the year segment. This latest offering follows on from previous album – Agonist, a piece of work held in particularly high regard for its versatile heaviness and powerful melodic crescendos that saw the band likened to the much missed Capricorns and also the likes of Isis and Cult Of Luna. Latitudes are certainly not newcomers though to writing deep steamrollering riffs. Debut EP ‘Bleak Epiphanies In Slow Motion’ saw them hone in on a powerfully driving sound back in 2007, a direction the band had been working towards for a time prior to this too. A well balanced, yet monstrously heavy live show, known for demanding the attention of all ears (and the and the nodding in unison of every head in the room) sought to give the band a strong reputation and respect all over the UK, solidified further by shows over the years with Kruger, Minsk, A Storm Of Light, Nachtmystium, Baroness, and even Cathedral. Latitudes are most definitely worth taking the time to catch when they play The Black Heart stage on the final day of this year’s DesertFest here in London town, as they’ll be certain to create a colossal tide of swirling and dynamic heaviness.” Words – Staggerin’ Matt
Desertfest Berlin – ODDJOBMEN (GER)
Hey friends, today we are announcing something special, a fresh new project from Berlin : ODDJOBMEN !! We are very pleased to welcome them as they will play their very first shows in April !!
For those (many of you) who dont know them, the four ODDJOBMEN are former and active members of Sissies, Rotor, Gods of Blitz, Samavayo, Hutchinson & Pothead… I named : Kozik, Baale, Alavi, and Meyer !
Based on the soul-material they rocked out a bass driven, grease-groovin, hunger-striking, finger licking riff-o-rama with a twist of cain… Imagine Sly and the Family Stone vs. Black Sabbath, Stevie Wonder vs. Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age vs. Beach Boys, James Brown vs. Fugazi, and you get a hint of what conjuration is coming to get ya !
The band is currently working on their debut EP “Hook, Line and Sinker”, and will play some festivals this summer. Stay tuned !
Posted in Whathaveyou on March 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
More news from Desertfest 2013 to round out the week. Fresh off their run in the US with Graveyard, Cali stoner-skaters The Shrine will be playing as part of Desertfest‘s London lineup, and traveling from Greece, heavy psych rockers 1000mods will make an appearance at the Berlin fest.
Here are the official announcements, culled from their respective websites (London, Berlin):
The Shrine to Shine at Desertfest
Smashing their way straight into Desertfest, L.A. young bloods The Shrine are set to bring their in-your-face and to-the-point brand of hardcore desert rock. Not many bands out their can claim to mix the tripped-out echoes of fuzz with the rough and ready aggressiveness of early punk, but the upcoming three piece of Josh Landau (guitar/vocals), Courtland Murphy (bass) and Jeff Murray (Drums) make it effortless.
Last year’s Tee Pee Records debut, the appropriately titled Primitive Blast, is a lightning paced wall of sound that blows off your ears. Traces of almost everyone, from Truckfighters, to Misfits, to MC5, are there to find within an all too short 35 minutes of raw, chugging stomp.
It’s no surprise to see that they’ve already notched up some impressive support slots with, among others, Kyuss Lives!, Graveyard and Desertfest headliners Pentagram. No doubt at Desertfest The Shrine will be some of the heaviest fuzz you’ll ever hear.
Desertfest Berlin – 1000MODS (GR)
Today, we are thrilled to welcome the first Greek band at DESERTFEST BERLIN : the striking 1000 MODS !!
1000 MODS is a 4-piece psychedelic/stoner rock band from Chiliomodi, Greece, formed in 2006. They play an impressive and highly addictive piece of downtuned, fuzzed up and hard hitting stoner rock, hone in a serious groove.
In the beginning of 2007, they released their first (self-financed) EP “Blank Reality”, and in December 2009 they stroke back with a brand new 7” EP titled “Liquid Sleep”, on the Greek label CTS Prods. In may 2010, they released a split tape with the German psy-doomsters Wight, and few months later, they recorded their full-length debut album “Super Van Vacation”, produced by the almighty Billy Anderson, and released by German label Kozmic Artifactz (vinyl) and CTS Prods (Digipack) in September 2011. Last December, the band released their latest EP “Valley of Sand” on Lab Records.
Since their beginning, they have played over 100 live shows, including openings for Brant Bjork, Colour Haze, Karma to Burn, My Sleepin Karma, Radio Moscow and many others. In October 2011, they toured in Europe playing 25 gigs in 12 countries, with an appearance as special guests at Up In Smoke 3, and in August 2012, they played at Aquamaria Festival.
This year, it’s time for them to play at DESERTFEST BERLIN ! “Super Van Vacation” vinyl re-issue is scheduled in April 2013 by CTS Prods, just in time for the festival, so get in the van, and come to Berlin !!
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 27th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Stages are starting to take shape and lineups are being finalized, so we must be getting close to the kickoff of this year’s Desertfest. Still, with just under two months to go until the 2013 fests launch in London and Berlin, more bands are being announced for both. As London digs into the UK’s ultra-fertile underground to add the likes of Blackstorm, Wodensthrone and Mother Corona, Berlin has announced that Swedish rockers Free Fall, who will be on the road with Witchcraft and Orchid (both also playing), have joined the lineup for at the Astra Kulturhaus.
Here’s a wrap-up of the latest announcements:
Desertfest Berlin – FREE FALL (SWE)
We are very pleased to announce that retro-rock band FREE FALL is added to DESERTFEST line-up !!
From Stockholm, Sweden, FREE FALL was formed in 2009 by guitarist Mattias Bärjed (The Soundtrack Of Our Lives) who felt the urge to form a classic 4-piece band playing a straight up heavy rock ‘n roll. He was joined by long time friend and bass wizard Jan Martens, drummer Ludwig Dahlberg (International Noise Conspiracy) and lead vocalist Kim Fransson.
Sweden really seems to be the current spiritual home of the ongoing Retro-Rock revival, and FREE FALL don’t need occult lyrics, don’t need LSD driven imagery to convince any fan of 70′s music. The band let their tunes speak for themselves. Together, they have formed something that swings hard with an energetic, authoritarian and powerful sound they called “Freedom Rock”. A huge slice of grooving rock that is very much inspired by the greats of the 70′s.
After signing a deal with Nuclear Blast in October 2012, the band recorded their debut album “Power and Volume”, which was unleashed all over Europe few days ago ! Last Friday, they have also been confirmed to be touring Europe in April/May alongside fellow Nuclear Blast label mates WITCHCRAFT and ORCHID. As they both take part in DESERFEST BERLIN, it was logic for us to also welcome FREE FALL, and help them to succed their “quest to liberate people through Freedom Rock” !
FREE FALL’s “world domination through Power and Volume” is starting now !!
Wodensthrone Complete Seven Churches Stage at Desertfest
We are please to announce Wodensthrone will be playing the Seven Churches stage at Desertfest. Wodensthrone was formed in Winterfylleð of 2005, in the Sundered Lands of North Eastern England, by founding members Brunwulf, Wildeþrýð, Gerádwine, and Hréowsian.
In these formative days, the clan’s sound was raw and primitive, but still hinted at a sense of sorrow, with lyrics focusing on the darker aspects of England’s history.However, by Eostremonað of 2006, the clan’s music had developed both technically and melodically, and so Æðelwalh was recruited on synths. It was at this point that Wodensthrone truly began to resemble their current incarnation, growing both musically and conceptually.
However, the clan still felt incomplete, and so comrade Eldbeorn joined the clan on guitar in the Blotmonað of 2006, completing the line-up and adding further depths of melody and savagery to the clan’s sound.
THERES A STORM A’COMIN FOR DESERTFEST!
The final band to be added for the HDP/WPC stage are the mighty Brighton rifflords BLACKSTORM. Like the most powerful and destructive of storms this hardened troop of musicians rarely appear and this will be the 2nd ever London show since their creation, but when they have made an appearance it has been with powerful intent alongside the likes of Cancer Bats, Kruger, Lesbian, Saviours, & Orange Goblin. Featuring the amazingly talented vocalist Karl Middleton (of Earthtone9 fame) alongside side a fair few other familiar faces of the Brighton Music scene including guitarists Neil Kingsbury (ex- fall of Efafra) and Gez Walton (ex The Ghost of a Thousand, This is Menace).
They have been described as combining elements of drone, stoner, down-tuned sludge with classic rock and the vitality of hardcore and punk, Blackstorm combines crushingly heavy, catchy-as hell riffs with juggernaut proportioned rhythmic grooves and killer hook laden vocals. And their most recent release ‘The Darkness is Getting Closer’ was released in November last year showing a much more melodic and groove driven beast. If you like you your riffs served up with a nice juicy sing-along chorus then these guys are for you, just remember that rumble you hear is the sound of an oncoming storm, a BLACKSTORM!!
Words Courtesy of Gareth Kelly
Mother Corona Play Desertfest
Oxfordshire’s Mother Corona began their mission to eclipse the UK stoner rock scene in 2008 and have made two records to date. The most recent was last year’s “Out Of The Dust” LP. If we suggested “, and Into The Void” would be a good adjunct to that title, you’d be getting a good idea of where these guys are coming from.
If Ozzie’s mob had stayed on that rocket for longer they’d probably have reached the vicinity of where Mother Corona are now; fat riffs and cosmic doom of the highest order. They also add a welcome soupcon of psychedelic shimmer into the sound which helps to give it that all-important element of individuality, as do the melodious flanged croons of singer Daveo.
Come join the crew at Desertfest 2013 while they set the controls for you. Mother Corona have played with a host of scene favourites like Trippy Wicked, Enos, Alunha and fellow Oxfordians Desert Storm so you know you’ll be in good company during your travels to the outer-reaches.
I may have mentioned it once or twice, but I’ve had several “holy shit” moments as regards the lineup for Desertfest 2013 in London. From Unida to Dozer (oh my god I’m so fucking psyched to see Dozer) to Lowrider to Yawning Man/Yawning Sons and Colour Haze, Mars Red Sky to Toner Low, well shucks, I just feel like the luckiest guy on the block to be able to see it. Then you throw in Truckfighters and Ufomammut and Conan and my only worry is scheduling conflicts and the inevitable hard choices that are going to have to be made once the timetable is released. I’m nervous, I won’t lie.
The DesertScene folks unveiled a new Desertfest trailer last night and it’s got me nerding out all over again. Dig it:
Posted in Whathaveyou on February 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
After already being announced for Roadburn and Days of the Doomed III, the word came through today that Victor Griffin‘s new project In~Graved will make a showing at Desertfest in both London and Berlin. Griffin is hitting it pretty hard to start out with his many-bassed new band, but he’s working with some awesome people (anytime Guy Pinhas is slated to show up, you’re already winning) and I’m really looking forward to what he’s got going on with this new band. Judging from the pic above, he’s pretty relaxed in the face of all the work ahead. Right on.
As if Pentagram wasn’t enough for you lucky devils, along comes an extra slab of US doom classicism! Having respectfully stepped down from his recent two-year stint with Bobby Liebling’s rabble, Victor Griffin has rounded up a US doom super-group in support of his new album, ‘In-Graved’, which has been in gestation since 2011 and will be released in March.
Desertfest 2013 is honoured to play host to the London round of his exclusive tour and there’s plenty to look forward to; along for the ride is Guy Pinhas (The Obsessed, Acid King, Goatsnake), Pete Campbell (60 Watt Shaman, Mighty Nimbus, Place Of Skulls) and Jeff ‘Oly’ Olson (founding member of Trouble). These names, and a lot of others, contributed to recording the album which also includes the skills of Ron Holzner of Trouble fame, Marty Swaney (Death Row, Pentagram) and Dan Lively (Sweet Cicada).
Watch out for a new addition to Vic’s sound, with In-Graved he has pursued a long-held ambition to add the dynamic of keyboards. After involving Orodruin’s keys-man Mike Puleo in recording, live hammond-organ duties are to be carried out by Jeff Olson and are sure to add a welcome classic rock element to proceedings! It’s early days for Vic’s latest project, but with pedigree’s such as those that are involved, a memorable performance is guaranteed. Don’t you dare miss out!
Words Courtesy of Rich after Sabbath
It is with great honour that we announce Victor Griffin’s IN-GRAVED will taking part in Desertfest 2013 !!
IN-GRAVED, the new band led by former Pentagram and Place of Skulls guitarist Victor Griffin, will release their self-titled debut in Europe and the UK on Friday, March 22 via Finnish label Svart Records and in the US on Tuesday, March 26 via Veritas Vinyl. This album was recorded and produced at Lakeside Studios in Knoxville, Tennessee, by Travis Wyrick (Place of Skulls) and founding guitarist/vocalist Victor Griffin.
Original drummer of doom metal legends Trouble, Jeff “Oly” Olson, will play the Hammond organ on this forthcoming debut album which also feature drummer Pete Campbell (60 Watt Shaman, Place of Skulls), bassists Guy Pinhas (The Obsessed, Acid King, Goatsnake), Ron Holzner (Trouble, Earthen Grave, Debris Inc), Greg Turley (Pentagram), Marty Swaney (Death Row, Pentagram), and Dan Lively (Sweet Cicada), as well as keyboardist Mike Puleo (Orodruin).
IN-GRAVED will perform at the DesertFest Berlin for a memorable performance ! Don’t miss this opportunity to witness this doom metal All Star new band !
Touring line up is as follows :
Victor Griffin – Guitar/Vocals Guy Pinhas – Bass Pete Campbell – Drums Jeff “Oly” Olson – Hammond Organ