A few sniffles have already been whimpered around the Black Heart’s bar by 1pm – it’s the third and final day of DesertFest 2013 and one that’s sure to go out with a bang, or more likely a bong. After chowing down on one of the special Kimchi burgers (beef plus Korean spiced cabbage!) on offer to all festival punters, and ordering a bottle of the fantastically named Slag Pilsner, I head upstairs to see what all the racket it about…
Whoremoan‘s heavy handed approach to stoner metal begins Day3. Their crushing percussion and sand-blasted vox thump around the Black Heart like an aggressive wolf fighting to get out of its cage. Sure, the tunes are all a bit samey and the same guitar tones are retained throughout this 30-minute opening slot but their volume and rough-around-the-edges style tests out Orange’s amps to their full wattage. This is no nonsense highway metal akin to Fu Manchu gate-crashing a Roadsaw-themed BBQ.
It’s definitely fair to say that Brighton sludge titans Sea Bastard take a while to get started, but when they do it’s a crushing onslaught of downtuned dirge that meets the lug-holes of the early birds. Oli Irongiant’s riffs are languid and weed-caked whilst George Leaver’s tom hits are copious and mighty as the ex-Jovian and Funeral Hag members showcase just two 10-minute-plus songs in their short set. ‘Ramesses Revenge’ is a fierce blast through minefields of primitive foul mire in a Dopethrone-esque awakening from the swamps of the south coast.
Opening up the Electric Ballroom are French psych mob Glowsun. The experienced trio are simply old-school cosmic-doomer-stoner through-and-through and whilst their murky dark chords are new to my ears, they come across like a diet version of Ufomammut. Their largely instrumental, over-driven shuttle-fuel is certainly not bad, but not overly impressive either. That said the prog-bound riffage is lapped up by the early doors crowds very well.
Is there a band in the world with a bigger sound than Liverpool’s Conan?! Not likely. Opening with speedy primal slices of ‘Hawk as Weapon’ and ‘Battle in the Swamp’ they quickly become an immediate highlight of the whole weekend. Jon Davis’ ghostly voice sounds strained from a week’s worth of touring the UK with Bongripper but there’s no denying his energy throughout ‘Satsumo’ and ‘Grim Tormentor’. Two new un-named tracks are aired and thunder by as equally rapid, devastating fury as their ‘Monnos’ album material whilst at the same time Phil O’Neil still shows he has the art of slow drumming down to a tee on the closing ‘Sea Lord’. The amp-junkied trio are clearly on the form of their lives and Davis has added a new wah peddle to his arsenal which reaps stunning effects; adding a whole new dimension to an already incredibly dense sound.
Toner Low do exactly as their name suggests. The Dutch trio cut down below the boundaries of conventional tuning and blast seismic wave after wave of chronic acid around the Underworld. Ganja leaf visuals illuminate the back wall behind them as the Netherlanders trudge on with pummelling cymbal hits and delicious grooves which sit somewhere between ‘Dopesmoker’ and Hawkwind. Daan’s vocals are dirty and distorted like a lunatic hitting up a burger drive-in on the way home from a murder spree. Despite their onslaught proving to be adequately drone-laden and destructively loud, I still found the song structures and ideas lacking in both variety and inspiration however and made tracks before their no-doubt head-condensing finale.
Over at the Black Heart, Latitudes are cranking out their angular brand of shape-shifting post-metal. Their complex labyrinths of bone-clipping riffage evoke Mastodon’s early days of filthy glory and the more polyrhythmic side of modern metal with a bruising undertone. Leaving the audience happy with a mirage of blistering black metal and Isis-like instrumentalism, they are once again triumphant victors on such a small stage.
Poland’s best kept secret Belzebong have brought a smoke machine with them and set about getting more than their money’s worth out of it in no time at all. The Underworld venue is just perfect for them and the weedy green lights from a certain energy drink sponsor illuminate their hair moshing saunters through fields of ripe hashish sublimely. Pretty much all of their debut album ‘Sonic Scapes and Weedy Grooves’ gets an airing as the crowd bounce along with their instrumental odes to the bong which strike similar chords to Bongzilla or Electric Wizard (and probably most other bands who have ‘bong’, ‘dope’ or ‘wizard’ in the title!). The four-piece are somehow slower in their live incarnation than I expected but this barbaric display of E-string glory and back-handed bass sorcery sits very well indeed with tonight’s sludge-hungry audience.
There’s no doubt about it, Uta Plotkin can bloody sing and Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain crush through an hour of solid classic metal punctuated by her Rob Halford-meets-Adele wail. Brooding basslines and satisfying riffs flutter about the Underworld like some bizarre cross between soulful jazz and operatic melodic metal, all with a typically brutish sludge underbelly.
Over at the Black Heart, The Shrine are kicking off a fullscale riot! Bodies fly everywhere as the Californian power trio destroy the ears with Primitive Blast after blast of their 80s-esque skater-stoner-punk. Guitarist Josh Landau is the star of the show, crowd-surfing throughout his razer sharp solos and baiting the rabid moshers with his guitar neck. Sure, it’s all pretty goofy stuff and they’re essentially the sort of band you’d form straight out of high school. But sweet Satan, they’re tight, and the likes of ‘Napalm’ and ‘Zipper Tripper’ more than hold their own amongst this festival’s elite with their Thin Lizzy by way of Zeke approach to having a good time.
Back to the Ballroom and Colour Haze soothe over the amassed hoards with their never to be bettered psychedelia. The likes of ‘Love’ and ‘Peace, Brothers and Sisters’ reach out and suck you in with unexpected strength and intrigue. Their jazzy basslines and Stefan Koglek’s gorgeous waves of guitar are a welcome distraction from the furious decibel abuse the rest of the weekend has given us as the glorious projections courtesy of Mindzap give them a thousand new dimensions.
Back to the pub and Planet of Zeus are having a fucking party. Their stadium sized metallic grooves ring out hard and true amongst the pissed-up Sundayers as they headline the last night of the festival over at The Black Heart. The Greek heroes sound a bit like sHeavy sharing a rehearsal room with Audioslave and a big pile of happy pills, but when frontman Babis asks “I love old music, don’t you?!” the response to his rhetorical question is unanimous.
There’s only one thing left to do and tonight’s choice of which headliner to watch was always going to be a painful one: classic doom icons Pentagram at the Ballroom OR Chicago’s sonic titans Bongripper in the cosy confines of the Underworld. Grabbing the biggest bottle of beer I can get my hands on and cementing my feet directly in front of the centre stage, I inevitably opt for the latter and prepare to face my oblivion. By the time the windy city’s youthful fourpiece emerge from the shadows, the ugly Camden bunker room is packed beyond relief and as the opening rumble of ‘Hail’ bellows from their colossal backline, everyone loses their collective shit, minds and ear-drums. The modern masterpiece of a record that is ‘Satan Worshipping Doom’ is aired in full as well as, I believe, another new song in a set that will surely go down in history as one of the most gargantuan that London has ever witnessed. As I bounce off the euphoric hoods, black t-shirts and face fuzz around me, time seems to stand still and I feel my soul being cleansed of all that is evil in this world. Dennis Pleckham and Ronald Petzke are simply gruesome in their relentless chord-reaping whilst as ever Dan O’Connor orchestrates the apocalypse from behind his giant kit. The waves of dropped-tuned bass are so dense that the overall texture of the sound is a soft one rather than harsh or fierce in tone and the key to their strength lies in the way they slide telepathically from one cavernous movement to the next. An hour fades away speedily into nothing and when the feedback finally dies the applause is just as deafening in return. That wasn’t a band or a gig, it was an experience to behold and as I shake Dennis Pleckham’s hand over his mass of cables and gear, I’m so drained that words simply don’t arrive at my mouth.
Out in the cool Camden breeze, fans, bands, organisers alike gather to excitedly exchange notes and catch-up on events missed and shared. I hear that Americans NAAM were groovy, Truckfighters fulfilled the fun quota and Pentagram and Victor Griffin’s In~Graved lived up to their respective legendary statuses. Everyone eventually trudges off to the Ballroom to get well and truly smashed for the third time in a row and equilibrium is once again restored to the beer-soaked streets. To say it’s been a great weekend is a bit like saying that coffee is black and I’d like to extend huge thanks to Reece Tee and all the other Desertscene crew members, venue staff and other good-time contributors for their hard work. This year I heard many Spanish accents, German, French, Australian plus dozens of Americans and Canadians, which proves that you don’t need sand dunes and cacti to create a desert in London – all you need is the right soundtrack.
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Gemma Shaw (www.gloomylightsphotography.co.uk)