After last night’s fun and frolics, I think it’s fair to say that Desertfest Camden is feeling a little… Sleepy today. More on that pun later though as it’s time to hit the coffee bars and pubs to rest up and recuperate for today’s action. In a new move by organisers Jake and Reece, Sunday sees the festival split the site between the Koko and the Purple Turtle on Mornington Crescent and the Underworld and Black Heart closer to Camden Town. The Underworld and Black Heart play host to the Metal Hammer stages today – a celebration of the very best in thrash, speed, death and traditional metal, but with the strictly divided sites, yours truly has opted to camp out down the road for the more traditional stoner delights.
My Sleeping Karma are just what we’re all looking for to break us out of the slumber. The Germans are simply ecstatic to be on stage and treat us to an hour of chilled out psychedelic grooves in front of a beautiful backdrop of Tool-esque clay cartoon visuals. The cleanness of Steffen’s keyboards intermingled with Norman’s and Mat‘s beautifully fuzzy bass riffs is the perfect tonic for sore heads out there as they jam and sway away on the Koko‘s giant stage. If you’re a fan of Isis, Pelican, Bongripper or Tool’s instrumental-only pastures, then these are simply a band that’s either on your radar or have already sunk your battleship.
Oink oink! It’s Rock O’Clock and that means one thing only – those pig moshers XII Boar are here to hog the Purple Turtle stage. I’ve known these dudes for years and can solemnly say I’ve never know a band who just want to rock out and have fun as much as they do. Strolling down the stairs decked out in Stetsons and sunglasses, they somewhat resemble the Aldi alternative to ZZ Top to begin with. Joking aside, they do begin to crank out the grooves as soon as possible with the likes of new jammers Rock City, Chickenhawk, Pitworthy and the Schaeffer Boogie keeping the good times a-rolling like a whole Edam freefalling down a rather steep hill. Frontman Tommy Hardrocks doesn’t keep his mouth closed for long with his quips about wanker’s cramp and the female “moistening” effect of a certain Mr B Bjork. Crude, yes, but backed by Dave Wilbrahammer’s expert pounding behind the kit, the Dozen Chinghale smash their brand of Alabama Thunderpussy meets COC long into the afternoon.
Back over in the Koko, K-to-tha-Bizzle (aka Karma To Burn) are hard at working attempting to destroy the gorgeous ballroom’s PA with their instrumental slam-dancing rifforamas. Watching Will Mercum and the boys is like eating a Sharwood’s curry, you always know exactly what you’re going to get and they deal out that taut, stiff riffage as good n’ hard as ever. I won’t be caught out on song-titles, but needless to say, some number-based action is involved and a raft of absolutely gigantic rhythms are created by Evan Devine pounding his drum kit through the floor until he’s seemingly halfway to Australia. Still going strong after all these years, there’s still plenty more karma left in that tank to burn off.
Over the road in the Purple Turtle there’s a storm a-brewing in this sandy festival in the form of, yep you guessed it: Desert Storm. The boys from up the road in Oxford may still resemble a bunch of young whippersnappers but already peddling record number three and treated to a hero’s welcome in the bowels of the Turtle, they’re now established graduates of the UK rock scene. There’s no arguing that the likes of Shadow Of An Eagle and the scintillating Astral Planes are absolutely fucking massive tunes deserving of any packed out venue. Sitting well next to bluesy newbie House Of Salvation and the metal monster that is Queen Reefer, Desert Storm prove the point that they’re a very serious proposition indeed to sail up those festival bills.
One thing I love about the London underground scene is the mutual love and admiration between all the bands for each other. During Desert Storm‘s set I see members of Gurt, Trippy Wicked, Dead Existence and XII Boar laying down, banging heads and chugging pints to the Oxfordian’s sublime grooves. Respect where credit is due.
Acid King‘s Lori S may well be a rather tiny lady, but many riffs from her diminutive frame do arise. Backed by Joey Osbourne‘s complexly shifting drum patterns and Mark Lamb‘s beefy dynamics behind the bass, Acid King are frankly unstoppable tonight in front of a nod-summoning Koko crowd. The visuals are mind-bending and the tone is unbreakable. I don’t mind admitting that I’m a bit of a virgin with this band live, but it’s love at first sight and if there’s a better groove tonight so far than 2 Wheel Nation, then we’re all in for a complete treat. How this three-piece remain so solid, yet almost jazz-like sophisticated and individualistic is beyond me but as Lori‘s colossal swansongs sail above the audience into the ether, my mind is simply happy to get lost in their lairs of silky, amplified warmth.
As if watching Acid King followed by Sleep wasn’t enough heavy for one lifetime, there’s the small matter of Italian doom overlords Ufomammut sandwiched in between the two American monoliths. The well-bearded trio initially struggle as Poia‘s huge guitar rig needs some intricate readjustment which costs them both valuable minutes and several awe-struck eyes from across the room. But as they slowly crank into full power it’s clear that none of the magic has been lost. Just as devastating as ever, the rhythm section of Urlo and Vita pound the surface with their psychedelic space dust as Poia interweaves layer after layer of distorted velocity over the top. Hiccups like his would lose many audience’s attention spans but not these veterans or this crowd who bang their heads, knees and wrists in absolute homage to the weight of the Ufomammut onslaught. Showcasing sexy new material from the new Ecate record alongside some of the more well-known jams from the likes of Eve and Oro Opus, the Koko is rammed to the rapturous rafters for this vulgar display of power. The stunning visuals courtesy of the band’s artistic alter-ego Malleus ain’t half bad either and with a cheeky encore of the herky-jerky Stardog, the walls begin to shake under their giant hadron collisions.
And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting twelve months for. As the Koko’s safety screen rises to reveal Matt Pike, Al Cisneros and Jason Roeder unleashing the opening half of Dopesmoker from behind the curtain, the grand auditorium is visibly shaking with joy, hair, grins and riffs. Sleep are simply colossal tonight and throughout a two-hour set crammed with all the classics – From Beyond, The Clarity, Holy Mountain – every single person I see is simply ecstatic that this is happening right here and right now in ‘lil old Camden Town. The California trio share no banter, bring no light show and offer little in the way of frills but when you let the raging forces they conduct do the talking as they do then it all ceases to matter. As arguably the greatest ever stoner-metal band crank up the second half of the hour-long monument to Thee Riff that is Dopesmoker to close, you can feel just how much this means to all involved, not just at Desertfest, but within this entire beautiful scene in general. The queue for the merch table is over forty people deep for a large chunk of the night as everyone scurries for a souvenir of this momentous display of total sonic titanity.
The after parties get suitably messy in little to no time at all. DJ Rich Harris throws himself from the top of the Purple Turtle’s speakers into the open arms of dozens of punters, Desertfest’s house band Steak smash out their fuzzy-as-felt jams and everyone drinks and laughs together long into the night before the ever-dreaded night bus home.
What a year it’s been for Desertfest! The atmosphere, the music, the burgers, the banter and, of course, the beer has set a new bar (every pun intended) for many years to come. My heartfelt thanks go out to Jake Farey, Reece Tee, Claire Bernadet, Louise Brown, Griz Binstead, Gareth Kelly and Matt Human-Disease and everyone else for making this all possible and to Shaman Lee for all the killer accompanying shots and constant company over the weekend. Right, I’m off to try to sleep and burn this karma off until next year. Roll on Desertfest 2016. Be there!
My Sleeping Karma
Karma To Burn
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Lee Edwards