Cleaning Our Wounds: DesertFest London 2016 Day 1 Review
Well that’s hangover number one successfully secured, thanks Slabdragger. But hey there’s nothing a couple of coffees, a cooked breakfast and getting back down to The Black Heart to get wristbanded up and relubricated in time for today’s proceedings can’t solve. With stoner legends COC already loading in to headline tonight, and with ripples of excitement at their secret £5 show at the Star & Garter in Manchester last night already spreading, it’s surely only ever going to be a good day in our desert party paradise!
That excitement continues to build as a rapidly swelling London Underworld lets out a frankly monstrous cheer before a single note has even been plucked. It’s a cheer as much to pop the cork and unleash the celebrations of what the upcoming weekend will surely hold as much as it is to welcome a happy Gurt to the stage. The crowd’s release valve is blown immediately as the London-based DIY sludgers explode into the rather apt Sludge Puppies, powered forward by Bill Jacobs’ humungous drums and Dave Blakemore’s juggernaut bass. Helmed as ever by the charismatic, crowd-stirring Gareth Kelly, I can’t think of few more fitting ways to open up the day’s drunken debauchery. Surrounded by a cave of Orange stacks, Gurt sound more enormous, more confident and more riff-crunching this afternoon than I’ve ever seen them play. Heads bang, beers fly and thus confirms to all that this is one hell of a way to start a 3-day long party. Rich Williams’ guitar riffs sound like they’re going to shift the planet off its axis during the colossal likes of Soapfeast and Winston, but the true icing on this Dessertfest cake is yet to come. Fellow partners in the upcoming ‘Guppy’ split release, Pete Holland and Dicky King of Trippy Wicked are rolled out on stage to blast through Revolting Child, aka the heaviest version of T-Rex’s Children Of The Revolution ever. Gurt smash, Gurt win.
After a delayed start due to projector issues and extensive queuing outside the main stage, North Dakotan trio Egypt set up and knuckle down to bring their sleepy brand of stoner hymns to the heaving Electric Ballroom masses. Opener Matterhorn is the perfect start to their dusty quest to blend Sabbath’s classic ‘70s grooves to Orange Goblin’s gravelly modernity. The trio continue to keep to a very open-plained approach to desert doom that bounces emotions and riffs off all four walls on the likes of Valley Of The Kings and Endless Flight. Based around the blissful brilliance of guitarist Neal Stein, Dirty Witch gets heads a-bobbing and bootys a-shakin’ like a ZZ Top cover jammed out by Nebula as the crowd slowly begins to make its way through an armful of beers.
Who isn’t excited about the reunion of Asteroid? Err, fucking no-one, that’s who. The Swedish trippy trio are back in business and back on form as the Electric Ballroom sits back and enjoys their blissful stoner-psyche odes. These bouncing jaunts into the great beyond leave a swaying crowd with fists pumping, necks craning and libidos quaking as Robin Hirse leads the hippy threesome through the rolling plains. The likes of Silver Leaf, River and Edge hook up seamlessly with some new Asteroid III material from the eagerly anticipated new LP. The sooner that bad boy lands, the better!
Has anything more truly heavy metal ever happened at our humble little Camden shindig than Kirk Windstein donning his guitar and bellowing simply “Desertfest!! We are Crowbar from New Orleans and we’re gunna kick your fucking ass!” Methinks nay, but Crowbar clearly have other ideas as their melancholic, yet wall-crumbling set surely comes close to denting the walls of Camden forever. To Build A Mountain lays waste to us all, as does a gruelling cover of Led Zep’s No Quarter. Kicking out of town whilst kicking us all squarely in the face, The Lasting Dose and Planets Collide returns the Ballroom to absolute rubble as Tommy Buckley’s drums power this negasonic teenage warhead forward into galaxies of molten lead. If you think about it, that almost makes total sense. Right? Right.
Today’s programme of events brings less bands than the Saturday and Sunday billings with a bit more time spread between Ballroom acts. Sure, I wanted to catch The Poisoned Glass featuring Edgy59 and Stuart Dahlquist, I fancied hammering the stitches of my soul into oblivion with JK Flesh and yeah I wanted to sweat like a pig in Ibiza to the monstrosity of Raging Speedhorn, but I also wanted to spend some time hanging with friends, catching up and talking nonsense in the company of like-minded souls. And so I did.
The most wonderful aspect of any Desertfest is the total lack of barriers and the perfect sense of equality we all seem to harbour for each other within this tightly-knit scene, year in, year out. In the middle of the Friday afternoon, Corrosion Of Conformity emerged from their dressing area and simply came to the pub with us all at The Black Heart. I’m not talking about Mike Dean sipping a quiet pint in the corner with a few old acquaintances with a “No Pictures Please” sign engraved into his furrowed brow, I’m talking about all four members of the band strolling up to the bar and just chilling out with the punters, taking selfies with fans, sharing stories, jokes and, hell, simply living the festival. As festival organiser Reece Tee neatly puts it in the souvenir programme “We are all the bands and we are all the fans” and it’s times like these that it strikes me that this experience is a thousand times more meaningful than any Kanye West egotistical bollocks on the main stage at Glastonbury will ever be to anyone.
But after many beers and many laughs it’s time for the heavy metal singalong to end all singalongs to begin. Corrosion Of Conformity stride onto the Electric Ballroom stage to a hero’s welcome. Theirs are the anthems we’ve all grown up with, that we all hold close to our hearts and that we all embrace together tonight as returning frontman Pepper Keenan leads the charge through Bottom Feeder and into the hook-ripping King Of The Rotten.
Amongst a stellar greatest hits set, there’s everything included from the triumphant highs of 13 Angels and Seven Days and the bone-jarring, metallic lows of Broken Man and the, errr, stone-breaking Stone Breaker. So let’s face it, even if you were born a liar you know you shed a tiny tear through the likes of the beautiful stoner metal classics of Albatross, Vote With A Bullet and, of course, that rapturous closer Clean My Wounds. Keenan might not have the depth to the vocal range he might once have had, Woody Weatherman’s guitar might not be pitch-perfect and sure, the band look like they’ve seen a battle or two over the years, but this is tough to beat as a celebration of the noble, truthful land we call “heavy”. It’s a Desertfest moment to treasure, along with all the others we’ve made together over the years. I’m still not sure about that reggae breakdown though lads, but hey, that’s certainly enough stiff riffage for one night!
Corrosion Of Conformity
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Lee Edwards