DesertFest London 2014 – Day 2 Review By Pete Green
“The worst thing about DesertFest Saturdays is that everyone comes in here and does the worst hangover shits on earth. These toilets fucking stink.” Josh Retallick, Black Heart Manager 26/04/14
Well good morning to you Josh! After the Caravanistic adventures of last night, it’s all systems go back here at The DesertFest in Camden. On with the show!
Day 2 sets off like an express train in the form of Slabdragger’s unstoppable assault. Always plagued by drummer issues in a manner that would rival Spinal Tap, the Croydon bruisers are seemingly now on sticksman 659 (to give him his credit, it’s Jack Newnham and he’s bloody superb!) but yet are 100% at home amidst an insatiable barrage of entirely new material. It’s like watching High On Fire and Weedeater’s younger brother grow up through an awkward and enraged year of puberty as Sam Thredder and Yusuf Tary trade steel-strong blows in perfect synchronicity. Forget ‘Leviathan’, you need to buy Slabdragger’s new album once it comes out and just forget that your brain ever existed.
Canadian progsters Anciients have so much hair that it strikes me how unlikely it is that they’ve been allowed into the country at all on their over-inflated follicle-allowance alone. ‘Head n Shoulders’ jokes aside, their Mastodon-meets-Opeth omni-metal goes down very well in front of a head-banging Ballroom crowd. Frontman Kenny’s roars are clear and fierce as Hannay’s drums threaten to discard the Camden walls around him. It’s blistering stuff but may well have suited being in a smaller room slightly better rather than the vastness of the main Electric Ballroom stage. Mighty, powerful and busily atmospheric, Anciients are a healthy new addition to the festival’s arsenal of sounds.
Is there a band on Earth quite like Norwegian berserkers Årabrot? Errr… no, not in the slightest.
Ever-present frontman Kjetil Nernes has bound together yet another raft of random and noise-centric musicians yet all four seem solid as shit around the main man’s vision to create semi-organised chaos. Sludgier than on previous UK outings, the current incarnation takes in tom-tom thumper/noise programmer/vocal wailer Guro Moe as well as bassist Henrik Myrvold who looks to be about 14 years old and bellows into a mic with his back to the crowd. It’s all utterly bonkers but backed up by Magnus Nymo’s devastating drumwork, the sound remains heavier than Satan’s anvil factory in what has to be said is a completely captivating performance. With Nernes, who today rocks a look reminiscent of some middle-Eastern detective, leading an unstoppable, yet 100% random, charge a packed Underworld experiences an incredible act who are named after a garbage dump and sound like a headache. A very good headache.
If you name your band after a Weedeater song then you’d better not disappoint at a sludge metal festival but luckily with The Black Heart full beyond bursting point, Wizard Fight do anything but with their home-grown brand of South-Coastal filth. Drummer Dan Kinsey and frontman Luke Bolton are locked into a solid groove between material old and new as a sweaty as fuck Black Heart lurches along in merriment to their southern-fried brilliance. With a performance stronger than any to date, they pollute the room’s vision with their manly steam and weed-bound brilliance. In short, this is heavier than a sack of rhinos landing on a mouse.
After a break which may or may not have involved a rather delicious Black Heart beef brisket sandwich, it’s back over to the Underworld for the unfathomably heavy 11Paranoias. Adam Richardson helms this insular beast of cosmic feedback and psychedelia. With Mike Vest of Bong installed on fuzz guitar duties, it’s never going to amount to anything less than a trip into the outer galactic and beyond. But amid the feedback and ever droning guitars, there’s precious little in the way of structure to this ex-Ramesses bunch’s plight and a semi-strong Quietus Stage crowd don’t move all that much as the likes of ‘Deceiver Of The Deep’ rain down from the muddy Underworld PA.
Did someone say Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeedeater? Sloppy though they may appear at first sight, the North Carolina sludge kings know exactly what they’re bloody well doing. The likes of ‘Mancoon ‘and ‘God Luck And Good Speed’ are slammed out at an ear-splitting volume as Dixie Dave Collins and Dave Shepherd bounce around the stage like circus bunnies… If that even is a thing that actually exists.
Still, Dixie moves fantastically well for a man who once literally shot himself in the foot but despite the entertainment value of his deranged drawl, drummer Travis Owen’s playing steals the show. Playing side-on to the stage, his cymbals and hi-hats fly everywhere as he desperately tries to anchor this noisy clusterfuck of a band. Not contempt with playing these balls-heavy anthems as loud and hard as is physically possible, Owen goes all out with stick skills, flips and throws within every track. At one point he tosses a broken stick into the crowd, only for an audience member to throw it back at him. Amazingly he manages to catch it and carry on playing!
Groovy as hell, supremely bass-heavy and solid as a rock, Weedeater are to sludge what Pink Floyd are to psychedelic rock. Seemingly ending their set a little early they then roll out none other than Wino of Spirit Caravan to perform a superb cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’ and yet another epic moment in hard rock history is made before our very eyes.
Billed by stage hosts The Quietus as “the most unpleasant band in the world today” it can surely only go upwards for The Body in the audience-charming stakes as they kick off their bile-centric noisecore to a completely packed Underworld. A drum kit, a guitar, some samples and Chip King’s disgusting vocals on paper isn’t a lot to work with but by Jesus do they have the amplification to turn that simple equation into something huge. The Body’s array of solid-wall atmospherics is a sight to behold and an event to listen to if nothing else as the uber-power duo celebrate all that is heavy and noisy in the world with cuts off ‘Christs, Redeemers’ and their extensive back catalogue in front of a swaying and surfing audience. Stand-in drummer Matt Melon (of Pissgrave), filling in during Lee Buford’s travel-sickness-related absence, is the star of the show; looping and filling like nobody’s (geddit?!) business until the tracks are through and in the process building a maelstrom of noise uncut by King’s guitars and mechanical wail. Heavy doesn’t even come close.
Is he wearing an owl? He is wearing an owl!
Kvelertak it has to be said were a controversial choice of main stage headliner with many considering the band a little too far to the left to top a fuzz rock-orientated festival. But as the six-piece storm into the Electric Ballroom with ‘Åpenbaring’ it’s clear that the triple-guitared wonders are simply here to have a whale of a time with anyone and everyone who’s made the effort to catch their metallic brilliance. Aforementioned owl-sporting frontman Erlend Hjelvik owns the stage, his fierce masculine roar piercing through the Ballroom’s gloom through the likes of ‘Spring Fra Livet’ and ‘Bruane Brenn’. So many people should in theory be difficult to handle but Viking-stylie he laps it up with a deafening bellow of “are you drunk and high?!”
If Weedeater were our god luck and good speed, then tonight the Norwegians are good fun ON speed. Acting as sheer energy personified Kvelertak are nothing but entertaining specimens of tattoo and guile as they shred the stage like a pillaging horde on the loose.
Candles? Check. Goat heads? Check. Giant fuck-off Marshall stacks? Check. Smoke flooding the venue? Check. Then we are ready to begin.
Emerging through the gloom with their now legendary backs to the audience stance, it could only ever be Dragged Into Sunlight headlining the Quietus Stage at the Underworld tonight. Their unique brand of claustrophobic black metal bombast is unmistakably loud and slays with an ambience that so many bands of this nature sadly lack. As the audience locks into J’s insane drumming assault, it’s quickly punctuated by his hypnotic and hooded partners in crime who blast nihilistic blast after blast of raging guitar upon his surely sacred soul. Adventurist perhaps, outlandish definitely and as this crust-pile hails down like a thousand decaying bodies onto a burning inferno of pain it’s as if we leave the Earth and descending into the bowels of Lucifer’s cave altogether for 60 minutes. As the blasbeating drum hits of death subside, a cathartic sense of release is instilled.
And then we all went to the Black Heart to get very very drunk.
I won’t go into too many of the fine details behind Saturday night’s after-party, mostly because I can’t remember practically all of them. What I will say is the following:
More beer was consumed in one night than is usually drunk in most mid-sized European nations in an entire year.
I may have tried to talk to Dave Sherman just to hear his unbelievably gravelly voice, but lost my bottle completely and just said “cheers man” like a complete chump.
It’s beyond refreshing to attend a festival where there are truly no barriers between the bands, the fans, the organisers, the staff and the public; everyone drinks as one, parties as one, plays as one and enjoys the good times as one. Desert dweller or city slicker, everyone is welcome at DesertFest… As long as you have a wristband.
Tomorrow is going to hurt.
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Gemma Shaw | Antony Roberts