It’s Sunday and Camden is once again feeling it. Big time. Hungover bodies clutter the streets and people are struggling to look each other in the eye never mind converse together. There’s a conspicuous absence of pint glasses gracing hands for the first hour or two at least in all the major venues as people grunt and groan about and explore the several dozen photos they forgot that they took on their iPhones at last night’s more than messy after-party.
Wake up you ‘orrible lot! There’s riffs to be heard and those beards aren’t going to stroke themselves!
War Wolf couldn’t give six shits about your muddy state of mind and set about ripping the Underworld to pieces with their punky, thrash-infused sludge. The likes of the cranium-pounding ‘Legalised Love’, ‘War Machine’, ‘Cometh’ and ‘Christianity (Is Dying)’ all just sound as vein-ripping as they do on record. Paul Hale’s roars are utterly terrifying as his former Dopefight compatriot Ant Cole beats the living Bejesus out of his kit for a good thirty minutes. Topping it off are Oli Irongiant’s giant riffs of iron in a tour de force that deserves a bigger and less sleepy crowd as the Wolf’s short but sticky anthems crunch their way through topics ranging and raging from politics and religion to sex and hatred.
Italian stoner rockers Black Rainbows open up the Electric Ballroom with some enthusiastic and much appreciated gentle rock anthems. There’s no questioning their energy even if they are playing in the shadow of headliners Boris’ giant gong mounts and ‘Old Dope’ glistens by as if on a sand-dune of Saharan heat. Frontman Gabriele Fiori has a mellow and neatly rounded voice and his riffs soothe as well as command a small but committed crowd. This is one for fans of Fu Manchu, Truckfighters and Dozer for sure. Strident and confident, they finish as an unexpected highlight with a cover of the MC5’s ‘Black to Comm’.
Over at the Vans Store, youthful Massachusetts psych mob Elder are playing a stunning full electric set in front of a thrilled and intimate crowd of both DesertFesters and bemused shoe shoppers alike. Nick DiSalvo leads the ever-talented US trio through the spell-binding ‘Dead Roots Stirring’ and the beautifully serene ‘III’ in their gloriously laid-back style of ebbing and flowing rivers of prog-tinged stoner riffs and sumptuously bassy grooves.
Plagued by a raft of technical problems, most likely due to their colossal amount of amplifiers and equipment, husband and wife duo Pombagira are very late to start on their set in the Underworld. When they do get going, Pete and Carolyn Hamilton-Giles still don’t seem entirely comfortable but their giant wash of heavy and heady prog-doom is the perfect backdrop to the underground venue’s dimly lit surroundings. Pete’s vocals fly and circle above the crowd, seemingly weightless, as Carolyn’s delicate drums slowly swirl into a vortex of neatly organised confusion. The duo is constantly improvising, gradually laying the groundwork for their warm and humid yet undeniably heavy sound to flourish. Never a band to own even a shred of pretence, Pombagira slowly ramp up into the swelling colossus we know them best for and leave the stage as local heroes.
London’s criminally underrated Bright Curse are sparkling over on the Black Heart’s small stage. Their quirky, yet soulful and melodic heavy rock is the perfect tonic for those who like both Soundgarden and some Colour Haze-esque soundscapes and they gradually build up their near acoustic passages into moments of outlandish euphoria with apparent ease. Frontman Romain Daut captures the audience in the palm of his hand and holds them there together tightly as closer ‘The Hermit’ casts everyone back into the Greenford Place alleyway with a smile on their faces.
After what it has to be said is an over extended period of on-stage faffing around over monitors and drumkits, Italian sludge titans Grime finally launch themselves into a misery-soaked set. Ferociously aggressive and powerful, the four-piece are destruction personified and rattle by in a fury of Marmite-thick riffs, gut-wrenching bass grooves, wrath-spitting vocals and blitzkrieg drumming. One for the Mother’s Day List this certainly is not but after their inhuman rampage I kind of feel like I need a cuddle from Mum regardless of the lack of return gift.
Groovier than a 200-year old turntable, Radio Moscow are tuning in over in the Ballroom. Like a secret third band hidden within the Graveyard/Witchcraft dynasty, the American trio are all Zeppelin-swagger and twang with their lunar-gazing brand of good-time 70s psych-rock. Sporting easily the best pair of waistcoats yet evident out here in the British desert, front pair Parker Griggs and Anthony Meier toss licks and slanted riffs across the stage at each other with the carefree precision of an air hockey table and cruise on into the early evening. Griggs’ blistering solos and Paul Marrone’s heavy drumming right out of soul-town and a new song named ‘Before It Burns’ is like watching The Atomic Bitchwax taking on Earthless in a battle of speed, wit and improvisation.
One of the most eagerly anticipated bands of the weekend for many desert dwellers, Elder hit the stage in front of a packed Electric Ballroom as humble as ever. Launching first into 11-minute epic ‘Spires Burn’ is a wise choice; its Saturn-sized riffs and incredibly bassy landscapes soothe and wow a swollen crowd until they cheer entirely as one. Matt Couto is in the driving seat behind the kit – channelling fuel into Jack Donovan and Nick DiSalvo’s tanks of amps and paving the way for some of the finest grooves anywhere in the world right now. The Young Crown Princes of Stoner Rock are here to stay as the sleepy, yet cosmically colossal, ‘III’ hits next – demonstrating the Bostonians mission to forging the missing link between Sleep and Colour Haze.
Few bands are more than the sum of their collective parts, but Elder have an understanding, togetherness and an energy that seems to come from something beyond these 3 youthful players. Time seems to evaporate as the trio begin to open up and settle into their 45-minute slot. A punchy new number shows off just how agile DiSalvo has become as a guitar player, switching seamlessly between complex fretboard dynamics and bone-jarring metal riffs with an unflappable ease as Donovan and Couto ride shotgun in his hotrod of percussive groove. As ‘Dead Roots Stirring’ ties up the performance the cheers grow exponentially louder and the crowd headbangs and sings as one with DiSalvo as Elder close out yet another masterful performance.
The Underworld is running behind after unavoidable travel difficulties and an Italian Job-esque race to the venue for several of the Europe-travelling bands, meaning reduced set times sets for Graves At Sea and Sourvein to compensate. I catch only a few minutes of Graves At Sea but their sludgy mire seems to be on the right level at least despite the power difficulties.
Back over to the Ballroom where Church Of Misery are about to raise all merry hell. Black Sabbath may be the godfathers of doom, but with DesertFest’s coffers not quite stretching as far as affording Ozzy and co, Church are frankly cheaper, better and far more musically relevant today.
With the room packed to the rafters Church take off and if you happen to have the luxury of beginning a gig with one-two riff juggernaughts the size of ‘Lambs to the Slaughter’ and ‘Brother Bishop’ there’s no chance your band could be anything less than completely barnstorming. A painfully heavy ‘Killfornia’ follows and as ‘Born to Raise Hell’ is unleashed the entire room loses its collective shit.
Misery? No way, this is boogie-tastic insanity of the highest order that puts a shit-eating grin on every face in sight. So fluid, so consistent, so goddamn good. Closing out with the unstoppable pounding of ‘El Padrino’ and ‘Shotgun Boogie’, the serial-killer-based doomsters clean the venue floors with their rabid fans’ jaws.
The destructive poetry of Eagle Twin is raining yet more misery down on the Underworld. Gentry Densley and Tyler Smith stand and sit eyes closed in concentration as their baritone echo haunts Camden town under the weight of their soul-cleansingly murky passages of claustrophobic universe rebalance. I wish I could’ve stayed longer to allow their sermons to soak ever deeper into me.
What kind of music do Boris play exactly? Well pretty much whatever they damn well like and by God are they incredible at everything they set their hands to.
After leading off with ‘Black Out’s crushing doom riffs and drenching the Ballroom in plumes of smoke the spacious venue is shrouded into a mysterious melting pot of inter-universal wonder and imagination. Just as you’re settling into it for a long-haul run of the band’s selection of drone masterpieces, drummer Atsuo shrieks and bangs his gigantic gong for the first time and all sweet hell breaks loose in the form of the thrashing garage noise rock of ‘Pink’, ‘Korosu’ and ‘Statement’. It’s euphoric, it’s frenetic, its sheer brilliance and not one person in the room has any idea what’s coming next.
The diminutive Wata is a true guitar master whose blistering solos pin the crowd back against the walls and then nurse then back to consciousness again all within seconds. ‘Rainbow’ and new track ‘Quicksilver’ are incredible; the former taking in the expanses of seemingly anything that music could possibly be all at once yet remaining beautiful throughout behind Takeshi’s eloquent vocals, whilst the latter thunders by with a freakish speed-metal approach.
Opting to play ‘Cosmos’ from their recent split with Joe Volk is an unanticipated checkmate – as heavy as the Empire State Building in its highs yet gorgeous and peaceful in its downtime. Finishing the night with a mind-bending wall of ‘Vomitself’s noise and some spectacular crowd-surfing by Atsuo, these legendary experimental nutcases see us off the premises content having secured another sublime DesertFest moment in history.
But it’s just not over till the fat gong rings! Returning to the stage at the fans insistence to play ‘Farewell’ provides a perfect end to DesertFest’s third year of wonderfully expansive and heavy sounds.
With a somewhat subdued mini after-party organised by sponsors Monster in the Underworld, it’s time to reflect on what an insanely good weekend it’s been whilst sharing new memories and photos with friends old and new over a pint of tasteless Carlsberg and a few final DJ tunes. ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’? You betcha!
Thus marks the end of only the ever DesertFest and in the many years that are surely to come, things can only get fuzzier. You just stay classy Camden! Thank you all and good night!