It’s been a good few years since the soothing tones of My Sleeping Karma’s hypnotic instrumental stoner first graced my regular rotation but in that time, I’d never got to catch them live, including an error of judgment as they opened a very early Colour Haze show that has irked me ever since. So making sure not to miss their set this time round, I got myself settled into as good a spot as one can find in The Electric Ballroom.
Despite Norman Mehren’s keyboard failing to complete the journey from Aschaffenburg to deepest Camden, the band were able to improvise, playing some songs as a three-piece and some with Mehren on borrowed kit. Opening with the trance inducing Brahama, barreling through a classic rendition of Ephedra off 2012’s Soma and indulging a smitten crowd with a wonderful Ahimsa from Satya this was a great set, and a delightfully joyous way to start Saturday at Desertfest.
A northbound march for Elder got us into The Roundhouse in time to catch a bit of south London noise purveyors Part Chimp. One of the loudest bands I’ve ever seen (Scala 2005, in support of Pelican), they seemed a little sanitised by the huge stage and room of The Roundhouse. Well received at the front, this was a set that passed me by a little.
Elder were one of the bands I (and seemingly most of the festival) were most excited by. They played this stage at the 2018 iteration of this festival and were arguably the band of the weekend, amongst very tough competition. No such luck this time as a muddy sound swamped and overwhelmed the intricate nature of their recent output. Upon opening with a barely recognisable Sanctuary, it was immediately clear that Nick DiSalvo’s lead guitar was barely perceptible, not a great sign. This continued throughout the set, to unfortunately make a real disappointment. The band that really needed the best sound of the weekend let down on the prestige stage, a real shame.
Returning to reclaim their throne as unbeatable psych smashers from the mighty Slift were Earthless, back down at The Electric Ballroom. Playing the new record, Night Parade Of One Hundred Demons, the outstanding rhythm section of Mario Rubalcaba and Mike Eginton lay down a huge foundation for Isaiah Mitchell to shred to infinity. With the crowd fully engaged, Earthless were less immediate than on the Black Heaven tour cycle, with long trippy builds lulling us all into exactly the right spots for the virtuoso jam sections. A great band on top of their game.
At this stage, we fled Desertfest for the 229 Club down the hill at Great Portland Street for the return of Leeds post-metal heroes Hundred Year Old Man. With a new line-up following the tragic death of guitarist Owen Pegg, this was always going to be an emotional show for those onstage and off. Pegg leaves a legacy of the outstanding Breaching record and a band that are confident with their sound, a colossal mixture of aggressive and sludgey sonic assault with the more layered guitars, build, collapse and crush style of post-rock.
Live it is an absolute joy, the classic Black Fire off Breaching was a highlight but a set chosen mainly from unreleased (hopefully soon) new songs was excellent. At times reminiscent of Panopticon era Isis for clarity of riffage and guitar sound but never far from a huge break and heavy section, this is a band to watch out for and support.
It seemed a risky call to walk away from such a festival line-up (Orange Goblin, Shellac etc) but Hundred Year Old Man justified that decision many times over. I’m glad they’re back, our scene is all the stronger for it.