Well, here we go. It’s time to dust off the cobwebs for the third and final time today for Sunday at Desertfest 2016. *Sniffles* Still, there’s only so many days a guy can live on beer, coffee and fried chicken alone and the wear n’ tear is beginning to show on the face of many a punter. Oh well, fuck it, better get to Camden and show my aching stomach who’s boss.
Canterbury-based art-sludgers OHHMS are here to kick things off by bringing their visually powerful and sonically expansive show to The Underworld. I’ve seen the engaging spectacle of frontman Paul Waller dancing and weaving around like a barefooted maniac amongst the post metallic riffage of his four-strong bandmates before in Nottingham sometime last year and I have to say I was impressed by the fresh, modern melodies OHHMS brought to the fore on that occasion. All that said, things at The Underworld do not get off to a good start. After playing what appears to be a new song comprised of incoherent patchworks of extremely opposing sections of unconvincing power-prog, OHHMS sit back to pay the acclaimed Cold EP in full. Maybe it’s the sound, maybe it’s the mood, maybe it’s wrong time of day for OHHMS to be playing but nothing quite resonates from them for me today. The usually enigmatic guitarist Marc George does not look interested and The Underworld looks rather confused by OHHMS’ constant changes in direction and lack of hooks on this occasion.
After a run at the merch stalls and a butchers around the slowly filling Black Heart, its back over to The Underworld to reunite my love for the mad box of eggs that is DŸSE. The Dutch-come-German part noise-rock, part live comedy duo are bang on whatever ridiculous form they set for themselves as they stroll through their thoroughly unique take on entertainment. Zebraman is introduced as the song the twosome apparently had named by “our good friend” Bruce Dickinson as The Number Of The East and drummer Jarii is at pains to point out that Sie ist Maschin translates in English, to, errrrr, She is Machine. Thanks Jarii! As the oddball pair bounce through frenetic riffs, bouncing drumbeats and off-kilter rhythms, intermingled with bizarre tales from their acid cannons, it’s clear that half the crowd is in complete love and half simply doesn’t get it at all as DŸSE peak with the super Kyussy Tortoise Song. If you like very silly yet stupidly tight two piece rock n’ roll bands, you should get out and see these guys while you still have your sanity. Can we have DŸSE play every year please??
Instrumental mentalists Stinking Lizaveta are up next in The Underworld. All the way from Philadelphia, these barmy veterans are as ever their usual brand of psychedelic, extroverted brilliance. Alexi Papadopoulos’ lack of upright double bass does change the dynamic of the band, but not the direction as they surge off into all the same avenues of off-kilter insanity. Brilliant drummer Cheshire Agusta is the undisputed star in their line up as her oddball jazz and stoner infused beats propel the humble trio forwards. Stinking Lizaveta are rockier and riffier than I recall from seeing them live in Dalston a few years back, though this is perhaps a setlist geared towards the head-nodding surroundings of the Desertfest faithful. Yanni Papadopoulos’ blues inspired guitar licks are accentuated by his musical finesse – physically screaming new sounds into his guitar strings as Stinking Lizaveta emerge from the murky Underworld as triumphant and bonkers as ever, with all the cheers from the audience to show for it.
Due to stage clashes I only catch a final few minutes of dub duo Necro Deathmort on The Old Empire Stage at the Electric Ballroom. It’s like some kind of electronic doom car-boot sale onstage as AJ Cookson and Matt Rozeik crouch over a table piled high with assorted gizmos and gadgets galore, tweaking them until the abyss smells just right. Dark. Atmospheric. Bleak. Beautiful. Always.
The KOKO is seriously huge. I had forgotten about its labyrinthian ways. Popular psyche upstarts Elder have come a long way from the basement bars of Boston Massachusetts and their modern sound graces any stage beautifully. With a stunning live visual backdrop that apparently now follows them wherever they go, the noodley oodlings of Compendium get the party started with Elder’s now well-revered psychedelic take on a stoner rock base. As Nick DiSalvo’s guitar fails at the end of the first song the crowd noticeably help him out with the last two lines of lyrics in perfect synchronicity. Behold, and indeed, welcome home Elder: we’ve all missed you.
The crowd and anticipation for the youthful three is simply enormous – almost as large a draw as Sleep were last year and as Lore kicks in the venue leaves the ground to take off for a whole new chapter in desert rock history. The most recent album’s title track is expansive enough to send your mind into a trance whilst simultaneously soothing all your worldly worries away. Matt Couto’s supremacy behind the kit continues as his yapping sidekick of a bass player Jack Donovan boogies away next to him all night long. Legend is another treat of seemingly effortless bliss and Dead Roots Stirring has been given a sublime make-over with a new live arrangement that now see its creators sit somewhere in between Pink Floyd and Colour Haze in a multi-coloured quilt of bass-laden warmth. Not too bad for a band who less than an hour ago were adorably stood outside The Black Heart asking punters “Would you mind please coming to see my band, Elder?” as if they weren’t one of the main reasons most of us bought our tickets!
Flutes of doom? It can only be time for Irish occult rock masters Blood Ceremony who treat the Ballroom to an hour or so of chilled out riff rock bliss fronted by Alia O’Brien‘s enchanting and seductive vocal charm. There’s certainly lots of songs about moons, witches and, err, blood within their set but all jokes aside, this is a thoroughly boogie-laden and oddly calming way to spend an hour.
Three sweaty, hairy, bearded Texans are making a lot of riffs happen right now in The Underworld. Those men are Mothership. Their hybrid of desert rock atmospherics and show-boating guitar licks lands then slap bang in the middle of a Led Zeppelin and Fu Manchu sandwich, which is no bad thing at all and a packed out, beered up Underworld laps at the gleaming good times that stream from the palms of their hands. The triumphant Serpent’s Throne is a sonic masterclass in what classic rock n’ roll should sound like day in, day out and closer Win Or Lose opens the throttle and blasts us all down the highway to one of stoner rock’s most worshipped of valleys. Yeehaw indeed!!
Wo Fat are up next to bring their giant doom chops down the stairs to headline The Underworld. A last minute amp switch seems to hamper Kent Stump’s riffs and Tim Wilson’s monstrous bass tone thus dominates the soundboard far too much as those tar thick sludge anthems rattle pints, light fittings and skulls in London’s bleakest venue. Wo Fat are I’m afraid to say a rather underwhelming proposition after the sheer joy and infectiousness of Mothership’s groove and I’m forced to escape early to leave their awful live sound behind. Some of their issues I’m not convinced are entirely down to the band members themselves, though they don’t exactly aid the progressiveness their songs deserve either.
I had my doubts about Godflesh being a good choice as Sunday headliners on The Old Empire stage at the Electric Ballroom, and it initially appears that the Ballroom agrees with the place being virtually deserted as GC Green and Justin K Broadrick turn on the drum machine and turn off all the lights. But I was wrong, what I really wanted was not my Sunday night, end-of-festival spirits to be lifted but for them to be annihilated by one of the most legendary acts in the business of The Riff. Giving a thoroughly grim, completely bleak and a one hundred percent physical hour-long performance, Godflesh own our misery for tonight and forever.
The newer A World Lit Only by Fire material is a strong start but it’s that tried and tested Streetcleaner and Pure back catalogue that sends the Ballroom into a headbanging riot. A mysterious visual backdrop of a decaying world makes the likes of Mothra and Christbait Rising feel even more brutal than they rightly are. Broadrick screws up the drum intro as the duo march back out for a mighty encore of Like Rats, but it matters not as that Stanley knife of a guitar tone rips through us all as we roar “BREED!” together like one big, ugly, yet gloriously mechanical robot along to the frontman’s torturous howls. Birmingham is a long way from this desert, but this is a nihilistic performance of sheer grit that could frankly be the perfect way to end any weekend of pure sonic mayhem.
And so for this year, in the words of Porky Pig: That’s all folks. Friends both new and old have been embraced, Camden Brewery has been kept in business with a year-long advance from our weekend expenditure once again and The Black Heart toilets have been decorated with a fresh layer of Sharpie-d graffiti. My humble appreciation to Reece Tee and Jake Farey for once again assembling the best Desertfest line-up yet and for continuing to foster a festival that’s quickly become for many a community of like-minded souls to rival the greatest festivals in all of Europe. Will the Shaman be back in Camden next year? Ohhhh yes. Do we need sleep now? Ohhhh yezzzzzz……
Scribed by: Pete Green
Photos by: Lee Edwards