Photos & text by Abi Coulson
Desertfest is a bit of a staple in any self-respecting UK doomer diary, yet this was my first experience of the 7 year old festival which has grown from strength to strength over the years to boast bigger and better line ups. Spread across 4-5 venues over three days there was a lot of delicious sludgy goodness to sample. I was like a kid in a candy shop and with a line up including, HIGH ON FIRE, EYEHATEGOD, NAPALM DEATH, MONOLORD, ELDER and PRIMITIVE MAN, the last performance in the UK of WARNING, plus not one but TWO sets from WEEDEATER – to name just a few. It was indeed set to be a very sweet treat for the ears.
The whole weekend was a boozy, smoky, loud and heavy tinnitus-inducing (for those unfortunate enough to forget earplugs) affair. In other words, 3 days of a doom-centric (mostly) paradise set in London’s famous Camden Town, which having sadly become a lot more commercialised in the last few years became a beautiful sea of stoner freaks and battle-jacket porn.
Day 1 starts in the Electric Ballroom’s ‘Old Empire Stage’ WINTERFYLLETH (s) (UK) offering of atmospheric black metal. They play to a restless crowd a slightly lacklustre set, perhaps due to the low turnout. A quick race across to the Underworld to see BLACK MOTH (UK) is much more worthwhile and definitely get’s the doom juices flowing. Fronted by the feisty PVC pants wearing Harriet Bevan who delivers powerful and passionate vocals over a backbone of heavy stoner riffs, she is joined on stage by whiskey (or wine?) tinged honey voiced Jake Harding of GRAVE LINES to perform the track Tourmaline from new album ‘Anatomical Venus’. There is plenty of movement from the enthusiastic band members and audience a-like to make for an electric rock ’n’ roll vibe.
A great new discovery and a band deserving of some attention come in the form of instrumental London locals outfit FIVE THE HIEROPHANT who begin their set with a cacophony of noises emitted from a range of instruments (a quick google confirms those used were djembe, Tibetan horn, violin, saxophone) which progresses into an atmospheric jazzy experimental doom along with some great trippy visuals that has the audience and myself entranced.
FIVE THE HIEROPHANT
NOLA’s Godfathers of sludge EYEHATEGOD known to perhaps not always deliver the best performance does not disappoint. Despite having a fairly early time slot of 7.30 the crowd are suitably inebriated enough to be propelled into a bellowing, horn throwing frenzy of beers and body parts thanks to the HUGE wall of amps spewing out punishing feedback and angry, cathartic snarls from the one and only MIKE WILLIAMS, occasionally broken with bluesy guitar licks from riff and sludge master JIMMY BOWER. After some health issues it seems Williams is back on top form and smashing it!
The night is still young and next up over in the Underworld are Californians JEX THOTH (USA) who play to a darkened Underworld an eerie doom-centric concoction with a heavy helping of folk tinged psychedelia. A perfect foundation for the husky vocals of swaying, writhing, incense burning, sultry enchantress Jessica Brown. It is safe to say the audience are spellbound. Think darker, eviler Stevie Nicks.
The spell has to be broken in order to endure the beautiful melancholic doom from the famed Patrick Walker’s WARNING (UK). they play the whole 2006 album ‘Watching From a Distance’ back on ‘The Old Empire’ stage which is a stunning, spine-chilling, emotional and intimate set (played to a smaller, quieter crowd) that puts tears in many a hairy, bearded punters eye, as they pummel the air and bellow out the relatable heartfelt lyrics of dealing with heartbreak and loss. WALKERS heartfelt wailing vocals are especially piercing over the sombre funeralesque slowed down but perfectly timed guitars and carefully measured but still impactful drums.This is a quiet time for reflection a gentle precursor, the calm before the storm; the storm being another churning pit of flesh and booze created by grind pioneers and veterans from Birmingham UK, the world fastest band, the one and only NAPALM DEATH.
The venue is packed and buzzing with a heavy sense of anticipation waiting for the eruption that will shortly follow, waiting for a small dose of fast and hectic in a sea of slow and heavy….. Opening with ‘Multinational Corporations’ a frantic BARNEY GREENWAY explodes on to the stage and continues to fling himself around it for the duration of the set, radiating an infectious energy perfect for commanding the swirling mass of crowd surfing, beer flinging, head banging, wild screaming, limb flailing grinning maniacs. The relentless 24 song set includes the famed record breaking 3 second ‘You Suffer’ and an array of short and long songs including ‘Scum,’ ‘Life?’, ‘Control’ and ‘Suffer the Children.’ The riffs come unapologetically thick and fast from guitarist MITCH HARRIS and SHANE EMBURY’s bass mastery is menacing. Backed up with thunderous drumming from powerhouse DANNY HERRERA. In this somewhat questionable political climate he makes his leftwing anti conformity, anti-oppression and heartwarming moralistic views of equality poignantly clear as ever to a (probably mostly) pissed off, government hating crowd with the tracks ‘Standardisation’ and the chuggy angry ‘Dear Slum Landlord’. Barney is as endearingly angry, relentless and passionate as ever which is why we love him so. A perfect climax to a great day of music minus of course the afterparty with ASG…
Well known in the stoner rock skate scene ASG (The Amplification of Self Gratification) who began in from WEEDEATER’s North Carolina are a band I have been waiting for with great anticipation. Bringing a blend of upbeat stoner punk rock and psychedelia; depressing but intelligent and poignant lyrics with smatterings of a sludgy vibe, they fit well into the theme of the festival and it’s obvious they are absolutely stoked to be here. NAPALM DEATH are probably a hard act to follow but ASG burst onto stage to liven up a tired crowd playing a surprisingly heavy set with bang on, clear as day, soaring vocals from frontman and guitarist JASON SHI layered over thunderous yet melodic, aggressive yet cheery stoner rock riffs.
The sound is absolutely perfect and despite a slight thinning out of the herd after Napalm Death have the remaining crowd and myself grinning from ringing ear to ringing ear.