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An oasis in European desert • Desertfest Belgium 2015 Live Review

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Summer has ended a long time ago but the addiction is so strong we didn't want the cold days to fade the memories of summer festivals. For a long time Wav had been winking at Desertfest Festivals and their line ups with bands that only in fantasy dreams we hoped to check from our bucket lists. When the opportunity to fly to Antwerp emerged, our bags were packed with the same enthusiasm we pressed refresh on our e-mails, waiting for the expected confirmation.

With expectations as great as the distance to travel, we took off in the search of that mythical desert in the middle of a cold city whose beauty we were not expecting. Wav's travel agency recommends.

Truth be told, a little sightseeing never harmed anyone, and after a few twists and turns to find our hostel, where we could immediately see that we weren't the only metal-heads present, it was time to exchange the first impressions with that small but capital-looking city were the cyclists rule as much as cars (yes, it's not only in Amsterdam) and it was on our way to TRIX, our sacred temple for three days, we caught a glimpse of the wide culture mix deeply rooted within the city. Curiously we would feel the exact same thing at Desertfest.

Much alike Amplifest, in Porto, Desertfest relies on music itself. The ambience of the festival happens on the way to the concerts, on the looks of expectance, on the stages that slowly get packed with people from all ages waiting for another hour of wonderful music. After a good stoner warm up with Greek Planet of Zeus, we immediately understand that the festival started at full steam with the Belgians Psychonaut opening the way into the desert with its heavy and melancholic sound. Psychonaut was one of the biggest surprises and definitely a band to follow.

The way would go into TRIX's main room where Monolord's eclectic doom guaranteed the best concert of the day. Was not a coincidence that Monorlord, opening the main stage, had one of the biggest crowds in the whole festival. Playing their last album in a demolisher and loud way, reminding Ufomammut live power, they proved that beyond one of the best albuns of the year, they are as well one of the best live bands of their genre.


Gallery with Planet of Zeus, Psychonaut and Monolord

It was just the beginning and we would have thought that that level would not continue if it wasn't The Machine playing right after them. Carpet on the floor and barefoot, very much like a garage jam, they took the audience on a journey through space, maybe up to the moon, given that Moon Duo followed them. Seeming a little grim the first time we saw them, at Reverence Valada Festival's first edition, last year in Cartaxo, this Moon Duo showed a cheekier side, almost reminding The Kills.

The night ended with two great bands: Stoned Jesus and Dozer. Despite the enthusiastic crowd, Stoned Jesus played a far less energetic concert than the one they gave a few weeks ago at Reverence Valada. The real explosion happened near the end with “I’am the Mountain” (which had a “Hotel California” intro), when some guy risking a stage dive. The band liked the idea and both guitar and bass players followed that lead. One of the best moments of the day. Main stage closed with a very competent Dozer gig. It was probably the most pop stoner we heard in the whole festival but it was a good reminder time of the last decade. Tommi Holappa himself is the show inside the show and we would still see more of him in the next day.

Compared with festivals in Portugal, Desertfest finishes early, which isn't bad when there are pubs in the city with 300 types of beer. Stella Artois, you will be missed.


Gallery with The Machine, Moon Duo, Stoned Jesus and Dozer

The second day began earlier and colder, with a generous meal of sugar and fat, aka waffles, followed by some walks around town while talking about the festival and what was to be expected that night, you know, that band called Causa Sui. The city is in everything similar to other big cities in Europe. The old town is breathtakingly beautiful, full of cyclists who meander between passers and little stores, each one a little treasure filled with the best the country has to offer. The country offers amazing food, that we can assure. No matter if you're in the center of the city or the outskirts the culture mix is enormous and the deep connection between all creates the richness you feel.

Allready carrying souvenirs and feeling a little too much like tourists we decided to integrate and leave to the TRIX in local style: cycling.

When we arrived Belzebong were already on stage and it only took us a few moments to realize they were given a good dose of distortion to the public. Like in the first day, main stage started at full steam but such intensity would only come back on Greenleaf show. Next we had Banda de la Muerte and what can we say? Coming from Portugal the last thing we wanted to see was heavy music sung in spanish. After that strange moment a few other followed. Sometimes festivals have these setbacks: in a day filled with some of the concerts we waited a lifetime to see, a bit of boredom comes first. Monomyth are one of those bands that have everything to be amazing. Their songs breath an initial almost mystical psychdelism, but then there comes that 80's beat and we are back on the earth. Not saying the 80's were bad, but perhaps later. The same happened with Vandal X, we were there but we were already thinking about Greenleaf. Seriously, if you think those bands between Belzebong and Greenleaf are good, specially Banda de la Muerte, you should start listening to some Portuguese bands, you are missing a lot of great music and live performances.

Greenleaf's frontman has probably the best southern accent ever, until we realize he's from Sweden and has as much feeling as a soul singer, which only makes everything better. Between rock n'roll, stoner and psych, Greenleaf gave one of the best performances of the day, rich and unique without missing Arvid Jonsson's demonstrations of his amazing vocal power. Even a festival like this needs a slow dance.


Gallery with Belzebong, Banda de La Muerte, Monomyth, Vandal X and Greenleaf

From then, the night escalated into an endless swirl of astonishing journeys, beginning with Mars Red Sky. At this time we were facing one of the most complicated clash in the line up, between Mars Red Sky and Bathsheba, but we were really looking forward to see the French ones again. No regrets at all, but it was a pity that Julien Pras’s voice power wasn’t on its best days.

The legendary Orange Goblin followed, proving once more why they are still one of the greatest stoner bands of the present days. The concert began pedal to the metal with songs like “Saruman's Wish” or “Cities of Frost” and only slowed down when they played three songs in a row of their latest album. After “Sabbath Hex”, the show pulled for a demonic final stretch with “They Come Back”, “Quincy the Pigboy” and “Red Tide Rising”. This band's explosive performance lit up the flame on the, until then calm, audience and escalated into a rampant succession of mosh pits, headbands and even some nudity (don't worry, we've got videos).


Gallery with Mars Red Sky and Orange Goblin

And when we thought the height of the night had been reached we realized the moment had come. The audience quickly gathered and the expectation made the time drag. Causa Sui are one of those shy bands that start slowly and then just kidnap you into another galaxy without you even realizing and they don't even need a lot of fuss to do so. Its incomparable psych didn't leave anyone indifferent and we all wanted to be closer to them, so much some didn't resist sitting on the stage. Between classics and a new song we were all present without being there e it was with no doubt the best concert of the festival.

But, every journey has its return and the day came to an end with a very potent Earth, who unfortunately were impaired by how good the previous concert had been.

Tired and still with our minds in space we rode our bikes back to the city center and went to an irish bar (worse beer, worst music).


Gallery with Causa Sui and Earth

The last day started like the second, early and with more waffles. Noteworthy, here you don't put Nutella on top of them like in Portugal (hillbillies) but real chocolate, Belgian, like the one you only buy at Continente’s gourmet section. The kiosk owner found weird that we asked two waffles each, barely he knew we would have eaten double.

As a bit of culture suits well we picked our bikes and rode along the harbor of Antwerp looking for MAS Museum. We found it but first discovered a Red District (not only in Amsterdam as well). It was Sunday morning and the locals strolled calmly along the smiling shop windows, going in and out, like in a joyful mall. We wanted to take a selfie with the girls but had no loose change. Some other delicacies later, it was time for our last trip to TRIX. There weren't enough sausages and fries keeping us from watching Bongzilla!

Before that, Glowsun presented us with is complex and fluid psych. The tiredness and ailments related to the cold weather had already started to show but was Valient Thorr's kick ass show that put that crowd moving again. Frontman Valient Himself reminds us GTA V’s character Ron, Trevor's paranoid conspiracy-loving neighbor, or that character from “2012” movie who lived on a RV, once that between each song he spoke about politics and governmental conspiracy theories. And with much reason! A heavy metal band with punk spirit. One of the funniest concerts of the festival, without any doubt.

Moving to the Canyon stage, we were able to watch a Papir’s wonderful gig. It seemed like lemon ice cream, cutting flavor between dishes, and was the best way to rest off the sound hurricane that was devasting main stage all day. They aren't Causa Sui, despite being in the same record label, but its jazzy psych works so well live like works in album.


Gallery with Glowsun, Valient Thorr and Papir

It was now time for one of the big ones, the Italians Ufomammut, with their potent sound. If in this year’s Reverence Valada edition their concert was a fair match to Sleep's gig, this concert was even better and demolisher. Truth be told, the size of the main room at TRIX wasn't enough to smother the intensity of the trio. They played Ecate in a row almost entirely and had some time left to came back on stage and play some oldies like “Hellcore” or “God”. If anyone was still cold Sienna Root took care of that since the Swedish decided to catch fire to every instrument (literally). We are not sure how controlled that fire was but no one seemed to care.


Gallery with Ufomammut, 3rd Ear Experience and Siena Root

Another long waited moment had arrived. With a filled main room, the scent of the joint shared by the members of Bongzilla floated in the air. No better way to encourage crowd. We were much looking forward for this concert but it happened to be a bit disappointing, maybe because of our high expectations, maybe because they missed some songs we are expecting to hear. Nevertheless, the Americans delivered a true sensorial experiment thanks to the intense vocals and their experimental sludge doom.

After a absolutely forgettable gig from Fatso Jetson, Desertfest started to say goodbye with another proof that once a great band always a great band. The calm and expectant look of Goatsnake's vocalist, the true super group of the festival, defied the audience just as much as his music does. There's no gender that defines Goatsnake and no adjectives to describe the concert. With a setlist very well divided with their three albums, they start in full power with big hit “Slippin the Stealth” and proved that the new songs work very well live. We really hope to see this guys in Portugal soon.

Our trip to Antwerp was quickly approaching its end and with a plane to catch at sunrise we decided to play tough and stay until the end. After party kept the good music quality, but we are not used to afters at two o'clock. A few hours later we set foot on Porto already with a deep post-fest depression and the desire to go back. To next year!


Gallery with Bongzilla, Fatso Jetson and Goatsnake

Text and photos by Bruno Pereira and Mariana Vasconcelos
Aftermovie by Mariana Vasconcelos
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Por Bruno Pereira / 18 Outubro, 2015

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