So, Desertfest Antwerp happened about two weeks ago, and I'm still resonating with that energy. After a week of jumping up and down so excited with the idea of going to an internacional festival, my ﬁrst ever nonetheless, I was ﬁnally (after of not so good night of sleep) in a plane ﬂying to the that Mecca of the Stoner Rock scene, Anterwp. After two amazing editions, the Desertfest Belgium promoters outdone themselves and gave us yet another edition drenched with some of the most spectacularly range of underground psychedelic and heavy acts over the course of three days.
Located in the Antwerp outskirts, the Trix hosted once again the event. And let’s talk about it. Because of my personal background, an architecture’s masters, I can vouch for the place. It has some aesthetical appeal to it, you could move between stages with some ease (more on that later), an open air food court, and had a sweet balcony for hanging out and smoking some cigarettes. I personally met some amazing people on that balcony, it kinda was the “open” backstage for Canyon stage, so if you were feeling brave you could just go and talk to some musician.
But let’s talk about day one. I think I glided my way to Trix honestly, after a quick round in the merch counters I guided myself to the front row of Black Wizard in the Vulture Stage, and let me say that Desertfest doesn't start slow, when it’s on, it’s on. They were four hairy guys, one especially happy drummer from Vancouver, United States, and they delivered some classic metal riffs infused with some stoner effects with great power and rhythm. Shout-out to the lead guitar and power on the drums! I was fortunate to catch these guys afterwards and we chat for a bit, a fully packed european tour with Joy since September, I am sure we will ear things about these boys in the near future. Maybe they’ll include Portugal in the next tour, who knows. All the best guys.
Proceeding from this ecstatic, there was Alkerdeel upstairs in Canyon stage, a belgium black metal band, with some sludge inﬂuences. I, personally, am not a big fan of black metal (screaming it’s not my thing, sorry) so I relinquish that time to snag a front row ‘seat’ in the main stage, the Desert Stage.
Torche came up by 19h30, opening the main stage. By that time I was jammed onto the railings, being a fan girl. Fist thing I noticed was that snarly red guitar from Andrew, well, what he was able to do with just one pick up was a fun, fun thing to see. The whole show was a crescendo, on the ﬁrst couple of songs I was ‘yeah they could be mainstream somehow’ but they ended with a bang proven their spot in my alternative heart. The drumming by Rick didn’t let me down, that man can hold a 4x4 rhythm. The visuals were in line with the songs being played, reminiscing their albuns, especially Harmonicraft and Restarter.
One thing about Desertfest that you may or may not like, is that you got three concerts on all stages almost simultaneously, so that means you are going to have to make some choices. So, with Torche ending, I quickly moved onto the SubRosa gig at Vulture stage, also know as the Sweat Lodge by the time I arrived. I got there just in time to listen to "The Usher", and experience ‘doom right in the feels’. It could have been one of the greatest moments in the entire festival, if there weren't too much people chit-chatting in the back between those sweet silent parts of the song. Seriously, if you are not into some concert, just go caching up with your friends elsewhere.
With that ending and not enough time to see Your Highness, I proceeded to Desert stage again to be the front row girl that I am at YOB. And about YOB, you got be there to fully understand the magnitude of that overwhelming concert (I know, I know it’s a cliché, but an accurate one nonetheless). I was with my hopes really high, and normally when that happens it’s a bust, but not this one. Everything was so on point, I could write and write and you still wouldn’t grasp the reality of that transcendental experience. And that’s the key word for it: transcendental. That wooden guitar of Mike Scheidt produced one of the greater sounds of the whole festival in my opinion. The visuals were so, so, so on point with the music that almost brought tears to my eyes during the crescendo/sunrise part.
It was ‘right in the feels’ without being a cliché honestly. I think that everybody ascended into that path. Honest to God, I almost couldn’t walked after, much less moving the neck after so much headbang. It was a transcendental orgasm of a concert, truly. They focused mostly on their 2009 album, The Great Cessation, but I think it was with "Marrow" from their last record (Clearing The Path To Ascend, 2014), almost like an introspective calm eye of that riffs hurricane, that I definitely noticed that I was already in another galaxy.
So, naturally, I could use a breather by then, and went to the open air area. In what other than this festival could I hung out with Torche? It is a nice story really, yours truly got to spend over an hour talking to the guys about music, politics and politics (well with a few beers I get a little into politics) and the guys, being political as well, didn’t mind.
So I have to admit that with that, I lost a few minutes of Red Fang, but hey, when I got there I went straight to the mosh pit (I think it was the only one of the whole festival so forgive me). Through out the concert you could feel the energy of the people. It was a constant and good show, with the guys presenting us with their new album Only Ghosts, which came oficially out in the same day. The new songs result very well live, as we would expect from this guys, and match very well between the (already) classic ones.
For the end of the show it was reserved a huge surprise: Mike Scheidt from Yob joined the stage to sing along "Dawn Rising" with Aaron Beam. Aaron explained that those verses Mike was about to sing were written by himself minutes before in the backstage, after he felt inspired seeing Yob concert earlier in the evening. An amazing unique moment.
Leaving Red Fang and the Desert Stage behind, we went to the ﬁnal show of the night in Canyon stage. By the time I got there it was impossible to get to the front row, so many people packed like sardines, so I stayed “backish” (if you know me you know how much I hate this). By ex-Acid King drummer and ex-Cavity guitarist, Black Cobra form an upbeat sludge metal duo. And it was more than adequate for ending the night with a bang, a drumming bang for that matter.
I can’t say no wrong about the line-up throughout the whole day, the curatorship was amazing, and it reveal a lot of sense and sensibility (even though I wasn't able see every single item on the ‘menu’). No after-party for this girl, as she got up at six in the morning, no more energy left by the end of the night.
Getting up in Antwerp, not knowing if the previous night was a dream or not for a few seconds, this girl got up and went for a quick expedition around downtown. Why not explore the city while you are there? It would be a waste not to do it. Shout out to Frituur no.1, and the Smallest Wafﬂe Shop, where we got to be fatties, enjoying the local ‘fried’ cuisine. Lucky for me, the great photographer who went along with me on this trip is not a newbie in Desertfest Belgium and in the city, so he knew well where to take me.
With my neck still hurting from the aggressive headbanging I did at YOB concert (yes, I will shut up eventually about it) grabbed the daily dose of caffeine and proceed to march up to Trix for another mind expanding day ﬁlled with transcendent gems from beginning to the end.
Another round in the merch, and three CD’s later, I was at Giobia front row in the Sweat Lodge aka Vulture Stage. I didn’t done my homework researching these guys, and I’m glad I didn’t as they were quite the nice psychedelic surprise. Heavy on delay and with a trippy synth, I was transported into another reality. They got me dancing with my arms, and that’s a good thing in my book.
To catch the begining of 1000mods concert I had to leave mid concert, that’s all part of the Desertfest time-schedule hassle. With a few minutes to spare I proceeded to the balcony to get my nicotine reﬁll on, and ended up metting a few friends from Southern America, me being the social butterﬂy that I am. That is really one of the most amazing things about Desertfest, the misture of all these wonderful people from all around the world gathered together by the same musical taste and even interests in life. Don’t be afraid to come alone to this kind of festivals, you will make friends, see amazing bands and, who knows, you could ﬁnd the love of your life in one of this things.
But let’s leave the life tips behind us and talk about the 1000mods concert. Because I wanted to see Elder in the ﬁrst row (fangirl alert) I knew I had to leave halfway, so I positioned myself in higher grounds on the right side of the room for a quick exit, that provided this amazing view of the sea of amazing unanimously coordinated head banging that I ever seen. I’m always on the front so I never get to see this type of things. By this time, Canyon Stage was hot like the desert and packed like crazy.
It was 17h30 and I ran to the main stage, Elder was about to go on and I was at front and center by the railings. Let me explain one thing: before I left Portugal, the only thing that I said that I was going to buy was their CD Lore, and my hopes were high. And they were shattered, and why? you ask. Well, they stopped between every single song to tune up, and being a musician myself I can understand the need but it kinda broke the concert, giving us a choppy experience, of what I know it’s not a veteran band and not a garage band starting out. Maybe I’m being snob but I differentiate a band when they are able to perform even when they lose an instrument (Shout out to Monolord and Stoned Jesus) and when Elder’s bass was without a string I expected more, I certainly was not expecting them to leave us out to dry like they did.
Still, I bought the CD and a t-shirt like the good fangirl that I am. Ending with "Compendium" from Lore, they almost redeem themselves. Also an important note not to forget about this gig, they performed a new song, announcing that they were going back to the London studio in December for an upcoming new album. Let’s wait and see more from this guys. Sorry about being harsh. I still love you guys, don’t worry.
After that, I ran up the stairs to see some psychologic dense doom provided by Cough.Their sound ﬁlls the room as it begins, and it transports me to the depths of my soul. And yet again I had to leave mid concert if I wanted to catch Colour Haze from beginning. I had some trouble getting out from Canyon, truth be told, but somehow managed to be on time for Colour Haze. It was 19h15 and a full house awaits them. I stayed in the middle with some friends from back home and I could see the advantages of staying a little behind, I could see the crowd and the whole band playing without being jammed against the railings so it was a nice change of pace. The visuals were not so great compared with other acts but it didn’t mind because it was a concert to close your eyes and do a voyage into your soul: "She Said" was a cathartic live experience. It was a solid concert and in the end I got right to their merch.
Running up the stairs again, it was time for the fastest power in the house: The Atomic Bitchwax. Starting things of with "War Claw" they proved they are the distortion kings. Fast heavy stoner riffs, a clean guitar with just enough dirtyness, packed Canyon and even in the balcony were people giving it all. And of course, the best part: their personal shout-out to the portuguese crowd. Lets say that this year there were a lot o portuguese people in the festival. People from Porto, Lisbon, Leiria, Aveiro and even Faro, what is incredible being this an underground festival around 2000 km from Portugal.
Then it was time for Weedeater, and I know I have been mentioning the full packed venue previously but this had got to end the largest crowd in the Desert stage in the entire time I was there. It was fucking hell, these guys are maniac, they brought the entire backline to the front and even the drums were almost coming off the stage. Savages I say, in a good way obviously. They did a show within a show being the herbie metal show that it was, if you know what I mean. It was my first time seeing this band live and let me tell you, Travis Owen is one of the most impressive drummers I've seen in my whole life. Dixie was on the point and in his unique style, drinking Jack Daniels like people drink water.
Sadly they ended the show with about 15min left on their slot and didn't came back to the stage anymore to play, even with the huge choir from the crowd asking them to comeback. In the other hand, that gave me time to catch Salem’s Pot in the Vulture Stage. Come for the gimmick stay for the riff, if you never seen them live, you’re missing out. The venetian masks and the (better than mine) dresses hide the superﬂuous individual identities, and allows you to concentrate on whats really important, their sound. And what a powerful doomy riffs with trippy effects they give us.
With that gig ending it’s time for recharging energies, with a yummy burger from the food court, to be on time for Pentagram, second time in my life span. Bobby is the greatest frontman ever, I have said it then and I’m putting it in writing now. Man, can he put on a show, it’s truly a show within a show. If on the ﬁrst time that I seen them live he stole the secrets buried deep in my soul with his piercing eyes, this time he cleansed me of my hardships. They are grandfathers of doom, they are giants and I get why some many metal fans have sown Pentagram’s name onto their jackets. It was kind a best of show, with them revisiting their entire carreer. And, ofcourse, their first selftitled album was the most celebrated. If we could not have Black Sabbath, we have Bobby and friends, and we never get disappointed.
To end a truly spectacular day the gem known as Monkey3. Not only presenting us their new album, Astrasymmetry, dispite their short time slot and long tracks (and honestly, thank God they didn't), it was the cosmic relief after a long long day. Bonus tip for the ladies: leave your fancy boots at home and just bring sneakers.
And suddenly we're on the last day and the good Lord of Rock did not give us rest. Starting with Dorre, a Belgian band that I didn’t look up back home. It started with a bang, a doom bang nonetheless. Being a niche festival has it’s advantages, even if you don’t research everything before hand, you going to ﬁnd something new to like. You really can’t say anything really bad about the curatorship of Desertfest. So don’t be afraid to look dumb if you haven’t done your homework, allow yourself to be surprised.
Opening the main stage was Moaning Cities. From Brussels, they bough neo psych to Desertfest, with their up beat tempo, grooviness and indian vibes. It isn’t my thing if you get to know me well, too much heaviness on effects for my taste, like they were trying to hide something. Moving on to Canyon, there was the powerful Earth Ship waiting me for a quick viewing. As me being fan of Sleeping Karma, I wouldn’t want to miss any part of it.
With 10 minutes to spare the front row was already packed with some hardcore My Sleeping Karma fans at the main stage. It’s only 17h40 and the guys come on stage with a packed venue awaiting them. They hugged each other and began the trip around the cosmos. Being the second time that I have been fortunate to seen them, I can’t help myself to compare the shows. On this one they paused between songs (not like Elder) but for validation, yes that’s all part of the being recognised as a band but it chopped my personal voyage as one might suspect.
Being part of the accredited press, we got invited to a ‘meet and greet’ with the producers and promoters of the Desertfest family and Trix. We spent some time hanging out with amazing people that put all of this together. Oportunity also to meet fellow press people and musicians in a calm environment. Nevertheless, it was a couple of good fun hours, that I personally wouldn’t change. A personal shout-out to Dimitri, thank you for everything man, you were gold with us!
With the socialite part of the evening done, let us move to the Desert Stage yet again. Uncle Acid, for the second time this year, and God, they were awesome, even better this time, one might say. "13 candles" exploded and the crowd went completely nuts with it. Maybe because it was the last day, who knows, but it was crowded as hell, and the temperature was rising. Or maybe that could be explained simply by the fact of them being an incredible and loudy band live. Being by that time 22h in the evening, my energy levels were descending, so I went and grabbed another amazing burger from the food court and rest a little bit while chatting with my newfound press buddies.
Then it was time for the last show of the main stage, the psychedelia treat that Goat are and their new album Requiem. There’s something so refreshing about seeing metalheads, long hairy guys giving it all, dancing with their hips to the world music sound of Goat. Who would have imagined that? It was the concert to bust out your very best latino salsa moves for sure, and you wouldn’t feel weird at all. It was a marvellous visual performance on stage and off stage. It was the cleansing palate we all need by that time. Kudos Desertfest! Goat are not the same band who appeared with World Music in 2012, not so heavy and blasty on stage, but much more chilling and trippy. Some think it is good, maybe others don't.
Coming from London (what a better way to point you the next desert turn in April), the heavy-psych trio Vodun had the job to be the closing act of this year’s Antwerp Desertfest. To top off this spectacular cosmic night we stayed for the after party (what a better way to wait for our bus to the airport), and with an alligator nonetheless. The after party started right after Vodun end with Sleep "Dragonaut". Was it a premonition about the next year? We wish! Lets dream about that.
It was a purifying experience, we saw only great bands for three whole days, met formidable people and I didn’t felt alone for one second, being in the middle of foreign festival. To sum things up (while eating the last Leonidas chocolate left) it’s like all the weird kids from high school got together to rock out.
I am already day-dreaming about the London edition next April. Will you join me?