Following our international debut on Desertfest Belgium, we decided to travel again and, this time, to take a look at the father of Desertfest Festivals that takes place in Camden Town, London. Desertfest London were about to celebrate its 5th anniversary with, probably, the most ambitious and challenging lineup.
After a long walk between Abbey Road and Camden, with a stop at the top of Primrose Hill for a look of London’s skyline, we arrived at the festival just in time to the kickoff. And if in Antwerp we had a surprising beginning with Psychonaut and Monolord, the same happened in London. In The Underworld, Gurt gave us the first riffs of the festival with a very powerfull sludge in a surprising packed room. It was with great astonishment and joyfully that we saw the venue almost full of crowd in the first gig and so early in the afternoon (14h00), sadly something unthinkable in Portugal.
The Grudge were called to replace Planet of Zeus, who had to cancel their appearance at London, and with their classic (ok, generic) stoner, this band gave a concert that only felt like a Desertfest opening theme. If someone had landed by mistake in The Underworld, soon would realize what was happening and where was: at the Desert-fucking-fest.
But was on The Black Heart that surprises would come to happen. The Black Heart’s stage in the first day was curated by The Quietus, with some proposals a bit outside of the habitual Desertfest’s box, but we couldn’t never imagine what we would have ahead. Behind a peculiar mirrored masks, Bonnacons of Doom took the stage and soon started to catch us with a incredible sound that I will try to define as something like tribal psych noise. On vocals, a women, not masked but only with a hood, gave even more theatrical dimension in a concert increasingly hypnotic from the beginning to end. The long and repetitive last song would definitely left us open-mouthed. Right after that moment we thought this gig could be the biggest surprise of all weekend and, at the end, probably was. Bonnacons of Doom only have like three songs out and we are really looking forward to hear the future debut album. If it translate what was this concert, it will be a blast.
We were on Desertfest and what most appropriate band to open main stage that a band named Egypt, same name as the country with one of the most iconic desert in the world. Still trying to deal with what just had happened at The Black Heart, we quickly headed to Electric Ballroom to see one of the most looking forward bands of the day to us. But the wait had to last a little longer. The trio took the stage, checking their gear and starting a shy jam when it was anounced that the start had to be delayed 15 minutes due to the long queue of people trying to acess the venue. Luckaly for Egypt, Desertfest crew was sensible and when the gig finally started, they had an almost fully crowded venue. Again, first concert at main stage, work day, and already a fully crowd. This is something that Portuguese people should definitly learn.
And if someone was expecting Egypt in a Endless Flight buldozer mode, quickly understood that instead of muscle power we would have fuzz. Become the Sun (2012) opened and closed the concert, with “Matterhorn” and “Elk River Fire” respectively, and in the middle some old classics from the debut album like “Valley of the Kings” or “Dirty Witch”. From Endless Flight, the stunning recent album, they only played the title track “Endless Flight” and “Tres Madres”. One hour passed in a blink of an eye and there wasn’t time for more. Apart from that, fully met expectations, rare when those expectations are so high.
We came back to The Underworld where a odd combination of stoner and reggae was taking place powered by Lionize. Our mood was not aligned with such tropicality and we headed to The Black Heart when we encounter another proposal from the Quietus courtesy. With probably the most Portuguese crowd frontline of the weekend, The Poisoned Glass – who are two former Burning Witch members – made us return to the black side with a very slow drone, played only by a guitar, some synths and a harrowing voice. Still a little time to find a Portuguese coffe-place in Camden, very close to The Black Heart, where we were able to take a look at the important football match that Benfica was playing in Lisbon.
After that football break, we returned to Electric Ballrom looking forward to see two Sludge monsters, Down’s members (or ex-members) with their old bands.
First was Kirk Windstein with Crowbar, the Sludge lords from New Orleans. They started with “Conquering” and really didn’t take long for them to completely conquer that crowd, which from the beginning to end was always sketching some kind of a moshpit in the faster parts and always balancing the heads in the slower ones. Broken Glass was celebrating 20 years but the concert didn’t summed up on that record, poking the point on almost every album of their carreer. For me personally, it felt like one of those concerts that in begining are a big slap on the face but after some songs starts to feel all the same.
The time had come. Corrosion of Conformity had headed first Desertfest edition, back in 2012, and five years later they were back, now with their returned star Pepper Keenan. Ambience music stops, lights are all off and some crowd start calling: “CoC! CoC!, CoC!”. Through the darkness, C.o.C members starts entering the stage one by one, and immediately start jamming the first riffs from “Bottom Feeder”. Bassist Mike Dean and drummer Reed Mullin first, followed by Woody Weatherman who took a well worn and tattered guitar, and then Pepper Keenan for the general praise.
Early in the concert we had “Broken Man” and later “Albatross”, played right after Pepper Keenan announced that the band are “trying to get their shit together” and will start working on a new album. A band trying to clean their wounds, evidently. “Clean My Wounds” would eventually arrive already on encore, ending a concert that without surpresies tended mostly to Deliverance (1994) and Wiseblood (1996). Those were the first records with Keenan on the band and are the most acclaimed albuns of their carreer.
The concert always follow very fluid and sometimes also looking like they were with auto-pilot. But at the end, Corrosion of Conformity gave us all we could expect from them: a filthy but groovy sludge. The machine was so well oiled that not by even a guess we could imagine that Pepper Keenan was absent from the band all this years.