What a great and captivating line-up that culminates in absolute expectations for this years’ Desertfest London that came back from the 3rd of May until de 5th. Once again held at iconic venues in a more iconic location, the gigs take place in Camden Town for eight years now, being the birthplace of a now international festival with its own versions In Berlin, Antwerp and New York.
All enthusiasts of the doom, stoner, sludge and psych scene gathered next to The Black Heart ready to celebrate what unites them in the afternoon of the 3rd of May. The booze were already flowing, making its way to prepare a crowd of trucker hats, pinned vests and band merch shirts that a packed and sweaty couple of days are about to start. Between all the 51 bands playing this year, the choices between gigs were though, but they had to be done. Here are our picks.
Blackwater Holylight took the already full Underworld stage by storm, representing a full-on doom girl power that surprised everyone right at the start of the first day. With a great vintage psych mixed with sludge, the power of the all-female band was noticed all the way to the end of the stage, kicking off with great fuzzy vibes. With an angelic yet steady voice, Willow, from their self-titled debut album, was one song that stood out rocking a kaleidoscopic riff that resonated into the entire space. The domination of women this year continued next door, at the also packed The Black Heart with High Priestess. Bringing a heavier sound, the voice and drums performed a monstrous and earth-shacking experience, making these newcomers deliver a solid concert, with a spectacular drum solo from Megan Mullins. Heading to Electric Ballroom for the first time, some were reluctant about the next gig.
High Priestess and Blackwater Holylight
The Great Machine, 1968, Zig Zags and One For Sorrow
Performing for the first time at the festival, HHY and the Macumbas were the more out of the box band to step the stage and a challenge to its crowd. The suspenseful show attacks everyone willing to be brave to see a truly exorcism of the mind and soul with the Portuguese band. The ongoing loop showed desert goers a jazzy drone industrial performance and tribal drums, theatrical in most parts thanks to its lead Jonathan Saldanha, but in all ways different and unforgettable.
Not really prepared for the storm that filled the Underworld with one of its most thrilling and jaw dropping performances, Portland’s R.I.P. gave us a concert for the ages. The melodic vocals and sharp heavy solos in this doom-sabbathy purple reminiscent band are spot on with its lead being a tremendous force on stage. His presence could make the dead come back to life and gave everyone an extra dose of energy, being the party mood starter.
Still having a place in this festival, post-rock and ambient music had its spotlight with Blanket at The Black Heart. They gave its crowd a peaceful getaway from all the heavy head bumping and a door to a transcending spiritual realm. While being a cinematic/soundtrack style group, there are splendid visuals on the screen behind the band from Blackpool, UK, that fuse with their melodic gripping guitars that suddenly can turn heavy at their whim and still speak close to their viewers’ inner thoughts.
HHY & The Macumbas, R.I.P and Blanket
The Electric Ballroom was the last stop of the night, being the household for the state of return of the headliners OM. The biggest moment of the day finally came, exploding in an almost simultaneous head nodding and closed eyed packed crowd. The looping aspect of OM’s unique and recognizable sound made most of the people already happy just for the beginning of Al Cisneros’ bass chords echoing in a heavy mist of smoke that gave the stage a dreamy heavenly look. Their mantra style united all the people present at this celestial gathering while some tried to create a slow-motion moshpit recreating a slower of time itself. A memorable moment that transcended everything that was expected.
Finally, the last ones to place foot at the Electric Ballroom this day were The Shrine. The late stayers were given an adrenaline flooded show from the trio of Los Angeles. The chemistry between guitarist Josh Landau and bass player Corey Parks is felt on the late-night stayers that are ready to party the night away with this rock’n’roll filled group.
OM and The Shrine
After a superb first day of festivities, Saturday revealed some great surprises. Despite being the day that brought Amenra, Stoned Jesus and Kadavar to the delight of many, our picks were based on what could surprise us the most while being names that we don’t get a lot to see.
Arabrot made its name recognizable from dragging attention in this year’s Roadburn Festival, and what people found was somewhat unpredictable. From the outfits that gave a theatrical side to the gig to the post-punk and noise-rock sound, the Norwegians proved to be energetic and spirited performers.
On the only concert we saw at The Devonshire Arms this year, the legendary bar gave us pints and some post-rock mixed with noise rock and shoegaze. Heads. delivered amazing hooks and the desert inspired setting mood inspired by the vocals of guitarist and vocalist Ed Frasier.
The crowd was ecstatic for We Hunt Buffalo’s first time in the festival. Their concert at The Black Heart was bursting with psycadelia, fuzz and a vibrant joy that were emanating from both the band and the lucky ones around. They delivered one of the best concerts of the entire festival that passed in the blink of an eye, making the crowd demand an encore that surprisingly came to life. Everyone could feel this true representation of what this festival means during this gig: happy groovy times that will make you move with its every chord and riff.
Årabrot, DVNE and Elephant Tree
Heads, We Hunt Buffalo, The Skull and Black Tusk
On Sunday, The Roundhouse was the big star for the final day of madness. There was no time to recover and the lineup for the third day offered the most looked for acts. It was inevitably the day that gathered more fans for a full rollercoaster of stoner and doom.
With a properly big and magnificent venue, the afternoon began with Colour Haze bringing back our hopes for a great psych trippy concert after the cancelations of Monkey3 and Naxatras. Celebrating their 25th anniversary, the band from Germany showed how they are in total control of what makes them great: the power of their heaviness in their rhythms and fluidity. The begging of this trip started with them and what a way to start.
Earthless’ concert showed a more powerful side of this band: the voice of its’ frontman Isaiah Mitchell. If their sound was already out of this world worthy, his voice makes them sound even more unique and rock blues at the same time. It’s rough, deep and acid based tunes that the crowd welcomes with ease. Though their solos echoes with special stonery feels, it’s the voice that steals the show adding extra soul into the spectacle.
Colour Haze and Earthless
The time travel into the 70s style is possible as soon as Witch begin their first song. Playing songs from their last album “Paralyzed” recorded 11 years ago, their stoner rock is timeless. J Mascis lighted up the stage with his mad skills on drums, even though his a solid guitar player on his other projects.
With a mesmerizing voice, Messa’s Sara Montenegro sings a lyrical and ambient doom that impacts their viewers. As soon as “Leah” from their Feast for Water echoes through The Black Heart, all eyes are on the stage, all are quiet and ready to absorb this chilling performance. Live, it’s easy to contemplate the complexity of their sound, that goes from prog to jazz to drone to black metal in a glorious way. With hypnotizing reverbs and a melodic chanting, Messa is definitely a name to always pay attention to.
Messa, Witch and All Them Witches
With no surprises, All Them Witches bewitched the one present with the usual impactful show. Energy was off the roof, specially when the solos managed to gain a life of its own and perpetuate into the enormous and full Roundhouse. Their set was a true gift for the lovers of psychedelic and blues rock music and the magnificent spoken word style of Charles Michael Parks Jr went hand in hand with the acoustic of the Roundhouse. It was purlaid-back fuzz with slower tempo moments where soulful feelings filled the air.
The kings of Desertfest. Fu Manchu was expected by many and loved by all. “Pigeon Toe” and “Hell On Wheels” made the debuts for the homecoming welcome of the Californian group, that truly feels like the gods of all stoner rock concerts. The day was theirs and the audience lost their minds in a massive rebellious take on all the hits, all their way into closing “Godzilla”.
Devil and the almighty blues were probably the biggest surprise of the day. With the minds already set for Mondo Generator, this earth shaker explosion hit everyone out of the blue. If their slowed down and heavy sound if pleasant to hear, it’s an ecstatic and adrenaline driven sensation to experience them live! We can feel the 60s, Hendrix and ZZ Top all in one show and certainly the blues and stoner infused riffs are louder than ever.
Everyone seemed to have one last challenge in mind: get into the Underworld in time to catch Mondo Generator, which was totally sardine-packed for the last goodbye. Playing “Molten Universe” (from Kyuss), the crowd went wild, grabbing every second left remaining from the festival. Ofcourse, no one would leave before the legendary “Green Machine” was played, exploding completely with the Underworld. What a great way to leave already thinking about next year, with a full representation of what these three days have been: sweaty concerts with healthy doses of rage and power.
The Devil and the Almighty Blues + Mondo Generator
To be a place where we will always want to go back to is the magic of Desertfest, that began its ride in 2012 and keeps being a realm for masters of their craft and newcomers that still embrace its notorious style and vibe. No matter when or how, this is a festival that pulls us back while it creates amazing memories to live by. Long live Desertfest!