The UKs very own version of Roadburn took over London over the bank holiday weekend of 4th May – 6th May. The annual 3-day DesertFest London festival hosted over 70 bands including some of the biggest names in the stoner rock scene, at the most iconic venues in Londons Camden town – from the Roundhouse to Koko, The Underworld, The Black Heart and The Dev(onshire Arms). Camden was a hive for worshipers of the scene to congregate for the 7th edition of this fundamental tour, and with headliners that included Graveyard, Napalm Death, High On Fire, Hawkwind and Monster Magnet, this year has been it’s biggest and most diverse yet!
Today saw the festival at it’s busiest for its opening day, with 26 artists across 5 stages, not to mention the thousands of tourists bustling about Camden town – famous for its vast array of boutique and quirky independent shops, amazing street food, and markets, weird and wonderful street performers and musicians, as well as being the absolute hot-spot for all kinds of sub-cultures to thrive. With the distinct smell of weed fresh in the air on a blisteringly hot day in the capital, I was ready for the beginning of what would be an epic weekend of (natural) highs from the outstanding line-up at DesertFest London 2018. (Full gallery follows article).
(DAYS LINE-UP: OLD MAN LIZARD, THE BLACK WIZARDS, BLACK MOTH, FREEDOM HAWK & JEX THOTH)
I first descended upon The Underworld. Sitting directly underneath Camden Towns most iconic pub The Worlds End, this 500-capacity intimate venue is a firm favourite for artists, and over the years has become the heart of Englands alternative music scene. Devin Townsend memorably announced the departure of Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band during a press conference for his album ‘Ziltoid The Omniscient’ here in 2007, and bands such as The Cranberries, The Offspring, Placebo, Queens Of The Stone Age, Radiohead, Sepultura, Slash’s Snakepit, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters and Soundgarden have all played here.
After descending down the narrow stairway, into a room that was almost pitch black on arrival with just a few sole red spotlights illuminating the stage, the venue began to fill out rapidly to the opening act of DesertFest 2018. Opening up the festival was stoner/sludge outfit Old Man Lizard that critics call “one of the most underrated underground bands in the country”. The power trio from Suffolk, UK have already toured here several times including shows with heavyweights Conan and Dopethrone, and have played at festivals such as Hard Rock Hell in Wales, HRH Doom vs Stoner, and the main stage at DesertFest Belgium (another of several annual festivals which run under the DesertFest banner). With quite the hype from fans and critics alike surrounding their live shows I was keen to experience them for myself – especially for a band with song titles such as “Don’t Piss In The River” and “Old Hag”! As soon as the first chord was struck it was clear that these guys were about having as much fun as possible, having both vocalist/guitarist Jack Newnham and bassist Gav Senior jumping enthusiastically and in perfect synchronicity to opening track “Sharks”, with whammy and squealing high-pitched bends being used to full effect. The rather large crowd for a 2pm start was lapping up the infectiously buzzing atmosphere with shouts like “f**king have it!” which gave us all a laugh and heightened the enjoyment! Pints were thrown into the air especially for the ever so playful groove and fuzz-laden riffs of “Snakes!”, which is the first single to be taken from their new, upcoming 3rd album to be released later this year. You cannot help but grin to this fan favourite which is full of edgy riffs that slither up and down the fretboard and it’s upbeat tempo that has a few surprises of it’s own! The whole performance gave a real friendly, energetic vibe with the trio in high spirits, which was reflected and reciprocated by the audience. This isn’t to say that they didn’t take the performance seriously, they had a laugh onstage but gave a solid performance filled with thrills, good banter with the audience including some amusing descriptions of songs “this song is about a really big plant… [audience chuckles].. I think it’s one of the oldest organisms on earth, or the universe!” whilst retaining a professionalism to slower, moody songs like closing track “Beelzebeer Blues” taken from their ‘Through The Hole In The Sky’ split 7″ EP with Earthmass. Their sound is pretty hard to pin-point, combining the best parts of stoner and sludge, but with an experimental edge that sets them apart from their contemporaries and gives a flair of excitement as to where they will go next. Watch the video for “Snakes” here!
After performances by Portugese “fuzzadelic” rockers The Black Wizards (making their London debut), Leeds-founded “mothic-horror” and DesertFest staples Black Moth, and Freedom Hawk making their UK debut as part of their ‘Beast Remains’ EU tour, I was able to catch US psychedelic rockers Radio Moscow. As no strangers to DesertFest, this year the power trio made a welcome stop at DesertFest London – marking the beginning of their ongoing EU/UK tour. Touring in support of their fifth album ‘New Beginnings’ released last year, the records name takes on a more significant role, being their first with Century Media following a label change from Alive records, and comes ten years after the release of their self-titled debut in 2007. Initially, there was a slight delay to the performance that meant annoyingly that I could only stay for the first two songs. But, as I looked around me I could see that the crowd was beaming with anticipation, as they knew that this performance was more than worth the wait. Filling the walls of the Underworld, the eager crowd was seduced by the 70’s sounding rock that began to unfold, rich with kaleidoscopic retro-infused riffs and bluesy overtones. We were almost instantaneously thrown into a sea of electrifyingly powerful solos, courtesy of mainman Parker Griggs (lead vocals/guitar), filling the room with powerful Henrix-style licks that any worshiper of riffs could easily be consumed by. It’s no wonder that they’ve built up a reputation as one of the most exciting and electric acts out their, especially to see live! In my small taster it was clear to see what all the fuss was about, this is a band that utilises every string and every sound to the max for a performance that marks them as one of the next big bands in the scene. A firm fan favourite performance from the day, be sure to check out ‘New Beginnings’ here.
Headlining here tonight was the bewitching high priestess of the heavy rock world Jex Thoth. Conflicting stage-times with Graveyard meant that I was unable to witness the performance for myself, but after to talking to fans it was clear that hers was an utterly all-powerful and all-consuming performance with a mystifying Pagan feeling, suggestive of her ritualistic movements on stage. Described as intimate and emotional, with crushing, overdriven doomy riffs over laced by her absolutely stunning voice that seems to speak directly to the souls of those watching. Speaking to Iron Fist Magazine when ‘Blood Moon Rise’ was released (her 2013 sophomore record), Thoth explained “each live performance is a live ritual for me…I try to deliver my most honest and deepest understanding of my songs”. From what I’d heard, it was clear that no performance of the day compared to the spellbinding sensation of this Empress of occult rock. Check out the full album here, my own personal favourites include “Into A Sleep” and “The Four Of Us Are Dying”.
(DAYS LINE-UP: PLANET OF ZEUS, ZEKE, THE OBSESSED & GRAVEYARD)
The main stage for Friday at the iconic and beautiful theatre come music venue Koko was at the center for the days classic roster of rock n’ roll and legends in the scene.“Welcome to the Pack!” Greek titans of the underground stoner rock scene Planet Of Zeus obliterated the stage at Koko. With a stage presence nothing short of epic for their grand return to Desertfest after last playing here in 2013 (after having to cancel their 2016 appearance), long before the release of their 4th album ‘Loyal To The Pack’ which was critiqued as showing the band in their most evolved form since their 2008 debut! This was our chance to see Cretean riff merchants at the height of their career spanning over 20 years that shows no signs of slowing down! With a special set-list that incorporated the very best from the bands previous 3 records, including title track “Loyal To The Pack”, the set was diverse with it’s range from fully fledged stoner rock, to immersive and explosive rock n’ roll. The energy on stage and from the crowd was absolutely climatic and wild! Guitars were flying all over the stage to the face-pumelling riffs and grooves, especially to “Doteru” and “Leftovers” that had the crowd screaming “oi, oi, oi!” and headbanging along! There honestly is nothing better in music than seeing a band throwing themselves into the music and having an insanely good time doing it. Planet Of Zeus was absolutely on fire and gave one of the most joyous and memorable performances across the whole weekend!
US West Coast thrashers Zeke got us fully pumped with their brash of rapid-fire punk and gasoline-tinged rock n’ roll. Touring with their recently released full-length ‘Hellbender’, their performance was full of high-intensity from the outset with a strong array of on stage antics – I lost count at how many times guitars were whipped into the air in unison but everytime the crowd would cheer for more and boy did they get it. The atmosphere was wild where the crowd was buzzing from the enjoyment, and would be even more so for the next act. A band that really doesn’t need an introduction with the legendary doom veteran Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich at the helm, the mighty The Obsessed returned to the UK after their recent run of US shows at the end of 2017 with Clutch and Devin Townsend. Koko was the place to be for this first of two memorable performances from Wino over the weekend, but this time with Reid Raley (ex-Rwake) and Brian Constantino (Spirit Caravan) alongside. Starting a little early, there was a strong feeling in the air that we were all witnessing a very special performance, with many audience members excited that they were experiencing The Obsessed for the very first time, including myself. As with any musician of his standing, there is devout respect, especially for a band that roots can be traced as far back as 1976. Opening on the title track from their 2017 comeback album, “Sacred” threw us straight into an array of tight fuzz ridden grooves and bends with Winos distinctive vocals filling the room encapsulating one and all. This set the pace for the hour-long set that was mostly made up of songs from 2017s ‘Sacred’ and 2014s ‘The Church Within’, with the classic “The Way She Fly” added for good measure. The crowd was passionately singing along and the feeling in the air was one of comradery and friendship between old fans and new. The performance was all it needed to be, letting the music doing all the talking – though Raley was hair whipping at every opportunity and Wino himself was relishing in his beautifully tight riffs. There is a reason that The Obsessed has stood the test of time despite the many challenges, and tonight showcased exactly why.
Headlining at this main stage was Sweden’s own gods of classic heavy rock Graveyard. With a performance that almost didn’t happen after the band called it quits almost 2 years ago due to the departure of their drummer, this special performance marked one of the many highlights of the festival. Bringing with them not only a new found energy, but a set-list with exclusive new songs off of their brand new record ‘Peace’, which is to be released this coming May 25th via Nuclear Blast Records. The on-looking crowd lapped up each new song with whistles and cheers on their announcement! After opening on the deeply emotive “Slow Motion Countdown”, the first of these was the fully-charged “Please Don’t” with its harsher, edgier sound. The whole performance showcased Joakim Nilssons remarkable range of vocals that went from rough and ready in “The Fox”, to beautifully soulful in “Too Much Is Not Enough”. Graveyard as a collective was absolutely tight in their musicianship with not a note out of place. Whatever they do, if it’s the smoother bluesy classic rock, to the modern day up-tempo rock n’ roll, boy do they deliver. Graveyard are definitely well and truly resurrected! Watch the official video for the new single “The Fox” or first single “Please Don’t”. Pre-orders for ‘Peace’ are available here.
THE ELECTRIC BALLROOM
(DAYS LINE-UP: WINTERFYLLETH, ADXC, FIVE THE HEIROPHANT, EYEHATEGOD, WARNING & NAPALM DEATH)
A day of two halves, the Electric Ballroom was a day of experimentation with a whole hours break before the evenings and flat-out annihilation on the Old Empire stage!
Having hosted the atmospheric Black metallers Winterfylleth playing from their breathtaking new full-length ‘The Hallowing Of Heirdom’, and the wonderfully experimental and powerfully conceptual ADCX (A Day Called X) bringing their own brand of “space doom” from their debut ‘The Day I heard The Moon Roar’,the mood was already full of intrigue for what was to come next. To put it simply, Five The Hierophant were unlike any other band I experienced over the course of the day or of the weekend, but somehow their music seemed absolutely fitting within the scene and was a talking point for many after their absolutely spellbinding performance at the Electric Ballroom. On entry the lights were dim, the air was full of smoke, with the smell of incense and dope giving off a chilled, yet mysterious vibe. Backlit, the tall figures cast long shadows over the audience as the music began. Playing from their debut full-length album ‘Over Phlegethon’, the band played dark and heavy riffs, combined with instruments that included the djembe for earthly beats, the rag-dung (traditionally used by Buddhist Monks for morning/evening prayer) that gave a deep protruding tone, and absolutely over-worldy and soul-piercing saxophone from songs such as “Queen Over Phlegethon”. The whole spectacle was utterly hypnotising and awe-inspiring – I was not prepared for a performance to take a hold of me quite like this one did! The performance was beautifully melancholic, yet somehow also compelling and uplifting, with music so deep and seductive that you could completely loose yourself in it with its vast array of unique soundscapes.
Eyehategod was on another level! As one of the most influential bands to come from NOLA, it came as no surprise that the Electric Ballroom was absolutely packed for their return to DesertFest after their headline stint here back in 2016. Celebrating as part of their “30 Anniversary” tour, these pioneers at the fore-front of the sludge genre took to the stage with a fully-charged passion, frontman Mike IX Williams shouted “power to the people” which was responded with an almighty cheer from the crowd, whilst guitarist Jimmy Bower casually lit-up on stage and enticed the crowd pumping his chest. The performance was nothing short of explosive with Williams’ signature poetic snarls and the unmistakable punk-infused heavy stoner sludge that absolutely flattened the stage. “Medicine Noose” with it’s dirty, crunching guitar tone saw Williams place his mic chord momentarily round his neck which was both disturbing yet powerfully provocative, enhancing the screamed lyrics which are more relevant more so now than ever before (with most of us reliant on one drug or another). Chaos ensued in the crowd who were actively thrashing around with fists aggressively pumping the air to “Take As Needed For Pain and “Methamphetamine”. The experience was overwhelming with Williams swinging the mic stand around, appearing completely consumed by the intensity of the devastating music with its raw punk-ass aggression. If this performance has shown anything, its that heavyweights EHG remain at the top of their game, and as quoted from Pete Green “Eyehategod always were, still are and always will be: The real deal.” For those of you that couldn’t get enough of EHG, us lucky UK lot are in for another dose of devastation, as EHG have been confirmed to play at The Underworld, London on July 5th 2018 with Edinburgh’s DVNE and aggressive sludgsters Gurt. Click here for more info and tickets.
The fans thought it would never happen but after reassembling for a triumphant return in 2017 (after disbanding in 2008), Warning arrived at DesertFest celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their landmark album ‘Watching From A Distance’. Heralded as one of the most influential doom metal albums of the past 25 years, this performance was as doubly important as it was the last chance to catch Warning in the UK during their 14-month touring stint, where they will be performing for the final time at HellFest, France on June 24th 2018. With no more gigs planned in the UK at this time, the emotion pouring from both the crowd and on stage was incredible. The stage was full of bounds of smoke, where the lighting took on an almost spiritual effect with its golden hues breaking through the harsh blue overtone, enhancing the slow, doomy sound that resonated around the venue. Opening with title-track “Watching From A Distance” and going on to play the whole record in full, a deep emotion was stricken all over the faces of the band, especially frontman Patrick Walker who sang his heartfelt cleans with a clear passion and devotion. The music was deeply moving and had the crowd absolutely captivated from the outset, made even more powerful by being the complete polar opposite of the madness that had ensued before hand. It’s a wonder that no one burst into tears to the beautifully melancholic melodies that express a deep understanding of the human experience.
Headlining at the Electric Ballroom tonight marking their DesertFest debut was UK grind veterans Napalm Death! The venue itself was packed on the main floor, with little standing room left at the overlooking balconies either! It might seem like a strange decision to have a grindcore band headlining a predominantly stoner rock festival, but did I not say that this was DesertFests most diverse line-up yet? Touring with their recently released double CD/LP ‘Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs’ compilation that is full of 31 rare and exclusive tracks spanning 2004-2016, tonight would reinforce why Napalm Death remain one of the most respected bands in the worlds metal scene. They were nothing short of explosive onstage and was a sure-fire way to end the opening night with an unforgettable performance! “We’re going to keep inline with DesertFest and play some slow songs…really f**king hard!…Let everybody f**king go!” The first full-fledged pits of the entire festival opened with a passion and an insane amount of crowd surfers flew constantly overhead. The floor was full of absolute chaos with an audience that was pumped to the max with the onstage antics mirroring this energy. Vocalist Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway never ceased to stay still, jumping all around the stage with an adrenaline overload that exhilarated the crowd with the onstage frenzy. The only times he stood still was for moments of marvelous banter, both at times witty or on point – delivering important messages that were socially and politically aware, in a way that was exhilarating, not alienating: “This next song is about the f**king kind of homogenous world that some people would like us all to f**king live in. A homogenous world where everybody thinks the f**king same, everybody dresses the f**king same, everybody is the same sexually, and there is nothing outside of a tedious, small f**king circle…What a f**king sh*tty world to live in…” – M.G. Leading straight into the full on aural assault of “Standardization” with Shane Embury (bass) and John Cooke (guitar) shredding their guitars with such speed it which was positively insane to witness! The phenomenal intensity of the heavily distorted, earth-shattering music came through ten-fold with fan favourites “Dear Slum Landlord”, “Scum”, “Suffer The Children” and their ferocious cover of “Victims Of A Bomb Raid” from influential Swedish hardcore act Anti-Cimex. The whole set was a show of non stop annihilation and shows that even after this cemented groups solid 25 years together, Napalm Death show no signs of slowing down!
THE BLACK HEART
(DAYS LINE-UP: SWEDISH DEATH CANDY, CASUAL NUN, MELTING HAND, SNAPPED ANKLES, GHOLD & WHITE HILLS)
Opening the stage on the Quietus Stage (known for bringing the best of the weird and wonderful) at the Black Heart pub/venue was Londons own acid rockers Swedish Death Candy. The hype surrounding the quartet was well and truly founded with their distinctive fusion off psychedelically charged bluesy licks against a backdrop of fuzz laden garage rock, with the addition of spacey electronic effects and vocals with an indie charm that echo the rock n’ roll legends of the 60’s – imagine the sound of the Beatles high on an acid trip! In such a small and fully packed intimate venue (where Desert goers were quite literally queuing down the stairs to get in), the effect was intense where the whole band were consumed by the sound, showing a passion and devotion throughout. The crowd was just as excitable jumping around (rather sandwiched) to the infectious grooves and mind melting licks from guitarist Jiwoon Whang, who admittedly was at the centre of much of the crowds focus. Possibly due to the fact that he was the only one with enough space to move, but probably more due to the fact that his performance was absolutely wild on stage, echoing the sheer diversity of sound! With the release of their incredible self-titled debut just last Nov that is devoted to riff worship with the occasional flurries of stoner doom, these guys are delivering the perfect summer soundtrack to those of us who like music with a lot more bite! Check out my personal favourites “Living Your Life Away”, “Broken Engrams” and “Liquorice (Parts 2 & 3)”. Check out the full debut here.
With a similar situation happening here to The Dev, with lines of people waiting in line to get into the cosy upstairs venue unfortunately I missed out on the other acts. You could easily have made a day’s of it purely from the line-up here with London-based five-piece Casual Nun ripping up the stage with twice the amount of drums, for a doubly dramatic dose of self-procliamed “Pineal-poking punked-up psychedelic speedfreakery”. Touring with two recent split EP with fellows Bruxa Maria and Luminous Bodies, as well as 2017’s heavily distorted experimental freak-out of a release ‘Psychometric Testing By…’.
Next making a rare appearance were the psychedelic super-group of the underground Melting Hand, made up of ex and current members of BONG, Skullflower, Haikai No Ku, Luminous Bodies, Terminal Cheesecake to name a few. The name suits the music down to the ground, but while you hand may not be literally melting, the sensatory improvisatory rock n’ roll seems to ‘melt’ off the fretboard for a free-flowing effect that’ll have you drifting along with a wave of cosmic bliss. Playing mostly material from their forth-coming second EP this performance was certain to be unique, as Melting Hand are known for their live performances to go with the flow, where although playing the same set-lists, the outcomes can be entirely different! As can be heard on their ‘Live in Europe 2016′ release.
East-London quartet Snapped Ankles would have been a spectacle with their wizardry over up-tempo kraut-inspired “agrocultural punktronica”. Known their weirdly wonderful woodland inspired tree costumes whilst playing on oscillating synths made out of logs, their performance of primitive electronic psych running off the success of their 2017 debut ‘Come Play The Trees’, from what I heard was like nothing else of the weekend!
THE DEV (THE DEVONSHIRE ARMS)
(DAYS LINE-UP: MORASS OF MOLASSES, LIONIZE, TUSKAR & DOPELORD)
The Dev is one of Camden’s favorite rock n’ roll bars and is the much-loved host to the thriving underground music scene. With DJ’s and artists taking the stage every week for free or a tiny entrance fee, you’re guaranteed an awesome night out, marking The Dev as the drinking hole of choice for many of Camdens vast array of sub-cultures where of course any metalhead will feel right at home. Perhaps some aspiring DJs should consider taking the stage to display their skills. This would be a great place to start getting your name out there. Those who dream of playing a bar like this could always consider taking out some dj finance to help them purchase some DJ equipment. That way, aspiring DJs can start playing these bigger venues. For the past two years, Fridays stage at the Dev has hosted some of the best in underground talent, courtesy of Nightshift Promotions, and this year’s line-up was equally as impressive.
Starting the day’s offerings of the best that the stoner and doom scenes have to offer was Morass Of Molasses, a familiar name on the UK scene having played at countless shows up and down the country. The Reading 3-piece have been promoting last years release ‘These Paths We Tread’ that has recently celebrated it’s first years anniversary and is arguably their best to-date! Describing themselves as “like a thick stew, rich with blues, heavy on entry and mellow in aftertaste”, their chunky riffs that are equally rich with bluesy-rock infusions, it’s no surprise at all that The Dev was fully packed out! This was a familiar sight across the whole day where the Dev was rammed with punters squeezing for a place inside, with many crowding around the venue outside and a huge line forming down the road for most of the acts!
Next on the bill and returning to DesertFest after their 2016 appearance was American stoner metallers Lionize, who, having previously played alongside the likes of heavyweights Clutch and Wino, any hope of getting in was impossible! Including DesertFest as part of their co-headlining EU/UK tour with Planet Of Zeus with none other than Tobbe Strandvik of Kamchatka filling in for Chase Lapp on drums, everyone wanted in on this intimate and special performance. From what I’d heard, the quartet laid down a super-charged set of funky, groove-laden psychedelic classic rock to another packed out audience, where guitarist/vocalist Nate Bergman was sporting a rather dazzling out-fit that I’m gutted to have missed. Having been handpicked by Clutch for their label The End Records, that alone is more than enough reason to check out their 2017 album ‘Nuclear Soul’.
No strangers to the buzzing London scene, having played recently at The Black Heart and The Underworld were the two-piece doom/sludge outfit Tuskar. The duo combines an unusual symbiotic fusion of sludgy post-metal, tainted with rich raspy vocals and blackened and doomy elements. You would never believe that their dramatic angry sound was solely the work of just two instruments, but they prove that you definitely don’t need a stereotypical 5-piece set-up at all to make a lasting impression. As they say “Praise The Riff. Hail The Loud” which more than sums up their live performance. Check out last years EP ‘Arianrhod’ released via Riff Rock Records.
Headlining was Polands doomlords Dopelord, who have been causing quite a stir in the local scene having recently opened up at the Underworld for none other than fellow-country men Belzebong. After unsuccessful attempts to get into the Dev for the earlier acts and only hearing the slightly distilled sound from outside, I had to get in for this final headline act. I quite literally had to push my way through (sorry to any Desertfesters who got a little shoved or sore-footed) which took an age despite arriving with a good 20 minutes till performance. Including DesertFest in their EU/UK “Eternal Haze” Tour, this performance was as huge for the band as their fans: “It’s something we’ve wanted to do from the beginning of the band” Piotr Zin (vocalist/bassist) told DesertFest. With a few fun antics before their set including whiskey snuck in via an unsuspecting ukulele case, and with a mesmerizing amount of effects pedals that dazzled us in the front row Dopelord took to the stage. Due to time constraints I was only to catch the first few songs, but Dopelord lived up to all expectations. Still able to extrude an insane amount of energy despite the confines of an small but intimate stage, the four-piece brought an aural assault with their punchy stoner/doom fuzz ridden rock that was full of all-consuming heavy chugging riffs and encapsulating vocals, with 2017’s release ‘Children Of The Haze’. Their audience was so huge that there was a line forming down the street, and after my snapshot of their performance it was easy to see why! Lords of the dope and definitely lords of the riff, Dopelord gave a performance that was more than worthy of a headline spot and I can only hope that this marks the first of many future performances.