25th – 27th April, 2014
Camden Town, London
The Electric Ballroom, The Underworld, The Black Heart
Review by Anna Dumpe, Ashlinn Nash
Photography by Ashlinn Nash, Graham Hilling
On the first weekend of May, London’s Camden Town saw dozens of Stoner Rock and Doom Metal bands pass through to perform at the already legendary festival known as Desertfest. Happening in London and Berlin, pretty much at the same time, Desertfest brought together multiple bands of different sizes and popularity levels to throw one hell of a party that shall be remembered for the next year or so.
Metal-Rules.com team were privileged enough to join in and take part in Desertfest shenanigans in Camden Town’s three venues – The Electric Ballroom, The Underworld and The Black Heart where we saw hundreds of fans pass through, headband, down pints and have a bloody good old time.
Desertfest kicked off on Friday, 25th of April and the first band we got to catch was the crazy (in every possible aspect) quartet known as The Earls of Mars [3.5/5]. With an intense and somewhat theatrical performance they have managed to pack out The Black Heart at 4:45pm and put on a hell of a show.
The Earls of Mars might seem like your average and boring rock band at first, but their performance clearly suggests different. Rocking the electric contrabass and adding some striking piano parts, the band seem as entertaining as heavy. With a hint of progressive elements and epic stoner riffs,
The Earls of Mars present themselves as a rather promising bunch of musicians with a rather original approach to writing and performing music. Over to the Underworld next with something where something more sinister lay in the wake, Swamp Machine [3.5/5] a piece from The Netherlands unveil a deliciously thick with slow and idiosyncratic Psychedelic Stonerrock with healthy amounts of Doom, being such a small unit has given the sound the need to pad it out, and they have done so successfully.
Playing tracks such as “peach pie” and “giant Dwarf” it is not too surprising that this band where chosen for a stoner festival performance. Next on our to-see list and the first band that we get to catch at The Electric Ballroom are Switzerland’s Stoner-rockers Monkey3 [3/5] Bringing psychedelic melodies accompanied by trippy video projections, Monkey 3 put on a hypnotizing and astonishing performance. Setting the bar high up for the other bands as soon as the festival has begun is what Monkey3 are here for and they sure strike the crowd with their contrasting and progressive sound.
As the first band playing the Electric Ballroom, Monkey3 manage to gather a crowd of decent size and put on a spectacular show to prove that it is, after all, worth coming down to a festival early enough to catch as many bands as possible.
Washington DC’s Borracho[3/5] are quickly set to follow with an explosive set, the band whose sound resembles a subversive fusion of influence – from the likes of Kyuss, Melvins and Crowbar all blended as one. With a performance that didn’t quite do the albums the justice it deserves still they contained the usual riffs and grooves to get the crowd enjoying their set.
Next band to storm the stage at The Electric Ballroom are rocker trio coming all the way from LA called Sasquatch [3.5/5]. With a great rock’n’roll drive and chugging riffs, Sasquatch bring along fizzling energy and introduce their tunes that sound exactly like something you’d end up breaking the speed limit to. Performing for, once again, a packed-out Electric Ballroom, Sasquatch deliver immense tunes to get everyone in the room down their beers and headbang like there’s no tomorrow.
An exciting new band called Zodiac [3/5] are about the play The Black Heart and it’s clear that their performance is one not to miss. After playing an acoustic set to a packed out Vans store just around the corner in Camden Town, Zodiac take the stage full of energy and enthusiasm to finally crank it up. Kicking things off with a blues-fuelled sound and mellow guitars, Zodiac instantly stand out in between all the stoner and doom bands appearing throughout the weekend at Desertfest.
With a real rock’n’roll feel to their music, Zodiac remind of anyone from Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age to Deep Purple and Graveyard. The Black Heart venue is absolutely packed out for Zodiac performance and the band themselves seem genuinely pleased about the turnout and the given possibility of playing in London. The ultimate highlight of Zodiac set is the bluesy „Moonshine” bringing in some Jimmy Page-like guitar licks and catchiness to get the crowd singing along.
Next band to take the stage and actually headline The Black Heart on Friday are the exciting old school rockers from Sweden known as Horisont [4/5]. Playing for an absolutely packed out room, Horisont might be one of the most exciting acts appearing at Desertfest on Friday. They take the stage and instantly put on a rocking show bringing in their old school riffs and epic swagger to please the noticeably drunken London’s crowd.
Hey… It’s Friday night after all and there’s nothing much we’d rather be doing do than watch these Swedes tear apart the very small, yet cosy venue that is The Black Heart. Horisont perform some of their most popular songs, like „Nightrider,” „Writing On The Wall”, and „Diamonds in Orbit” off their latest (and total killer by the way) record Time Warriors bringing in groovy blues melodies to attract those willing to hear something rather different than full-on stoner rock.
And last, but, most definitely, not least are the one and only stoner rock legends Spirit Caravan [4/5] reunited specially for Desertest London 2014. As Spirit Caravan have not performed together in over a decade, it’s clear that their performance tonight is going to be a special one even before the guys have hit the stage and once they’re up there, there’s no stopping them.
Imagine huge riffs, weed, ridiculous bass lines, pounding drums and even more weed. Now that’s Spirit Caravan for you. After coming to London all the way from Maryland, USA, Spirit Caravan have gathered a crowd of a rather impressive size to absolutely pack out the Electric Ballroom. Bringing their signature and genre defining sound with songs like „Powertime” and „Fang,” Spirit Caravan already prove to have won over the audience, as all you see is a sea of banging heads and accidental devil horns thrown in the air.
With few lengthy breaks in between songs to take their cigarette(…) breaks, Spirit Caravan dudes find plenty of time to throw in guitar and bass solos that still seem to hold the attention of the rather buzzed out crowd. For someone who’s not into straight up doom and stoner, especially it’s roots, Spirit Caravan performance might seem a little dull and repetitive, but then again… If you’re not into doom or stoner, what the hell are you doing at Desertfest anyways!?
The ultimate highlights of Spirit Caravan performance are „Cosmic Artifact,” „Brainwashed,” weed and „Lost Sun Dance”. Spirit Caravan leave the stage after a set of good 18 songs to continue celebrating a fantastic Friday night as the first day of Deserfest is officially done and dusted.
By now it’s definitely ‘even more beer o’clock’ in Camden, as hundreds of stoner rock fanatics make their way to the bar to assure that Saturday morning is greeted with a hangover. All hail Spirit Caravan!
Saturday morning for some, just as we predicted, is a little tough, but that has never stopped anyone from heading back into town to see some of their favourite and most exciting rock bands that have travelled the world to perform in London today.
First band we get to check out on Saturday are North Carolina’s rockers ASG.[3.5/5] Bringing in melodic and atmospheric vocals along some mind-blowing riffs, ASG make sure to shake up the crowd and get them ready for a rocking Day 2 at Desertfest. ASG instantly manage to stand out with their positive and pumping energy that they pass on to the crowd, their exceptionally melodic guitar licks and rhythm section presented with an excellent style. Songs, like „Blood Drive,” „Mourning Of the Earth,” „Day’s Work” and „Blood Drive” all sound epic enough to say that ASG are one of the most exciting bands on the bill and definitely the best way to start our Saturday.
Next up on the Electric Ballroom’s stage are Germany’s best kept secret – Samsara Blues Experiment [3.5/5] . Bringing psychedelic elements incorporated with fuzzy and bluesy bits, Samsara Blues Experiment put on a performance that’s musically abundant and instrumentally magnificent.
Although their bassist Richard Behrens seems to be missing for this particular gig, Samsara Blues Experiment still go forward with the show and we find their guitarist Hans Eislet taking over the bass, which still sounds harmonious enough, yet affects the richness of their sound as a quartet. Samsara Blues Experiment base their sound on heavy, yet ridiculously groovy riffs infused with experimental and rather trippy elements to highlight their ability to perform excellent instrumental music without even making us wish there were vocals added to it.
And while Samsara Blues Experiment are blowing everyone’s minds away on the main stage, another up and coming and, most importantly, exciting band called Dead Existence [3.5/5] are about to hit the stage at The Black Heart.
Dead Existence come from London and have definitely been the ‘talk of the festival,’ as they’re strongly supported by their local crowd and are highly recommended as a band for those who like their music raw and quiet ‘in your face’.
With a great confidence and unstoppable energy, Dead Existence hit the stage at The Black Heart and literally own the audience within seconds with their punk rock attitude, heavy riffs and singer Jake’s raw energy that seems to be one of the main driving forces behind the band.
The band have been going for 10 years straight, but if until this day you had no idea who Dead Existence are, we recommend you go check them out and lose your shit to their music. You’re welcome.
Back on the Electric Ballroom stage it is time for one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend. It’s time for Weedeater[4/5] – the ultimate stoner rock band to come out of North Carolina. With a drum kit set up in the middle of the stage, it’s pretty clear who we’ll be focusing our attention to. And thank fuck for that, as Travis Owen is one of those drummers who’s a ‘performance’ himself and just can’t be left in the background.
If there’s the wildest and most insane way to play drums, then Travis Owen just gives you a demonstration lesson on how to fuck shit up in the best possible way with each and every song. From beating the crap out of his drum-set to kicking the hi-hat with his foot, he’s got all that it takes to not only be a killer drummer, but also a great performer. And while Travis Owen is blowing our minds on the drums, Dave Collins takes Weedeater music to another level with his epic growls and heaviest of bass lines.
It’s no surprise that Weedeater are greeted by a packed-out room and a crowd that’s ready to go mental at any given moment, as their music is pounding and their riffs are huge. And we mean HUGE.
Although their music might sound heavy, their approach to performing is all about having a blast, as Jason Shi, the singer from ASG (another North Caroline rocker), joins them on stage for about 15 seconds and leaves just to make room for Scott “Wino” Weinrich of Spirit Caravan to come on stage and shoot confetti. Ladies and gents, the party has officially kicked off! To prove just how serious they are about whatever is going on, Dave Collins, while holding a good looking bottle of Jim Beam in his hand, announce their last song with a good: „I hope you all fucking hate this!” We sure loved every single minute of it.
As a final note to the Sunday – Kvelertak [4/5] take the stage with a well blended formula that has worked over two albums to far, proving that there is something infectious about simple song writing with high end catches and galloping lines that seems to work for them.
whose theme of a demonic owl is not forgotten tonight. It wasn’t an easy task to headline the ballroom but these lads from Norway deserved to, after triumphant tours and a big hype still trailing behind them ;one that they certainly live up to, it’s not too much of a surprise then you see them live.
They are everything you’d want in a headliner – on time, dramatic, good fun and of course bringing with them an arsenal of stomping tunes. They leave the crowd beatheless, excited and hungry for more the perfect way to end the Saturday.
Sunday is something that is known as a recovering day, and today is no different, with plenty of hangovers looming over the punters; it’s time to get back into a venue and hair of the dog it! With a fine selection of venues to choose from it’s been mouth watering choice after choice! The Black heart has been the hub of excitement for the weekend and Sunday is no different.
So kick starting the day personally with Bright Curse [4/5] who are a three piece from London Via France, the troupe come with so much energy its infectious – laced with bluesy riffs, with songs that drift somewhere in between the deep and dark with hypnotic tones and messages.
The troupe who played earlier in the Vans Store with a stripped down set, are back with the full on ear onslaught of doomy via glam rock enormity. The audience for the band in the Black Heart have been great; with enthusiasm resonating from the band onto them has been something brilliant to watch.
The forty-five minute set concludes and it’s sad to see them go, but they are frequent players at the black heart so if you’ve missed them – keep an eye out on their Facebook page for upcoming dates.
Up next in the Black Heart are [3.5/5] a rich in gloomy rock via doom start the fuzz fusion set that bursts over the crowd, who broaden the musical spectrum for the venue with their tones that rattle through the amps.
The band consisting of; Mart on cryptically laced-in grooves guitars along with co-front man and vocalist Leigh with the role of delivering blistering bass lines ; all balanced out by the rhino stomping drumming of Justin.
Working through a set including Tracks from their latest EPs – Self titled and “Sword of fire”, the set concludes with roars of thanks and an enjoyable slice of garage doom.
Moving venue a quick trip to The Electric Ballroom to see Radio Moscow [3/5] is worth the trip, the band who sounds like a cross between Uncle Acid and the deadbeats and the psychedelic themes of influence, the band that formed in 2003 by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Parker Griggs.
It’s not surprising that they have explored a mind scape of a stoner tendency. The set comes to a conclusion that makes you want to rest your ears from the chaotic whirls of feedback is over .
Back at the confined space of the Black heart it’s time for Hull [3,5/5] who announce themselves as not being from a “shit town in England” before ravashing the audiences ears with wails of thunderous crunch.
They are a nice pre-band for Church of misery, fairly new to these shores and ones to look out for if you’re a fan of most of the bands that have played so far.
Second to last band over at the Ballroom - Church of Misery [4.5/5] in many ways should have been a headliner for this year, with their high energy, smooth as silk attitude and killer songs.
It’s not really surprising that Ballroom is beyond packed, with pushes of excitement and chants of “church” filling the air.
With infectiously delicious tracks fuelled with impossibly fuzz driven, and robust formulas make for incredible live tracks.
With songs all themed for serial killers, there is something enchanting about the way they are wrapped in doom-rock. With a set that ended with hell raised, its time for the nights and indeed festivals head liners.
With Boris [3.5/5] There is something colossal and crumbling about the headliners appeal and attitude tonight, with a smokey shroud of light plumes around them and a fuzzing beat there is no surprise that they are headlining.
Advertised as playing “Heavy Rocks” on the Desertfest posters across Camden it was something to look forward too, however when it came to the live performance something eccentric occurred. A complete re-vamp of the bands sound, with a mix of light then heavy tracks, blending the set with a reluctance together.
With a blend of punk tones, drone, deep bass lines and plenty of -Behind frontman- leadership from the energetic drummer whose yells of “yeah!” in time with every third note could be heard but not see behind the smoke wall.
It was a set for the dedicated fan of the band for definite, still they put on a performance that delivered towards the end a closure that suited a re-cap of the festivals vibrancy.
Desertfest – has been one of London’s finest festivals for three years now , unlike conventional festivals however, the three-day extravaganza doesn’t have camping, uncomfortably big stages or having to worry about being rained on [well at least inside any way – it is still hosted in England after all]. The Festival is brilliant as it’s a takeover of the town of Camden’s venues The Black Heart, Vans Store, The Underworld and the largest of all the venues The Electric Ballroom. The anticipation for next year has already begun – as the mighty Sleep are set to be heading this way- get your doom tickets now for the stoner train is rolling!