Desertfest London 2015
Camden Town, London UK
24th – 26th April, 2015
Review by Anna Dumpe
Photography by Graham Hilling & Martine Bocci
Desertfest, commonly known as the greatest stoner/doom festival around, takes over London for a whole weekend each year. And as 2015 was no exception, Desertfest once more rolled into London’s Camden Town and Metal-Rules.com UK team were there to report it all. Well… at least most of what we can remember from it, as Desertfest is also known as one of the most fun weekends of the year. And you all surely know what we mean by ‘fun’.
Pints were had, bands were seen, music was heard, friends were made, good times were had and memories were lost. What more for a good time!?
When Red Fang, Eyehategod and Sleep were announced as headliners of Desertfest 2015, it was clear that it’s going to be a weekend not to miss. And it’s not just the headliners that make Desertfest the greatest doom / stoner party around. It’s all the people who continue showing up year after year and support the scene. And it’s also the festival organisers who put in hours and days of hard work to make it all happen and gather acts, like Acid King, Brant Bjork and The Low Desert Punks, Orange Goblin, Angel Witch, Ufomammut and many more under the same bill.
Scattered around some of Camden’s most iconic venues, like KOKO, Electric Ballroom, The Underworld and more, Desertfest sure is one hell of a party to take over the usually tourist-packed area and bring together hundreds of like-minded people for some good times and better music. And here’s how it was for us…
When it comes to knowing their crowd, Atomic Bitchwax are no beginners and are pretty aware of what they’re heading for, as two members of the band are also current members of Monster Magnet.
With tunes, like “Hope You Die,” “Sexecutioner” and an epic cover of Pink Floyd’s “One Of Those Days,” Atomic Bitchwax prove themselves to be a band worth keeping in mind for those who like their stoner rock overdriven and classic, yet with an added dose of raw.
20 years is a notable amount of time for a band to be able to stick together, keep on growing within their music and audiences, and become one of the most significant bands of the genre they represent. 20 years is a notable accomplishment for Orange Goblin and tonight is all about celebrating just that.
And there ain’t no better way to celebrate being a band for just over 20 years than playing their album The Big Black(released back in 2000) in full. And the fans seem to agree, as by now, Electric Ballroom is completely packed out and the atmosphere in the room is buzzing.
It’s clear that Orange Goblin, the very down-to-earth ambassadors of London’s ‘Stoner scene’, who have managed to incorporate elements of NWOBHM, thrash, doom, some soul-crushing blues and more within their extremely recognizable sound, are here to make their home-town show worth the while.
With every single song off The Big Black being an anthem itself, it no surprise when the whole Orange Goblin performance turns into an unstoppable head-banging fest. And to make it even more enjoyable, the sound in Electric Ballroom tonight is exceptionally good.
It’s hard to tell whether it’s just the noticeable level of excitement within the crowd, or the unstoppable energy the band are releasing on stage, but Orange Goblin tonight are, undoubtedly, in top form.
20 years might be a long time, but who cares, as it has made Orange Goblin into one of the greatest stoner bands to come out of UK .
And just moments after Orange Goblin have destroyed the main stage, we head to The Black Heart to catch one hell of a band to come out of Bristol and going under the name of Gonga.
First things first. Gonga guys play ridiculously loud. And by ‘loud’ we mean that their performance makes the ground beneath your feet is shake so hard, you feel like it is about collapse.
And to add some spice to the straightforward loudness, Gonga throw in tons of atmosphere and psychedelic melodics to get the crowd tripping.
After becoming more recognised with their album Concrescence (2013) and the cover of Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” alongside Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, Gonga have come quite far and tonight is just another great accomplishment for the three-piece along the way.
But without wasting much time, we head back to the main stage at The Electric Ballroom to catch tonight’s headliners Red Fang.
And if there is one single band that deserves this headline slot, it is, without a doubt, Red Fang.
These American bad-asses from Portland have been going for quite a while and have proved themselves to be considerable enough touring alongside artists, like Mastodon, Opeth, Kyuss Lives! and many more.
Tonight, however they are the stars of the night and according to that, they deliver a show worth sticking around and losing your shit for.
Playing songs like “Wires,” “Prehistoric Dog” and “Blood Like Cream” being the ultimate highlights, Red Fang make sure to please the old and the not-so-old fans in the room.
And with such powerful and heavy riffage, huge sounding rhythm section and some catchiness here and there, Red Fang make themselves the ultimate live band to have fun to, even if they might seem to lack the “danger” factor to some, as the nice boys from The US of A.
Call Red Fang predicatble or say their music lacks originality, but one thing is for sure… With their signature “dont give a fuck” attitude and never sticking to one particular genre, Red Fang make the perfect party band to kickstart our Friday night.
Off to the bar we go!
It comes as no surprise when upon our arrival to the 2nd day at Desertfest, everyone seem to be taking things easy (at least when it comes to beer consumption) and avoiding sharp head movements.
But no hangover can stand in a way of us catching more epic performances, that, yes indeed, might just be a little too loud for our current physical state, but who cares anyways…
We arrive just in time for Black Pyramid – Massachusetts stoner/doom outfit who have started performing together again after taking a break for almost two years.
Incorporating elements of folklore and medieval themes within their lyrics and melodics, Black Pyramid stand out not only with their persistent concept, but also the significant vintage psych sound that’s based on huge and down-tuned riffs.
Melodic, yet heavy enough, Black Pyramid seem to be just what the doctor ordered as they try and shake off this seemingly never-ending hangover. With tunes, like “Stormbringer,” “Visions Of Gehenna” and more, Black Pyramid come across as a heavier and more up-to-date version of Black Sabbath.
Next up at The London’s most famous Jazz Cafe, which as a venue, is a brand new addition to London’s Desertfest, are Messenger.
With the Prog Magazine’s Limelight Award 2014 and many considerable tours alongside artists, like Katatonia and Casualties Of Cool under their belts, Messenger are clearly one of London’s most exciting new bands to watch out for. With ambient approach to prog taking on influences as folk, world music and even doom, there seem to be no boundaries to Messenger music.
Making it a great addition to the festival by adding more variety to it, Messenger and the rest of the bands at Jazz Cafe performing on Desertfest’s ‘prog stage’ make Desertfest a lot more than just a ‘Stoner or Doom Fest’. It proves that this is an event with a perspective view on alternative music of any kind and that there should be no restrictions when it comes to music as an artform.
Nowhere near as heavy as some other bands on this weekend, Messenger seem to be just the right addition to the line-up to make the weekends a bit more diverse and pleasant.
Few moments later some serious business is about to go down at the Electric Ballroom, as crowds flow in for the next performance. And who else can it be if not the Godfather of stoner rock himself – Brant Bjork with his band The Low Desert Punks.
Arriving straight from performing at Berlin’s version of Desertfest, Brant shows no signs of tiredness and takes the stage like the total pro he is known to be.
And without wasting much time on anything else, but music, Brant kicks things off with a mix of his ultimate hits “Lazy Bones/Automatic Fantastic” off Jalamanta – the record that back in 1999 gave Brant a platform to reach out for bigger and broader audiences as a solo artist.
The Electric Ballroom is absolutely packed out with keen listeners, and the reaction in the room is filled with pure respect towards an artist who has done so much for the genre that they’re all here for.
Mixing good old classics, like “Low Desert Punk”, “Too Many Chiefs…Not Enough Indians” and “I Miss My Chick” with the most recent stuff off his latest and, by far, the heaviest album Black Power Flower, Brant and The Low Desert Punks assure that every single individual in the room is having a good time to his ridiculously groovy and laid back stoner melodies.
If it wasn’t about Brant, there might no Desertfest at all, so we salute the man and so should you.
Go read our interview with Brant Bjork at Desertfest 2015 HERE.
Next up on stage at The Electric Ballroom are one of the strongest sludge-meets-metal outfits around, and when it comes to these dudes from New Orleans, they need no introduction. EYEHATEGOD headline Saturday at Desertfest and that pretty much says it all.
With unstoppable approach, ridiculous amount of energy and fuckload of attitude, these guys tear the roof off the building in no time what-so-ever.
EYEHATEGOD seem to have it all. They got the riffs, they got the tunes, they got the fans and even the showmanship, as not a single person in the room can be found complaining about the lack of entertainment.
Whilst frontman Mike IX Williams simply owns the crowd with his razor sharp vocals and the very doomed, yet tongue-in-cheek approach to performing, rest of EYEHATEGOD live up to the best standards of a tight sounding live band delivering the heaviest guitar parts, meanest bass lines and out-of-this-world drumming. But when it’s time for EYEHATEGOD to deliver the last set of riffs, the night isn’t over just yet.
We head down to the Black Heart to catch one of the most intriguing and talked-about new bands around – London’s own Hang The Bastard.
After being picked up by Century Media Records, Hang The Bastard’s career only seems to be going onwards and upwards, and tonight is another proof of just that, as the band have easily managed to nicely fill the cosy, yet respectably spacious venue they’re performing at tonight.
What makes Hang The Bastard unique is their way of mixing classic stoner and sludge melodics with soaring black metal vocals, making their sound undoubtedly original and attracting metal fans representing genres from all over ‘the heavy metal encyclopaedia’.
Hang the Bastard is what you’d call a forward thinking modern metal band still paying their respect to the roots and the classic sound of heavy metal and stoner rock.
Their set at The Black Hart might be the hottest one tonight (quite literally), as the temperature in the room goes way beyond what’s accepted to be ‘normal’. And soon there is nothing but banging heads, beer being shamelessly spilled and sweaty bodies flying all over the place.
It’s the last day of Desertfest and we arrive just in time to catch London’s own Amulet. Take Black Sabbath and add a hint of NWOBHM sound, Judas Priest attitude and bags of denim. Put all of that together and you get Amulet.
Amulet live show is an instant throwback 30 years ago with their ‘fists-in-the-air’ classic heavy metal sound that’s dynamic, persistent and undeniably banging. After doing what, quite literally, has been done many years before them, Amulet have managed to still sound and appeal unique to crowds around Europe and getting noticed by industry professionals.
With their debut album The First released just after the band had sealed the deal with Century Media Records, Amulet are, without a doubt, on their way to make a mark in today’s classic heavy metal music scene.
To people who enjoy their heavy metal with a dose of old-school, Amulet might be just the band to go to, as they are the best fun to watch live. Ensure a beer in your hand, and you are guaranteed to have a blast watching Amulet boys put ‘heavy’ into ‘metal’.
Next up on Koko’s stage is the legendary San Francisco’s three-piece Acid King.
With a brand new album Middle of Nowhere Centre of Everywhere released only this year, the band hit the stage in high spirits and are greeted by a rather excited crowd.
The guitarist Lori S might appear to have a rather tiny stature, yet her stage presence is massive and undeniable, as her guitar resonates through the venue with an immensely fuzzy sound.
Alongside her, Mark Lambs lays down some serious bass lines that rumble across the room like an army of mammoths. And last, but not least, is Joey Osbourne – the man behind the drums to keep the band together and sounding as a tight union.
Acid King sure specialize in putting on a rather ‘out-of-space’ performance to get the crowd tripping, but nothing sets the crowd off as their ultimate hits, like “2 Wheel Nation” and “Electric Machine”.
Next band on after the mighty Acid King are Italian sludge legends Ufomammut who hit the stage at a completely packed out Koko.
After facing few technical issues in the beginning of their set, Ufomammut remain absolute professionals and kick off their performance with “Somnium” delivering nothing but epic riffs and haunting vocals to instantly send fans into a ‘head-nodding’ trance.
It’s safe to say that today’s performance for Ufomammut is all about presenting their latest release Ecate, as they only perform songs off it, with “Temple” and “Daemons” standing out as the crowd’s absolute favourites.
But the show really manages to kick off when Ufomammut return for an encore of thee of their ultimate classics – “Stigma,” “Oroborus” and “God” and if you weren’t already tripping out after Acid King’s set, then Ufomammut should have done the job with their extremely psychedelic approach to doom and sludge.
With the ultimate highlights, like “Dragonaut,” “The Clarity” and “Holy Mountain”, Sleep truly rock The Desertfest and raise the bar for next years event and, pretty much, any other Stoner / Sludge festival around.
All hail the fathers of Doom!