Desertfest London 2018, Day 1
@ Various venues, Camden Town, London
4th May 2018
Review by Gabor Csete
Photography by Ryan Whitwell / Shotison
The long weekend with the Early May bank holiday we all waited for came and with it came Desertfest. At the beginning of the week it was only 4 degrees in the morning so it seemed it was going to be a cold one, but fortunately we got a heatwave for the long weekend so Desertfest could happen in its full.
Camden Town was as busy as usual on a hot weekend but this time there were more people in heavy metal t-shirts. To swap the ticket for a wristband everyone had to go to Greenland Place. The whole street was closed for Desertfest: at the end of the street was the press tent, one could buy official merch here, chill a bit on the benches or have a few in Our Black Heart which was one of the venues with gigs. This place seemed the best to hang out in between gigs as this was the closest to all of the venues (at least on the first two days) plus because of the benches outside.
As I had a long week at work I arrived a bit late (sadly I missed Zeke – they’ve released one of the best albums in 2018 so far. But Ryan the photographer has some words about them at the bottom of the article.). So after I got my pass I had a beer then headed to The Electric Ballroom where the crowd was ready for one of New Orleans’ finest: Eyehategod.
The stage was still empty but the venue was nearly full and the audience repeatedly chanted the band’s name until the point Jimmy Bower appeared on the stage and waved at us. Chanting turned into inarticulate cheering as Mike Williams and the rest of the band came on stage and they started without hesitation. The NOLA sludge masters were sounding really really good.
They were full of energy (which was amazing especially in Mike’s case who’d had a liver transplant one and a half years ago) and they gave this to the crowd: people were headbanging with raised fists in the air, and after each song shouted “Eyehategod, Eyehategod,…”.
I wanted to stay until the end of the show but at the same time I wanted to see more bands. As I headed to The Dev I heard amazing riffs coming out from the pub. Tuskar – the two-piece band from Milton Keynes – was on.
The guys forging together doom, sludge and black metal elements. As much as I wished them to play in a bigger venue it was cool to see them actually play really close to us; they put serious stuff straight into the audience face.
Sadly, there were only a handful of people in The Dev. This year people had to have a wristband to get in to the venue; last year it was free.
Back to Greenland Place which was rammed, into Our Black Heart, waiting for London’s Ghold who were actually a bit late. The venue wasn’t full but everyone was there for Ghold. In festivals you often see people who are just there accidentally, but this time there were no wanderers. The sound was good as usual.
Koko is a bit of a walk away from Camden Town station but totally worth that walk (even on a Friday night). The venue is beautiful and during Desertfest they had amazing bands performing there. Unfortunately I only saw Graveyard.
The hard rock band is from Sweden and if that’s not enough guarantee for amazing music then we have to mention that they were at Tee Pee Records and now they are under Nuclear Blast.
They were probably the least heavy band (still brilliant though – their bluesy hard rock increased the diversity of Desertfest) at the festival but one of the most professional for sure. Koko was full, the sound was flawless, and everyone enjoyed the performance: in fact this audience was the most cheerful of the whole weekend.
Then it was time for the last band of the day, another one diversifying Desertfest: one of the fastest bands in the world, the fastest band of the festival: Napalm Death.
There’s no need to introduce the godfathers of grindcore. It doesn’t matter if Napalm Death plays a different genre (they proved that they can attract audience even at festivals like Glastonbury) Electric Ballroom was full and these guys are always good.
As soon as they started some started to mosh while others started to throw beers in the air.
After 3 songs Barney invited the photographers back, and said “we don’t care about the rules”. Then he introduced the band and said that they – not like the other performers – would try to play slow songs… After this there were 50 more minutes of blastbeats. It was truly beautiful.
There were no more shows for the night but there were a few options for afterparty. I personally headed back home as Saturday was even heavier than day one.
Ryan here. I’m going to add some words about a few of the earlier bands on the bill. My day began with Old Man Lizard at The Underworld.
As it was around 2pm, The Underworld was not yet the sweaty hole it would eventually become when it reached capacity.
Old Man Lizard are a great sounding stoner/psych band based in Suffolk. They had bags of bass which they dished out liberally to get our eardrums and ribcages ready for the onslaught of what Desertfest was going to deliver this weekend.
Next was a short walk to The Black Heart to see Swedish Death Candy, a band I didn’t know much about before today. But I’m a big fan of fuzzy psych sounds, which is what these guys seem to be all about.
Bassist, Jiwoon Wang, was especially active, flinging the neck of his guitar around in the confined space that is The Black Heart’s stage.
The Black Heart was pretty well packed for these guys, which I found out as I turned around to try and rush to the next act and had to squeeze past the queue of people waiting on the stairs to try and get in.
Planet of Zeus (a band I’ve enjoyed listening to for years) played Koko (A venue I have wanted to shoot in since I started this gig photography lark) and it was brilliant.
That old school head banging fuzz, with some hefty bass and beats was a great way to open Koko’s run of acts.
The vocals added a touch more “metal” to proceedings, with a mix of aggressive shouts and more traditional singing styles.
The steady and heavy tracks were quite infectious. I found myself taking the camera down from my face and allowed myself to get into the music a bit more. Brilliant.
A quick walk back to The Underworld for Black Moth, a band that I have seen live so often since their first album in 2012 that they may be my most seen act.
The venue was at capacity as Black Moth opened with the two first numbers from their latest album, Anatomical Venus. Some nice doubling effects on the vocals give them that very obvious psych vibe, but there are elements of doom in there at times.
Pushing through the crowd, I managed to get back to Koko in time for Zeke who, as Gabor mentioned earlier, had a fantastic album out recently.
After lots of steady headbanging bands, Zeke pumped up the tempo! Lots of high energy tracks and some great responses from the crowd.
From fast paced Zeke to something very different at The Electric Ballroom. Five The Hierophant took to the stage with the smell of incense flooding the front of the stage.
Droning doom and macabre tones with a few wind instruments thrown in for good measure. The lack of light allowed the crowd to focus on the noise (and insense smell). I spotted a few crowd members seemingly drifiting away with the dark and moody music.
A quick paced walk all the way back to Koko to see stoner and doom veterans, The Obsessed.
Big fan following for these guys, with a lot of Obsessed t-shirts present around Camden. Not too surprising as they are a quality band delivering lots of headbanging tracks with some mighty big riffs blasting through the packed Koko.
I popped in to The Underworld to get a quick taste of Radio Moscow. I like the recorded stuff these guys produce, so was keen to hear them live.
After a bit of a delay, we were treated to some great grooves and fuzzed out tones. I wanted to stay for more but had to dash off for Eyehategod.
And that’s all for the earlier bands on the first day. What a cracking start to the festival.