@ The Black Heart, the Devonshire Arms, the Electric Ballroom, Powerhaus, the Roundhouse, the Underworld Camden, London UK
29 April 2022 – 1 May 2022
Review by Dovalde Gaidelionyte and The Flâneur
Photography by Ryan Shotison
Held across six Camden venues, the aluminum anniversary of Desertfest London was expected to be one of the biggest events for metal in the UK in 2022. With weekend tickets sold out and 83 bands added to the final bill, it was the place to be during the long weekend of early May Bank Holiday. Some of the amazing extras included not one but two warm-up parties on Thursday 28th – one at the Black Heart spearheaded by London institution Crypt of the Wizard, and a second at Hackney’s Studio 9294 which included a performance by Slift ahead of their Friday Desertfest bonanza; a tattoo booth organised by upcoming studio The Electric Paintbrush, with contributions by some of UK’s most sought out tattoo artists; coffee, cocktails, and killer vibes from Dark Arts Coffee; all-female owned independent jewellery at the Empress Emporium marketplace; more drinks and good fun from Camden Brewery; and last, but certainly not least, a host of end-of-the day DJ sets for those who may have not been defeated by a day of queuing, standing up, and continuously braving the walk to the Roundhouse and back.
It must be mentioned that Desertfest London’s 2022 line-up went through some major changes in the time since it was first envisioned in 2020. Corrosion of Conformity, Mos Generator, and Shuck had to cancel their Friday performances; Wino and Khemmis – Saturday; and The Obsessed, Somali Yacht Club, and Urne – Sunday. Additionally, due to unforeseen circumstances, Bonnacons of Doom and Huntsmen had to pull out on Friday and Saturday respectively. Despite that, the line-up was still packed with unmissable acts, and the Metal Rules crew was right in the middle of the action.
On approach to Camden everything looked calm, with very few festival-goers insight. It was a cold and dreary day, not the best for a festival with ‘desert’ in its name, but hey, at least it didn’t rain. It was also a workday which explained the relatively small crowd in the early hours. The wristband collection queue around Greenland Place and Greenland Road was very promising, though.
First band for the day was Blind Monarch at the Underworld – and were they an appropriate opening for a slow Friday afternoon. Their impossibly slow-paced punch-in-the-gut stoner sludge set the mood and got a good few heads banging. A sleepy audience was slowly waking up to the realisation that Desertfest had finally resumed, for the first time since 2019.
Then it was time for Gevaudian at the Black Heart, and the venue was already full to the brim to the point where attendees were crowded on the stairs. Gevaudian’s ability to deliver their intense atmospheric post metal/sludge concoction was truly impressive. The music was washing over like the tidal waves of a sea storm, and everyone was quietly enjoying it. Hopefully, these guys get more exposure in the future as they truly deserve it.
Next up was Lunar Effect at the Dev. They certainly brought a nice pace progression from that of Gevaudian. Their Black Sabbath-esque stoner doom sound is very much with what one has come to associate Desertfeast, and they delivered masterfully on it. The sound was impeccable and the public was grooving and bopping. Their vocalist’s live ability was absolutely enviable too (and, so was his hair).
At 4pm the Electric Ballroom was the place to be and the queue was legendary. It spanned nearly all the way around to the Dev and there were rumours of overselling. In fact, out of all three days, this was the only time the Electric Ballroom queue was this long. Perhaps, it was Slift’s Thursday performance which caused such an uproar. Perhaps, it was fans planning to stay at the venue for the rest of the day. It’s hard to say, but one thing is for certain: Slift absolutely killed it.
Their set was talked about for the remainder of the festival and those who’d missed it could often be heard commiserating. The sound was good but not perfect – the guitars in particular seemed a little low but the vocals were spot on. Slift’s energy and loudness seemed almost Boredoms-esque, and the nauseating constantly flashing lights added to this perfect musical cacophony. The large venue also suited Slift very well as a smaller one simply wouldn’t have done them justice. Their track selection was masterfully curated and they finished with a psychedelic bang à la Acid Mothers Temple, which the crows loved.
Meanwhile, Coltsblood, UK’s favourite heavy sludge northerners, were on the stage at the Underworld. Coltsblood are always such a treat to see, except this time seeing them was quite difficult because the venue was bathed in red lights, as if to emphasise the band’s name. While their performance was impeccable, with a great track selection and clear sound, the Underworld was emptier than I’d ever been before. In fact, it wouldn’t be this empty for the remainder of the festival. Presumably, this was because everyone had gone to the Electric Ballroom for Truckfighters whose set was happening at the same time.
Swedish trio Truckfighters gathered all the troops for their performance. When the performance times were revealed, there were some surprised comments about the band, formed back in 2001, being given such an early time slot. Luckily, that didn’t stop true fans as well as anyone who wanted to see them perform live, from swarming in on the Electric Ballroom. Truckfighters’ classical stoner rock sound and signature high energy made everyone move along with the rhythm. Though the singer seemed quite static on stage, Dango, the guitar player, took charge of the atmosphere, jumping around and setting the bar impossibly high for others. It was the kind of performance one would like to observe again and again.
We made it to Powerhaus around 17:45 hoping to catch the end of Shooting Daggers but they had already finished their set. This was the first time we’d been there, and, in fact, neither of us knew the venue existed until Desertfest announced it. Powerhaus is a pretty great venue – a truly mid-sized venue with amazing sound and a convenient position. However, there were a few particularities, which seemed to hinder one’s experience there. First and foremost, the venue has a bit of an odd internal structure, with side walkways, and steps at the entrance end. Because it was constantly really dark, it seemed a little dangerous trying to navigate it, and at times one wouldn’t even be able to see the stairs. The lights on the stage were also not the best and the photography pit was tiny, which our photographer commiserated about. Well, since Bonnacons of Doom has to cancel and Shooting Daggers finished early, we thought we’d make our way back toward the Black Heart to catch Dungeon.
Dungeon is one of those non-[broadly] doom bands that are always included on Desertfest line-ups. And there’s no ill will in saying that. This year there were quite a few thrash and NWOBHM bands on at the Underworld and the Black Heart. For Dungeon, the Black Heart was, once again, packed. Their energetic performance definitely set the crowd abuzz. And, I mean, who wouldn’t love a good dose of Slayer worship with a NWOBHM edge? The sound, it seems, as that was the only thing that prevented Dungeon’s set from being impeccable.
Down the road at the Dev, Black Orchids were just about to begin their performance. They had a pretty standard stoner doom sound, but they supplemented it with catchy riffs and some of the best vocals of the festival. Honestly, truly a breath of fresh air in a genre that badly needs it. The longer we watched their set, the more we were enjoying it – and so was the crowd. The Dev was full and everyone seemed to be loving Black Orchids’ performance. The sound wasn’t the best it could be but this oddly contributed to the quality of the performance, in a Youngblood Supercult kind of way.
Next at the Underworld were Switchblade. They put out a really an immense performance with spot on sound, but the venue was rather empty again – likely, a result of everyone still being at Truckfighters. The slow mammoth sounds of doom attracted more people to the venue bit by bit. As if to match the sound, the band members were quite static on stage, but that did not hinder the enjoyment we derived from their performance. Absolute props go to them for also performing in t-shirts of top quality bands: Swans, Trap Them, Winter, (and a fourth one we didn’t recognise).
With Truckfighters finally having finished their legendary performance, Lowrider took the stage at the Electric Ballroom. The last time they played in the UK was in 2017, so this was a rare opportunity to see them live. Expectedly, the venue was packed to the brim for their performance, perhaps, even more so than for the previous one. We thought their sound was pretty mono, but at this point, we were beginning to mistrust our ears. They really put an emphasis on the excellent vocal ability of main man Peder Bergstrand, though, Peter Holland of Elephant Tree also contributed guest vocals. They were their best psychedelic selves and the crowd couldn’t have been happier for it.
Meanwhile, Inhuman Nature were wreaking havoc at the Black Heart. What a fun show that was! The venue was so crowded that two minutes in, we were swimming in sweat. Everyone was headbanging, bopping, or even dancing. Another surprising thrash metal act, Inhuman Nature really knew how to work the crowd, and they had the energy to match the speed their instruments were uttering. A highlight of the show were the inflatable swords being handed around. We managed to grab two, and we can testify, it increased our enjoyment two-fold.
At Powerhaus, Hey Colossus were just about to take the stage. It was good to see them again as it had been a good while. They’re one of the staple UK experimental doom bands, combining post metal, psych doom, and a tinge of post punk, and it really shows live too. They gave a fine performance, and their vocalist’s almost theatrical stage presence was a welcome change. The guitars and the drums were as intense as they could be, even though the sound was overall not perfect. Powerhaus was fuller than ever for Hey Colossus, with their loyal fan base enthusiastically enjoying the performance.
After Switchblade finished their performance at the Underworld London duo Petbrick descended over us with their semi-electronic madness. Compared to previous bands, Petbrick served us with a mixture of experimental electronic and dark metal. The live drums were combined with synthetic sounds, and punk like vocals were also thrown into the mix. Petbrick left us intrigued and excited to see more of them in the future. Even though the duo seemed static on the stage, it clearly didn’t matter to the fans who filled up venue really full.
Then, it was finally time for the Electric Ballroom to be captivated by 1000mods, a group that needs no introduction. Another rare UK show, this was the second time they played Desertfest London, the first being on the same stage in 2017. We had never seen them before and this was one of the shows we were most excited about. They definitely didn’t disappoint. The venue was packed again, there were a few mosh pits, a drum solo, and the band’s guitarist, Giorgos’s, birthday. 1000mods truly are a big stage band, their high-energy performance and amazing presence perfect for the Electric Ballroom. Sadly, the sound wasn’t the best, but it was still pretty good, and a feeling of surfing over ancient ruins washed over us while witnessing their set.
With the end of 1000mods’ set approaching, the Underworld’s headliners, Integrity, were about to start. The very first note caused mosh pits to form in the really packed venue. Energetic mixture of punk, heavy metal and trash spurred the audience on and created a party-like atmosphere. Formed in 1988 and having a huge fan base, Integrity showed that their energy and drive to perform aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Definitely, a great choice for the last band of The Underworld, but luckily, the night was not over just yet!
After 1000mods, we rushed to Alunah’s headline set at the Dev. It had been a while since we last saw Alunah – in fact they were still with their previous vocalist back then. It’s always such a treat to see their masterful psychedelic performances, and judging by how full the Dev was, it was clear that the audience agreed with us. Alunah is one of those bands that combine perfect song writing with impeccable performance and very professional vocals, but on this occasion, the sound was not the best and it seemed like there was more reverb than straight up vocals.
Gnod’s headline show at Powerhaus was next up – and Powerhaus was nearly full and buzzing with the excitement of festivalgoers. Their sludgy stoner with hardcore elements was definitely a fan favourite. In some ways, they somewhat reminded us of a less industrial Godflesh. Once again, it seemed like the vocals were low, but the public really didn’t seem to mind. We thought this wasn’t the most exciting nor most energetic performance of the day, but the relatively small stage could have played a part in that. It’s certainly imperative to note that even though Powerhaus is a relatively large venue, its stage is on the smaller side.
One of the most highly anticipated shows of the evening was coming up next, and it was a most welcome change of pace. Claustrophobia settled in as the Electric Ballroom was stuffed full of Witchcraft fans. In the middle of the action, we were uncomfortably pressed up to a staircase but had a miraculously good view of the stage. Now, it’s not a secret that Magnus Pelander, the vocalist and founding member of Witchcraft has some of the most unique vocals in the stoner/doom genre, and, unbelievably, he sounds even better live. This was easily the band with the best sound at the Electric Ballroom this day, particularly vocals-wise.
Almost everyone else had low sound on the vocals, but not Witchcraft. They were, verily, their centrepiece. Witchcraft played a variety of tracks from all across their discography, including some they’d never performed live before. They did put an emphasis on their slower pieces, though, which seemed to bore some of the members of the audience, and midway through their performance, the Electric Ballroom had already started to empty out. Despite that, Witchcraft put out an incredible show. They started early and finished late, which was a first for that day.
The final performance on Friday was again at the Electric Ballroom, by London locals Steak. Now, many would acknowledge that Steak was an unorthodox choice for a Friday headliner – after all, Witchcraft and 1000mods are, generally, a lot better known. However, musically Steak’s selection does make sense. Their sound is a great combination of much of what one would have heard on the first day of Desertfest – heavy yet mellow, psychedelic yet quintessentially stoner, groovy yet atmospheric. Sadly, it seemed like much of the audience was also unfamiliar with Steak, and the venue emptied out significantly – in fact, the Electric Ballroom hadn’t been this empty all day. It didn’t help that their sound did them an injustice too – it was quite low all across the board, but particularly on the vocals. Despite all of that, Steak put on a great show, and those who stayed enjoyed themselves immensely. And so, this is was the end of Day 1.