I've been to the first and second edition of Desertfest so I expected nothing less than an absolute blast. In that, I'm undoubtedly not the only one. Everyone has high expectations for this festival, certainly since they recently expanded to Athens.
About that, perhaps it's time to add a fourth skull to their logo?
Which actually takes me to a first point of criticism. Weren't there a bit too many people at Desertfest? It was crowded as hell, lacking pretty much every possibility to get away from people and things for a while. I usually don't mind being jampacked into a crowd at a brilliant concert but I also like to be able to sit down, enjoy a little breather and have a conversation with someone at a reasonable volume level.
And since I'm writing about a little breather once in awhile. Personally, I wouldn't mind adding a few drone or ambient acts to the line up. They fit quite well with the already massive amount of musical styles and I'm sure they could be a welcome little getaway from the harshness of the multitude of performances. So, how about adding acts like Stratosphere, Ashtoreth, Dirk Serries or Aidan Baker to the line-up next year?
Oh well, perhaps I'm just becoming an old man who can't handle the youthful energy anymore. Although, I have to say, I definitely wasn't the oldest person in attendance. That one could have been Bobby Liebling who at 62 still knows very well how to bewitch a huge audience. That Pentagram gig sure was something to remember. It was as if we all witnessed the birth of doom metal again, with riffs we all can remember and we all love so much.
Desertfest are slowly shedding off their "stoner-rock" skin, and that's a good thing. With the addition of thrash and black metal inspired bands, the line-up already gained a little more variation. Strangely enough, it were those bands that eventually stole the show. Alkerdeel, Wolvennest and Black Swarm were simply stunning, and all definitely deserving a spot in my best-of-Desertfest list.
I enjoyed the majority of the concerts, and you, dear reader, are here to read about those, aren't you? Well, you're lucky because there were only five bands I didn't see. I admit, I've seen very few concerts in their entirety because of my journalistic duties and because I wanted to check out as much as possible. Yet, I think I managed to see enough to get a decent impression of the bands. The ones I missed were Josefin Örhn & The Liberation (I'll complain about that with De Lijn, the Belgian public transport screw-ups), Mother's Cake, The Atomic Bitchwax and the last two bands on the bill, Toxic Shock & Vodun (simply because of pure and utter exhaustion - old man, remember?).
Upstairs, the festival would really blast off with a stunning performance by Belgian horde Alkerdeel. They simply bashed the Canyon stage with their vigorous and intense black metal induced filth. For a moment, I felt sorry for the drummer who continuously accompagnied the grinding noise of his bandmates with ferocious blastbeats. He had quite a painful look on his face when he reached top speed. Still, bloody impressive performance if you ask me.
In the big hall, aptly named the Desert Stage, Torche was about to kick off. For a while, I really enjoyed their glorious blend of alternative rock and sludge and I could see I wasn't the only one. In fact, a lot people came early and seemed to enjoy the first shows. So yes, Torche played in front of an almost full venue, damn well deserved too. They simply delivered the goods and the audience was definitely pleased about that.
Yet, I've always been more interested in the smaller bands, so I quickly walked towards the Vulture stage where SubRosa was about to start. I really liked their album 'For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages' (read review) and I was curious about their mysterious doom being played live. At first the gig couldn't please me, something wasn't right. Perhaps it was the sound but the band didn't convince me. Eventually, I walked back upstairs where Your Highness would make us Belgians proud. They did. This was solid, for as long as I saw them. Shortly after they started, I had to go downstairs again for journalistic duties. Waiting there, I was able to check out some more of what Subrosa delivered and by now it sounded convincing, making me enjoy what was left of the show.
Back at the Desert Stage, the doomers from Yob would once again roll over an astonished audience, like they already did earlier and pretty much like they always do. Yob is Yob, and their performances are simply intense and captivating. These guys are always worth the effort and on this edition of Desertfest that wasn't very different. Yet, I was being dragged into the Vulture stage again, to see the first band I had to interview on this festival.
That band was Black Rainbows who kicked off with the infectious 'Electrify' and continued raging that fire throughout their entire set. Suddenly, the Vulture Stage felt too small for these guys and I felt sorry for them. This quality should have at least been booked on the Canyon Stage, upstairs. In my opinion, this was one of the highlights in a Desertfest packed with heavy psychedelic music, even though not that much people showed up for this one. I guess those people were still enjoying Yob or some nice food. Their bad, Black Rainbows was bloody awesome.
In fact, they were so awesome that I left Coogan's Bluff's & Joy's performance after a few minutes. I felt like I had experienced enough intensity for a while so I went outside for a drink, some food and a nice chat with Black Rainbows. Besides, I still wasn't feeling so well. From what I heard, both bands delivered a decent to excellent performance, so that seems ok. By the way, I would also miss most of Black Cobra because I really, really, really didn't feel like listening to hardcore induced sludge metal anymore, at least not for a while.
I did catch some Red Fang and I must say that I underestimated these guys. To be honest, I wondered why they headlined instead of Yob, but now I understand. Goddammit these guys are good, delivering a massive set in front of an ecstatic crowd. The Desert stage looked packed to capacity, and with good reason too. This was a party, and definitely one that the majority of visitors bought a ticket for.
2. Black Rainbows
3. Red Fang
Upstairs, again a Belgian band would blast itself into my top-3 and again one with blackened influences. Their name is Wolvennest and they delivered one of the strongest performances I've seen at Desertfest ànd in 2016. A blend of doom, dark ambient, krautrock and black metal filled the room, which was soaked in utter darkness. Many people were entranced by this performance. Afterwards, I heard several witnesses claim that this was so intense and immersive that it was indeed one of the best concerts at this festival.
In fact, Wolvennest was so good that Purson had the utmost difficulty to come close, and in the end they never did. Not that this was a bad concert, on the very contrary. The band seemed in a good mood, a decent part of the audience danced and the guy running the accompanying projection had loads of fun. I guess I just wasn't into it that much. Same counts for Giobia by the way. Again, decent to excellent performance but hey, I still had one and a half day of this stuff to go through and I was already sure I'd seen more bands than most people. Hell, I can say the exact same thing about the Elder gig, which I enjoyed for a while. It was good but not memorable enough at this point, not for me.
For memorable moments you had to be upstairs, where 1000Mods crushed the Canyon stage. Their album is a blast (read review) and seeing them perform these awesome songs live was stunning. These guys know what they're doing, that's for sure. They have been doing this for quite some time now and it looked like they. Finally I felt in the mood to party a little and I started a little headbanging session. They gig was short but certainly intense enough.
One of the biggest surprises on this festival, were Arabrot. Oh man, I really digged the theatrical approach to whatever music it is these people make. This was a great performance, perhaps on a stage that is a bit too small for bands with this charisma. Still, hell of a gig, and that also counts for Cough, who bulldozed their thick sludge over an audience that willingly took the abuse. It was great to see those heads nodding to the rhythm of the music, as if Cough brought an army of bobble-heads with them.
Colour Haze was announced as the replacement for Graveyard, who suddenly split-up. Personally, I don't think that was a very good choice. To me, it felt like the trio was playing on automatic pilot, without really being interested what anyone thought about their performance. Maybe during the concert things got better but I never witnessed that. I went for a bite, a smoke and an excellent gig by Hangman's Chair. Their melodic stoner doom is something I can enjoy pretty much every day, and certainly when played live.
Interview duties made me miss the apparently amazing performance by The Atomic Bitchwax and a big part of Weedeater. I did see a little of the latter and what I saw was pretty damn nice. Same counts for the masked bards of Salem's Pot but I needed to rest. So I went upstairs, where at that moment very few people were strolling around or sitting, having a little break, just like me. At this point, I also realized that three days of Desertfest might be a bit too much, and that the festival could definitely do with a few drone/ambient acts (yeah, I'm trying to push this).
That was until Ahab climbed on the stage. In a way, their somewhat gothic funeral doom sounded a bit off at this festival but I loved every second of it. My fatigue was over, my attention was back and I was ready to sprint to the finish of this second day. The Germans certainly delivered the goods and the energy I needed to get me through the rest of the day. Obviously, the one profiting the most from that were doom legends Pentagram. Of course Pentagram was amazing, of course we all heard these riffs before, of course this was a worthy headliner for another great day. Hell, they even blew away all memory I have of the concert by Electric Citizen. Sorry.
The evening ended with Monkey3 who had a new album to present. Here I could aso throw in a lot of 'of courses'. If you know Monkey3, you will be aware that these guys always come up with quality. Whether it's the music, the visual aspect of their performances or recently added vocals, Monkey3 always makes things fit together. On Desertfest that was no different, a typical Monkey3 concert, excellence from a band that does not know how to disappoint their audience.
Then, a number of bands would fall into something I like to call 'the fatigue trap'. Moaning Cities were ok but not as immersive and emotive as I've seen them before. Komatsu could have been a lot better if there would have been a bit more variation on the line-up. I liked their performance, but you know, it was stoner rock, again. In that aspect, the gig from Earth Ship completely passed me by and I started to wonder if it was me. It was. The crowdedness and intensity of the past few days (along with a headstrong cold) were taking their toll. Even My Sleeping Karma, a band I secretly adore, couldn't do the trick. For a moment, I thought "perhaps it's best if I just go home and sleep for a few weeks in a row".
Instead, I headed to the Vulture stage where Black Swarm would soon climb on stage. Before I realized it, I was fiercely banging my head to this massive blend of thrash metal and hardcore. Maybe this was the kind of variation I was so eagerly looking for, but these guys rocked & thrashed themselves into becoming one of the absolute highlights of this festival. This felt so underground, so genuine that I could easily imagine undergoing this gig at Antwerp Music City. Black Swarm have just announced their split and a final performance at Rodeo Winter Fest. All of you have to come over and witness this.
From Black Swarm to Duel seemed like going back to the whole stoner rock thing again but eventually these acts caused me to SMS 'it's getting better and better' and 'Duelicious' to my wife. Oh man, that Duel gig was electric. From start to finish the vintage heavy metal blasted through the speakers. These guys are made of sheer energy, and I'm damn happy I could have a chat with one of them (you'll read that soon on this website). Duel delivered exactly what I expected from this festival, a brilliant performance, rising to absolute genius.
A much welcome piece of variation, came from the shamanic duo of Tau. With their festive and celebratory music, made by vocals, an acoustic guitar and a drum, this duo invited all in attendance to a moment of meditation and dance. I've seen these guys before (at Incubate) and I welcomed their music for a while until interview duties dragged me back upstairs. I had a few minutes left to check out Belgian legend La Muerte, and much to my delight, I walked in when they started playing a stunning, quite industrial sounding track. I don't know the name of that song, but I'm sure I'll be searching through their releases to find this awesome piece of work.
During the set of Lonely Camel, I had a nice chat with Jeff & Shaun from Duel (you can read about that soon). So I missed most of Lonely Camel's gig but from what I could hear, it sounded like a band to see again pretty soon. Back downstairs, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats kicked off their set in front of a packed Desert stage. They started with the iconic 'Mt. Abraxas', a song I'll probably love until the end of days so I was immediately in the right mindset for this performance. Of course, the stunning shows by Black Swarm and Duel had already given me wings and the necessary energy to see a few more bands. Uncle Acid was amazing. I loved every single second of it.
But then, the man with the hammer appeared, chasing me throughout the venue and the food corner. Castle sounded alright, but too heavy at that time, which could also be said from Scorpion Child. So I ordered one final drink and walked back to the Desert stage where Goat were about to begin. For a second I thought it would be funny to simply put an actual goat on the stage as a piece of performance act or something. The enigmatic Swedish act opened in a beautiful and highly immersive way, making me forget about that man with the hammer for a while. I let myself float along with the psychedelic beauty of Goat for about half an hour before I finally decided that it had been enough for me. The edition of Desertfest was over. Another day, another time and I would have loved to see Toxic Shock and the strange act Vodun but for now, it was time to say goodbye to the massive crowd, the friendly security and that amazing yearly gathering that Desertfest Belgium has become.
-Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats
I'm sure Desertfest 2017 (13-15 October) will be another blast with a solid line-up and loads of delicious stuff to be discovered. Speaking about delicious, I love those food trucks, but it could do with one more, one that does something Italian. That would definitely add a bit of variation to our Desertfest-diet.
See you next year, you sweaty, bearded and beer soaked men & women...