What was I thinking? Three days of stoner rock, doom and psychedelic rock: I should have known that it would wear me down to complete exhaustion. So here I am, only a few days after the assault, my legs have stopped cooperating, my back hurts and my head aches. It’s like having a hangover but not from alcohol, more like a volume-hangover or something. But what a sweet hangover it is.
Desertfest Belgium is not really a new festival, although it was the first time the organization came to our country. Previously the festival has taken place in London and Berlin, solidifying their spot in the world of all things “stoner”. The younger cousin of the Dutch Roadburn festival completely sold out and took over the Trix venue like a boss. The venue seemed to be perfect for this, with three stages (Desert Stage, Canyon Stage and Vulture Stage), a market and a food garden.
(artwork: Charles Degeyter - facebook)
Because we’re working people I missed the first few bands. I arrived when Valley of the Sun was almost at the end of their set. What I heard was good old dirty riffing that sounded very promising. Hopefully I can see the band again soon. Upstairs Toner Low had already started their set. Their unwieldy doom sound almost reached perfection and their weed leaf projections only added to the atmosphere. Unfortunately I wasn’t completely ready for their heavy stoner doom yet but again, I’d like to see them again.
Truckfighters were the most active band from a merchandise point of view. They were the band with the most t-shirts, hats, records, buttons… on the entire festival. Apart from that, their music was really welcoming. Heavy, up-tempo riffing an pounding drums reminded me of old Warrior Soul, a band that I thought about a lot about on Friday.
Off to the Vulture Stage where The Vintage Caravan was about to start. These young Icelanders were really impressive. They convinced the entire audience with their uplifting seventies hard rock, being the first highlight of the festival. With bands like these, the future of quality music is secure. The Bevis Frond is an experienced live band with some very good musicians. They started with a great piece of music, sometimes reminding me of Pink Floyd. However, they could not continue to fascinate me. Maybe I was just getting tired.
Kadavar, on the other hand, did so. Their set was basically the same as at Incubate but that didn’t matter one little bit. Kadavar did what they do best: rock our socks off with more than decent seventies hard rock. So yes, to me they were second highlight of the day and simply the best band playing on the first day of Desertfest. Lecherous Gaze had the opportunity to finish day one with their heavy sleaze-rock but just like with The Bevis Frond earlier I didn’t feel it. Another time, another place maybe.
Day two of Desertfest looked very promising on paper. So I hurried to be at Trix on time to see David Celia. Celia, the only solo-act on this festival, was able to charm most of the audience with his introvert acoustic folk. It was a very nice set indeed. After his set it was time for the Belgians to impress. First up was Moonward, a young stoner/psych rock band. With a very solid live set these youngsters convinced the audience of their talents. Great good old stoner rock, reminding us of the early days when the genre consisted of Kyuss and Fu Mancu. Keep an eye open for these guys, and while you’re at it, go watch Cowboys and Aliens (interview) as well. I did so and I was extremely happy about it too. Cowboys and Aliens are a Flemish rock band formed in the nineties. They played their set with an enormous amount of enthusiasm and energy, immediately convincing us of their quality and experience, winning a lot of well-deserved fans.
Suddenly there was a gap. For some reason I can’t remember the Death Alley, Dirty Fences and Steak gigs. Maybe because of the fact that they sounded pretty much alike or maybe because Cowboys & Aliens was that amazing. Same goes for Your Highness for some reason and I hope I can see them again pretty soon because Your Highness is one of the most promising bands in the area at the moment. I did watch a bit of Satan’s Satyrs and I kinda liked it. Their stoner punk was very entertaining and they were a lot of fun to watch as well.
But it was time to wander towards the extremes. First up was Herder, hailing from the Netherlands and blasting its fury over an almost full venue. At this point they might have been the most popular band at this festival, and with reason. Herder is on top of the contemporary sludge scene and an excellent live band. Very strong.
I had time for a little trip to the bathroom so I went downstairs again and showed my toilet-wristband (also called 'Pisspass'). The toilet lady said that I was wearing yesterdays pisspass and that I had to buy a new one. I looked at the floor and the urinals and decided it was actually worth paying the two euros again. After all, the ladies did an excellen job. So I bought a new pisspass and said that 'I'll take two pieces of candy than'. The woman smiled.
Being a doom fan, I was looking forward to Pallbearer and Yob and I was very right to do so. Both bands played a more than excellent set, assuring themselves the top spots on this festival. I can’t decide which of both was the best so let’s call it a draw and go buy some cds and t-shirts dammit. I felt that a lot of people were actually waiting for their somber but awesome doom after witnessing the many up-tempo rocking bands that already played, so both Pallbearer and Yob could count on an enthusiastic audience.
The Shrine, another deity in the making, continued Herder’s work and started a huge party at the Canyon stage. Hard rock at its best and at its stoniest, or something like that. Very entertaining stuff here. Celeste kicked ass but I feel that the Vulture stage was too small for this black sludge band. Their minimal live performance (nothing but a red light on their heads) and pitch black music deserved a bigger audience. What they did was simply awesome, period.
Upstairs Karma To Burn did what Karma To Burn do best. Their instrumental rock was played with an astonishing amount of enthusiasm and experience and the audience really loved it, including me. KtB was the perfect headliner for a great second day of Desertfest. Yes, I said headliner because Electric Wizard simply wasn’t. Maybe it was the fact that the audience was exhausted after the fantastic shows earlier that day or maybe Electric Wizard didn’t really feel like it but there was no magic in their set. For once it just didn’t work. Too bad for a such a hugely talented band but there’s always next time.
On Sunday I decided to take it a little easier, I’m not twenty anymore and the past few days had already been pretty exhausting. I made a list of bands that I really wanted to see and I realized taking it easy was not really an option. Damn you, awesome festivals with an awesome amount of awesome bands.
Bloodnstuff had the opportunity to kick-off at the Vulture stage and they did pretty good. Another two-piece that is able to sound like a complete band by producing a more that solid rock sound. They instantly gained a lot of new fans, that’s for sure. Upstairs Moaning Cities brought back the sixties and seventies with their simply beautiful psychedelic rock, driven with sitar. Once again a Belgian band proved that our country has a lot of talented residents.
Old Man Lizard filled in for Slabdragger whose guitar player had been rushed to the hospital with a collapsed lung. The music was pretty ok but I wasn't very fond of the vocals. Nonetheless Old Man Lizard played a very good set and had quite some followers. Upstairs Black Bombain, a drugged-out three-piece played an excellent set, filled with decent rock and entertaining psychedelics. I loved it and so did most of the people at the Canyon Stage.
Over years there has been way over a Thousand band that I've seen live but what happed at the Conan gig has never happened to me before. Their concert was so immensely bombastic, loud and brutal, leaving me completely knocked out and exhausted. The powerful doom of Conan drained every piece of energy out of my body in such an intense manner that I had to sit down and smoke a cigarette in the rainy market. My god this was awesome, probably the best concert of the year…
Only fifteen minutes later it was time for national pride again when Sardonis’ (interview) assault rolled over the Canyon stage. For as far as I know they had the largest audience in this part of the venue and with reason. The two-piece unleashed their thrash-doom with an intensity that could almost be compared to Conan a few minutes earlier. It wasn’t even eight o’clock yet and this day had already been a huge success.
Back downstairs to watch a little bit of Color Haze before my interview appointment with Sardonis. Color Haze is one of the most well-known proto-stoner rock bands but this time they couldn’t really convince me to stay and watch. I don’t think it’s their fault though, since they played a decent set. The Conan & Sardonis gigs were still in my head and I needed a little rest, so off to the merchandise booth and spend money on really cool stuff.
Jex Thoth was presented as a psych/doom band but instead they reminded me of old The Gathering and other gothic rock bands. That’s not a bad thing by the way so Jex Thoth was really good. So was Brant Bjork. The stoner deity played an excellent set, better than I had expected to be honest. I stayed for a while and really enjoyed the master of desert rock. For years I kinda ignored this brilliant musician, mea culpa.
When I went downstair to put my newly accquired cd's and vinyl in a locker, someone suddenly asked me if Conan had already played. I said yes and saw his dissapointed face. We started talking. He told me that he fell down in a puddle of vomit and was kicked out of the venue, not to return unless he cleaned himself (maybe a tip for the security: it's a lot easier to clean up in the bathrooms than on the street, the poor guy missed his favorite band because of this and it wasn't even his own puke).
Finally it was time for Monkey3, a band that I have witnessed in Antwerp about seven years ago. Although their post-rock sounding music was a bit out of place they played a beautiful set. Monkey3 has clearly grown towards being a top act in the genre. The Swiss space rockers were a more than excellent headliner on the Canyon stage and as far as I was concerned a perfect headliner for the entire festival. For me it was time to go home and rest. I passed the Desert Stage where Fu Manchu sounded pretty good. Unfortunately my tired body had decided that it was over and reminded me of the 45 minute bike ride I still had to go through.
Sunday obviously was the best day of a great first edition of Desertfest. I heard it was completely sold out, giving me a lot of hope for a new edition next year. If it promises to be half as decent as this, I’ll be there. I want to present my sincere congratulations to the organization, the Trix venue, the bands that gave it their best and the eclectic audience. This has been a weekend to remember for a long time.