[Live Report] Desertfest 2015 – Two days in the desert of Camden

The Desertfest is an event for fans of doom, stoner and sludge but also for fans of metal or just music in general. Wherever you go, you can feel the passion and the devotion of fans and musicians for what they do, and there is nothing that music fans understand more than that. From 13:00 to 23:30, shows were happening in Camden from the small room of the Black Heart to the much larger Electric Ballroom, including some that were not quite as near and that i did not visit. To be honest, with only three places the Desertfest 2014 was already quite an experience so I don’t see the need for any expansion outside of those three if you want to taste most bands, which I tried to do.

Desertfest+London+2015

Friday

Walk Through Fire

Prior to coming to the show I had appreciated their latest album but found myself a bit bored after the first « song ». Although very well played, the mix of Khanate like dissonance and post metal lacks the coldness and is far too repetitive. The end sounded especially repetitive with one chord being played continuously with the same drum beat behind it. The band could do with mastering the art of unpredictability.

Dopethrone

Seeing them live three years ago was not a compelling experience but I really can’t argue against the groove of the songs they played on that day, and neither could the massive crowd assembled in the Underworld. Next time this band should in the Electric Ballroom. Their brand of sludge sure owes a lot to Electric Wizard but who cares when it’s done so well. One of the best show of the fest for many.

Dead Existence (instead of End of Level Boss)

Despite the fact that I was unaware that End of Level Boss had cancelled and been replaced by Dead Existence, I enjoyed their riffs much more than the time I saw them in Paris. In the tiny Black Heart they sounded huge and worth every buck spent on the equipment they were playing on to get such a full and consistent sound.

Floor

In terms of volume, Floor wins it all. The power trio seemed to be playing with three times as musicians to get such a physical experience. You could almost take a bite out of the riffs! Plus, with a set list consisting of hit songs from their self-titled album and their come back album, Oblation, played back to back, you had no time to disagree. Floor sounds like the Beach Boys on eleven and were as catchy and massive as you wanted them to be.

Black Cobra

I really didn’t care much for Black Cobra until now, preferring the old mix of sludge and hardcore à la Black Flag of Cavity, but I really couldn’t help but be impressed by the intensity of Black Cobra. Even if the riffs didn’t sound as consistent as they do on record, the drummer makes it up with an attack as diverse and inventive as the great math-rock drummer. The power duo’s set was maybe a bit too long but their much headbanging still.

Minsk

Despite their latest album (reviewed here) being a competent slab of post metal in the vein of old Neurosis and more recent Isis, the same can’t be said of Minsk’s live show. The band sound great, the musician are all very good, but seeing them live feels like witnessing a cover band. It’s all done very well if you feel nostalgic but it’s not good enough on it’s own to make you forget the originals.

Orange Goblin

Orange Goblin are celebrating their 20th anniversary and they brought all the goods for their fans. On the stage of the Electric Ballroom the band sound, and look, huge (as they should). It may be easy to play rock and roll but playing it well is something else entirely. Orange Goblin do it with the mastery of old pros by offering enough groove and bluesy solos to make you forget that even if the Big black is 15 years old, it is still sounds quite alive. Another highlight of the fest but the best was yet to come for me.

Noothgrush

These Californians come rarely in Europe so there was no reason good enough to miss them. Noothgrush are a proverbial cult-classic. Enjoyed by many, ignored by most, the band look and sound exactly as you would like them to. None of them look good in the most common sense of the term, most of them look like they don’t play in a sludge band but all of them create the most perfect wall of hate and distortion you want to hear from a sludge band. However, playing rarely also means that when technical problem occurs, you don’t necessarily know how to deal with them as well as some more experienced, and even younger, bands. Therefore, after breaking a string on his guitar, it takes the musician more than five minutes to figure out how to change it. It’s only a detail but it proves how much experience Noothgrush lacks but doesn’t need either. Most band would have a hard time recovering but those guys just power through the rest of their set and offer an excellent and intense set. From the primitive drumming to the anguished screams of the singer, Noothgrush is the definition of sludge. You don’t need drugs, you just need riffs, anger and energy. The best band of the fest for me, by far.

Red Fang

After witnessing such a perfect mix of hate and destruction, it’s hard to appreciate Red Fang no matter how well they play. It’s not the band’s fault, they know how to play well and very tightly, but who wants to hear more rock and roll when you’ve listened to a band that sounds like the end of the world?

Saturday

Pale Horse

They started too early and stopped too soon but boy, did they impress everyone. I turned up early after being impressed by their album and the Londoners delivered an excellent set by mixing sludge and harsh noise. Despite playing music that inspires the annihilation of mankind they even managed to be genuinely funny in-between songs. The best surprise of the fest.

Vintage Caravan

With only two songs left when I come into the Electric Ballroom, Vintage Caravan sounds like they are expert at the art of 70’s rock. You got your guitar solos, you got your groove and you got your charismatic frontman/guitar player.

Lo Pan

I was at first slightly disappointed when I entered the Electric Ballroom to discover that Lo Pan’s singer could not the same high notes that on their album. Instead of a Jonah Jenkins (Only Living Witness) sound alike, I got a more Maynard James Keenan (Tool) performance which was, at first, a bit disconcerting since the resemblance with OLW was the reason i got into the band in the first place. But, after a couple of songs, it became obvious that the band did not need such an association to get rocking. With an excellent rhythm section and an very competent singer, the band didn’t need to move (they are quite fat to be honest but they also didn’t have much room either), or even talk, to impress. This being their first show in London, the crowd seemed very happy to finally enjoy their presence so we might see them again soon enough. Now that I know what they really sound like live, I will be more ready to enjoy their songs next time.

Anthroproph

Proof that the Desertfest welcomes every kind of heavy music, this trio played a mix of psychedelic rock and noise experimentation with the kind of energy and chemistry that makes the whole thing sound as improvised as good free jazz does.

Mike Williams

Nothing to review here since the set was cancelled for unknown reasons.

Brant Bjork

Yes, I have never listened to Kyuss, therefore I have no idea if the rock and roll played by Brant Bjork is very derivative of the kind of stoner he used to play with Josh Homme and John Garcia. What I do know is that if you take it for what it is, Brant Bjork‘s music is a good mix of rock and blues to make your feet stomp and your head nod. I can’t see myself listening to an album, but in a festival the man and his band provide a great soundtrack to make you forget that the London weather isn’t getting any better.

Bong

Can you be surprised if a band called Bong plays a sort of repetitive doom? Weirdly enough, even if the trio sounds like the guitarist and bass player hit the same chord for an hour, the texture is fat enough to make you enjoy the result. Too bad the Underworld was crowded and I was getting tired after a full day of standing around.

EyeHateGod

Even if I’m not a fan, it would have seemed strange to miss a set by NOLA’s best export in sludge. Despite the cancellation of his spoken word set, singer Mike Williams seemed in good spirit and in fine form for a life long junky. After the loss of drummer Joe LaCaze, the band could have sunk but the addition of Aaron Hill seems to have given them more reason to destroy. His dry and hard hitting style sounded perfect for EyeHateGod to deliver a powerful performance. The constant jokes between band members in-between songs confirmed their renewed dedication to sludge and touring which is an excellent news for fans of the genre if they continue to perform as consistently as they did tonight.

Hang the Bastard

With a long line of punters waiting in the stairs and outside the Black Heart, it seems that Hang the Bastard’s conversion to a sludge band rather than the mix of hardcore and sludge of their young days seems to have worked out fine for them. Sadly, I still prefer their old self and standing in the back of the Black Heart to only see a glimpse of the band didn’t sound very appealing after a long day.

Conclusion

Since the announcement of Sleep as Sunday’s headliner it was obvious that this was going to be hard to find tickets for this day. Therefore, I wasn’t able to attend the last day of the fest and enjoy Koko’s massive sound system being put to the service of Sleep‘s massive riffs. Still, I have no regrets after having enjoyed two days full of excellent bands. I may not be a fan of all of them but with such a consistent line-up and some fantastic work from every sound technicians there is no reason to not enjoy yourself at the Desertfest and I’m already looking forward for next year’s edition.

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