A Weekend At The Desert (Fest) – Day 1

Prelude:

Now some of you may be wondering how this little misadventure came about in the first place. Well, it harks back to a troubled time pre-dissertation, where I was arming myself for the most intensive three weeks of my life and by doing so, contacted the organisers of Desertfest, in hope of securing a face-to-face interview with someone for the purposes of my research. I later changed to an email interview, due in part to both time shortage, and my sheer laziness. I explained to them who I was and what I would like from them, and awaited a reply. Normally I expect to hear nothing back for a few days from anyone, or even at all, but I had a response rather quickly. The guy who answered me back, known as Jake, said he would be happy to help me out, and actually seemed rather interested in me for just asking about it. We exchanged a couple of emails, in one of his replies to me, was actually offering me work for the promotion, in which I happily said I would be pleased to do so, had I not been burdened with the task of completing my dissertation. I sold myself to him anyway as anyone would in a CV or job interview.  Jake understood, told me I was the sort of young, enthusiastic person he was looking for and said he would probably need me up until the run of the festival anyway, weeks after my deadline. He said he would get back to me with my answers, but the next day, offered me free tickets to see Corrosion of Conformity, and mentioned he was really keen to meet me. I was taken aback I’ll admit, but sadly as much as I would’ve loved to, I thanked him for his kind offer, but had to decline because of the forthcoming workload. Again, Jake was understanding, said whenever I was around in London to drop him a line and promised to get the answers back to me for my interview as soon as he could. And he that did. And it was incredibly helpful.

So four weeks or so pass, and I conquer the dissertation, after a lengthy, emotional and draining struggle, and I get back into contact with Jake, asking if he still wants to meet up, seeming I now have the spare time to visit London on a leisurely basis. He replied back, knowing full well he was incredibly busy, but still wanted to meet up if I was coming down to London, offering me and a potential friend a free weekend pass to Desertfest. I had no luck finding a potential friend, or just a definite yes from anyone, so as I’ve learned from three years of experience, if you want to do something or get something done, say ‘Fuck it’ and do it yourself. So I graciously accepted his generous offer, and looked forward to our meeting.

To our story:

Friday evening on the 26th April, I took a train to Landan Town, then the tube to Camden, only to be greeted by an envelope of rain. As instructed in the email sent to me on the day, I rung the mysterious man known as Jake, but didn’t get an answer the two times I tried, so I wandered down to the Lock and then got an answer. As I somewhat expected, he was extremely busy and in the middle of sorting out a dilemma. He had said to call him again in 20 minutes or so, hopefully give him enough time to amend said dilemma. Luckily this being London and Camden, there was more than enough to do to occupy my time for 20 minutes. So what does any self respecting man do? Go to look at dresses.

If you don’t know me particularly well, I have no lady friend, so yes, the dress was for me.

I am somewhat of a very casual transvestite, in that I occasionally wear a touch of make-up, always have thought the best clothes do come in women sizes and I own my own bra. I’ve always admired the clothes that some ladies wear, and have been a bit jealous that I can’t wear them too. Anyway, I’ve had my eye on a dress in Cyberdog for several months now, and they’ve only just started selling it online and thought about trying my luck in store. And luck I had. Right up until the point I realised that dress would’ve looked small even on me with my slim frame. Even if I did want this dress, which I really, really do by the way, I would have to contemplate getting it in a medium. That small was too small, christ.

So slightly alarmed, I wandered back to the Lock whilst avoiding interaction with a gang of slack panted chav cunts who probably wanted to mug me, sat beside the probably disease festered water and phoned Jake once again, only to be told that he had to be busy for the next two hours. Huh. However, I could go to the World’s End (as in a pub, not the literal world’s end, that would take far too long, but perhaps make for a more interesting story) and speak to his cousin to obtain my weekend pass wristband. He would ring me back when he was free. Two hours was a long time to do nothing, so at least he was kind enough to do that much for me. I walked back towards the tube, trying to avoid eye contact with as many shady characters as possible and headed inside the World’s End, looking for a ticket point or exchange or something or other. I’d only been in this place once, and it is suspiciously larger on the inside than it appears. It wasn’t that hard to find, so nervously approaching the guestlist side of the exchange point, I asked for Jake’s cousin and explained to the gentleman in the dazzling, gold-leaf stemmed shirt who responded, the situation that I intended to meet Jake at some point this weekend and that could I obtain my weekend pass. He looked at me strangely, probably because I didn’t fit the archetypical audience they sell tickets to. I’m not 40 and if I have anything close to have unwieldy facial hair, I look like the rugged side of a tramp’s asshole. But he bought my story, as if I may have lied to him and bestowed unto me my weekend pass wristband, even attaching it himself.

Thus I left the World’s End, triumphant from this ordeal, to begin the quest for live music. So I went to watch California’s Sasquatch, being one of the bands I had listened to previously. Upon walking inside the Electric Ballroom after showing security my wristband, that peculiar feeling of stepping into a place and not knowing if this is the band you are supposed to be watching set in. That, and I was looking around at all the denim and beards. So, so, so many beards. I have what could be classed as designer stubble, but it felt depressed at the sheer amount of chin afros on display in this building. It didn’t take long for it be confirmed that I was watching the right band. A stone monkey head with sunglasses and a moustache projected into the background with ‘Sasquatch’ emblazoned above it soon confirmed that. Sasquatch were awesome as my first taste of Desertfest, the barrage of mountainous riffs like nectar to the crowd and deep, swaggering grooves uniting so many in a collective head sway, myself included. They were the true endorsement for how far the scene had come since the Palm Desert days, whilst being exactly what the scene stands for today. I had to admit, I was rather taken with the impressive amount of facial contortions the singer-stroke-guitarist pulled whilst performing, kinda like a slightly less goofy Jack Black. It’s always lovely to see a man enjoy his craft.

The last song of their set, and it was a damn good one, thoroughly enjoyed it. Great band.

Once they finished, I had to do that necessity of human existence: take a leak. Entering the gents toilets however, I was treated to the site of a figure no doubt familiar to young male club goers, the black gentleman with assorted aftershaves and vulgar catchphrases. I sighed. I don’t like to oblige them because they want money for just letting you wash your hands, a service I last checked was free and I didn’t need someone to help me with. The squirt of aftershave isn’t however free for anyone, actually fairly expensive if you own aftershaves, unless you’re a parasitic scrounger that invades Boots and Superdrug and uses their samplers, just to slightly mask the abhorrent stench you clearly don’t know enough about basic hygiene to remove. Still, for a couple of squirts, in coherence with having your hands washed for you, does not equal a two quid tip. I think he tried make a funny catchphrase at me to try and get me to wash my hands as I left, but I ignored him. This of course wasn’t going to be the last time I encounter him. I have a theory that they must be poltergeists or something, the same kind of person is ALWAYS in the club toilets I go to, or that there’s some secret legion that clubs or venues dip into,  to make that trip to the toilets more enjoyable, as they just seem to be everywhere and I have no idea why. If they’re haunting me, I don’t know what I did to deserve it. (At this point, I realised I could indulge various toilet habits, but I know my parents are going to read this, so I am going to abstain. For now. HI MUM AND DAD!)

On a more cheery note, stage times are odd, as at the same time, the main stage has one other option on at the Black Heart across the road, but after that, you have no choice but to go to the Underworld to watch a band, if you want to that is. Knowing the name anyway, I went to see Maryland’s Sixty Watt Shaman, and didn’t expect them to be quite as heavy as they put out. They kinda resemble a ska band at first glance, but let them sing, and oh boy, does that hard-hitting, southern grit drenched sound smack you in the face. Not quite as enjoyable as Sasquatch, the vocal tones were verging into growls at points, which was slightly jarring, but I am going to do a bit more research, they were good enough to warrant an album or two’s listen through. Apparently they don’t tour often, let alone overseas, so at least I’m glad I got to watch them here and put music to a name at last.

 

This is one of the best examples to show how heavy they were, not to mention one of the only songs I recognise they played.

At that point I’d already been standing up for two hours straight, so I went back to the Ballroom to find somewhere to sit down whilst Ed Mundell’s UEMG (or Ultra Electric Mega Galactic) were on (whom I later found out was a former Monster Magnet member), so I relaxed whilst listening to the sounds of one guitar, one bass, a drummer and a seemingly endless wall of spaced-out, fuzz-laden noise blasts, straight out of the 70s. For a while, I could’ve sat there, eyes shut and blissfully become absorbed in the lengthy jams going on behind me. But there were more things to see, such as the gentleman and lady that gave me free coasters, just not to ruin the table I’d put drinks on. The guy was blatantly from the Earls Of Mars, the band on the coaster and a band I’d had to miss because I’d spent earlier that day trying to keep my university’s union bar from being overrun. It didn’t get overrun, and I got free food for my troubles, but don’t tell anyone, shhhhh.

 

I’m guessing they probably played this. They didn’t talk too much, but this one of their most popular songs so I’d say so.

Between The Machine and Horisont, whom The Machine had been scheduled after the Friday headliners Spirit Caravan (I later found out they’d missed the flight they paid 500 quid for, hence why they were playing later and most likely the cause of Jake’s dilemma), I by default went and watched Sweden’s Horisont, in an incredibly cramped upstairs room at The Black Heart, whom were dead ringers for the classic rock gods they endorsed. Naturally as Swedish men they had hair down to their asses, but their headbanging in unison was pretty damn life-affirming and bought a smile to my face. Channelling the likes of Dio-era Rainbow, and pretty much anything else Dio was involved in at some stage or another, their retrospective riff-o-ramas were excellent, and a great way to close up that stage. Wish I could see a bit more of them. By that I mean physically, not in terms of time. The Black Heart’s stage is at the precise sea level of everyone else in the room, meaning there’s a swarm of people blocking your goddamn view of the stage the entire bloody time.

 

This tune has been on a lot since I heard it, in love with this riff, it’s a fantastic song.

Afterwards, and again, pretty much by default, it was back to the Ballroom to watch headliners Spirit Caravan, and to guess which gentleman with the beard and the guitar (hint: the pair that weren’t the drummer – they’re a trio) was Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich, an underground metal legend I’d heard a fair amount about. He was on Dave Grohl’s love album to metal Probot, playing and singing on the song ‘The Emerald Law.’ Answer to my question: it was the one on the right. The same one, whom after half an hour of me being there at least, and after wonderful, flowing passages of riffs upon riffs, was fully cursing someone or other for the drummer not having a spare snare, because said drummer broke the snare skin ending a song. Naturally, Wino just asked the crowd to throw him a joint. So someone did. And thus smoking the joint to calm down ensued. Including a kinda cool, but slightly weird moment of him blowing marijuana smoke into the other guitarist’s mouth, just so he could exhale it too. Fine. After much cursing and salvaging a spare from somewhere… they continued as if nothing had happened. I promised that I will look more into Spirit Caravan, especially with the prestige that Wino has apparently earned through his prolific career with St. Vitus, The Obsessed and Shrinebuilder among many others (although I can testament for Shrinebuilder, I own that album and it’s awesome, I desperately want a physical copy), all bands I should also look into.

 

Did they play this? I don’t bloody know, but it sounds wonderful though and more or less all they played the whole time. Mmmm.

But unfortunately, as the clock struck the eleventh hour, cutting it fine if I stayed for Spirit Caravan’s last half hour and without anywhere to stay in London, at least without permission, I had to depart from the Ballroom to journey back to my domain in Guildford. I’d never received a call from my mysterious benefactor that evening, so I’d assumed he was still busy, or he’d forgotten about it. Either way, on my train back, I’d let him know I had to disappear to catch a train and asked when was best to catch him tomorrow. He never replied. Just to be clear, he didn’t die, the guy clearly had a lot on his plate. You try running a three day operation like this. I thought to myself, maybe tomorrow then.

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Gary Numan X Officers – Petals: 1 Song. 3 Versions. All Near Faultless.

(Warning: The videos on this page contain some graphic content, and in some respects flashing imagery. If you are squeamish or have epilepsy, it is advised that maybe you shouldn’t watch these videos, just listen to it as background noise.)

First, the original version. Officers are a little known band from the north east of the UK, who are being repped by the industry tastemakers that matter for their blending of industrial and gothic undertones, warped into foreboding masterpieces of menace. Gary Numan is a massive fan of this band and took the lads on tour with him for his Machine Music tour in 2012, and one of the results of this came about in the form of Petals, a collaboration in aid of CALM, to promote and support this government charity for preventing suicides in the 18-35 year old age group. For such a cause, it makes sense for it to be taken seriously, and serious it is. It is staggeringly dark. The minimalist approach to this in a fairly simple programmed beat that booms and echoes, predatory synths that linger in shadow and a subtle guitar touch that sustains tension throughout by sawing away at the ropes holding it all together. The lyrics too are incredibly well written, among the best I have heard in quite some time. In fact, you could have this acapella and it would still maintain the unforgettable inhuman quality of Gary Numan’s now ageing monotone mantras. You feel it would take off into a memorable hook that Gary Numan is famous for, but it never truly explodes, just in bursts of contained madness in more angular, jarring synths layered on top of an already uncomfortable listening experience. Gary Numan in an interview stated this is his favourite collaboration he has ever done. It may very well  be one of the best things he has ever done full stop. Haunting may be correct, but this poignant artifact is so evocative, it’s close to terrifying. Judge for yourself.

 

 

Onto the remix by supergroup Losers then. Formed of Eddie Temple-Morris, Paul Mullen (of The Automatic/Young Legionnaire) and Tom Bellamy (of The Cooper Temple Clause), this trio took that foreboding atmosphere of the original, cranked the bombast on it and dragged it to a new height of impending doom. Synths are somewhat brighter in this version, and there is a modular throb reminiscent of dubstep in the verses, but the main body of the song remains in a grey menacing hue, with beats still firmly programmed yet maintaining a strangely humanesque manner, unsettling for a band without a drummer. This comes close to being the soundtrack of your nightmares, so much so if a budding horror director hasn’t picked up this song for a project, it would seem like a terrible waste of the talent these gentlemen truly have. How anyone can fill four and a half minutes with this much pure dread, evil intent and sheer terror is utterly astonishing.

 

 

The final version then by a Mr. Ade Fenton, an industrial producer and composer, not to mention the manager of Gary Numan. That industrial streak comes to more fruition in this version, with fog vents blasted in from the get-go, multiple processed beats surrounding the listener and synths even more bombastic and petrifying than before. Where the previous incarnations played on the ambience of the track, this almost sounds like it could take to the dancefloors, raising a robot army to speed up the apocalypse. That furious sawtooth synth that enters at the hook offers shades of Nine Inch Nails, but it is very much its own beast, so fine-tuned and so intense you can’t help but tremble a little at the absolute power behind its volume. Again, this remix holds the key elements of the original in tact, but makes that feeling of helplessness and unease into a metallic insurrection, an S&M dungeon or a disco for the twisted and sadistic. Again, simply incredible.

 

 

There is in fact a fourth version by Jagz Kooner, but other than fulfilling the dancefloor potential of the song that it secretly oozes, it just doesn’t feel as lovingly crafted as these three versions do. By all means look it up, but for me, the integral parts of the original track are just lost in his version. It doesn’t quite work as well as these do.

Burning The Day

Remember the days when metalcore was a big thing? If it even was? Well I kinda miss those days, only because deathcore or whatever the fuck modern metal has evolved into, somewhat depresses me with its complete lack of creativity. Burning The Day are no means the saviours of metal, because they are very much metalcore by numbers, but it still seems like a breath of fresh air in a game that’s rapidly stagnating. For one, there’s actual singing in it. I actually struggle to remember the last time I heard a vaguely new-ish metal band with singing in it. F Your Cancer though from their Metamorphosis EP has that contagious chorus hook down to a tee. Sure, it chugs along, but the thrash elements incorporated hold my interest much longer than most breakdowns tend to. I realise this is unfair to rant about modern metal in a post about this band (although I probably should write one to be fair), but it helps to relay home the point. Burning The Day are somewhat an example of a shining beacon in a genre that’s becoming oversaturated with clones and clones of clones, but themselves are clones that hone their craft expertly enough to warrant your full deserved attention.

The Killer Dolphin With Rabies

This is almost worth sharing for the name alone. Shame their success can only be measured as hometown legends in Wisconsin. The now defunct Killer Dolphin With Rabies are the schizophrenic side of metal, the experimental kind pioneered by The Dillinger Escape Plan. With more signature changes than a serial fraudster, and more style clashes than a world buffet on a plate, in one song, their sole album Be Human, is a no-holds-barred, unpredictable cage fight where a tank of the entire animal kingdom is emptied, and you choose to cuddle or kill them. But far from being an incoherent mess of guitar and rage, the addition of dual vocalists, makes the split personality, sanity/insanity idea work better than Dillinger’s straight up batshit singular vocalist. Post Inebriated Stress Disorder nearly does what it says on the tin, especially with the odd touch of flamenco here and there, but it plays off as an exhilarating thrill ride, instead of a cathartic exercise in caving skulls inwards.

Kurt Dirt

In recent years, there appears to have been a revival in the punk aesthetic of making music. In this instance, it’s the lower than low fidelity production of a very colourful group of individuals that form what can only be described as the underground UK crossover-punk scene. But even that doesn’t really cover it, as each new group or artist can distinguish themselves from one another. It’s loud and silly, but hilarious and brilliant at the same time. Take Kurt Dirt, a transvestite synth-punk, who resides in the sewers of Manchester and self-proclaimed Duke of Puke. Take seriously at will. But the music being made however, is retro-sounding industrial, just the kind of the trapped-in-the-90’s kind Nine Inch Nails made before Trent didn’t want to make people dance any more. Stuff you should take seriously, because it’s wonderful to hear a period sound resurrected and emulated so well. Beat Me Up Buttercup is a clear tale of S&M, but fleshed out with what sounds like a cop show theme tune, written in a metalworks filled with the cast of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert. The Rat Burger EP is filled with more of the same, but this song is free by visiting Kurt Dirt’ Bandcamp page.

Mangoo

Finland is notorious for its metal exports. Stoner rock? Maybe not so much. But Mangoo is leaking more into the big pond for their incredible blend of stoner and psych rock, both hard-hitting and contagious. Deathmint, from second album, Neverland, comes across as the theme song for a last stand: ominous, haunting but utterly captivating to its very end. The first half is reminiscent of Kyuss: bluesy grooves with an astoundingly catchy chorus, but then a seismic shift into foundation-altering chords, ratcheting tension up with touches of strings and a bell that could signal the end of days, completely fulfilling that apocalyptic feel. This band is a little bit special, and well worth your investment.

Mangadrive

In a state of solely listening to one kind of music, you exhume some truly hidden producer gold mines. What could be considered an aggrotech/EBM phase, unearthed Mangadrive and his videogame/anime fuelled breed of hard trance. If the beats truly don’t punch hard enough, and believe me, it’s like taking CO2 powered pistons to the chest, then the luminous, vibrant synths will claw their way into your brain forever. His later individual works become unforgettable, kaleidoscopic epics, King Of The Mechajungle being one of his best examples to date and Mechafetish is crammed full of them. All of his works are now available for pay-what-you-want, so if you consider yourself a fan of the darker side of dance music, Mangadrive is as essential to you as breathing is to keeping you alive.