A Weekend At The Desert (Fest) – Day 2

Despite it being Saturday, which if there is a God or whatever I consider the most sacred of all days, I’d had a fairly horrible night’s sleep. I’d woken up multiple times in the night, not to mention had dreams about people I formerly knew at high school bullying and harassing me, somehow culminating in me hitting a close friend of mine round the head with my laptop, which I definitely didn’t do, in a quaint Polish village. Just to be clear, I seriously didn’t hit them, I don’t know why this happened and why everyone started hating me. I’m so sorry if I did unconscious embodiment of my friend Cassi! My dreams are vivid and apparently out of control.

Still, my bed was comfy doe.

I think roughly around quarter to two (in the afternoon), I was able to bring myself to move from the mattress. During the night, I’m sure I’d hallucinated two missed calls, in waking up at one point and ignored them. Turns out by the time I checked my phone once more, those missed calls were very real. I’d left my phone on silent for the purpose of not being disturbed during my slumber, but what if it had been Jake? Cursing my dozy self and preparing for the worst, I went to the call log, only to find that the calls were from my brother instead. I wondered what he had wanted, fully remembering we once had a discussion during the week about maybe meeting up in Camden because he was going to a gig in Kentish Town. Well, if he’d wanted to meet up, I hadn’t left my room yet. Eventually after making myself look a degree of presentable, I left Guildford and got back into Camden for the second day.

Upon exiting Camden Town tube station, I reached for my phone and tried to reach Jake again. No response after three or so calls. Still busy then. So I rang my brother instead, seeing if he was around to meet up. He was, but at Kentish Town already, having met two of three members of the band he was going to see. Beats who I was trying to meet at the moment. I politely declined meeting him at Kentish Town, due to being completely the other side of Camden, and me wanting to make the most of the bands on today. The cost of my somewhat shameful awakening had already cost me to miss two bands I was really interested in seeing. Those bands being Croydon sludge doom outfit Slabdragger and Cardiff’s slightly psychy quintet The Witches Drum, especially as it was the last Witches Drum show together, but I was barely conscious at the time and was struggling to wake up. Can’t say I wasn’t disappointed, but at least both their tunes still exist on the internet, where so many other songs by unsigned bands never get recorded or see the light of day.

 

For my incompetence in not seeing and therefore having content about these two bands, have these tunes as an apology. My bad.

So my first band of the day ended up as North Carolina’s ASG, a band that I had actually heard of, and apparently had been going for quite some time. So much so, they have a best of. I barely know any bands of this genre that have a best of. In any case, they were fucking amazing, although I couldn’t get over the fact their singer resembled a scruffy Josh Homme impersonator who seemed to like bird impressions, their perfect balance of stoner riffs and mind-melting psych won me over almost from the get go. Their whole 45 minute set was a completely joyous celebration of everything I love about the stoner scene, and perhaps even music in general. Passionate people creating catchy tunes, that hit both hard and fast when needs be.

Riffs and trips, man. Riffs and trips. Lovely, lovely stuff.

At this point I had the choice of wandering to either Hey Colossus at the Underworld or Wizard Fight at the Black Heart, but I didn’t go to see either of those bands. I have no idea what my reasoning for this was, I just didn’t. I braved the toilet in the Ballroom once again, at the risk of having to acknowledge the guardian armed with many male scents and avoided confrontation again. Then I wandered to find a spare stool or something, hard to do when next to nobody travels alone at a festival. Thankfully, it didn’t take long but I found a spare one and sat down for a while. I tried ringing Jake once, it rang the entire time before the awfully polite automated response tone told me he was unavailable. So I tried once more a couple minutes later, it only rang a few times before stopping. I froze. I’d gotten through to him again, at last. I looked at my phone just to check, but nothing. It’d stopped ringing. Strange, maybe I’d lost signal or something, so I tried again and exactly the same thing happened. Either where I was sitting was shit for mobile reception, or it was just cutting out. He was probably still busy anyway.

By the time I’d finished sitting, as well as fannying around with the settings on my phone to save my battery (oxymoronic I know) and pretending to look like I have friends on the Facebooks, the next band had almost finished soundchecking for their set. It was another I’d heard of, and although I had heard recordings of before, was slightly apprehensive of how this would translate into a live environment. I needn’t have worried. Berlin’s Samsara Blues Experiment essentially are a predominantly jam based band, if a single song they played was under 7 minutes long, I didn’t hear it. But they were bloody awesome long ass songs, hypnotising in their ability to sweep crowds into their swirling journeys. Although, after their first song, stretching to the 9 minute mark, the band apparently soaked in nerves and slightly shy, someone who I’d hoped to God was an amateur comedian, had the balls/common courtesy (make up your own mind here) to shout loud enough: ‘You’re quite good.’ I laughed, more at the guy’s brazenness for shouting it after the band had clearly spent 9 minutes concentrating hard on their performance and not mucking it up, but I still laughed. A fair few laughed with me too. But they smiled and thanked him, continuing on for the remaining 35 minutes of their set, which I think was only made up of about 5 songs total. They were excellent regardless, and I erased the doubts I’d had about them previously. The time I had listened to them though to be fair was at 3 in the morning and I was half asleep or doing something else, so chances were I was judging them unfairly regardless.

 

I think this got played… It’s an incredibly lovely jam regardless.

So far I’d merely gone to see bands that hovered across the stoner/blues/psych side of the scene I understood, so I did wonder as this was Desertfest, had they focused purely on bands that dealt with this side of the music? Well, walking into the Underworld after Samsara, it seemed my question got answered rather quickly. There was doom here, and I had found it. I more went to check these guys out on their name alone really but London supergroup 11Paranoias actually weren’t that bad. What struck me more as I was watching them, that they had random screeches of feedback every now and again. This was odd to me as I was standing next to the sound desk, and the sound engineer wasn’t doing anything about it. Was this part of the music then? Or was there nothing wrong with what was going on on-stage, not warranting messing with the levels? I couldn’t work it out for ages, until I moved forward a bit more. Behind a pillar that was blocking my view of the stage, there was another member of the band. And he had a saxophone. It suddenly made sense. Well, where the ‘feedback’ was coming from, not why the band felt they needed a saxophonist though. I liked it however. Added something a bit different to a traditional four-piece set-up.

 

Make up your own mind if you like it or not, this recording is really, really noisy anyway.

Now, I must confess, I’m not really much of a fan of doom metal to be honest. I get and appreciate why people do like it, obviously it’s called doom for a reason and I understand why it’s at this festival and that it creates a trance like mood for those into it. But for me, I like the heaviness of it, but it’s a tad TOO repetitive for me, I can only stand the same crushing heavy chord and bleakness for a smaller period of time and not just be the entire song. I’m probably over-generalising and I apologise, but my experience of doom tends mostly to be the experience I’ve described. Admittedly, the last song I witnessed them play I really, really liked, but I left 15 minutes before they finished to wander a little further down the street to the Black Heart.

I think I just barely missed the next band start playing, but from what I’d previously heard about Australia’s Hotel Wrecking City Traders, it was going to be an exhilarating 45 minute set. I didn’t expect them to be instrumental, but what they certainly were instrumental about is their sense of humour. In addition to a piledriving performance, armed with just a guitar and drums, they didn’t wait too long to criticise the free beer they given: ‘We don’t even drink this shit at home’ (Fosters, although I’m inclined to agree with them that it tastes shit) and when the crowd were asked which bands had been best today, no one replied quick enough, leaving silence too long for them to add, ‘Nobody? They were all bollocks then.’ Someone did mumble ASG. Not loud enough though. They had to add that they thought Hey Colossus were great, probably nothing to do with the fact that their singer was standing right at the front of the crowd, or they’d been on tour with them or anything. A shout of ‘YEAH, I HEARD THOSE GUYS WERE GREAT!’ of course followed. Another guy shouted that he fucking loved the guy speaking for Hotel Wrecking, and that he fucking loved the guy shouting back. I wondered if this room was going to turn into a mass male orgy for a moment. Poor wives and girlfriends would have to sit watching their husbands/boyfriends cuddling, crossing pork swords and sweating beer through as many orifices you can think of. Shudder. I’m all for bromance, don’t get me wrong, I have numerous myself, but that construct in my head sounded a lot less graphic in my head.

Anyway, music. Something this weekend did leave me wondering was is the soundsystem in the Black Heart actually configured badly or is it just the sound engineers making everything ten times the volume it should be. Because fucking hell they were loud. Uncompromising in their execution, they got a rapturous reception upon completing their decimation of the room, and I have to say I was impressed. Both sides groovy and destructive, and even though they have a couple of albums to their name (their second only came out a couple of weeks ago in fact), justice permitting, their trips to the UK will become more frequent. I would love to guarantee it.

  

An excellent example of this band’s prowess, truly making their name seem all the more appropriate.

Now I had little interest in the band that was currently on at the Underworld, nothing to do with whether I’d heard of them or not (I hadn’t and didn’t know anything of the music they made), actually I was thinking more of the sausage and fried red onion sandwich I was going to make once I’d got back to Guildford.  So I’d wandered back to the Ballroom in the hope to catch the end of Weedeater, as one of the biggest bands at the festival, I naturally had to investigate, but the time I got there, they were already finished. Blast. I swore they were supposed to be playing for another 15 minutes (they actually were… no idea what happened there…). So I stood and waited for a little while for Kvelertak’s soundcheck to complete, theorising that if Weedeater had finished early, their soundcheck was well underway and wouldn’t take that much longer to complete and they’d start early.

Erm… No.

I think I waited a further 20 minutes after I’d got into the Ballroom and they still weren’t on stage.  Sighing slightly and impatient, I left for the Underworld to see whoever the hell The Body were. I stopped however to try my luck once more with Jake, standing outside to ensure that I had signal. It rang, but it cut out after a few rings. I tried again, just to be sure, and sure enough it happened again. I was starting to get the impression he was hanging up on me. Part of me said he’s still busy, he has a festival to sort out after all. The other part said THE BASTARD HUNG UP ON ME! That dilemma aside, there was a more unpleasant one awaiting me as I entered the Underworld.

Oregon’s The Body apparently play something between sludge and doom metal, between just two people which is a feat I’ll admit. One slight problem. Whatever they classed as screaming/shouting/I have no fucking idea, seriously made me grimace. The music wasn’t necessarily bad, but this barking, literally incomprehensible in translation, was awful. There’s a whole rant I have saved for this for another time, but it didn’t add anything to the music whatsoever, only building up pools of blood in my ears. I hate to bash bands, and try to give credit where it’s due (I even did a bit of research afterwards and I understand better why this happened now), but this was, to me, a cacophony, and whom I can safely say were the worst band I saw over the weekend. I somehow stayed to the end of their set, persevering for 20 minutes. I was glad it was over though.

I’m not going to add a clip for The Body here. Instead, I’m just going to say apparently a lot of their songs deal with suicide, they are incredibly sad people and that I feel like a bit of dick after reading that information. If you’re curious, go look their music up, but it is not for those of a nervous disposition.

Norway’s Kvelertak however… Well, there’s nothing subtle about them either.  I mean, they have three guitarists and their singer wears a taxidermy owl for the first song of their sets for fuck’s sake. Getting back into the Ballroom, the place was packed, understandably so, so many younger fans came to the festival purely for them. Having a good spot in the middle of the room, I awaited for the carnage to unfold. Prior to this festival, I’d only been to the Ballroom once for a gig. That was to see The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. What I remember most fondly about that gig, other than the fucking inconvenient stomach cramps I’d had near the end of the gig, was that the crowd went from 0-apeshit in about 3 seconds. This crowd was not as quick off the blocks, but came close to the level of insanity I witnessed there. It was like watching a party and a civil rebellion quite honestly. The vocalist was standing on top of the crowd singing at points, many, many crowd surfers, guitars flew around on stage, singers that can harmonise when singing or growling… No wonder so many musicians and bands rate them so highly. They were an unstoppable force, and an absolute delight to watch work. An article written about them for the festival said to the author of that article, they sound somewhere between Every Time I Die and Mad Capsule Markets. He said it varies from person to person, but for me, I got so much more of fellow Norwegian stalwarts Turbonegro with a black metal band I like, but haven’t actually heard yet, bar maybe Deathspell Omega. I maybe should listen more to it, but I’m not really a fan of black metal either.

 

I’m sure a few of you don’t need to be introduced to Kvelertak, so this serves as more of a refresher. If you’re not one of those few… LOOK, ANGRY NORWEGIAN DUDES WHO WRITE RIFFS!

Once there was nothing left of the Ballroom, well, after Kvelertak finished anyways, I had to make a decision. Either venture to see Dragged Into Sunlight at the Underworld (a band I had heard of) or The Cosmic Dead at the Black Heart (a band I’d never heard of). I ended up doing what a rational person would do, which was seeing one, deciding if I liked it enough to stay, or going to see the other. I wandered back to the Underworld, taking the chance to phone Jake again, with no such luck, and upon walking into the venue where the stage was… equipment was being packed away. Bugger, I’d missed them. By process of elimination though, if anyone wanted to see a live band, they would go to the Black Heart, essentially packing the place out. In the end, I couldn’t be bothered. Besides, there was going to be an afterparty here anyway, I at least wanted to see what went on at at least one of them, just for my own piece of mind. Slowly but surely, laptops were set up with a mixer and a set of headphones each, a fairly respectable set-up if I was to judge, at least they were actually doing something and not just pressing play. A few volume hiccups here and there followed, but more and more people turned up, and anthems of the scene, surprisingly most of which I knew, were pumped out, slowly filling up the now dancefloor of the Underworld. I stood and observed, being the type of person I am, singing if I knew the words, but smiling at what I was watching unfold. They were no different to what I would do in this situation. Air guitar. Singing. Enjoying themselves. It made me appreciate the things I’d done over the last few years. Just a shame I had to leave really.

Near eleven, I had to leave for Waterloo, and back to the land of Guildford. Jake did send me a text to say that he was still caught up in business, but I’d said to him not to worry, I was taking a chance to see if he was around anyway. Plus I was thinking heavily about the forthcoming romantic entanglement I had with a sausage and fried red onion sandwich. Of course ending in cannibalism. Tasty, tasty cannibalism. Mmmmm.

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