Futures Are Changing, But Their Futures Are Still Black

The following account is of factual events that took place on the 27th October 2016, between the hours of 7 and 10pm. No details of this account have ever been made public. Until now.

I’m early. I’m not often early for a lot of things. In fact, I’m so early I have to wander up and down the street and take refuge in one of the cheapest London pubs I’ve ever set inside, waiting for to validate my invitation. But a little after 8pm, a gentleman sporting the Black Futures insignia arrives outside Wandsworth Town station, I weave the password into my conversation with him and he presents me with a blindfold, and told to await transport to the secret location. Of what I know of Black Futures media, their imagery resembles some kind of VHS propaganda reel, but nothing that was to resemble the theatricality of what was about to happen.

Once enough attendees had gathered, the chauffeur asked us to enter the transport and put on our blindfolds. In the brief journey towards the venue, around about 5-10 minutes in length, there was music playing under the guise of Black Futures Radio; short instrumental MIDI renditions of songs, interspersed between stingers and amusing interjections from its monotonous host. I seem to remember the best one about ‘having a funny feeling in my nether regions,’ or something similar at least. Little were we to know at that time, that what was unconsciously infiltrating our ear drums was a mere taster of the sonic assault to come. While the radio provided some light relief and entertainment, it didn’t stop the feeling of foreboding, being driven around on London streets, in a vehicle full of strangers, to a location you knew nothing about.

At the location, I just about made the shadow of gates opening before the path, and driving down to what looked like an abandoned film set of sorts. Outside, flanked by personnel in hazmat suits taking photographs of every attendee, heavies in suits instructed us to place our phones in envelopes or we would be refused entry. Happy to oblige, I did so without first telling my other half that I wouldn’t be able to be contacted for an unspecified amount of time. You can imagine how that went, especially after telling her the last thing that happened was that I was just given a blindfold. Anyway, we were directed left into a room, filled with more hazmat personnel and two giant dispensers filled with ‘social lubricants’. The drinks could only be dispensed by ringing a bell, or honking a horn, dependent on which you wanted. The folk in the suits and googles remained silent throughout, pulling glasses from underneath which they kindly filled and only once pouring half a litre of gin, to top up the more popular of the two dispensers. Yikes. The room itself had little in the way of furnishings with two sofas, in a room filled about thirty odd people, but was filled with very curious paintings, photographs and instruments around. It seemed elaborate, like a lot of thought had been put into the decoration of this venue, deliberately like some kind of scientific experiment and we were the test subjects.

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After a period of time for guests to mingle with one another, the room opposite in the hallway is unlocked, and we are welcomed inside a studio, outputting a frequency that feels like its properties could brainwash onlookers if exposed to in the right circumstances. Maybe that was the idea. But beyond the mixing desk and monitors, lay drums, microphones, a keyboard and a guitar, and a curious wall in the background which had a screen display inside what resembled a large sewage pipe opening. The door is then closed, the frequency is shut off and with the onlookers and myself all making ourselves as comfortable as possible, the producers known only to the world as SPACE and VIBES slowly emerge from the darkness and start the show.

With their first song, distorted, crunchy guitar opening up proceedings and thunderous booms of bass, before erupting into an apocalyptic big-beat bombshell that would bring a tear to Liam Howlett’s eye. The scathing refrain of ‘ten minutes to the end of the world,’ is unnervingly relevant, given the earth-shattering size of the music that surrounds it, and the visual element of strobe lighting in the performance really enforced the urgency and magnitude of their two-pronged attack. After three and a half minutes of electrifying energy, the storm subsides and you could be mistaken for thinking for more of the same is on the way. But this is where things begin to change, instead revealing a whole new dimension of influences that made for a truly mesmerising listen. Straight into now brand new single Karma Ya Dig!?, waves of reverb and delay wash over both sets of vocals and synths, unveiling a strangely soothing psychedelic ambience that certainly caught me by surprise. These two gentlemen’s vocals also harmonise so well together, that the phrase ‘I’ll see you on the other side,’ has lingered ever-presently in my subconscious since this day. A pseudo-industrial stomp gets us underway with a near punk-like sneer taking vocal duties, marching us towards a titanic guitar riff that wouldn’t go amiss in Britpop’s heyday and an overall vibe that feels reminiscent of The Chemical Brothers, albeit slowed to a pace you can headbang to. It certainly affirms that the big beat era of dance music circa 1990 onwards, has had a profound effect on this material. As if today’s electronic music producers and a punk band recorded together in a garage. It’s gritty, intense and energetic but without sounding lo-fi or unpolished. Astronomically far from it.

I must admit, that while their eight song set was nothing short of inspiring, it moved in a blur. I recall one track that had a dancehall style beat, some later present indie rock style influences and one track that which reminded me firmly of Does It Offend You, Yeah?, which in their own whirlwind of genre-smashing, is nothing but a compliment. They are an absolute sum of the parts of the people that work as the unit. SPACE, an in-demand punk and hardcore producer, with a reputation in the desert rock community to boot, and VIBES, a multi-talented instrumentalist and electronic music producer, that works with an abundance of live acts in and around London. Their union has formed something undeniably unique, and witnessing the translation of their chemistry together in the flesh with such a striking and impactful live performance, and the interactivity before the performance even took place, has made me fall in love with these gentlemen and get overexcited over what was to come. It truly was a privilege to be invited along and be part of this undoubtedly intriguing and involving movement.

The opportunity to see it for yourselves, lies on the 5th October at Bloc in Hackney, 8:30pm start. Prepare for an immersive dance experience unlike any you’ve ever encountered. If you want a further testimonial, I left that night with new friends, whom I realised I shared a closer connection to, than just being attendees to this exclusive performance. And I’m often a painfully awkward individual. If that isn’t something that asserts the power or the spiritual significance of the Black Futures experience, then I don’t know what will.

Join the Existential Expedition Club right here:

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A Weekend At The Desert (Fest) – Day 3

The night’s sleep was much better, I didn’t dream about much, or in fact anything at all, unless the endless depths of complete black count for something. But at least I didn’t keep waking up during the night constantly. I’d decided to wake up earlier today, in hope of actually trying to get to Camden to catch the majority of bands I wanted to watch today. Today of all days was full of bands that I had heard of and actually listened to music by. However, if you know me by any stretch of the imagination, early isn’t a word in my vocabulary. So naturally, I left when I left. Later than I fully intended to. The last two days had exactly the same time schedule so I arrived at the train station expecting to pick up the train to Waterloo, fast enough so  I could wave at the elderly and the bemused as I shot by at 80mph. Not today. On a day with a real haul of fantastic bands, South West Trains had decided to make the fastest train the slowest one, leaving me no other option than to sit and stop at every station and see the elderly and the bemused wave back to me, if I wanted to see most of them. Why today of all days South West Trains you bastards?

I would like to point out that although it was entirely an option to wake up earlier and it is completely my fault, I am not willing to accept that kind of blame for the purpose of this story.

So after sulking the whole way yet secretly knowing we can get there and not miss the first band, gallivanting back through Waterloo, and emerging from Camden tube station one last time, as a matter of urgency I went straight to the Black Heart. As hoped, I’d just caught the tail end of London’s own Bright Curse, although by just being the last fifteen minutes of their set, made me kick myself for what I’d already probably missed. They sounded like a jam based Led Zeppelin, if Robert Plant focused more on channelling warnings about the impending apocalypse. I’d listened to them previously, maybe more asleep than I realised the first time, but they were incredible and made the small room holding 100 people, sound like a foreboding cavern, miles underground from civilisation. Their dark psychedelia was true bliss, one that I sincerely hoped I could’ve seen more of.

 

Please tell me I’m not the only one that can hear shades of Layla too in the beginning of this tune.

As a kind of additional dagger to my heart, staying to watch the culmination of Bright Curse’s set meant that I had to sacrifice time with another band I was familiar with. The good news though, I’d already seen them live before and knew the kind of live set they were capable of. A bloody good one. Upon wandering back to the Ballroom, I took to the upstairs balcony to get a good view of Oslo’s Lonely Kamel, the band whom I’d seen supporting The Sword and took to the stage of the Underworld to rapturous applause on that occasion. And I’m not surprised. They were excellent. Despite again only being around for the final 15 minutes of their set, their loving detail and care for the roadhouse blues spirit went down fantastically, in addition to some speeding-down-100-miles-of-tarmac-on-a-chopper-bike bursts too. They were as wonderful as I remember them being the first time and long may they continue to be.

 

Good quality live versions make me smile a lot. This song brings out more of their clear stoner influence, but their more bluesy stuff is also amazing.

After they’d finished, I had to visit the gentlemen’s bathroom once again, and encounter the now-standard issue toilet black gentleman once again. As soon as I got in to have a piss though, he started bitching about personal hygiene and not washing hands, me knowing full well that rant was a clear dig at me for not washing my hands every time I’d been in there. Listen here, I’ve washed my hands at every other place I’d been to over this weekend, you ever think that I don’t wash my hands here because I don’t want to talk to you?

Not particularly bothered about either of the two bands on after Lonely Kamel, I was getting kinda hungry so I went to a courtyard by Camden Arts and Crafts Market that has a world fast food market or bazaar, or whatever the fuck its called. I perused at first, and came across the exotic game burger stand, advertising the prospect of a crocodile burger. However, I had hoped that the sign was upside down because he was celebrating Topsy-Turvy Day, and not because he’d ran out of crocodile. Quite disappointed, he affirmed to me that he would have some next time I visited after describing the texture and taste of crocodile (fish, but like chicken apparently, who’d have thought?), I wandered on and finally settled on an Argentine steak stand. I found somewhere to sit down after a short wait for a steak sandwich, and settled for under a stairwell by the lock, in case it started raining all of the sudden. Now, you know that ancient tradition of anything that has little weight will blow away in the wind, so nail it down with whatever you have lying around? I forgot that tradition, and the plate I was eating on, dropped to the ground after a moderate gust. Luckily I still had serviettes, but I was going to make a last ditch attempt to grab the plate before it blew any further away. I made my move. I stood up, walked a little distance, but the inevitable happened. It blew away before I could reach it and landed on top of the Lock and floated away into the distance. Being made of card, it’d probably absorb the water eventually and sink to the depths of the Thames estuary never to be seen again. On a more important note however, this sandwich was incredible. Sure, it may have been a little pricey for a fiver, but bloody hell, if this wonderful meal of a medium steak with a little salt, balanced between delicious chipotle sauce, mayonnaise, non-bitter salad leaves and tomatoes, on grilled ciabatta was any indication of how good Argentinean cooking was, I may consider the expense of Cau one day. Ladies I hope you like steak.

Also I got ripped off for a belt. Normally you so much as stop in Camden to look at something, your personal airspace will be invaded by several dodgy market dealers wanting to crawl inside your lungs and taste your fragrant carbon dioxide. I however knew what I wanted and he didn’t fight me about it because he was guaranteed a sale whatever. Don’t ask how much it cost, but it has piano keys on it, I’ve always wanted one and it’s an absolute dream to wear unlike my other belts. BECAUSE IT ACTUALLY FUCKING WORKS.

After I’d eaten, and by default, I went back to the Ballroom for Radio Moscow, who probably took a time machine from the 70s to play this festival, as their sound was so immaculate to the likes of Hendrix and Deep Purple, even down to the trippy ass waistcoats. They too were brilliant, the exhibitionism in guitar solos not too flashy, but with wonderful riffs flowing effortlessly too. However, whilst they were playing, I was somewhat distracted by the three admittedly pretty girls in front of me, and the arrival of an overly friendly Spanish pair of gentlemen in front of them.  The one with caterpillars for eyebrows and in glasses, who for this purpose I will name Manuel, was getting towards twice these ladies’ age, but still seemed like he was going to try his luck by introducing himself and just talking to them. He introduced himself to one girl dressed in black, but once this first girl introduced her other friend in black, he focused his attention purely on her. I was standing behind, but I could already see that they were uncomfortable and just humouring him. Him and his friend did look like they were having a good time, but every glance Manuel took backwards was towards the two ladies to my right, dressed in black. The overly friendly nature seemed to make him a bit touchy-feely. He wasn’t even looking at me, but he gave me the creeps too, like insects writhing inside my skin. I could feel centipedes wriggling their way up to my shoulders. Every time he talked to them, his self-believed silver tongue waggling near their ears, bellows underneath a fire pressed down, getting closer to a blaze, urging me to interject and tell him to stop. But once Radio Moscow stopped playing, he left before they did. Sure, he seemed like he wanted them to come with him, but he couldn’t have been that interested to not pursue them. If I wasn’t so much of an introvert, or just generally afraid of talking to complete strangers, I would’ve said, ‘Sorry about him, I too wanted to kick him in the balls.’ I’ve probably made a big deal out of nothing, but a lot of men are repulsive creatures and I feel embarrassed to be male at times, because of specimens such as Manuel.

  

Fuck you Manuel, the ghost of Hendrix I hope frowns upon you forever.

That episode over and dealt with, had now left me with a decision to wander to either the Underworld or the Black Heart, in which today was the only day that allowed me to do so. My choice was somewhat easy for me personally so I went and sated my curiosity of the band named after the city Hull. I’d thought they actually were from Hull. But no. They were from Brooklyn. Sad smiley face. However this quirky little disappointment of mine was the most short-lived thing that’d ever happened to me. My favourite way of describing this band is the basic equivalent of a sludge walrus. A behemoth of a large, hairy mass of men, belching black tar into the crowd, with unfathomable heaviness. Oh, and riffs. My goodness so, so many riffs. They also had a few thrash influences, a sure fire way to win me over when bands play hard and fast. Quite simply, this band was jaw-dropping and may well be my favourite band of the entire weekend.

If the phrase ‘sludge walrus’ isn’t legitimately trademarked, I may consider doing so.

That incredible experience now over, and not particularly enthralled by the possibility of 45 minutes of doom metal at the Ballroom, I thought I’d try my luck again with my mysterious benefactor. Somewhat sceptical at this point, with time rapidly running out to catch him, it was either now or never.

And somebody had hit the now button.

To my surprise he was around, savouring a meal from McDonalds (although who in their right minds would do that?) in what must have been the rarest of breaks. He asked me where I was and said he would come to meet me after he’d finished his plastic burger, of which I sat outside The World’s End, the pub on top of the Underworld, for 5 or so minutes to wait for him. Tell a lie, I had to piss before I met him, of which we were confused about each other’s whereabouts, despite standing directly 20 feet away from one another, after I’d went back outside. We wandered inside and he kindly bought me a beer, despite my fairly strict no beer at gigs without friends policy. I just don’t like that risk of not being familiar with my surroundings or having to walk anywhere in a compromised position. I don’t need alcohol to have a good time anyway, I’m only a social drinker. So he wanted to know more about me and what I was doing right now, and what I planned to do after university. I’d said that I was thinking of going into promotions myself, as one option of what I genuinely would like to do with my life, but only if I can get the financial backing for it. He then mentioned that it is a tough business, and that he had actually lost money on this year’s festival. As someone who had waltzed in for free, that did make me feel bad. In fact, I had said to him as we walked in, I was starting to feel bad that if I didn’t get to meet him, I’d taken advantage of his generous hospitality. He laughed it off, and said not to be silly. We in turn talked about life and music, clearly what unites so many of us here at this festival, and on this planet. The subject did eventually arise, that he told me he couldn’t give me any work, where it previously was available, but he would be on the lookout for something if anything came up with any other promoters or companies, for work experience sake. Throughout this meeting however, a dilemma had occurred in which more staff was needed to man the merch stall and he was wracking his brains to try and solve the problem. It was actually painful to watch. I said to him to take his time so he could concentrate, then thinking how I’d been in a similar situation as a promoter several months ago. I never found out if he did solve the problem. I did think to volunteer myself, but I felt I really would be taking advantage if I did. Opportunist, maybe, but my conscience said it was wrong to do it. We talked for a little bit longer, Jake saying that he wanted to stay in touch but he had matters he needed to attend to. We finished our beers, shook hands and he shot off. I told him to take care, hopefully he got the rest he deserved. A genuinely nice guy, ridiculously overworked bless him, but he’s organised a cracking weekend of music here, so massive kudos to him for doing what he has done. Long may Desertscene continue.

Before I left the World’s End for the next band, a message caught my eye. Dotted around the bar where myself and Jake were seated were several pots, each displaying the same message on paper. It stated:

‘Every time you leave a tip, Justin Bieber dies a little.’

I smirked. How could you not? The sheer cheek and concept of a voodoo tip jar to harm Justin Bieber was pure brilliance. I’m probably a terrible tipper, but I dropped a 50 pence piece in the pot for the laugh I got.  If that’s enough to inflict a gash on his arm or something, that works for me.

Walking through one set of doors more or less directly back into the Black Heart, I got a good spot for Kansas’ The Midnight Ghost Train. Although one minor detail I’d forgotten about. That beer had kicked in almost immediately. I AM NOT A LIGHTWEIGHT. JUST ON A NEAR EMPTY STOMACH. So… as you can imagine, I moved the most violently I did all weekend, but the harsh southern country demeanour of the riffs output over this three quarters of an hour were fantastic and so difficult not to enjoy, I had to. No mosh pits, but I was close to full on headbanging at points. I also have to make a special mention for the end of their set. Hands down, they won the award for best (read: only) mostly acapella gospel sing-along, also sung at a father’s funeral. Some people like to share. Sharing is caring.

 

Their singer reminded me of someone I know so much. I don’t believe he was American, or could play guitar. But I accidentally headbutted him once in the face and gave him a black eye. Sorry Steve.

As much as The Midnight Ghost Train were good, and boy were they good, I wouldn’t have also minded seeing North Carolina’s Sourvein, because of dat name. I think they made these clashes deliberate. But anyway, back to the Ballroom for Japanese Sabbath worshippers Church of Misery. I was told by Jake that they were a fun band. I had done a little research and watching them, they were indeed a fun band, and although doom is their profession, it wasn’t overbearing, let alone depressing. They do sing a lot about serial killers though. Because. I enjoyed their set, despite propping my head on the ledge I had on the balcony, perched on the tiniest bar stool to hand. The alcohol had worn off at this rate, just so you know. Several passers by I think were concerned that I had that look where I was about to die, but really I was just uncomfortable. Serves me right for putting my head on the ledge really. Towards the end of their set though, I received a phone call from my brother, which no day seems complete without, about a potential business proposition, which for this story, I’m not going to disclose the details of, for nothing has actually happened, but were anything to, you will hear about it at a later date, maybe…

 

Utterly, utterly delicious riffs and such respect for its source material too. Church Of Misery have more groove than a llama in royal vestments at a disco.

By the end of the phone call, Church of Misery had finished and my bladder senses were tingling once more. I couldn’t go back downstairs to the toilet, just so the toilet attendant could belittle my apparent lack of hygiene again. So it was a toss-up between pissing in a puddle or pissing in a puddle. I chose the first puddle, only because there was plenty of band stickers and things to read adorning the walls of the Underworld gents’ lavatory. I’d found an awesome clothing brand called Octomuffin by perusing the day before. Let me repeat that. Octo. Muffin. Their logo is a muffin with tentacles. It’s fucking adorable. Off topic, ahem.

I couldn’t resist. I had to show you.

Being that there was a band on at the time, it only then seemed polite that I stayed to listen to them for a while. They were Utah’s Eagle Twin and again, there was two of them, playing some kind of doom/sludge hybrid, maybe with a little a post rock influence here and there too. I’m curious about this whole power duo thing, for reals, I want to know why this is a more common thing than I realised. I didn’t empathically enjoy them but they weren’t not too bad, I only caught the tail end of their set because of Church of Misery and phonecalls. They had more riffs than The Body did, but at times verged into their borderline unlistenable noise torture. Again, maybe for another time, but I can only seem to stand growling when it’s done in the right context, and here, it only worked 50-50. They didn’t want to end either. I stood waiting, looking at the clock, tapping my foot impatiently for them to stop, giving them the common courtesy to finish and they kept going. Considering I wasn’t that enthralled anyway, I left like a lot of people for what would be my final trip to the Ballroom of the weekend.

 

Well this is dark. In a sort of, I need a flashlight because I’m fairly unnerved at what the hell I’m hearing kind of way. Still enjoyable though.

So to the final headliner of the festival, Boris. The other prominent Japanese band at this festival. I did some research prior, mind you only one song interplaying between some kind of pop song and heavy ass riffs, and I wanted to hear more of that. It was either that or Kongh a little while later, in which a pure Swedish post-rock band really did appeal to me. I’ve always thought there was crossover between the stoner and post-rock scene anyways. But what Boris delivered blew me away. Holy shit they were amazing. The Japanese don’t do anything conventional anyways, hell, their drummer wouldn’t stop wooping in songs, but the sheer amount of influences and sounds thrown into their set was awe-inspiring, deeply and truthfully. The band are real experimentalists, simply impossible to pigeonhole.  But one song they played, lengthy, that went from ambient into post-rock, was what I considered the perfect ending for this festival. It wasn’t their last song no, but it was devastatingly emotive. I almost cried, and I have only ever cried to four songs in my whole life.  It made my soul shiver, in the best way possible. It was almost a pity then I decided to leave early so I could catch a train at 11 again. Because I could’ve watched the rest of their set without the worry of missing the train thanks to South West Trains deciding to dick around with the train times AGAIN on a Sunday, so I had to endure every bloody train station back home AGAIN.

 

The Boris song in question. There is no studio version of this as of right now… WHY?!?!?! It’s phenomenal!

 

Never mind that shit anyway. This was a true experience in every sense of the word, one I’m glad I had the chance to participate in. Sure it would’ve been nice to have a couple of friends to talk to and enjoy this with, but for what I got to discover and see for myself was worth it every step of the way, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. OK, I didn’t get any work from it, but I have a link in Jake, something that could end up being valuable in the long term, and from what this whole, if you can call it a business meeting, industry treasures in order to get anywhere nowadays. So I am grateful. So, so grateful that I was given this opportunity and for just the price of coming back and forth each day. Maybe I’ll come back next year, and next time, I’ll pay for it. Anyone who does anything off their own back needs our support. And I care so much about that.

 

Much love and thanks for reading if you got this far xx

 

Epilogue

The plate floated into the North Atlantic Ocean, sank an oil rig and now resides in a beach hut in Jamaica.

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.

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.