DesertFest 2016: Day 1

Now that my ears, feet, back and internal organs have recovered from the sonic bombardment of the weekend, I can start to make sense of Desertfest 2016.

On paper, this year’s London Desertfest did not appear to be as strong a lineup as the last couple of years. Yes, there were huge crowd pleasers in the form of Electric Wizard, Corrosion of Conformity, Truckfighters and Godflesh, but for my money, the roster consisted of a whole lot of bands that I’de never heard of and seemed to be more on the heavy end of the spectrum and not as ‘deserty’ as previous years. Going through the lineup on the Thursday before the festival started with the printed stage times and there was not the usual clash-panic that usually ensues during this pre-festival ritual. Thinking that there would be a bunch of downtime between bands I wanted to see, I felt like I would not enjoy this year’s round of Camden stoner shenanigans as much.

I could not have been more wrong. Spare time was a lost commodity as we dashed from venue to venue to catch all of the bands we had planned to see and the recommendations of people and friends that we inevitably collided with.

First off; venues. Desertfest is spread over five venues across the weekend. Friday and Saturday utilise The Black Heart (as HQ, wristband exchange and meeting place for London music scenesters), The Underworld and The Electric Ballroom, with Koko added on the Sunday with The Devonshire Arms (or just ‘The Dev’) being used as an overflow venue on Saturday with four bands playing and no wristband required for admission (although that all went pear shaped when the place was stuffed to capacity for Ten Foot Wizard by about ten PM).

Back to the start of the festival, Friday was made up of a mixed bag of rock genre-abusers. Kicking off with The Grudge and a confusing lineup change after Planet of Zeus pulled out at the last minute. The Greek band’s slot was given to 70s throwbacks Black Pussy who played the slightly later time allowing The Grudge to follow Gurt onto the Underworld stage. This was just as confusing as it sounds, but The Grudge’s heavy metal take on stoner-rock (if a little generic) was very much appreciated by the eager crowd.

Black Pussy (never Google them without the word ‘band’ at the end) stomped their flared trousers through some solid 70s tinged grooves before I made a hasty escape to try and catch some of the crackers Bonnacons of Doom at The Black Heart. Bonnacons are not really my bag, being altogether too proggy for my tastes, but the fact that they wear concave, round mirror masks (like those things you see at the ends of peoples drives on country roads allowing them to see the traffic, but with eyeholes cut into them) that reflect everything going on around them like looking into the back of a spoon. Coupled with a packed, sweaty, 150-capacity venue in the form of The Black Heart’s upstairs room made this quite a trippy event.

Following Bonnacons was the double-header of North Dakota outfit Egypt, sounding very much like a doomier Tangerine Dream, the lead guitaist kicking off proceedings in a Jimmy Page manner with a double-headed 12-string/6-string combo and Sweden’s Asteroid belting out their own variety of doom-blues with both bands playing to an almost full Electric Ballroom. I personally preferred Asteroid with their catchier, fuzzed-out set but both bands were very talented and compelling for a noisy, enthusastic audience.

I seem to remember going to see Rotor next but I can’t remember anything about them so I’ll skip them and head staright to The Black Heart for Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick’s headline set in the guise of JK Flesh.

Starting later than the advertised 10PM slot, Broadrick’s road crew set up a very low table loaded with a laptop, a couple of guitar pedals, microphone and some other electronic music boffinry. The Black Heart started to fill up until Broadrick unleashed a barrage of 808 beats and harsh sounds loaded with lashings of echo and delay before veering wildly between techno, dub and most things inbetween. People came and went pretty much through the entirety of the set, not knowing quite what to make of it but I throroughly enjoyed it, despite it being quite out of place amongst the blues and guitars as much as Broadrick’s white combats and hoodie was out of place amongst the denim, leather and beards. Justin Broadrick’s many musical guises over the years, including his time in Techno Animal with Kevin Martin (aka The Bug) are most definitely evident here with JK Flesh owing fealty equally to Detroit techno, Chicago Industrialism, Jamaican Dub and London Dubstep.

As I mentioned earlier, I thought that this would be a gentler festival as far as clashes were concerned, but even on the first day I managed to miss out on Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity at the Electric Ballroom and also Lionize and Raging Speedhorn at The Underworld, but then you can never see everything.

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