The weekend where Camden becomes a home for some of the best stoner rock out there.
Returning for its sixth year, Desertfest has become a staple in the calendar of any stoner rock fan – a portal into a cosmic void of dusty riffs and blackened doom. As the sun beats down on Camden, there’s a sticky sweet cloud rising from its centre, where discerning vinyl junkies rifle through stalls in the closed-off street leading into the Black Heart – the hub of the festival, with newer talent infiltrating its upstairs room.
War-painted afro-doom trio Vodun [KKKK] bring their spine-tingling West African voodoo to the Underworld and more than live up to the hype. In singer Oya, whose soulful blues flickers over the hazy riffs and rib-crunching rhythms like a candle in the dark, they have a rare talent indeed. This band are literally on fire – drummer Ogoun crossing her sticks through the flames rising off the cymbals in front of her. Headlining the same room a little later are Slo Burn [KKKKK] – the legendary band formed by singer John Garcia as Kyuss’ genre-defining mastery came to an end. It’s a set no one ever expected to see – jaws hooked on the floor from opener Muezli to closing anthem Pilot The Dune. In their short-lived tenure, they only had but one EP and a few demoes to their name, making tonight’s drawn-out jams even more of a gobsmacking proposition.
Black Spiders [KKKK] blast away the cobwebs the following afternoon in what will be their final London appearance before calling it a day. As expected, songs like KISS Tried To Kill Me and St. Peter remind this packed crowd in the Electric Ballroom just what a bloody shame that is. Still buzzing from last night’s set, John Garcia [KKKKK] is pulling double-shifts with his solo band – unearthing more gems from his extensive back-catalogue. He was, and still is, the man with the golden voice – wailing through the Kyuss classics that served as the very blueprint for a movement of down-tuned psychedelic rock bands. And this crowd don’t miss a word, each lyric etched deep like a sacred hymn of the past.
Closing the second night, Norwegian punk legends Turbonegro [KKKKK] dust off sailor hats and songs about erections in thunderous form. “Welcome to Fyre Fest,” quips English frontman Tony Sylvester, who joined the band in 2011, as he prances around in knee-high white socks and a biker hat that looks like it was stolen from Rob Halford himself. They may be one of the less obvious bookings for a festival like this – and that’s precisely how they blow the roof off with a party no one will be forgetting in a hurry.
Over at the Roundhouse the following day, blastbeats from Wolves In The Throne Room [KKK] struggle to hit the mark, but their doomier moments sure ring loud and clear. Swedish royalty Candlemass [KKKK] are up next and fare much better with the sound, raising fists in a more trad metal way than just about anyone else here this weekend. Headliners Sleep [KKKKK] are simply uncontainable. There’s no room in the world their brand of pulverising slow-death horror couldn’t swallow whole. Topless and leaning back with his eyes closed – riffing his way through Holy Mountain, Dragonaut and From Beyond – guitarist Matt Pike is in an orbit of his own. In fact, the same could be said of just about anyone stood here in the Roundhouse. It’s more of a meditation than it is a gig – nicely rounding off Desertfest’s three days of bludgeoning steroid blues. See you next year? You betcha!
Words: Amit Sharma