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PREVIEW: Desertfest
Toby Cook , April 24th, 2015 16:13

Comes a time for sludge fans, crust aficionados and rotund ginger men to congregate in Camden and worship at the altar of metal. Yea, 'tis Desertfest, and here's your handy guide to the must-see acts

Hails, fellow followers of the riff! That time of year is once again so very nearly upon us; time to follow the smoke toward, well, Camden, actually. Time for Desertfest. From its modest beginnings a little over five years ago, when several handfuls of doom, stoner and desert rock-inclined bands descended upon a few small venues in Camden, north London, this year's festival features some 60-plus bands, spread across six venues, and the sonic remit has expanded to include everything from stoner and doom to psychedelic to hardcore to classic NWOBH… And Sex Swing. But that's a lot of bands and a lot of stages, so to make things easier, here's our pick of the best. Set phasers to stoned…

Sleep

Well, duh! I suspect there's little need for me to try and convince anyone reading this that Sleep are one of, if not the, essential 'must-see' of the entire weekend. The last two occasions on which the group visited our green isle, both performances went down in rock folk lore - in fact, the sight of the legendary trio packing the main hall at Alexandra Palace was perhaps one of the greatest things this devotee has ever witnessed.

As titanically heavy as they are tantric and immersive, their Sunday headline slot at Koko promises to be worth the entrance fee alone.

Agrimonia

Brutally combining elements of crust with crushing post-metal and moments of near-death metal ferocity, Swedish troupe Agrimonia are just as close in spirit to Neurosis and Opeth as they are to Disfear or Anti Cimex. Coursing, contorting and undulating between delicate, emotionally-charged ambience and powerfully melancholic moments of melodic death metal as often as they descend into unsettling moments of caustic crust, the Swedes' purging racket is not to be missed. (However, if I hear you actually use the term 'post-crust' I'm going to come round your house and spit in your mouth whilst you sleep).

Noothgrush

Fuck! Fucking Noothgrush playing in the UK for the first time in 20-odd fucking years?! You'd have genuinely had to have recently been kicked in the head by a horse if you think it's acceptable to miss these sludge veterans. Existing in the blistering, feculent air where punk and sludge meet, Noothgrush live promises to be like having burning glass poured directly into your soul, about as fun as watching pandas drown in an oil spill. And you're going to love it.

Sex Swing

"There are scarcely the words, let alone the necessary genres with which to accurately describe the throbbing and deranged sonic mass summoned forth by Sex Swing. Featuring members of some of the UK noise scene's more notable exponents - particularly Tim Cedar of Part Chimp and Dan Chandler of the much-missed Dethscalator, as well as members of Liverpool psych veterans Mugstar - their five-headed mixture of bass, drums, bass saxophone, vintage electronic organ and, err, Chandler's angry processed howls somehow coalesces into a threateningly hypnotic pulse that intermittently spasms to the wails of the seemingly free-form sax. At times descending into an almost Krautrock, motorik-style repetitiveness the likes of 'Night-Time Worker' are as uncomfortable as they are captivating. RIYL: Drinking methylated spirits out of an old welly and unexplained blackouts…" I wrote that for Metal Hammer, and frankly, months later, I still can't think of a better way to describe them. Miss them at your peril!

Sly & The Family Drone

I personally guarantee you that Desertfest has never seen the likes of Sly before, and it probably won't again. Four dudes: one drummer, tables full of effects pedals and processors and one rotund ginger gentleman in his pants. Oh, and did I mention they perform amongst a henge of amps, in the middle of the crowd? Did I also mention that they hand out drums for said crowd to bash manically away at during their improvised drones and stammering grooves? 'Cause, yeah, they fucking do. Audience participation and nakedness strongly encouraged.

Bad Guys

Like ZZ Top if they were characters in Viz jamming with QOTSA, if they worked in Greggs. Quite simply the most fun you're going to have at Desertfest with your clothes on. Or off. I would recommend the latter, especially if you've seen Sly & The Family Drone too.

Shit & Shine

Trying to describe the 'music' of Shit & Shine is a bit like trying to play Mozart with a dead fish. Led by London-based Texan Craig Clouse, S&S at times lurch into almost Kraut-electro-garage rock, played backwards by screaming, piss-soaked ne'er-do-wells, hammered on Special Brew, whilst at others they simply summon wave after wave of uncomfortable, yet engrossing pandemonium. From unnerving and debilitating to calm and chaotic, serene and schizophrenic; quite literally the shit... and shine. Bring ear plugs. Lots of ear plugs.

Iron Walrus

Threateningly heavy downstroke doom from four German dudes who wear balaclavas with fake tusks attached. I mean, c'mon, what's not to like about that? With this year's line-up being more diverse than ever, it's easy to forget that there are a huge number of bands representing the classic spirit of Desertfest, but these brilliantly-named doom/sludge pinnipeds are one such band not to be missed… Tusks up, ya shitters!

Ufomammut

Ufomammut are unquestionably one of the most immensely powerful and bruising psychedelic/doom metal bands on the planet, and with their seventh, and arguably best, album, Ecate, having just been released there is perhaps no better time for the Italians to be arriving at Desertfest. I'd never heard of the trio until one of the Quietus' editorial team hit me in the back of the head with a promo of Idolum they'd flung across the office, and I've never really been the same since… Cosmic enlightenment awaits!

Obake

The addition of avant-doom quartet Obake to the Quietus stage may have provoked a stern 'huh?' from a few, but the Anglo-Italian-Hungarian quartet's second album, the outstanding Mutations, deservedly landed in tQ's albums of 2014 list. As I wrote, by means of introduction to the band on the Desertfest website: "Whilst only loosely best described as avant-metal, [Obake's sound] is a continually morphing entity… A cross-pollination of everything from oppressive doom riffs and prickly waves of ambient noise to almost operatic cadences - whilst containing aspects of the familiar, the collision of those aspects serves to create something far more unique that the sum of its parts."

See you in Camden, ya shitters!

Desertfest runs from today until Sunday in various venues in Camden, London; head to the website for full details and tickets

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