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Things Learned At Desertfest 2013
The Quietus , May 31st, 2013 08:14

Toby Cook and Jessica Crowe kneel before the mighty riff at this year's Desertfest, care of performances by Bongripper (pictured, top), Pentagram, Bong, Hexvessel and more.

Photos by Oran Tarjan

The power of the riff compels you

"Are you sticking around for Belzebong?"

"Maybe, I don't really know them…"

"Oh, you'll fucking love 'em – it's just riffs!"


With the probable exception of Manowar fans, nobody would argue that diversity isn't a good thing, especially on a festival bill – of course you want the opportunity to go from grizzled face melting death metal on one stage to post-Marxist afro-Cuban psych-step blast-core or The Piano Man on another, but as all true sons and daughters of the first Iommi-ian church know, you can never have too many riffs in one place at one time, as it was written in the third book of Sabbath, chapter eight: 'Into The Void'. This isn't to say that Desertfest is totally devoid of diversity - diversity just isn't what it's about. What it's about is riffs - big, fuck-off, bone shaking, bong rattling riffs. It's about the sort of riffs that compel you to involuntarily headbang until you've got Czech neck; it's about heeding the ancient, deafening command to immerse yourself in that most fleeting and intangible of realms that is simply 'the riff' – Page knew it, Iommi knew it and Pike knew it. And now you know it too.

Black Moth, Dozer, Unida, UFOMammut, Conan, Toner Low, Cough, Pentagram and Bongripper to name but a few… I fucking loved 'em. It was just riffs. TC

70s psych is sexy after all

Woah, Kadavar! These three teutonic Berliners stride around the diminutive stage like sexy Tree Ents. The males in the audience shift uncomfortably, the girls writhe and preen. They haven't yet played a note. They're the satin shirted, long haired Metal Hunks Of The Month and as soon as they begin cranking out the heavy 70s pyschedelia trouble begins. "That bass player has a tight butt!" exclaims the guy in the Orchid t-shirt in front of us. What's happening? Is anyone else too hot? It's just too warm in here, the Jazz Cafe really need to sort that out. The drummer Tiger flings his shirt off. The two girls in front of us are grinding against each other furiously. JC


Bong are truly, truly evil

In the same unreasonably psychotic way that you've always wondered what it must feel like to be shot, but for obvious reasons don't actually want to know what it feels like to be shot, there has always been that uncontrollable, self abusive voice inside my head that makes me yearn to have experienced those early Swans shows, where such was the unrelenting nihilistic intensity and homicidal levels of volume that some of the audience would vomit up shards of their own pelvis, before stumbling out of the gig in the same dazed manner that Brad Davis leaves the Turkish prison in at the end of Midnight Express. And then Bong came and played upstairs at The Black Heart.

As the years have wafted by, Bong have increasingly veered into ever more tantric tangents, to the point where their most recent effort, the truly stunning, sitar drenched Mana-Yood-Sushai, might even be called accessible. Nothing about their closing set on Saturday night could have been called accessible; nothing about the sadistic levels of volume, nor the 45 minutes of consumptive drone, or the draining, withering temperature in the packed out tiny room. Some came, many left, others told me afterwards it was nothing short of "fucking distressing" – it wasn't distressing, it was evil, truly, truly evil, in a way Bong haven't really been for a while. And then when I got home I was sick in my kitchen sink. TC

Volume is everything

Maximum volume does indeed yield maximum results, but I can sort of understand it if you'd rather that not every band you go to see performs at such a volume that they peel the enamel off your teeth and make your brain feel like it's been mule kicked by Joey DeMiao, but Desertfest is a metal festival after all, right? Unfortunately no one seems to have explained this to those manning the mixing desk at the Electric Ballroom – if you're only a few rows from the front and your cerebellum is merely being tickled by the lead guitar, and the vocal lines about weed smoking cyber-Vikings doing battle with six headed mecha-hydras are having to compete with the mutterings of Cheech and Chong's cockney doppelgangers stood behind you discussing the merits of chocolate Hob-Nobs being the most metal biscuit, then they're fucking doing it wrong. Dozer were rendered about as psychedelic as Fruit Pastilles, Naam were so ineffectively quiet that Dire Straits would've told them to turn it up, and most criminally of all Pentagram sounded like a wet fart in church. Electric Ballroom: You. Fail. At. Metal. Fact. TC

I've become dangerously obsessed with Bongripper

Furiously scribbling band names and logos on any available surface instead of learning about photosynthesis or the reproductive cycle of locusts when you're 16 years old, I figure, is perfectly acceptable. Waking up on the couch one morning, fully clothed and with a damp patch of spilt beer in your lap, to realise that you've written 'Bongripper' on your arm and, inexplicably, several times all over your coffee table, is perhaps less so. But, such is the effect Chicago's Bongripper have on me. It might be the fact that their whole aura suggests a sort of sarcastic fuck you to the multifarious clichés of doom – albums titled things like Hippy Killer and Satan Worshipping Doom, or the ram's heads, skulls and pentagrams on their t-shirts, or the fact that they look like they should be working in a call centre for an insurance company. Or it might be the fact that they're fucking brilliant at what they do; the impenetrable tightness of their live show, and the captivating, seismic power of their riffs. Either way, I've got some cleaning to do. TC

Doom is all about the long game

It seems pretty prophetic that Desertfest more or less coincides with the release of doom legends Cathedral's final long player – as Lee Dorrian himself has pointed out many times, it's almost unreal how not just unpopular but how virtually ignored doom was back in the late 80s and early 90s. Bands like Saint Vitus couldn't get arrested - except when they were actually getting arrested - and yet their patches proudly adorn the tattered denim of countless punters this weekend, most of whom were ironically born too late to have picked up a copy of Born Too Late first (and probably even second) time around too. And Pentagram for fucks sake! 40 odd years in to his career and Bobby Liebling is finally headlining festivals and actually selling some records - decent records not made just to pay off some skag debts. In one way or another, virtually every band on the entire weekend's bill ought to raise a glass skull-bong to those who kept the sonorous Sabbath-ian waves resonating through those dark years. If there was any doubt as to whether it was worth it, you need look no further than Desertfest, and the fact that in only its second year it has cemented itself in the festival calendar as arguably the best festival of its type in the UK. TC

We want to live in a wattle and daub hut commune with Hexvessel

How did they get here, Hexvessel? Did they launch themselves forth from icy shores in a whittled boat, hewn from the boreal forests of Finland? And their shoes! Cobbled from the bark of an unyielding oak, we're sure. Here, under the corporate taglines of the Jazz Bar, begins the first anticipation of Desertfest. The folk octet from Finland slowly draw in the metal coterie from the cold streets of Camden. In contrast to the Mega Riffs to come at the festival, Hexvessel and their particular brand of bucolic Fennoscandian folk are a welcome somnambulist break for the beer weary. Ever seen them live, Hexvessel? They're beautiful. Tinged with damp and moss you can practically smell the pine forest. Their folk rock invokes cooperative living - I want to move in with Mat 'Kvost' McNerney and his wife in their tree house and lob pine cones at the unenlightened below while stirring a pinniped stew. 'Sacred Marriage' truly does have a "forest heart", and suddenly below us there's an influx of girls with flowers in their hair, swaying and dreamy. The metalheads look on, bewildered. JC


Desertfest may never rival Roadburn, but believe me, that's a good thing

Amnesties be dammed! Despite the appearances of Hexvessel, Kadavar, Cough and Witch Mountain providing obvious evidence to the contrary, a few people I spoke to over the weekend seemed incredulous to the idea that there wasn't some sort of supposed amnesty between Desertfest and Roadburn whereby one wouldn't book bands appearing at the other's festival – but frankly, who gives a flying fuck? There's inarguably plenty of crossover between the two, not just in the fact that you seem to see many of the same faces at both, but also in the very particular listless and swampy yet vibrant atmosphere that pervades the very vibes of both festivals. But they aren't the same festival – Roadburn has achieved the rare and towering status as a near essential pilgrimage for all true metal heads and Desertfest shouldn't ever have to feel that it needs to ape it in any way. Do I want to see Electric Wizard on a huge stage, stood before 30ft satanic visuals, in a venue where I can smoke until I can taste colours? Yes. But do I want to have my psyche stomped in to jabbering existential pulp in a sweaty basement venue by Bongripper? You bet I do – and that's what makes Desterfest what it is. TC

Listen to Bongripper

Seriously, why aren't you listening to Bongripper!? TC