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PREVIEW: Desertfest 2017
Brian Coney , April 25th, 2017 14:20

Ahead of the return of annual heft mecca Desertfest to Camden this weekend, Brian Coney handpicks a dozen must-see acts

Ah, Desertfest. Where would we be without you? Probably dead. Or, at best, blasting Blues For The Red Sun at the side of a dusty road somewhere, pleading through the tears for a more merciful world.

But fear not: back in reality, five years into bringing together some of the finest names in stoner, doom, sludge, psych, and similarly heavy scenes, the annual London leg of the world’s heft shindig par excellence returns to Camden this weekend, promising another three-day-and-night haze of the highest order.

Heavy-duty earplugs and the best of intentions stowed, I’ve sifted through the line-up to select a round dozen acts well worth hitting up at the festival’s five perfectly walkable venues, including some out-and-out must-sees at the Quietus stage at the Black Heart right across Friday, a lot of which will be live streamed this weekend for those of you who can't make it.

Hang about for the afterparty, won’t you?


Sunday – The Roundhouse – 21.15

Simply put, it would be borderline obscene to start this guide without instantly doffing the old riff-worshipping cap in the general direction of the quintessential exponents of the stoner rock genre: The Osmonds. But seeing as we’re concerned with Desertfest here, let’s take a look at Sleep. Having headlined the festival as recently as 2015, the three riffsmen of the weedocalypse, Al Cisneros, Matt Pike and Jason Roeder return to the festival a galvanised proposition, spurred on by the recent Southern Lord reissue of ten-minute fist-to-the-face ‘The Clarity’. Their closing set at The Roundhouse on Sunday night is cast-iron certain to be at least twice as agreeable as self-immolating in a Yankee Candle factory. You know, if that’s your kind of thing.

Bruxa Maria

Friday – The Black Heart – 16.00

Seeing in the late afternoon at the Quietus Stage at the Black Heart on Friday, Gill Dread’s Bruxa Maria released one of our albums of 2016 in Human Condition. A masterstroke of brain-searing noise-punk, the prospect of seeing it come to life in all its fantastically fucked-off glory isn’t one any attendee should pass up too lightly. In fact, with our ears still pleasantly rattling from their set at the Quietus Winter Party, rest assured that The Black Heart is the place to be at precisely 4pm on Friday afternoon.

Read JR Moores’ tQ interview with Bruxa Maria here.


Saturday – The Underworld – 21.00
Sunday - The Roundhouse - 15.15

Wisconsin stoner metal masters Bongzilla have always occupied the upper echelons of the genre with very good reason. One of the few acts in this earthly realm that give the almighty Electric Wizard a run for their money in terms of sheer low-end weight and swirling, smoked-out clout, the recently-reunited, Mike "Muleboy" Makela-fronted quartet will close out The Underworld on the Saturday, as well as grace The Roundhouse as openers on Sunday afternoon. Doubling up as the band’s first London appearance(s) in 14 long years, miss their long-awaited – inevitably high-as-balls – return to the capital at your peril.


Friday – The Black Heart – 18.45

Admittedly, the last time I uttered words to the effect of "I cannot wait for Khünnt" was a low moment in my life. But times have changed and things are looking up. Making a rare appearance at the Quietus Stage at The Black Heart on Friday evening, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne's peerless virtuosi of punishing noise must be heeded live to be fully appreciated. Probably best not to eat directly before catching these guys (who – if we’re very lucky – might feature a lovely man called Richard Dawson on guitar.)

Read Noel Gardner’s interview with Khünnt here.


Saturday – The Underworld – 16.50

From one troupe of sonic ultraists to another, hardcore-fuelled French black metal band Celeste are sure to deliver a stand-out – and wholly trouncing – set at the HDP WPC Stage at The Underworld late on Saturday afternoon. Especially for a band who perform in almost complete darkness, their unrelenting brand of sludge-tinged sorcery should be right at home and then some at the legendary 500-person capacity Camden High Street venue.

Slo Burn

Friday – The Electric Ballroom – 22.00

Needless to say, the very portmanteau Desertfest directly stems from a musical lineage in which desert rock pioneers Slo Burn play a significant – nay, vital – role. Formed by ex-Kyuss vocalist and “Godfather” of stoner rock John Garcia in Palm Desert, California in 1996, the quartet – who flamed out in 1997 following the release of their only release, the four-track EP Amusing the Amazing – play their first show in two decades as headliners at The Electric Ballroom on Friday night. Truth be told, this is as essential as catching Sleep two nights later.

Garcia adherents, you’ll likely want to catch his set as John Garcia Band in the same venue the following night from 19.00.

Terminal Cheesecake

Friday – The Black Heart – 20.15

Apart from slick organisation, reasonably priced tickets, unswervingly stellar bills and an annually-returning faithful, if there's one thing you can rely on Desertfest for it's the odd wonderfully daft band name, and this year is no exception. Although Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters and Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard tick all the boxes, Terminal Cheesecake is our favourite. Terminal. Cheesecake. Say it aloud. And again.

Just try and convince yourself that isn’t poetry.

More importantly, the London wizards in question are another act riding the ol’ rebirth wave this year, having returned in 2013 with Neil Francis of Gnod replacing Gary Boniface on vocals. And what a rebirth: last year’s Dandelion Sauce of the Ancients - their first LP since 1994 - is a mighty effort, blending psych, noise, sludge, dub and everything in between with devastating authority.

Check out Matt Ridout's interview with Russell Smith of Terminal Cheesecake here.

Saint Vitus

Sunday – The Roundhouse – 16.45

Although I've been making a concerted effort to sidestep some of the more iconic names here, neglecting doom forefathers Saint Vitus from the list would likely be the start of a spiral of guilt that couldn’t possibly end well. Going 36 years strong, the L.A. band’s hugely influential, genre-blurring career speaks for itself. Expect a triumphant, mottled set from founding members Dave Chandler and Mark Addams, original frontman Scott Reagers and drummer Henry Vasquez at the Roundhouse on the Sunday (and hang around for fellow 80s doom pioneers Candlemass, naturally.)

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs

Sunday – The Underworld – 18.30

You may have noticed that we are partial to the masterfully bastardised, psych-dappled noise forays of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne five-piece Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. And whilst there is a significant amount of competition, we’re going to make a prediction that, once the dust has settled, their set at the Underworld on Sunday will go down as one of this year’s most talked about (for all the right, whiplash-inducing reasons).

Read Patrick Clarke's recent interview with the band here.


Saturday – The Electric Ballroom – 20.30

Stemming from the organisers' desire "keep it fresh, change it up and challenge the boundaries and limitations that modern day’s genre-baiting, pigeonholing bullshitters sometimes lay down" deathpunk trailblazers Turbonegro are set to bring the party tenfold when they headline Saturday night at the Electric Ballroom. While Desertfest is far from a festival that takes itself in any way seriously, opting for the Norwegian band to top the bill for Day Two is an inspired decision that will surely pay dividends.

The Groundhogs

Saturday – Electric Ballroom – 14.30

Chances are when the Groundhogs were first earning their crust as bona fide blues rock troubadours you were not yet of this world. But testament, once more, to Desertfest’s genre-straddling, generation-spanning philosophy of sorts, the current incarnation of the band – who have gone through myriad line-up changes over six decades – will bring their strutting rock n’ roll to the Electric Ballroom early on on the Saturday afternoon. A nice change of pace and tone from heavier blitzes left, right and centre.

Yuri Gargarin

Sunday – The Underworld – 20.00

Finally, if you’re feeling even remotely cosmically-inclined on Sunday evening (which you might well be, all things considered) you could do much worse than nip into the Underworld around 8pm. Proudly flying the sprawling space-rock flag at Desertfest 2017, experiencing Gothenburg, Swedish five-piece Yuri Gargarin’s hour-long interstellar trip is all but mandatory.

Desertfest takes place from April 28-30. Head here to check out the full Desertfest programme