LIVE REPORT: Desert Daze Festival

Despite disastrous cancellations, Desert Daze maintains its status as one of the year's finest cosmic blow-outs

Friday night at Desert Daze, the California psychedelic festival, is cancelled due to a lightning storm. The rain comes during Warpaint, and the cut-off happens three songs into Tame Impala. At 22:38 attendees are instructed to take shelter; at midnight the organisers evacuate the campsite, urging those affected to find a hotel, or, failing that, sleep in their cars.

Despite the digital confetti of “REFUND!” pouring down on the festival’s social media, it would all be a bit of Mad Max-esque fun if it weren’t for the (at time of writing) 31 dead and 200 missing in the current California wildfires. These are the deadliest on record. Back in the UK, it’s 17 degrees in November. Our present is increasingly apocalyptic. Batten down the hatches.

Aside from an incendiary, fizzog-melting masterclass from Idles on Friday night (a set watched on by BEAK>, whose very own ‘Wulfstan II’ got an impromptu cover at the end), several peaks overlap throughout Saturday and Sunday to more than make up for the Friday night cancellation. The lax indie-folk musings of Kevin Morby dusts down cosmic cobwebs with ease; Mercury Rev evoke a ceremonial sense of new beginnings via a play-through of Deserter’s Songs; and despite a few PA drop-outs, SoCal psychonauts JJUUJJUU’s blissed-out rampages hit home and then some.

But the outright, “Actually, fuck Friday night” peaks are indisputable. Japanese psych overlords Kikagaku Moyo are, judging by the close-eyed sway and glee of incalculable heads, best placed to see in Saturday night on the Block Stage. Doused in lysergic-dappled visuals, they veer between spaced-out blitzes and a whole host of interweaving, multi-guitar moments. They’re followed in quick succession by Ripley Johnson’s Wooden Shjips – whose hour-long reiterative spell seals the deal in emphatic fashion – it’s a voyage in which sacred particulars, both inner and outer, momentarily align.

While the surefire main event, My Bloody Valentine on Sunday night, exceeds expectations in delivering a sixteen-song set of tympanic-membrane compromising majesty (reminding us that they are, without a shadow of a doubt, at their very best right now), two muter sets linger on as highlights: the Dylan ‘I’m actually a hologram’ Carlson-fronted Earth delivering 2003 album, The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull, with meticulous restraint at dusk, and BEAK> offering a perfectly foreboding alternative to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (or, as they called them, “King Chizzard and the Chocolate Custards”), from ‘The Brazilian’ to ‘Blagdon Lake’.

Beyond the Instagram-clogging feast that was this year’s line-up – which, to the organisers’ credit, was scheduled with minimal heartbreak for fans – was the nigh on fabled Desert Daze experience. From its beach, installations and man-made lake, to myriad luminous diversions, hideaways and smaller tupiks littered throughout the site, wandering off isn’t just wise: it’s strongly advised. And more than any festival of its ilk, anywhere, shirking the notion of finding oneself in favour of just finding others, and enjoying what’s already on the table, reigns supreme. Even with Zeus’ devilry on Friday night in mind, Desert Daze’s rep as an unmatched annual blow-out of mottled cosmosis continues unabated.

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