This weekend, April 29 – May 1, Camden Town in London will become the site of the world’s biggest mosh pit as Desertfest returns. Todd Dedman guides you through the chaos with the must-sees of the event.
The 10th anniversary of the London edition of Desertfest is nearly upon us, and there’s nothing better than planning which bands in which venues are worthy of your attention. Of course, the best festivals are the ones where you have an ace time and don’t manage to see many of the bands you bought a ticket for, but there’s no harm in planning. The three-day sludge/doom/stoner/noise festival is bigger than ever, with more venues in Camden being used, which is good news for the five ticket holders who take note of their daily step count. For the rest of us, it’s excellent to see so many great bands playing, combined with the headache of working out where the worst clashes may be. Here, we offer 12 bands that you’ll kick yourself if you miss.
FRIDAY 29th April
Lowrider (The Electric Ballroom)
What is it with Kyuss-indebted desert/stoner rock that makes Swedes so damned good at it? This bunch have been churning out records at a consistent and leisurely pace of one every twenty years. They released a couple of splits with Sparzanza and then Nebulla in the late 90s, before their stonewall classic of the genre debut record Ode to Io saw the light of day in 2000. Just three short years later they called it a day, before Desertfest came knocking in 2013 and they reformed and played to a packed out Electric Ballroom. Now, with the release of the tricky second album Refractions in 2020, Lowrider return as more than just a heritage act.
Blacklab (The Underworld)
Self-proclaimed Japanese dark witch doom duo Blacklab combine the wall of noise majesty of metal with the lo-fi sensibilities of bands like Babes in Toyland. Yuko Morino and Chia Shiraishi play abrasive, often downright scary riffs that pay reverence to the subgenre’s lineage whilst also managing to avoid the homage/plagiarism debate that often blights this field. Debut album Under the Strawberry Moon is a rollicking affair, whilst 2020’s Abyss adds a little more psych and straight up rock’n’roll into the mix to excellent effect.
Bonnacons of Doom (Powerhaus)
This Liverpool-based collective play dreampop drone, evoking the wonder of acts like This Mortal Coil jamming with Phurpa while Hawkwind throw their stardust around for good measure. Their extended musical pieces elevate and enrapture, and likely annoy those waiting “for things to kick in.” Like Sunn 0))) and early years Earth, Bonnacons play with the nature of sound vibrations rather than worrying too much about pleasant melodies or earworm hooks, whilst blending the energy of kosmische Musik into the fold. This band’s set will be for those looking for a meditative experience rather than a good old-fashioned headbang.
Petbrick (The Underworld)
Truth be told, the Friday line-up in The Underworld is something special and any one of the bands on the bill that Human Disease Promotions have put together could have been picked as an essential band to see over the weekend (Coltsblood, Blind Monarch, Switchblade, and Integrity on the same bill as those already mentioned here is an embarrassment of riches). Petbrick are Wayne Adams and Iggor Cavalera (yep, the one from Sepultura) and they play harsh electronic noise with pounding rhythms that skews between the primal and the technically proficient. A phenomenal live act of extreme volume and dynamic intensity.
SATURDAY 30th April
Earthless (The Electric Ballroom)
San Diego’s Earthless play blissed-out, mostly instrumental psychedelic jams that could just about go on forever. Elongated tracks, with no discernible hooks or repetitive phrasing, owe a debt to 60s Japanese underground bands as well as borrowing heavily from kosmische music’s free flowing form where fluidity and transience of structure are crucial ingredients. Who knows how many songs they will be able to fit into their hour-long set, but you might not need more than he fingers on one hand to count ‘em.
Part Chimp (The Roundhouse)
Tinnitus-inducing feral splendour is guaranteed from these London racket mongers awaits those brave enough to endure what may well be the loudest set of the weekend. With amps dialled up beyond eleven, Part Chimp create intense and thrilling slabs of noise rock which has the potential to eviscerate the unsuspecting. The ferocity and sheer intensity of their sound belies the fact that they are some of the nicest and most humble of people in this dirty old rock game.
Slomosa (The Electric Ballroom)
Tundra Rock, they call it. Desert rock from a cold country. Norway’s Slomosa have more swagger than most, despite their singer often looking like Otto from The Simpsons. On the back of recent dates supporting the Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork’s new band Stöner, there should be some interest for this even at this entirely ungodly hour on a Saturday afternoon.
Shellac (The Roundhouse)
Celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band, the obtuse and wily ‘main stage’ Saturday night headliners make a rare live appearance in the UK. Steve Albini, Todd Trainer and Bob Weston are a minimalist rock trio who create spiky, acerbic and visceral anthems of angst and ennui. The venue is likely too big for their traditional and often illuminating mid-set Q&A session which is something of a shame, in all honesty. That just means more time for juddering and spine-mashing riffs while Trainer’s ferocity with his snare will leave you wondering how one man can hate an inanimate object so much. A mass singalong to “Prayer to God” will be a joyous moment, no doubt.
SUNDAY 1st May
Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (The Underworld)
Likely the result of a band name generator algorithm that was under pressure to include every facet of the culture in one go, this band play slow, thick-as-treacle sludge with a slight nod and wink of pomposity. They’re a fun band for sure, and some light moments in a weekend heavy on angst and ferocity will be welcome. Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight are an old school boogie band in lots of ways – like Red Fang playing at a wedding reception mashing up ZZ Top covers.
Remote Viewing (The Black Heart)
If they play their track “Whitney Houston, We Have a Problem” then Remote Viewing will win the trophy* for both best and worst song title of the weekend in one fell swoop. This London based band play a mix of sludge, hardcore and noise rock with an intensity that few others over the weekend will match. Remote Viewing pick at the scab of existence, offering an insight into the ugly state of affairs going on around us. Cathartic though never joyful, Remote Viewing will test your resolve as the first band worth getting out of bed for on the Sunday – it’s a challenge you should look to take up. Then as they rise up the bill in the coming years you can tell the other losers that you hang out with that you were there…
*there is no such trophy, by the way
Wallowing (The Devonshire Arms)
One of the biggest sounding bands of the weekend in the smallest venue can only be an excellent thing. As the bleary-eyed festival goers step out into the Camden sun (hey, I’m ever the optimist) Wallowing’s laser light show and wall of noise should be enough to tempt the Desertfest creatures back into the darkened rooms that is their natural habitat. 2019’s Planet Loss is a wonderful record of slow-stomping doom, like Blood Incantation suddenly getting into Weedeater.
Electric Wizard (The Roundhouse)
What better way to end the festival than with the greatest doom metal band of all time. What more is there to say? Nothing.