Over the course of this past weekend from the 25th – 27th April, London’s annual Metal Hammer and Prog sponsored stoner rock / metal, sludge, and doom festival Desertfest took place over three venues in Camden Town, London. These three venues being the gracious Electric Ballroom, Camden Underworld, and The Black Heart. Unfortunately due to unforseen circumstances, Hit The Floor were not able to cover the Sunday. But without further ado, here is what we thought of our weekend at Desertfest!
FRIDAY 25TH APRIL
Upon arrival Camden Town was overrun with a collection of muscular bearded men, heavily tattooed women, a friendly and chilled atmosphere, and the streets littered with people drinking canned alcoholic beverages before wandering in to the venues to go and check out the next band they want to see. This can only mean one thing… Desertfest is well underway, and everyone is here for the sole reason to come and have an amazing time watching a whole ton of great bands, and meet a whole lot of new people!
Sixty Watt Shamen – The Underworld
We first head downstairs to The Underworld venue to go and catch the recently reunited Sixty Watt Shaman. The place is nearly packed out to the rafters, and the band’s sound is absolutely skull-crushing. There are tunes here that make everyone headbang in a unison that is nothing short of glorious, plenty of fist-pumping action, and a towards the end of their set a lot of singing along. Sixty Watt Shaman‘s sound is like somewhere between the confines of Crowbar and Godsmack, with a more groovy blues oriented flow to it, and for what it is worth it sounds great and blends perfectly. Whilst not overly familiar with this particular band, it seems they have surely returned to a heroes welcome, and judging by the faces of every single member of the band they are extremely appreciative of the warm reception they get! 8/10
The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic- Electric Ballroom
Next was The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic, who are pretty much a psychedelic supergroup of sorts, who are made up of Ed Mundell (Monster Magnet / The Atomic Bitchwax), Collyn McCoy (Otep / Trash Titan), and Rick Ferrante (Sasquatch). Their set is predominantly an instrumental psychedelic journey in to the the most wonderfully executed form of space-rock, and powerful – yet bizarrely uplifting instrumental progression of the day. Playing a healthy range of tracks from ‘Rockets Aren’t Cheap Enough’ and ‘Exploration Team’, the band continue to wow an already captivated audience. Combined with a talkative and welcoming stage presence, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic provide a terrific build up before tonight’s main headliners. 8/10
Spirit Caravan- Electric Ballroom
Tonight’s headliners and supposed final act of the night are Spirit Caravan, who have recently reunited to do a US / Euro tour, and Desertfest as they claim is their ‘43rd and final show to end an amazing tour on‘.
Whilst it is clear that there are some core Spirit Caravan fans here in the audience, there is also a lot of curious heads who are not necessarily familiar with the band. But that is absolutely fine, because better late than never, right?! Spirit Caravan for those not in the know, are one of the many projects of guitarist Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich, who are also made up of Henry Vasquez on drums, and Dave Sherman on bass. Tonight they plough through a massive 75 minute set of some of their greatest hits from their only albums ‘Jug Fulla Sun’, and ‘Elusive Truth’.
Unfortunately, about five or six songs in to the set, Vasquez seems to have a technical difficulty with the snare drum skin breaking. This leads to a ten minute pause so the snare can be fixed, whilst Weinrich and Sherman keep the crowd preoccupied with some guitar and bass solos, and then a bit of cheeky banter.
Eventually, Vasquez arrives back onstage with the band and then Spirit Caravan are able to resume with their set!
The band bring their powerful 70’s rock and stoner influences trailblazing through with such hits such as ‘Sea Legs’ and ‘Cosmic Artefact’. While their set is solid and the audience is also treated to an encore of a couple of songs after their set is due to finish, we cannot help but shake the feeling of the set being dragged out a little too much, and at times the interaction with the crowd was rather sparse, at times leading to a very monotone sort of set. Regardless, this was a great welcome back for Spirit Caravan on their only UK show on their reunion tour. 6/10
The Machine- Electric Ballroom
Earlier on in the night, we were supposed to go and check out Dutch acid-jazz / experimental rock band The Machine out at The Underworld. Due to the band arriving late in to the UK (we can only assume for transport issues), The Machine were switched to the Electric Ballroom to play after Spirit Caravan.
Given only but ten minutes to do a soundcheck, this was always going to be a difficult set for The Machine to recoup from. For the first half of the set the sound was extremely muddy, and the guitar levels were just far too high above everything else. But when the sound engineers / band finally do get their sound levels right halfway through the set, it seems that it is all but a little too late for them to really flourish. Whilst The Machine do play some great progressive jams that continue to baffle and wow audiences in awe, we are also treated to a rather unexpected cover of ‘Lightsaber Cocksucking Blues’ by British band McClusky, as they ‘only have two minutes left, and here is a two minute song!‘. A stroke of genius so it may seem, as there are a few members of the audience who know exactly who McClusky are! This set was unfortunately marred with problems, but regardless with all credit and respect due, The Machine do deliver the goods that were almost lost to the point of no return. 6/10
[divider]Credit: Andrew Pepin
SATURDAY 26TH MAY
ASG- Electric Ballroom
We head on over to check out the brilliant ASG. With the knowledge that some of the band members are suffering from illness, when they hit that stage you would have thought the total opposite, for they sound incredible.
Their mystical take on alternative rock, especially with material from their most recent studio album ‘Blood Drive’, sounds amazing in a venue like this. The mix is perfect, the sound is crystal clear, each musician is tight as can be, and vocalist Jason Shi does not just show how good of a guitarist he is, but also a talented singer.
ASG perform a short but sweet set, but it is rapturously received from the audience in this packed out Electric Ballroom. A job very, very well done! 8/10
Hey Colossus!- The Underworld
Shortly after ASG‘s set, we head on over to The Underworld to check out a band we have never heard of before, Hey Colossus! Whilst the venue is packed out, we are somehow not convinced that it is all that good. Whilst the experimental noise rock / metal mentalists look like a band that have just randomly acquired a random selection of members from the streets to participate in an open mic event, their music is even weirder. It is more so an improvisational jam session with some incredibly complex time signatures and song structures along with some heavy riffs to accompany. But all in all, it just seems far to abstract for this particular occasion. There is also a feeling of whether it borders the fine line between eccentric genius and musical snobbery and pomposity in its highest form. Either way, it was a bit of a head-scratching set to say the very least. 5/10
Hotel Wrecking City Traders- Vans Clothing Store
We learn that due to illness, ASG will not be playing the acoustic performance at the Vans store in Camden, and that Hotel Wrecking City Traders have stepped in place to do an impromptu performance before their set at The Black Heart. HWCT deliver a pulverising instrumental set which sonically speaking could blow the windows out of the store if the volume were to be set any higher! A brief set which attracts more curious heads in to the store rather than solid appreciators, the band still display a decent yet short set of sludgy, pulverising riffage. 7/10
When Weedeater come on to the stage it is one of the loudest and heaviest sets (sonically speaking) we have witnessed. For a trio, this band sure as hell packs one hell of a punch when it comes to the live set.
Ploughing through a selection of songs spanning over all three albums, including a disgustingly heavy version of ‘God Luck and Good Speed’, Weedeater demonstrate just why they are on of the very best at what they do.
How drummer Travis Owen does not lose a limb due to how hard he hits them drums is beyond the imagination, and how vocalist / bassist ‘Dixie’ Dave Collins does not cough his lungs and larynx out with his gravel throated howl is also beyond imagination. But with a regular toasting to the crowd with a nice bottle of Jim Beam in Dixie’s hand (as well as some cheeky cough medicine being drunk next to his amplifier), as well as a lot of gratitude from the cool as hell and beer-raising guitarist Dave Shepherd, it is very clear that Weedeater are so damned grateful for everyone in attendance tonight. What makes this set even more special is a charming rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’ with Scott Weinrich from Spirit Caravan performing second guitars (after blowing a load of confetti in to the crowd).
Whilst the only criticism of this set was that it finished half an hour earlier than expected, Weedeater still managed to crank out a solid 45 minute set of some of the heaviest and bass-heavy tunes that is even possible for the human ear to audibly digest. Terrific and yet very humbling in equal measure. 9/10
So it reaches the ultimate climax of the evening, as Norwegian riffmasters and hellraisers come onstage for their headline performance on this Saturday night, to a packed out crowd at the Electric Ballroom. Arriving onstage to the atomosphere-building ‘Apenbaring’ then kicking into the brilliant ‘Spring Fra Livet’ from most recent album ‘Meir’, it is clear that Kvelertak are here for one reason and one reason only – to kick ass and drink beer with all of us. Seriously, with such musical brilliance as these guys deliver, it is almost criminal how they are still not as popular as they already are.
During the first half of their set they crack such classic tunes as ‘Sultans Of Satan’, unfortunately there is a slight hitch with bassist’s Marvin Nygaard’s strap holder. Having to duck out of the later half of ‘Bruane Brenn’, it is clear that he is upset and frustrated at what has happened whilst it is being fixed. But this in a certain perspective is a totally cool thing, because it just goes to show that it clearly does matter to him (which he clearly wants to deliver the best of what he can to the audience), whilst the band solider on like professionals during the rest of the song. A clear testament to show that they are passionate about what they do, and will stop at nothing to give the crowd what they so want!
From the get go the pit for the first time this weekend open up and becomes a hectic flurry of bodies flying all over the place, especially during such amazing features like ‘Offernatt’, ‘Manelyst’, and ‘Fossegrim’.
Whilst the set is clearly one of devastatingly amazing musical prowess, sometimes one or two of the guitars were a little hard to hear during the set (bearing in mind they have three guitarists), but regardless of this it is almost irrelevant, as Kvelertak bring some of the most energetic and chaotic stage presence to the table, as well as making the audience rock out like feverish bastards!
The set climaxes with a couple more songs after a deafening chant for an encore. They arrive back on to perform ‘Blodtorst’, and a brutal version of ‘Mjod’ which whips the crowd in to a frenzy. Whilst it has been an epic and thrilling ride for Kvelertak these past couple of years, this is now the sign of a band ready to go on to even bigger things. Give it until next year, and you will be seeing them covering main stages all over Europe and America. 9/10