Desertfest 2012 – Saturday

Underworld, Black Heart, Purple Turtle, April 6th, 7th and 8th

Having failed to see more than a handful of bands on Friday, Saturday heralded the promise of luxuriant swathes of delicious Stone Rock, with bands kicking off at the far unhealthier time of two in the afternoon. We, however, are struck by the decimation of our editorial attendance. Two thirds of us were so utterly transformed by the goods on display the previous evening that they have utterly failed to get out of bed. Or rather, they have got up, gone to Nando’s and then gone back to sleep.

Having three stages of dedicated riffage to cover and only one wordsmith means two choices: Either run like the wind between venues to ensure maximum exposure; or pick a venue and stay with it, ignoring all the tasty morsels the other stages have to offer.

It’s hardly Sophie’s Choice. The Underworld hosts all manner of fuzzy doom blokes, and for a capstone, local champions Orange Goblin. So the royal we heads to the bar for a pint of stratospherically priced ale (oaky body fading to a clean finish with subtle infusions of vinegar) before heading in to see Italians Zippo.

Playing a heady mix of straight ahead stone rock with sudden drops into psych-doom, they’re a perfectly pleasant way to start the day, even if they don’t quite manage to illicit much more than a lightly tapped foot and a gently bobbed head. Shrine ’69 take the energy up a gear, once you get past the fact they appear young enough to not remember the first Britney Spears record; not to mention that their vocalist is a dead ringer from Tony from Skins, albeit stretched to the height of a horse.

Fortunately for him and his band he’s got a hell of a voice on him, and they have a punchy blues-rock sound and some promising songs. Certainly they aren’t close to being the finished article yet but the new song they debut shows signs of progression.

A quick glance at the schedule and a check of my energy reserves show that I can manage a quick mosey over to see Steak at the Black Heart. They are wielding a straight ahead, fuzzed-out sonic assault, and they wield it well. I later learn that some of these men organised the festival. Good work on all counts.

I don’t have long to hang about, because we want to get back to the Underworld to watch Roadsaw, not because I know anything about them, but because Roadsaw is an excellent name for a band. I don’t realise it immediately, but I’m about to see a run of shows unparalleled in my gig going life. In Roadsaw, we find a rock solid American redneck bar band with a fine line in pounding blues ridden rock. The crowd starts to feel that little bit more coherent in its appreciation, my hands start to find themselves raised in the air in a clenched fist, and the pulse quickens.

Next I have a choice between the highly rated Ashes of Iron or Sungrazer, but seeing as the latter have an album – in last year’s ‘Mirador’  – that is rarely off heavy rotation in Demon Pigeon towers, and I already bought their t-shirt, again the choice is not hard. To begin with though, it seems like it may have been the wrong one. Following Roadsaw’s pure rock fury with gentle, subtly layered desert grooves was never going to be easy, and for the first few songs Sungrazer seem to be struggling against themselves, but then all of a sudden there it is; all warm tones and blissfully mellow jams that swell and break into long syncopated riffs. As soon as they finish, I put their t-shirt on over the one I’m already wearing in a defiant act of support. I’m sure they noticed.

Valient Thorr I know nothing about, which means that when they explode onto the stage in a turbocharged blur of hair and denim I find myself taking a step backwards in shock. Coming on like a mix of AC/DC and a shaken box of camel spiders, they zip through three songs in what feels like the opening minute. The lead howler has stripped to the waist, his sweaty beer belly, wild man beard and matching back hair dripping like a faucet. He fixes the crowd in his grin and starts to proselytize about the great church of rock and roll. The band pound their instruments with denim clad arms and fix us with serial killer glares. Seemingly seconds later I too am a sweaty mess and the band are leaving to a wave of feedback and joyous bewilderment. I feel like I’ve been assaulted – but, you know, in an exhilarating way.

Sweden’s Truckfighters may be derivative as fu(manchu)ck but they’re also pretty bloody good, and they take the energy of a crowd abuzz and raise it even higher. Fuzz, riff, chorus, repeat. As templates go it’s not bad; throw in some mightily impressive soloing and great lurching grooves, and the whole thing is elevated somehow.

Japanese doom legends Church of Misery only arrive at the venue at the same time they are due to go on stage, then spend the first twenty minutes wandering around plugging things in and hugging a drunken giant. Abruptly they pick up their instruments and out pours a thick pounding tortured doom that just about knocks everyone off their feet, and then their nasty, snarly Sabbath worship is underway; all earthquake riffs, time-stopping drums and vocals that sound evil enough to be Jeremy Kyle’s inner monologue. After only two songs they’ve overrun their allotted time, leading to my favourite heckle of the weekend, a fussily indignant; ‘Well maybe if you turned up for work on time.’ They get two more songs anyway, each more brutal than the last, and then they’ve left, leaving a heaving venue full of anticipation for the headline draw.

In terms of setting the groundwork, Orange Goblin couldn’t have had it much better. A quick bit of mental arithmetic (becoming ever more difficult in proportion to the quantity of vinegary beer so far imbibed) tells me I’ve just seen eight sets in a row and all of them were good. In fact, the last five were all of the kind of standard that has an anally retentive bastard like me reassessing that laminate of ‘The Top Ten Gigs Ever’ I’ve got in a shoebox somewhere. And here come a band I’ve longed to see for over a decade, whose live shows are legend.

Which is why it’s such a crushing disappointment that Orange Goblin are, tonight at least, absolute bobbins. Throughout the day, I’ve thought often how cool it is that vocalist Ben Ward has been at the side of the stage, checking out all the other bands, pumping his fists with the rest of the crowd, beer in hand.

But now I can see they can’t have been beers, they must have been bottles of mescaline, because this man is beyond wasted. It takes a few songs before it becomes apparent that this is not just a good time booze buzz, an aid to performance. This is a man who reaches into the crowd to keep himself upright, a man who can’t keep pace with his band, a man who utters the same blind platitudes (‘Roadburn on our doorstep!’) again and again in between songs because he’s forgotten he said them already. The band struggle to hold it together, but they soon lose the magic and start just gritting their teeth to get on with it. Most of the crowd don’t really seem to care, and the next day opinions veer between them being band of the festival and a shambolic mess.

Halfway through, I’ve had enough. Having been on my feet for what feels like days it is clear I no longer have the capability to keep going, and so I forgo the lures of Grifter closing the night in the Black Heart, and stumble into the night in search of pizza, my head full of fuzz and riffs and a joyful feeling that is tinged with just a slight hint of disappointment.

www.thedesertfest.com/london/

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Desertfest 2012 – Friday

Underworld, Black Heart, Purple Turtle, April 6th, 7th and 8th

When we first booked tickets to Desertfest – a three day Stone Rock pilgrimage that instantly raises the questions ‘why is it called Desertfest?’ and ‘who the fuck are all these bands I’ve never heard of?’ – we had naturally assumed that the line-up was good enough to attract many of our friends to do the same, before we remembered that none of them are all that into ‘the Stone Rock.’ None of them are all that into anything really, because like us, they’ve all hit their mid-30s and grimly murdered their ambitions.

So it was with some trepidation that we embarked on a Holden Caulfield-esque jaunt to London for the weekend, where we imagined we would spend our time not connecting with anyone, stumbling around the hard streets of the Big Smoke in a semi fugue state. Then we remembered the entire editorial team of this here mighty site, all three of them, would also be in attendance, so we’d probably be all right. Little did we suspect.

Our arrival at Camden tube was heralded by a flock of bearded men wearing aviators, beanies, flannel shirts and boot cut jeans, all trying to maintain the same level of disaffected apathy about the whole thing. Immediately, we knew we were in the right place. This ‘Roadburn on our doorstep’ had managed to sell out its inaugural event, and had attracted the clout of one or two real Stone Rock heavyweights, just for good measure.

Of course, a killer line-up means killer clashes, and this event was a perfect example. Purple Turtle headliners Asteroid, one of our favourites, were just one of the casualties; but most people seemed to agree that you don’t pass up a chance to watch Karma to Burn even if it’s like the fucking tenth time you’ve seen them. Still, we could have thought it all through and divided our efforts across the venues in order to give you the most comprehensive coverage imaginable, but instead we just hung out, watched a few bands, got a bit drunk, and firmed up our friendships, because we don’t give a fuck about you, reader.

Our first stop is at the festival’s second stage at the Purple Turtle, rammed with people looking to get their drink on while in the background the excellent Stubb throw out some lovely nod-inducing grooves. There’s nothing about them that is spectacularly original – which will prove to be somewhat of a template for the weekend – but there are nice riffs, Garcia-worshipping vocal lines and a general sense of goodwill from an audience clamouring to take in as much fuzz as they can in the next three days.

Shortly afterwards, upon the self-same stage, Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight – who, coincidentally, share two-thirds of a line-up with Stubb – show off a set heavy with tunes from their brand-new album Going Home. It’s fair to say the performance isn’t as rock-solid as it could be; the drummer doesn’t look or sound all that comfortable behind his tubs, for some reason; and the elaborate horns ‘n’ strings orchestration of the record is missing; understandable, but still a pity. But casting a glance around the crowd, it’s apparent nobody gives a toss about any of that. The riffs are satisfying, loud and gruff, so the crowd steadily builds, and the ambient temperature soon begins to climb. By the time we take our leave, the Purple Turtle is so packed, we can’t even find the door. A lovely little appetiser.

Next, to our first taste of the Underworld, which seems to have been kitted out in the greatest backline in human history. We arrive just as Sons of Alpha Centauri are getting started and while their instrumental hero worship of tonight’s headliners may not exactly be setting the room alight, the sound is something colossal and wonderful, all rich thick fuzz, thumping drums and heavy heavy bass tones. The band do their thing for half an hour, heads nod in gentle appreciation and then they are gone. Also the bass player looks like Sean Maguire, curtains and all.

Next up on the main stage are Ancestors, but we adjourn from the action at this point, because it is time to call to order the inaugural Demon Pigeon AGM (held every leap year), wherein the three titans of ennui that make up this site retire to a pub, along with a few other metalheads off Twitter, to discuss important merchandising issues (“What if we sold a t-shirt made of dogshit?”), look at potential hostile takeovers (Terrorizer is looking pretty ripe – and we don’t just mean the corpsepaint), discuss the latest bid from Facebook (solicited; as yet ignored) and generally wonder how the hell The Pokémon Letters got so bloody popular (Noel is a fucking genius).

Dreams are hatched and die on the same breath; plans are solemnly committed to, in the full knowledge that zero action will ever be taken; a respectable quantity of beer and a lot of laughter happens. A few brave souls dare to ask us why we don’t update more often. We fix their gaze with our own, and silently spit into their drinks.

Soon, we realise we’ve killed some time and head back in to see Rotor.

Rotor are a three-piece German Drugs Band, from Germany, and in the words of Dean Moriarty, they have ‘it.’ They ‘know time,’ turning what are, on record, some top notch instrumental jams into something that is cosmically enchanting, managing to make the synapses of these reviewers melt into something approaching a zen trance. The width of the grooves; the precision of the guitars, locked together like bumming dogs; the way the band drop back in a half beat late in unison that just has every hair sticking out and your brain wanting to shout out ‘God, yes, God!’ with wild abandon. We only just manage to keep this desire in check, allowing nothing to betray the cool exterior masking the tender hearts we keep locked under these beards. Three acts in and we’ve already seen the band of the festival. Or have we…?!

Highlights include a percussive rendition of Auf’s Maul, the up-tempo beat-fuckery of Grande Dir Gott and especially Drehmoment, which ends up cycling around and around a vortex of repetitious odd-numbered riffs that eventually prove to be too much for a knot of fans in the middle, who chuck a whitey and leave, mumbling about the walls bleeding.

All of which leaves Karma To Burn with a bit of a mountain to climb, but you don’t get to be in the game as long as K2B without the ability to level such topography with a few well timed riffs. While they never quite get to that same ‘Oh holy Christ’ place as Rotor, they lock into a teutonic bar rock groove with ease. The crowd goes into a strange redneck mode, a fight breaks out and the set culminates in a lady of questionable sobriety taking her top off and staggering around on stage while the bemused band play on and the crowd beat their chests in a fury of virginal testosterone.

It’s one of the most energetic, if bizarrely violent gigs we can remember attending in some time – although allowances must be made for our advancing years and dimming memories. An almost savage energy is being traded back and forth between band and audience, and it feels like everyone involved is just cutting loose and going for it. None of which can distract us from the sight of drummer Rob Oswald walloping his skins in a frankly improbable manner; his entire body seems to be playing, not just his arms and legs. He’s all sweat, hair and beard, and his unusually tall cymbal stands mean every five seconds he looks like he’s stretching to reach some ketchup from the top shelf of the cupboard.

An hour of relentless, pounding, monolithic riffage later, we stagger sweating into the night, and consider briefly the delights of the various after-parties, before electing to save all our love for the line up of tomorrow.

www.thedesertfest.com/london/

The Pokémon Letters: Chapter VII

Editor’s Note:

Attentive readers will note that this week’s update has been subject to a slight delay, for which we are most unapologetic. In between one of us emigrating to India and the other one emigrating to hospital, all things Pokémon have gone on the back burner. I’m relying completely upon the good graces of my co-author, Owen Grieve, here. I think he’ll let me get away with blaming my massive creative and motivational lapse on his blossoming career, rather than my own fucking rotten body.

Anyway, does everyone remember what this was about? Deep meditation, coupled with computer analysis of previous updates, indicates that there was some Pokémon Red/Blue being played, and that letters were subsequently being written about it. There was a lot of horseplay and joking around but in the end we solemnly agreed that Owen’s huge fondness for this series of children’s computer games was highly misplaced and instead we sat and watched Robocop in perfect silence, holding hands and bonding firmly over its subtle Christ allegory. 

I’ve a feeling I’ve remembered it wrong, and a folder full of meaningless screenshots taken last October appears to back me up. So join us now as we forensically reconstruct the shattered body of this series in the hope of reanimating it, all so we can kill it off for the final time.

This week: Cinnabar Island

Dear Owen,

All I could remember was that I’d parked ♂COBRA♂ outside the Cinnabar Gym, and quit the game in rage-filled disgust. I just couldn’t bring myself to take that final step off the cliff, but my memory refuses to tell me why. Just what had happened on the path to Cinnabar to excite quite so much abject ennui? Had my Snorlax overslept? Were my Pokéballs feeling tender?

Who fucking knows, eh? Also, who cares. They’re not paying for this shit, so all them non-bloghavers can just suck it up. This is what separates us from the ‘professional’ enthusiast press, Owen. Absolute autonomy, and zero production value or skill. This is a joke, I know I’m fucking brilliant.

Where was I?

That’s right, the Cinnabar Gym.

But before that…

Oh.

Oh yeah.

Yeah. This bit drove me bloody barmy. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, and nor do I care to. I seem to recall a lot of trekking about getting lost, a fair old bit of pushing rocks down holes to block a channel full of water, and endless random battles every single second of the fucking day. Of especial note: You turn into an otter when you go swimming, which is pretty slick for an old game like this.

Eventually we pop out somewhere or other and then we’re outside the gym. Okay.

We pick up some valuable intel about Blaine, our next mark. Just this one gym to do and the guilt of a feature left hanging can finally be assuaged. The tortured hours of sweat-drenched nightmares, the endless haranguing by YOU (in the form of a handful of polite and considerate tweets), all of this can be brought to an end. Elysium, beyond this one door.

For fuck’s s*ke.

A bit of a misnomer, this. Cinnabar shouldn’t even qualify as a village, let alone a town. It’s barely even a hamlet; nay, a parish. In fact, it’s more like a university campus for Pokémon geeks. I check the market for a souvenir, maybe a Poké-U scarf. Go Poké-U!

One of the houses shelters an enormous laboratory complex. At least, I’m able to infer that it’s a laboratory, on account of the numerous scientists just standing about wasting their tenure. Also these weird caches of lab notes that provide some sort of highly intriguing back matter which I will leave to you to explain Owen, since I ignored it, as usual. The place is crawling with wild vermin, indicating some sort of containment breach. We run away from most of the fights because I’m fucked if I’m doing these pencil-pushers’ work for them.

At length, we uncover a secret key, and I capture a My Little Pony figurine.

I instantly drown it in a bucket of piss, in case anyone thinks I’m one of those horrible, creepy Bronies.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! ^_^

Since Blaine is the big quiz guy, I decide we’re going to have a crack at some of his questions. But first:

Where is that little dickhead, anyway?

Hmmm.

Chuffing hell.

When we catch up with Blaine, he taunts us about his foxy fireteam of fetishised horses, then expresses his hope that we packed burn heals. We didn’t.

As my love for dogs and flames is well established, I am, for once, genuinely delighted by something in this game. As much as I love WINTERBORN, I would trade him away for one of these without a moment’s regret. I wouldn’t even say goodbye as I left.

NOELOXFORD kicks arse. Yes, he certainly does. I don’t have to tag a single other team member for any part of this fight.

There we go. See you next year.

Yours,

Noel

Click here for Owen’s reply! >>