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.