Underworld, Black Heart, Purple Turtle, April 6th, 7th and 8th
What did we learn from day three of the Camden Desertfest?
- Stone rock is a pretty formulaic genre.
- You can definitely get too much of a good thing (stone rock)
- We’re old.
- And tired.
- And hungover.
- For fuck’s sake we’ve got kids and joint problems and shitty hearing and stuff what are we doing playing ‘teenagers at the pop concert’?
- So tired.
That doesn’t say anything about the show itself, but what with two of us moshing themselves into a 24-hour coma and the other suffering a severe case of stone rock fatigue after his heroic scramble to single-handedly cover an entire day’s worth of bands, it’s no surprise we’re feeling a bit fragile.
Sunday was always going to struggle to stack up for us. Both Friday and Saturday boasted some essential gigs, but to our minds, besides Samsara Blues Experiment, today’s line-up wasn’t looking as appetising as it might. We’re not the hugest of Corrosion of Conformity fans either, so our enthusiasm was probably best described as ‘equivocal’.
After an elegant repast enjoyed amongst the most genteel of upper class company (fried breakfasts scoffed in a pub), we make our way into the Underworld in time to catch the dying moments of Throne’s set. Wow, it sounds a bit like Electric Wizard. Fancy that. No offence to Throne, whose see-sawing riffs and droning vocals make for decent enough fare, but we’ve been listening to this stuff for three days solid now.
Crystal Head come on and atmospheric post-metal is delivered to us from beneath a hoodie. Then it is revealed that under the hoodie beats the heart of a die-hard Tool and Queens of the Stone Age fan. Their songs are deliberately structured and build dynamically, as you’d expect with such sleeve-riding influences. Vocals are earnestly delivered, and the musicianship seems pretty good; but for some reason the dynamics are failing to fire, and the big kick-ins never really kick off, leaving the whole thing feeling a bit flat and one-note. Shame.
It’s kind of a mismatch too, because the next band up are Leaf Hound, who sound more like Ted Nugent than Tool, and for good reason. This is a newish incarnation of a band that had its heyday in the early 1970s, and gobman Pete French has been catching our eye all afternoon as he wanders around the venue. He looks as if he settled himself down in 1971 and just waited while the world turned, until he was fashionable again. From our cursory inspection, he appears the sort of man who could only have ended up a rock star, and his big, bluesy voice confirms it.
His tasselled leather jacket doesn’t quite fit him anymore, but at least he has the satisfaction of knowing his wife was wrong to tell him to throw it out all those years back. Instead, it has lain dormant, lurking hidden at the back of the wardrobe for over 30 years – until the time became ripe for the cowhide to leap up and slither across Peter French’s back once more, transforming him into a rock ‘n’ roll gargoyle. He looks out of place, but happy. We find ourselves endeared.
But the guitarist he’s found is a different story. This kid might be good but his dirty sex faces give him the demeanour of a predator and make us feel a bit funny and nervous inside. Then, during a breakdown, when he leans over to the bassist just before striking the big chord, he says ‘let’s do this’. All the blood in our bodies turns to ice.
Gentleman’s Pistols arrive next and one of us mistakes Carcass/Napalm Death legend Bill Steer for a young girl, and although we don’t try to cop off with him, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t. It’s another set of stomping, raucous hard rock suitable only for getting drunk and injured to. They play with conviction, exuberance and joy, and we come to the conclusion that they’re dead good.
By this point, stone rock fatigue begins to pass over to exhaustion, and during stage downtime, talk turns to whether any of us are going to bother going to the Purple Turtle or to the Black Heart to see what else is going on. Samsara Blues Experiment in particular come up often, because their last album was a bit wank but they’re still really good. Are we going to head over? Are we? Shall we? Let’s have another beer, and then decide.
Needless to say, we camped in the Underworld all day long.
Which brings us neatly onto Zoroaster. Two huge fucking floor toms get battered into absolute bits, and fill their sound with earth-rumbling menace, underpinning a walloping great mess of riffs and heavily delayed vocals. It’s a skull-crushing sludgeslide of stoner-doom in the absolute highest purity, and for at least one of us (it’s drugs band fanboi Noel) Zoroaster are the stand-out of the day. And you can put that sentence in the press release too, sunshine.
There’s a tribal, animal intensity to this that hasn’t yet been in evidence today, and it reminds us once more why we tolerate such bullshit – leaving the house, walking about, spending all day sat on a reclaimed church pew instead of our elaborate and well-cushioned masturbation thrones – in our pursuit of dirty noise.
[ALERT SPECIAL GUEST PARAGRAPHS BELOW WRITTEN BY ROB MCAUSLAN OF LABRAT AND ONEMETAL FAME TO HELP US PRETEND WE DIDN’T GET REALLY TIRED AND LEAVE EARLY]
I’ll be honest, as much I as really do like CoC, after Black Cobra’s utterly brilliant savagery I felt like maybe they’d struggle to make an impression. Turns out I’m potentially an idiot (no real surprise there) and should trust bands that have been around nearly thirty years to do their bloody job.
And do it they did, in grand style. The legendary three-piece lineup aren’t quite to everyone’s taste (the minor exodus as they began bore slightly-depressing testament to this) but for wizened old bastards like me, the chance to see some of their early classic tunes performed as intended was the main reason I found myself breathing in The Underworld’s uniquely ammoniac fug for the second time in a week.
A few things became apparent very quickly. Firstly, Woody Weatherman was quite intoxicated. Secondly, Reed Mullin is not quite the slender blonde waif of yore (but frig me off with a hi-hat clutch, the man can drum still!). Thirdly, the new stuff slots in perfectly with the old – I’ve said before now that the last album feels like the ideal bridge between the Deliverance era and what went before, and this show proved that perfectly, at least to me.
The set was perhaps predictably weighted towards new songs and Animosity material, but that’s fine with me – the biggest reactions from the rest of the assembled stone rock fans seemed to be prompted by Vote With A Bullet and Deliverance though, thus proving that, as ever, I am the probably the only person in the world who is ever right.
Top fun night, and the perfect headliner for a day that had been getting a bit heavy on hanging chords and virtually catatonic rhythms.
[GUEST APPEARANCE ENDS, CHEERS ROB. EVERYONE SAY THANKS TO ROB]
So that, loathsome reader, was the inaugural Desertfest. And what a jolly good time it was. Even though we are quite bad at festivals and not much better at music journalism, the weekend still feels like incredible value for money. If Roadburn is just that bit too expensive a proposition, Desertfest could be your next best bet. It’s fantastic to get an opportunity to see a whole passel of bands that we might never otherwise, simply because most metal kids will dismiss them in favour of the big box brands while happily crowing about their anti-corporate individualism.
And thus, to the final lesson Desertfest had to teach us:
- Our tastes are officially ‘Underground’, according to Metal Hammer. We can’t tell you how cool that makes us feel.