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Desertfest 2024

Written by: musclassia, omne metallum
Published: May 23, 2024
Event: Desertfest London 2024 (Website)
Location: Roundhouse, Electric Ballroom, etc., London, United Kingdom

Desertfest, Camden, London, England, 17-19 May 2024

Musclassia: May is metal festival season in London, as the middle weekends of the month routinely host Incineration Festival (geared towards extreme metal) and Desertfest (primarily featuring psychedelic, doom and stoner rock and metal). I have yet to attend both in a single year; this year I was planning to break that streak, but sadly illness had other plans, forcing me to miss a strong edition of Incineration Fest. Thankfully, I recovered just about in time for the following weekend's festivities, as the Desertfest organizers had managed to serve up another ripper of a line-up.

As per usual, the festival was organized such that one day required impractical walks back and forth between the headline stage at the Roundhouse and the other venues in Camden, while the other two days used the far more conveniently situated Electric Ballroom as the headline stage. The Roundhouse day this year, Saturday, was the one day where I was joined by Omne Metallum, whose reporting you will encounter later in this article. But first, there are Friday’s escapades to cover.

Table Of Contents




Before I ultimately acquired a full-weekend ticket, I had been considering only purchasing day tickets for the final two days, as Friday appeared much weaker in comparison. There was mainly one band that tipped me into going on this day; however, because they were only scheduled to play in the evening, I opted to miss the opening few acts and ease my way into the festival, as I was still fully recovering from the previous week's illness. While there’s a couple of names that I would’ve been intrigued to listen to from the first few slots of the day (primarily Frankie & The Witch Fingers), ultimately I don’t harbor much regret in delaying my arrival on Friday. After collecting my wristband, I caught a brief snippet of Brant Bjork Trio (and a snippet was enough for me), before going to the Underworld to watch the aforementioned group that inspired me to attend this day.

Wake 18:00-18:50, The Underworld

While Desertfest is predominantly populated by psych rock, stoner, doom and sludge metal acts (and others within this general sphere of music), there are occasional rogue inclusions each year, mainly from the extreme metal spectrum. One such band is Wake, who feel like they would have made more sense on Incineration Festival’s line-up. Not that I’m complaining about that, however, since this way meant that I could experience their first return to these shores in 7 years. It’s the band’s output since 2020 that converted me into a fan, and thankfully their set drew entirely from that period, as a setlist dominated by songs from Thought Form Descent was bolstered by a track apiece from Devouring Ruin and Confluence, the latter closing the set out emphatically with the intense tremolo riffing of “Beyond Empyrean”. Their sound was well mixed, with most of the intricacy of their writing coming through despite the overwhelming intensity of their style.

Colour Haze 19:00-20:00, Electric Ballroom

The options of who to see after Wake boiled down to two bands. One of them, Sugar Horse, had impressed when they supported LLNN earlier this year, and would sustain some consistency in vibe with the aggression of Wake; however, they were playing at Dingwalls, the venue that represented the longest walk out of any in use on this day. Instead, I made the very brief trip to Electric Ballroom to catch some of Germany’s Colour Haze, a group I mainly know of due to YouTube, whose algorithms have a tendency to work the song “Aquamaria” into shuffle playlists for any remotely similar music (resulting in a combined 2.6 million views across 2 uploads of the song). Colour Haze are long-term veterans of the stoner rock scene with 30 years under their belt, and while their jamming, mellow, psychedelic style is very classic-sounding for the genre, there’s are two tiers to the ‘typical’ Desertfest bands that you get, and Colour Haze are definitely in the higher tier, as they very much nail the vibe that they’re going for with their chill jams.

Warpstormer 19:55-20:45, The Dev

The final band I listened to on the Friday were a local one; Warpstormer are actually a group that my own band have shared a stage with in recent memory. Having thoroughly enjoyed their set on that occasion, I opted to go support their set at the smallest venue in use at the festival rather than trek to Dingwalls to catch Blanket’s heavy post-rock. Warpstormer were allotted a 50-minute set; as the band have to date only released a 20-minute EP, attendees were treated to what must be sizeable amount of as-yet-unreleased material (one song seemed to run for over 10 minutes). The band play a boisterous sludgy/stoner sound with powerful barked vocals, not a million miles away from someone like High On Fire, and their energy (particularly delivered by their excellent drummer) and songwriting skill meant that they fit seamlessly into the Desertfest line-up.

Musclassia: There was no delayed arrival on Saturday; a stacked bill with some unfortunate clashes warranted attendance throughout the day at Desertfest. A couple of eye-catching announcements also lured Omne down to Desertfest; our schedules broadly overlapped for the first half of the day, so you get two perspectives for the price of one (which, since my lack of alcohol consumption in the previous two weeks seemed to have reduced my tolerance and slightly clouded my memory of some bands, might not be the worst thing).

Omne: Although I had had a great time going to Desertfest for a day last year, it was only when day splits and the final batch of bands had been announced for this year’s edition that my interest was piqued. While Friday and Sunday did look tempting, only Saturday was worth the price of admission to me, thanks to some rare UK appearances and a debut UK performance for Fires In The Distance.

With London chock full of football fans and people attending a day of demonstrations alongside the regular tourists and locals, Camden was the busiest I had seen it in a long time. This played a hand in altering my initial plans for the day, as the usually short walk between The Roundhouse and the other venues became a slog of navigating congested pavements and slow-moving pedestrians.

Still, after meeting up with Matt for beers, I was ready to enjoy a day of odes to the low and slow.

Kal-El 14:15-15:00, The Underworld

Musclassia: I had flashbacks to the ease with which I could easily move between venues at Celestial Darkness Festival earlier this year when we arrived early to the Underworld and joined a lengthy queue to enter the venue. As there was only 1 band in the first slot of the day, a large proportion of the festival’s attendees squeezed into an absolutely rammed Underworld for Kal-El, a decade-old stoner metal band from Norway. It’s not a name I’m particularly familiar with, so this could well be amongst the most impressive crowds they’ve ever played to (although they have a few songs that have racked up major plays on Spotify). Stylistically, they are another very typical Desertfest band, although I would personally rank them in the lower of the aforementioned tiers; although they have a heavy metallic edge, I find their particular desert/stoner rock approach to be quite dry.

Omne: Kicking off my day was Kal-El, whose brand of space rock seemed like a good fit to get things going. The choice to have the band play unopposed meant the Underworld was packed out with a crowd more befitting of a headliner than an opening act, meaning limited views and hot temperatures for those of us not getting in early. Still, Kal-El made the most of their fortunes, though the vocals sounded like someone doing karaoke with a professional band, thanks to both mix issues and what I hope was an off day for the vocalist. I tapped out slightly early due to aforementioned temperature and listened from the bar area where there was air conditioning. It wasn't kicking the day off in style, but a good way to dip your toes into the water.

Sergeant Thunderhoof 15:40-16:25, The Underworld

Musclassia: With up-and-coming crossover thrashers Pest Control opening the Roundhouse, the Underworld eventually reached a slightly less crammed state. The next band to take the stage would be Sergeant Thunderhoof, who impressed me with their 2021 album This Sceptred Veil, which spanned a few different styles and vibes. The band opened with the first track from said album, “You’ve Stolen The Words”, which nicely set the stage for a performance that was firmly in the Desertfest stoner vein, but had a richness and depth to it that elevated it over the preceding act. I would have loved them to include the song “Foreigner” from This Sceptred Veil, but can understand why they can’t afford to allocate a quarter of their set to one song, and I was glad that the more annoying moments from said album also seemed to have been excluded.

Omne: While I had originally planned on trekking up to the Roundhouse to see Pest Control, due to the aforementioned crowded Camden streets, I opted to minimise the number of trips in that direction and stick to the cluster of venues near the tube station so as not to waste my time getting around the crowds. Plus, it was Matt's round and I wasn't going to lose out on a free beer.

Thankfully Sergeant Thunderhoof immediately rewarded my decision, with a tight set that saw them lock into a groove and enthrall the (thankfully) sparser crowd. With the mix improving dramatically, the band were crystal clear and could hypnotise those in attendance with their riffs and hooks. The band set a high bar early on, which if other bands could match, then I was going to be in for a great day.

Lord Elephant 16:15-17:00, The Black Heart

Omne: Ever since they were announced, Lord Elephant had caught my ear, with their instrumental odysseys through sound making for a tempting offering. Kicking off to a big crowd in the intimate surroundings of the Black Heart, the trio's low and slow attack got heads bopping along immediately. While the drums and bass were locked in tight, the guitar was slightly low in the mix, taking the edge off slightly; however, with the former two bouncing off the small walls and intensifying the low-end groove, it more than compensated, feeling like you were sitting inside an amplifier and making for a hell of an experience.

Sunnata 17:00-17:45, The Underworld

Musclassia: After Sergeant Thunderhoof came a pair of painful back-to-back clashes, the first of which saw Sunnata overlap with Fires In The Distance. While the former is arguably a bit closer to my tastes, they also will be playing another festival that I am attending later this year, while I have no idea when Fires In The Distance will make it back to the UK. As the latter were also playing the smallest stage for inexplicable reasons, I decided to catch just the first 10 minutes of Sunnata before moving on. What I did listen to of their set, however, did make me keen to see all of their performance later this year at ArcTanGent, as their oddball, jangling psychedelic sound transferred really well live. They opened with either “Chimera” from the new album or the title track from Outlands (which underlines the similarity in tone I noted in my review of Chasing Shadows), and both the eerie quieter passages and the fuzzier heavy portions sounded really good here.

Fires In The Distance 17:25-18:10, The Underworld

Musclassia: Still, my decision to leave early was justified when I arrived to The Dev, as it was already started to fill, and was firmly rammed before the band arrived on stage; I don’t know if the organizers had underestimated the band’s growing reputation or just couldn’t find a suitable slot on another stage to put them in, but Fires In The Distance arguably should have been scheduled to a higher-capacity venue such as the Black Heart or even the Underworld. Those that did manage to fit in were treated to an excellent set by one of doom’s hottest acts, with all of the guitar and keyboard melodies coming through very clearly, and the songs delivered with the utmost conviction.

Omne: Up next was a set that was four years in the making, ever since I first heard Fires In The Distance’s debut album when I reviewed it here on Metal Storm. Given that both of the band's albums have been high on my AOTY lists, the chance to finally see them live was something I was not going to pass up. Getting to the venue early to ensure I could get a good spot, me and Matt were fortunate enough to end up with probably the best spots in the house to watch what was, for my money, the set of the day.

The packed-out intimate surroundings of The Dev only enhanced the occasion as the band tore through a set that combined some of the best of both of their releases to date, with cuts like "Wisdom Of The Falling Leaves" having that extra breath of life blown into it that live music offers. With a clear mix that allowed you to hear each instrument and appreciate the different elements in each song (including the taped keys), it gave the songs an added dimension that only increased my enjoyment of the band's music. On top of this, Fires In The Distance seemed genuinely enthused to be there, and ensured those who could get in were treated to one of those performances you can say "I was there" for. If Fires In The Distance play a show near you, I'd highly recommend going to see them.

Domkraft 18:15-19:00, The Underworld

Omne: With barely a moment to catch my breath, it was off to the Underworld for the next slice of stoner. There was a risk that coming off such a high would mean Domkraft fell flat in comparison, however these worries were assuaged as the band vibed their way through a strong set. "Whispers" immediately pulled you into the band's orbit, which, thanks for a spot-on mix, kept you locked in as the band's lo-fi stoner had the audience nodding along throughout.

Musclassia: Right after the Sunnata-Fires In The Distance clash, Domkraft were scheduled to play a set that was entirely during Bongripper’s slot at the Roundhouse. As I’d already missed Domkraft at ArcTanGent last year, I made sure to see the first 20 minutes of the Swedes’ performance here. Truth be told, the constant stage changes occurring here did cause some bands to less successfully lodge in my memory, with Domkraft one of the worse casualties, but I do remember enjoying their trippy psychedelic riffing and groovy, meandering songs, with the portion of the set I managed to witness mainly drawing from newest release Sonic Moons.

Bongripper 18:10-19:10, Roundhouse

Musclassia: Still, I wasn’t prepared to miss the entirety of Bongripper’s set, so we made the long walk to the Roundhouse in swift time to catch what ended up being their final song, which spanned the entirety of the 20 minutes that we were able to watch. Bongripper’s reputation for slow, drawn-out, droning sludgy/stoner doom precedes them, and a properly gnarly sound and live mix leant a lot of weight to the lumbering riffs of this gargantuan track. Still, Bongripper do offer a bit more variety in their writing than, say, Eremit (who I hope might get booked one year for Desertfest as well), and the song evolved enough to allow the pulverizing distortion to maintain momentum until the end of the set.

Omne: Leaving Domkraft early was no easy decision, but I was also intrigued in what Bongripper had to offer. Unfortunately arriving towards the end of their set meant that I could not enjoy the show as much as others as, by the time the I had locked into the band's groove, the show was starting its slow progression to the end, meaning I didn't get the full experience. Still, what I heard was enough to certainly tempt me into catching the band again in future should the opportunity arise.

Monkey3 19:35-20:25, The Underworld

Musclassia: At this point, our schedules differed, so I bade Omne farewell for the rest of the day. The schedule was still fairly non-stop, however, so there was only time for a quick bite to eat before the next act. I had discovered Monkey3 earlier this year through their very impressive new album Welcome To The Machine; live, their long-form instrumental psych rock jams were a natural fit for Desertfest and came across very naturally here. They have a heaviness to their sound that places them adjacent to metal, and that contrast between the loudest, heaviest moments and the chiller passages was very enjoyable, particularly with the lush guitar leads coming through.

Cancer Bats 19:50-20:50, Roundhouse

Omne: The respite between bands was a welcome one, allowing me to grab some food and a drink before jumping back into the fray.

One of those groups you can easily slap the "ol' reliable" tag on and call it a day, Cancer Bats live always deliver, be it in a small club or on a stage as large as the Roundhouse's. Unfortunately, tonight proved to be the worst showing I had seen from the band, albeit through no fault of their own, instead occurring due to a live mix that was geared towards low and slow rumbling, not the fast-paced energy the Bats serve up. Still, it was far from a bad showing, just one that was too muddy even for punk rock at times; however, the riffs and rhythms of tracks like "Road Sick" and "Trust No One" thankfully shone through no matter how thick the sonic blur.

With a decent-sized crowd, the band managed to get the first mosh pit going (I feel sorry for those who were too chemically impaired to know what was going on around them and ended up launched into the mosh) and made the most of the opportunity afforded to them. Though the hype around the Cancer Bats has died down in recent years, the band still play with the same determination to make you wonder how the finishing trio of "Bricks & Mortars", "Sabotage" and "Hail Destroyer" hasn’t earned the band a bigger profile than they currently have now.

Horndal 20:30-21:15, The Dev

Musclassia: I was starting to flag by this point, perhaps a sign that I was still in the lingering stages of whatever illness I’d been recovering from. Although I was starting to give up on the idea of wandering to the Roundhouse a last time for tonight’s headliner Suicidal Tendencies, I made sure not to miss Horndal, who had impressed me so much with their new album, Head Hammer Man. The album had impressed me a lot for the strong balance between really heavy sludge riffs and very effective softer and more melodic moments, and the band’s range of sounds translated very effectively here, with a solid live mix. The set drew extensively from Head Hammer Man, and the bruising force of the title track, uplifting melody of “Calling: Labor” and eerie psychedelia of “Exiled” were all easily recognizable. I was wiped out by the end of this show, so ultimately gave Suicidal Tendencies a miss, but Horndal made for a strong conclusion to a very impressive day’s music.

Suicidal Tendencies 21:45-23:00, Roundhouse

Omne: Suicidal Tendencies are not a band I could say I expected to ever appear on a Desertfest line-up, but one that was a truly welcome surprise. Closing out proceedings, the Cyco crew had a crowd that had just been primed and charged up by Cancer Bats, ready to burst like a shaken can of Pepsi (of course I had to shoehorn a reference in). Playing an enthusiastic and big crowd, the band kicked into gear from the off, tearing into "You Can't Bring Me Down", and never let up. Though the band faced similar sound issues to Cancer Bats, this deterred neither them nor the audience, as Suicidal Tendencies tore through songs and the crowd produced probably the biggest pits of the festival's history.

Mike Muir hasn't let time slow him down, with his propulsive performance alongside one of the strongest line-ups that the Cycos has had in years, meant the Roundhouse saw a set that, although seemingly ill-fitting on paper, drew a day of stoner and doom to a fitting close.

While some bands experienced sound issues, today had been a strong run of solid performances that made for a memorable and enjoyable day. I'll hand things back to Matt to see if the festival could exceed the high bar that had been set by Saturday.

I had only made one trip to the Roundhouse and back on the Saturday, and thankfully no such further journeys would be required on Sunday, where the Dingwalls-to-Underworld/Electric Ballroom 5-minute walk was the peak of the between-stage travel. Unlike Friday, however, I would be a frequent visitor to Dingwalls today, which would host several bands, including arguably the climax of the festival as a whole. Before that, though, it was back to Electric Ballroom after the venue had taken the day off yesterday.

Ashenspire 14:30-15:30, Electric Ballroom

When I first saw Ashenspire at ArcTanGent last year, I was impressed by the demented stage energy of the frontman, who at one point began clambouring the rigging inside the tent. I wonder whether such endeavours had unsuccessful outcomes recently, as Rylan Gleave came on stage with a crutch, and exhibited somewhat restricted movement as a result. Still, he was as intense and commanding a presence on stage as ever, and Ashenspire put on another excellent performance; the blast passages in their songs (such as the one that kicks off opening track “Béton Brut”) can come across muddy live, but there’s also some very cool (and occasionally outright catchy) parts in their songs. I particularly enjoy the Primordial vibes in epic closer “Street Cable Again”, which, like most of their set, was derived from 2022’s Hostile Architecture.

Ufomammut 16:00-17:00, Electric Ballroom

Ashenspire delivered a top start to Sunday, but admittedly they’re another act whose style seems to have little overlap with the core Desertfest genres; they were followed by a more recognizably doomy act in Ufomammut, but they are a band with a unique style that distinguishes them from ‘standard Desertfest fare’. Opening with several songs from new release Hidden, the Italian trio demonstrated themselves to be absolute pros with 25 years under their belts (a ‘25’ occasionally appearing on the backing video as a reminder of this being their anniversary year); the heavy parts of their songs were delivered with an intensely heavy, gnarly deep-end tone, but the psychedelic and spaced-out parts still had enough levity to them to make the necessary impact.

Lodestar 17:20-18:10, Dingwalls/Borracho 17:45-18:30, The Underworld

After Ufomammut, I found myself with a 2-hour window in my schedule before the next act that I was keen to watch, so it was time to take punts on a couple of the other bands performing in the interim. I first checked out Lodestar, mainly because a quick Google saw them described as an ‘experimental progressive rock band’ courtesy of their Wikipedia page; maybe something has changed in the 30 years since they formed, as the couple of songs I caught here were not experimental and not progressive, instead falling firmly into the ‘lower-tier typical Desertfest’ category of forgettable stoner/doom rock. I then tried Borracho, who I knew from their 2023 album that I found to be moderately enjoyable; their stoner/sludge sound was again fairly typical, but it was more engaging than what Lodestar offered.

Ozric Tentacles 19:00-20:00, Electric Ballroom

It was Ozric Tentacles, however, that I was keenly awaiting; the group have been around for over 4 decades now, but it was 2020’s Space For The Earth and subsequently last year’s Lotus Unfolding that introduced me to the band and turned me into a fan. Not too great a fan, evidently, as I’ve not yet delved into their back catalogue, but considering the similarities in style between the songs I recognized from their set and the other tracks, perhaps it’s not entirely necessary to dive too intensely into their dozen-plus previous albums. Ozric Tentacles clearly have an established sound, and it clearly inspires as much joy in the band as it does myself, as this was a thoroughly fun set. The band play psychedelic/space instrumental rock (and the rock came through more clearly live), characterized by a very lively and locked-in rhythm section, and also a wide array of vibrant electronics and synths. The group also had a flautist join after a couple of songs; I initially thought she had been hung out to dry, as she spent several minutes with nothing to do aside patrol the stage before finally actually having a flute part to play, but on later tracks she joined in on the keyboards when not playing the flute. This was a really fun, vibrant hour of music.

Morag Tong 20:10-21:00, Dingwalls

In stark contrast to that were Morag Tong, who unleashed their monstruous heaviness upon Dingwalls. With a dense fog on stage, the lighting allowed silhouettes to pierce through, who slowly headbanged in unison to the crawling, dense, droning sludge doom riffs that dominated the soundscapes of the songs. There are more ambient portions to some songs, along with quieter, gentler clean guitar passages, but it is the huge walls of distortion that really make an impression when watching this band. It had been almost 5 years since I first had the chance to see them, and they’ve evidently lost none of their potency in the intervening years.

Dvne 22:00-23:00, Dingwalls

At this point, there was an hour’s gap before any further bands performed on this stage; in the interim, I could have gone to Electric Ballroom to watch some of Godflesh’s headline set there, but having never been too taken whenever I’ve seen them previously, I instead decided that this was a good opportunity to rest a bit before my own personal main event of the night: Dvne. This was my seventh time watching the band (thanks to their prolific appearances on the UK festival circuit), but it would be the first of those with a new setlist that wasn’t entirely dominated by Etemen Ænka material. On the one hand, I was sad that I wouldn’t get to see “Towers”, “Omega Severer” or “Satuya”, songs that I had grown to expect from live Dvne performances, but also it was good to see the band finally reach a stage where they could incorporate new material, and the songs they included from Voidkind (basically the entire album, since they played for an impressive 70 minutes including encore) all translated very well live. In particular, “Reaching For Telos” and “Abode Of The Perfect Soul” showed early signs that I could come to love them to the same level as the songs they replaced. I do hope that with time they’ll manage to find a more even balance between the two records in their setlists, but the older tracks that did appear (“Sì-XIV” and “Court Of The Matriach”, which bookended the set) were as staggering as always. Live stand-in bassist Alexandros Keros slotted in seamlessly with the rest of the group, who arguably delivered their finest performance that I’ve seen from them yet (certainly the one with the best live mix, an issue that has unfortunately negatively affected them regularly before but was very clear on this occasion), particularly with Maxime Keller now providing some nice harmonizing of Victor Vicart’s clean vocals. Dvne are among the finest acts currently active in the UK metal scene, and the full attendance in this stage really emphasized that.

It was a festival that I nearly missed, but one that I ultimately couldn’t have managed without, and my body evidently agreed. The Friday line-up was inauspicious, but Saturday and Sunday brought a litany of great acts to Camden, some of whom are regular features of UK festivals, and some of whom were acts that Desertfest provided a rare opportunity to witness. This festival runs very smoothly, and if they can continue to bring in such strong rosters of bands, I will definitely be coming back.

Written on 23.05.2024 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 3   Visited by: 27 users
26.05.2024 - 13:56
Didn't expect to see that many... uhh... not stoner/doom/sludge/post acts on the lineup
Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
28.05.2024 - 09:31
Cynic Metalhead
Paisa Vich Nasha
Excellent write-up, musclassia.

The beauty of such festivals are you get to check out new local bands. When I was in Cardiff, I went to every festival and get to discover barrages of extremely talented local bands opening up for big cats. I never got an opportunity to be in Desertfest and Incineration before I came to India in 2015.
11.06.2024 - 21:56
Can't say I'm overwhelmed with the line-up in general. However, day 2 at the Roundhouse must have been a blast.

By the way, just saw the line-up of the New York's Desertfest edition. Insane.

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