In pictures: The music and madness of Desertfest 2023

Desertfest – a three-day celebration of heaviness, fuzz, volume and weirdness – hit Camden once again last weekend. Here’s what we remember…

In pictures: The music and madness of Desertfest 2023
Kerrang! staff
Tim Bugbee, Sam Huddleston, Jessy Lotti

For one weekend every May, Camden becomes a haven for the heavy, the fuzzy, the weird, the freaky and the loud. More than usual. Across the borough’s venues – the Electric Ballroom, Roundhouse, Black Heart, Underworld, Powerhouse and The Dev – Desertfest has become the UK’s premier festival for stoner, doom, psych and odd stuff, growing in recent years to realise that among the slowness and the Sabbath worship, there’s room for the odd spot of black metal, hardcore, thrash and death metal.

In 2023, while the rest of the country wasted their time saluting a man in an expensive hat who they don’t know and will never meet, Desertfest once again brought the cream of the crop in heaviness to London. Across the weekend, riffy legends like Corrosion Of Conformity, Crowbar and Church Of Misery (as well as loads of other bands whose names don’t start with ‘C’) brought knockout weight to a hero’s welcome, UK punk icons Discharge caused an avalanche of stage-divers to the Underworld, and Canadian occult-rock quartet Blood Ceremony made a welcome return to these shores after seven years with more flute than Lizzo’s music room.

Sweden’s Graveyard and excellent carpet-haired German trio Kadavar brought big Sabbs vibes to Friday night’s one-two to close out the Ballroom, while Japanese avante-doom masters Boris showed how seductive their weirder tendencies can be, effortless casting their spell. Closing things out, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats’ stunning, final night headline set to a packed Roundhouse proved they are one of the finest bands of their ilk right now.

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But the real spirit of Desertfest is in its nurturing of the underground, and offering its stages to smaller bands (almost all of whom, it should be noted, succeed in drawing a crowd to their venue, even those who clash with the big lads). It was here that we saw Brit doomsters Everest Queen played their enormous (and deafening) riffs to an absolutely rammed Powerhouse, and Dawn Ray’d slotting black metal, violins and impassioned anarchism to Friday night in The Underworld. The Iranian-folk influences of the excellent Lowen, plus the incredible vocals of singer Nina Saeidi, turned The Dev from a boozer into somewhere far more inspiring. Meanwhile, always brilliant corpse-painted synth-goth-pop duo Zetra offered a change of pace, as did Celestial Sanctury’s satisfying death metal attack, albeit to very different speeds.

As ever, there was too much to see. But whether you’re wearing a hole in the pavements running between venues, or soaking up beer, sun and banter on the street outside The Black Heart, Desertfest remains one of the most delightful and perfectly put-together weekends on the rock calendar.

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