The things we learned at DesertFest 2022

Last weekend, DesertFest once again hit the venues of Camden for three days of volume, weed and riffs. Here’s what we found…

The things we learned at DesertFest 2022
Angela Davey, Nick Ruskell
Sam Huddleston, Jake Lewis, Jessy Lotti

For over a decade now, DesertFest has taken over the venues of Camden every spring for a weekend celebrating the best in underground, riff-tastic heaviness. After two years off – boo! hiss! – its return was truly welcomed, and it was a weekend in which the quality of the line-up was matched by the sheer joy of having one of the UK's best and most fun festivals back.

We'll be honest, we probably forgot quite a lot over three days at The Black Heart, Underworld, Electric Ballroom, Roundhouse, The Dev and The Powerhaus. But we also learned a lot of things. Or eventually remembered, at least…

BlackLab would be dangerous with more than two members

"Sorry, hold on. She's hitting the drums too hard!"

On Friday afternoon in The Underworld, BlackLab drummer Chia Shiraishi has done damage to her kit. She is, indeed, hitting too hard. Think about the damage, then, she and singer/guitarist Yuko Morino are doing to eardrums out front. The smiling Japanese doom duo are insanely heavy, and louder than a volcano, with just one guitar. They are also awesome. Imagine the carnage if they ever dared add a bass to their thrilling din.

Coltsblood need to hurry up and make a new album

Scouse doom/death trio Coltsblood are one of the best heavy bands in the country. They're not just really slow and doomy and dark, they've also mastered the art of the crawl, making their riffs not only less speedy than all the rest, but also roll along like the rocks for Stonehenge being painstakingly moved to Wiltshire from Wales. Which is marvellous, and they unsurprisingly flatted The Underworld on Friday, which just adds to the argument that they need to hurry up and find some recording gear up to the job of recording their next album.

Dungeon and Inhuman Nature prove every stoner fest needs at least one thrash band

Yep, nothing breaks up a day of bottom-heavy heaviness like a bit of speed. London's Dungeon brought the evil to the Black Heart, sounding like German frashers Sodom in a particularly mischievous mood, while Inhuman Nature brought a bouncier, more hard-partying strain of velocity. They go fast. They play a zippy cover of Priest's Breaking The Law. We get a suspected broken rib stagediving. Twice. More of this sort of thing, please.

Elder have the trippiest visuals

As if the weighty force of the riffs behind Elder’s psychedelic stoner rock aren’t enough to melt hangover muddled minds, the visuals on display behind them are akin to a ’90s Magic Eye poster. Of course, the combined effect is stunning. The Roundhouse is the ideal setting for them to finally give the tracks on 2020 album Omens a live airing to a UK audience. For an hour it feels as though Elder have yanked the audience from reality, before gently placing them back down again on the closing bars of final song Halcyon.

Pissed Jeans are the ideal comic relief

Sporting a mullet, Pissed Jeans vocalist Matt Korvette struts out onto the stage wearing ECW boxing shorts, a black string vest and white hi-top trainers. It’s at this point that realisation settles in – no part of this performance will be taken seriously.

“We’ve written a song especially for you, DesertFest,” Matt says, before the band launches into an exaggeratedly slowed down stoner beat. “This is what bands at DesertFest sound like. I’m gonna smoke some marijuana and then listen to bands that sound like this”.

The remainder of their set is comprised of the punchy noise rock they’re better known for, accompanied by a slideshow of embarrassing nightclub photos. There’s laughter throughout and they serve as the perfect mid-evening shot of adrenaline.

Hangman’s Chair make feeling sad sound cool

France’s Hangman’s Chair headline The Underworld on Saturday night. Their blend of gothic rock and epic doom metal culminate in soaring riffs which serve to bolster the raw emotion of Cédric Toufouti’s cleanly sung vocals. Despite the despair apparent on songs such as An Ode to Breakdown, the enormity of the guitar sound has every head in the venue nodding.

Orange Goblin fit Motörhead’s role perfectly

In that same way Motörhead were always a welcome presence on a festival bill, Orange Goblin have long been a guarantee of a good time, good riffs, and almost certain beer-spillage. Like Motörhead, it doesn't really matter what they play in their Electric Ballroom headline slot on Saturday night, just that they're there and playing it. There is no stage that will ever not be improved by the sight of loveable, bear-like frontman Ben Ward standing with arms aloft, grinning like an idiot, bellowing into the air as those massive riffs cause pandemonium out front. Never change, Orange Goblin. Never change.

Two years of a pandemic have done nothing to quieten the infinite loudness of Conan

Despite playing to 1,700-capacity Roundhouse, Liverpool’s Conan still manage to make the pillars shake with the stomping force of classics such as Hawk As Weapon and Battle in the Swamp. They throw in a couple of new songs for good measure, meaning there will be a new record to look forward to at some point this year. Exciting stuff. Thank goodness for ear plugs.

Mike Williams should get into stand-up comedy if Eyehategod ever disband

“Wow, the Roundhouse!” Eyehategod singer Mike exclaims, “I think Devo played here. They’re my favourite band… ahhh, you guys don’t care about that. Anyway, here’s a song about fucking your sister…”

The sucker punch delivery of Mike’s agitated vocals, alongside the tuned low chug of the guitars is the ideal recipe for misery, however, he has the crowd belly laughing between every song. He even goes as far as to stick up for a bloke almost booted by security for aggressively swinging a towel. What a guy.

Yob frontman Mike Shceidt (probably) has the world’s biggest pedalboard

Setting a pedalboard out on stage that has to be close to four feet long, Yob guitarist/singer Mike Scheidt is unknowingly prophesising something otherworldly is about to transpire at The Roundhouse. They unfurl a setlist of absolute classics, starting with Prepare the Ground and ending with Burning the Altar. The guitars rumble like thunder, Mike’s vocals cut through the atmosphere like the screech of a banshee. Everything about this set is awe inspiring in its enormity. They hold their audience transfixed from start to finish, proving there is nothing in the world quite like experiencing Yob in a live setting.

Bongzilla really, really, really like weed (duh)

Bongzilla fit right in in the swampy heat of Powerhaus. “Electric Wizard stole our weed!” rages frontman Muleboy, “If you have any, throw it up on stage!”

In the blink of an eye, a joint materialises, which Muleboy promptly sticks up his nose and smokes in under a minute. Between all of the weed chatter, they do actually manage to play some songs. Classics such as Greenthumb make a welcome appearance, much to the delight of a crowd eager to get messy for one of the final bands of the weekend.

Electric Wizard are as evil as they’ve ever been

Apart from a clear diary, do you think Electric Wizard actually noticed anything has been amiss these past couple of years? Possibly not, and as they headline the Roundhouse, they prove to be the most gloriously unfriendly, anti-social band on the planet, entirely in a world of their own creation. When their spell takes hold, they remain leaders in a coven of one. The visuals are as brain-frying as ever, Jus Oborn and Liz Buckingham's guitars are unbeatably heavy, and their black magic is absolutely undimmed. Wear a cross or something when they play Download next month, or prepare to go home minus one soul.

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