With the queue for Sunday’s opening act Wizard Fight snaking out the door of the Black Heart, there’s a little wait to see Wales’ HARK. Although different from Jim Isaac’s previous outfit Taint, the two share a lot of common DNA; Aggressive, angular riffs with plenty of groove, time changes galore, and plenty of chances to bang your head. There’s a big, receptive crowd for so early in the afternoon, and the band respond with a loud and energetic performance.
None of Venomous Maximus, Elephant Tree, or St.Vitus, however, quite get the juices going in the same way. While still capable of a hauntingly evil riff or two the music of St. Vitus hasn’t aged quite as well as some of the band, and the Roundhouse seems devoid of atmosphere aside from the die-hards at the front.
Where the Underworld housed all the best acts on Friday, the Black Heart is the place to be on the Sunday. Boss Keloid, Wucan, and Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters all put on memorable performances.
Like HARK, Wigan’s Boss Keloid deserve to be far higher up the billing than they are. Herb Your Enthusiasm [Black Bow Records] was one of the best releases of 2016, and the band’s immersive but primal sound works equally well in a live setting (despite some initial sound problems). Guitarist Paul Swarbrick looks held down in place by the weight of the riffs he’s summoning, while frontman Alex Hurst dances like a mad conductor, and does the only stage dive I see the whole weekend. It’s crushingly heavily yet mesmerizing. The music, not the stage-diving notherner.
German prog-rockers Wucan may well have travelled here from another time. It’s full of 70s throwbacks, but delivered with such class it’s hard to resist. Theramin? Check. Flute solos? Check. German poetry reading? Check and check. It’s bonkers – imagine starting with ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus and working your way to a climax – but delivered with plenty of class.
Sadly the crowd thins out before local boys Chubby Thunderous Bad Kush Masters can take to the stage. But that’s their loss. Combining psychedelic stoner with a black’n’roll attitude – never have corpse paint and tie-dye shirts been brought together with such style – they just know how to have a good time. Cowbells are handed out to whoever wants them, fans are invited on stage to dance along, and the music sounds like Abbath covering the last couple of Clutch albums.
Despite being perfectly friendly and chatty between songs, the excellent Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (aka Pigsx7) exude pure punk energy when the music’s playing. Vocalist Matt Baty looks physically pained and repulsed to be on stage, at various points literally screaming in anger at his keyboard. It’s a chaotic watch, but hard to take your eyes off. Their mix of punk aggression and stoner groove often stretched out for ten minutes at a time is often hard to headbang to, but no less satisfying.
For the second year in a row, Desertfest comes to a close with the monolithic sounds of Sleep. No one seems to mind, however, as everybody sings along to every world and applauds every squealing solo. There’s little ceremony from Sleep themselves; the band just come on stage, shake the rafters for 90-odd minutes, and leave without a word of acknowledgement to the crowd. But it’s still a great performance, and probable even better than last year. The set draws plenty from the now 25-years-old Holy Mountain as well as new numbers like ‘Antarcticans Thawed’ and ‘The Clarity’. Matt Pike’s gargantuan riffs echo around of the impressive Roundhouse, and the whole experience is hypnotic in effect. Same again next year?
WORDS BY DAN SWINHOE
PHOTOS BY FALK-HAGEN BERNSHAUSEN (with permission from Desertfest)