Desertfest UK: Various Venues, Camden, London UK

desertfest london-camden

These days the London borough Camden is mostly just a tourist trap; full of tourists, and overpriced beer. It is, however, still home to some quality venues, and is the perfect place to let Desertfest UK take over for a weekend of stoner rock in all its forms. Special thanks go out to Jessica Lotti Photography for sharing her images of the weekend with our readers.

Saturday:

Opening the proceedings over at the Electric Ballroom is Icelandic trio The Vintage Caravan. Boasting some decent rock star shapes on stage, front man/guitarist Óskar Logi Ágústsson clearly has an affinity for the late 60s/early 70s, delivering a boogie-filled set full of riffs and jams Jimi Hendrix and Cream would be proud of. A nearly full Ballroom is bouncing long before their set is over.

Over at the Jazz Café’s Prog stage, London five-piece Sumer aren’t afraid to show off their love of Tool. Clearly a talented bunch with a talent for combining thick riffs, vocal melodies and subtle dynamics all into one crunching ball. Unfortunately, while they fill the stage with numbers there’s not a lot of stage presence. But their debut album, The Animal You Are, is well worth checking out if you like your post/progressive metal.

The Black Heart boasts not only the best range of beers and ales Desertfest has to offer, but also the sweatiest venue. A tightly packed and perspiration–drenched throng squeeze in for the excellently-named Jeremy Irons & The Ratgang Malibus. The Swedish quartet deal in retro-psychedelic stoner and deliver an enjoyable set of classic rock, but their secret weapon is the wailing vocals of Karl Apelmo. Not a million miles away from the Scorpion Child’s Aryn Jonathan Black, he lifts decent music to something a lot more impressive.

Next up are Ten Foot Wizard, who deliver one the best sets of the weekend. Sporting some glorious Hawaiian shirts, the Mancunians take an already hot and sweaty venue into even wetter territory with their blend of dirty, fuzzy riffs and good time rock’n’roll. The band clearly know how to have fun on stage and that translates into one of the liveliest crowds of the entire festival. Mixing riffs of Clutch and early Queens of the Stone Age with a dirty groove of Alabama ThunderPussy, chuck in some megaphones, Theremin solos and songs about tits, and you’ve got a winning combo. TFW are a hoot and far better than their (fairly decent) debut record Return to the Infinite suggests.

Brant Bjork And The Low Desert Punk Band, by Jessica Lotti Photography

Brant Bjork And The Low Desert Punk Band, by Jessica Lotti Photography

After such a party, returning to the cool and spacious Ballroom for Brant Bjork is something of a comedown. The set is full of quality tunes drawn mainly from his latest album, Black Power Flower, but the chilled out desert rock vibe, combined with a fairly static performance from Bjork – with his Low Desert Punk Band in tow – is kind of underwhelming. Bjork’s solo material is severely under-rated, but the former Kyuss drummer’s laid back style fails to really the get juices flowing.

Brant Bjork And The Low Desert Punk Band, by Jessica Lotti Photography

Brant Bjork And The Low Desert Punk Band, by Jessica Lotti Photography

 

Sunday

Opening Sunday is Belgian psychedelic rockers Moaning Cities at The Purple Turtle. Sporting funky dance moves and the only sitar of the weekend, this Belgian outfit combine hypnotic atmospheres with 60s psychedelic pop and still manage to make a lot of noise. Trippy, intense, loud, and not a bad way to start the Sabbath.

Over at Koko, we’re treated with back-to-back instrumental bands with Karma in their name, but very different approaches. German four piece My Sleeping Karma do their best to create an atmosphere; employing eerie visuals [which unfortunately didn’t seem to be working right for much of the set] with soundscapes that create a nice audio-visual experience that’s easy to get lost in. It’s almost the opposite of Karma to Burn’s approach. The US power trio only deal in thunderous noise, punching their way through sonically crushing set that pounds your eardrums repeatedly for 60 minutes. There’s no subtly, but it is invigorating and gets and keeps the crowd’s attention throughout. This is how instrumentals bands should be done; Guitarist William Mecum is a one man riff machine that’s few on words but has stage swagger that makes up for the lack of verbatim, while drummer Evan Devine is an absolute powerhouse.

Karma To Burn,

Karma To Burn, by Jessica Lotti Photography

 

It’s not all quality however. Despite hailing from Hampshire, XII Boar really, really wish they were from the deep south of the US. The trio’s bland brand of cowboy metal is a concoction of groove, whiskey-soaked “YEAAAH!”s and unsubtly-recycled Pantera riffs. The kind of racket you’d expect at a keg party in a Bam Margera video, it’s really, really, really dumb fun at best, and a poor man’s Hellyeah at worst. The Underworld, meanwhile, has been wasted as stage dedicated to originally NWOBHM bands such as Quartz and Angel Witch along with a bunch of thinly-veiled tribute acts. Londoners Amulet fall unashamedly into the latter category. Sporting tight denim, bad moustaches and the Iron Maiden riff-book, Amulet definitely aren’t cool, but they clearly don’t care. An over-abundance of enthusiasm and a decent selection of riffs & solos ripped off from the likes of Maiden, Diamond Head and Angel Witch means by the end of the set it’s hard to dislike them. Painfully original, but harmless fun.

Back at the Purple Turtle, there’s a double bill of Doom. Despite some initial sound troubles, Sweden’s The Order of Israfel combine classic Black Sabbath-esque 70s doom with an almost Thin Lizzy-like appreciation of twin leads and guitar solos to create something evilly epic on a medieval scale. The Wounded Kings, by contrast are a bit of a let-down. Despite being chronically heavy on riffs, they’re surprisingly light on songs. They might be able to rattle the foundations of the building with the same kind of Earth shattering reverb as Electric Wizard, but vocalist George Birch is lost in the mix and things never really go as far as entertaining.

Sleep, by Jessica Lotti Photography

Sleep, by Jessica Lotti Photography

 

It wouldn’t be a proper stoner festival without the riffs of the mighty Matt Pike, and with Sleep he delivers spades of them. The stoner legends were under-appreciated during their original run but a rammed Koko goes crazy for ‘Dragonaut’, while new song ‘The Clarity’ get a rapturous response. More involved in their own playing than the audience, the band stomp through barely ten songs with no encore in an hour and a half set, but there no complaints. The likes of ‘DopeSmoker’ and ‘Holy Mountain’; manage to be both crushingly heavy, yet at the same time hypnotizing. An appropriate ending for a weekend of Black Sabbath-and-bong worshipping.

Sleep, by Jessica Lotti Photography

Sleep, by Jessica Lotti Photography

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WORDS BY DAN SWINHOE

PHOTOS BY JESSICA LOTTI PHOTOGRAPHY

Music Video: Amplifier – Black Rainbow

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Amplifier is streaming their brand new music video “Black Rainbow,” off of Mystoria, out now via Superball Music. Watch it below.

They are in the midst of a UK tour with Black Moth. Dates are below.

Apr 23:, Slade Rooms – Wolverhampton (UK)
Apr 24: Gorilla – Manchester (UK)
Apr 25: Jazz Café (Desert Fest) – London (UK)
Apr 26: Talking Heads – Southampton (UK)
Apr 27: The Haunt – Brighton (UK)

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FESTIVAL PREVIEW: Desertfest UK

desertfest uk flyer

With Roadburn having just ended last weekend, the season for European music festivals is here Joining the ranks of it’s better known sister festival in Germany, Desertfest UK is fast becoming one of the best events in the world. The event will take place from April 24th-26th at stellar venues in London such as: The Electric Ballroom, Koko, The Underworld, The Black Heart, The Jazz Cafe and the Purple Turtle Especially if you pray to at the altar of the riff almighty, the subsonic tones of sludge and just a rocking good time in general, this fest is for you. The weekend passes are already sold-out, further proving the attraction these line-ups will bring.

Friday kicks things off in the early afternoon with up and comers Torpor leading off. Likely the best afternoon band of any day of the fest will be Floor at the Electric Ballroom. Following them will be The Atomic Bitchwax, and headliners Electric Wizard and the mighty Red Fang. The Underworld is host to grimmer acts such as Dopethrone, Agrimonia, Black Cobra, Minsk, and Noothgrush. Also not to be missed on Friday are comeback kings End of Level Boss. They are always super fun live!

Saturday has a super doom and sludge infection in the form of Vintage Caravan, Sex Swing, Pale Horse, Black Pyramid, Lo Pan, Anthromorph, Obake, Ten Foot Wizard, Hang the Bastard plus Brant Bjork And Low Desert Punks. EyeHateGod continues their return to Europe, promising another brutal set.

Adding to the awesomeness of Saturday is the fests first prog stage, led by Amplifier, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, I am The Morning, Landskap and others. This is really momentous for the fest and hopefully it becomes a regular thing in years to come.

Sunday will bring things to a boil with more underground bands Amulet, Quartz Cancer, Sallie, Witch Hazel, SSS, The Wounded Kings, and Angel Witch amongst many others. Of course the headliner Sleep might be half the draw for the weekend, as well as Ufomammut, Karma To Burn, and Acid King. With official after show every night of the fest, this promised to be a non-stop jamming party the whole time.

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Desertfest UK on Twitter

 

Amplifier – Mystoria

Amplifier-Mystoria

 

When they come round to writing the definitive history of progressive rock music in the UK I hope they can find a nice spot, lovingly curated, for Mancunians Amplifier. Not that we should be consigning them to the annals of history anytime soon – anything but – but Amplifier seem to be one of those acts that are held dear to the heart of the already converted, but have yet to make the crossover to broader appeal. It’s hard to understand why as they have already delivered, from the sprawling masterpiece The Octopus (Independent) to the more introspective yet equally worthy Echo Street (KScope), some sublime, intelligent and inventive music.

Mystoria (Superball) doesn’t eschew all of the idea-conjuring that they are renowned for but it has a determined sense of purpose and an effervescent undercurrent that will certainly cement their reputation and should, if there is anything like justice in this tribal, social media dominated world of ours, see them reach audiences and corners of the globe yet to be converted to Mr Balamir and co.

Kicking off with the none-more-prog-rock instrumental of ‘Magic Carpet’, a blend of Focus meets Muse, it’s a gauntlet throwing statement of intent. Amplifier have rediscovered ROCK, kids, and we should all be grateful. ‘Black Rainbow’ continues in similar vein, all hard driven rhythms and evocative lyrics and you can feel yourself air drumming from about 28 seconds in (perhaps that was just me, then). ‘Named After Rocky’ sounds a bit what might happen if early Genesis had met Led Zep for a proper drink. This, for the avoidance of any doubt, is a very good thing.

‘Open Up’ is a seriously moody buzzy riffathon, akin to what would happen if Josh Homme had gotten his stoner rock hands on Matt Bellamy’s muse and, if you will, Matt Bellamy’s Muse. Highlight of the album is the brilliant ‘OMG’. It has a signature riff that Rush would kill for and a deep groove which echoes Led Zeppelin just at the point where they became their most stately and imperious. There’s a swirling pot of ideas being thrown around here, too. This is what Amplifier excel at, the musical plate spinning, often at precarious rates but with not one piece of porcelain being dropped.

Less obviously ambitious than The Octopus, Mystoria appears to be Amplifier’s attempt to distil their essence into manageable slices of aural pie. As Oliver Twist, would surely have said, please Mr Balamir , sir, can I have some more? Satisfying then, culinary friends.

 

7.5/10

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MAT DAVIES

Territorial Pissings – Sel Balamir of Amplifier

Amplifier-Mystoria

 

With new album ‘Mystoria’ showcasing a new direction for the eclectic Amplifier, frontman Sel Balamir fielded the Ghost Cult interrogation and emphatically told of how his band are more grunge than prog…

 

“For me Mystoria is like The Melvins meets Crosby,Stills & Nash” is how vocalist and guitarist Sel Balamir describes Manchester alt. masters Amplifier’s upcoming release, the band’s fifth full length, when talking about the album’s fuzziness married with harmony. It has to be said that Mystoria (Superball) is quite a departure from what we may expect of Amplifier, moving towards a more direct sound akin to grunge and the more typical echelons of rock music.

A lot of people will see the comment above and start running for the hills, but it is important to remember that Amplifier have never been a group to repeat themselves. From the sprawling prog journey of Octopus (self-released) to the more stripped down follow up Echo Street (KScope), Amplifier have always had a knack for trying out different styles and sounds.

As calculated as it appears, however, Balamir dismisses the notion of a preemptive plan behind it all. “It’s not conscious, it’s just more demonstrative of our powers of attention getting shorter and shorter” he says jestfully. “I think it’s just different kinds of people you hang around with, certainly for me, is the undercurrent of what changes sound and stuff. Because you take on board people’s opinions and what they find interesting and they make you interested and think about things and ways you may never have thought about before.”

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Time and personal constraints also prove a factor. The Octopus was a massive sprawling record because we wanted to make a record that no record company would ever put out. Echo Street was different again because we didn’t have four years to make a massive record, we decided we were going to make a record then made one the next week, we hadn’t written it or anything! 

“Up until Mystoria all our records were quite complicated and with Mystoria we just wanted to make a record that wasn’t so emotionally complicated, it was just simple.”

 

Mystoria also differs from its predecessors in the methods of its recording, being rehearsed to perfection prior to a quick recording, which conversely has an effect on its outcome: “It’s basically a live album, there are hardly any overdubs on it, so it’s basically a live record. For me I can hear the difference, there’s a lot more space on the record. There’s my guitar, there’s Steve’s (Durose) guitar, drums and bass and that’s it, no layers of feedback and texture which featured deeply in other records, I think it’s a lot more in your face record because of that.”

The aforementioned Steve Durose (of Oceansize fame), along with Alex Redhead joined Amplifier since Echo Street’s recording as the band shifted to a four piece.  This in itself also aided Mystoria’s final sound. “The other guys beefed out the harmonies, and certainly there are a lot of harmonies on Mystoria. It was designed to take advantage of those vibes.”

 

Previous album Echo Street was released under license by prog label KScope whilst Mystoria sees Amplifier associate with a different record company, Superball. Echo Street fits on KScope’s roster. It wouldn’t fit on Superball’s roster and the kind of thing they do and conversely Mystoria wouldn’t fit on Kscope. They don’t really do straight-ahead rock bands and for me Mystoria is like a rock album, not a prog album, so Superball is much more suitable. And they are more piratical as well, a bit more dusty knuckles to me, than Kscope.”

A move away from being associated to a true champion of modern progressive rock to a label with little association with the genre whatsoever may seem a strange move to some, but Balamir has before been quick to dismiss his band as simply a prog band. “We are a mongrel band, we’re citizens of the world, we like all types of music. That element of listening to Pink Floyd is as strong in me as the element of listening to Yes and listening to Joan Baez. We live at a time of with a rich cultural heritage that has been recorded. I’ve got records that my parents bought because they were amazing records and they still are amazing, so it’s no wonder that we don’t fit into any pigeonhole because we have never pigeonholed our own tastes.”

 

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In fact the “prog” tag that Amplifier have been lumped with in the past is clearly something that Balamir is disapproving of : ”As soon as you get that prog attachment, for people who don’t know, they think they are just going to get Yes or Rush, and I love both of those bands, but I wouldn’t say they are representative of what my band sounds like. My band sounds more like Nirvana to me than those bands. I don’t think we are prog at all, just an interesting rock band.” Interestingly however, despite Balamir’s issue with the prog tag, Amplifier by transforming throughout their history actually offer the most progressive of elements themselves. “And there’s the irony. Most prog bands aren’t progressive at all, they are conservative.”

Especially with recent ties with Kscope, it goes without saying that a large proportion of Amplifier’s fanbase will be more prog orientated so was Balamir concerned with what such fans would make of the new album? “As soon as you start trying to shape your records to what you think the fans will make of it then you are on a steep, slippery slope. We just do music as an expression, rather than just trying to impress people.”

This being said however, we can mostly expect fans of such music to have a diverse range of musical tastes shown in prog’s all-encompassing umbrella of sonic variants. For Amplifier this is reflected in their (especially recent) presence on festivals and bills of the eclectic variety; from Damnation festival, to Beyond The Redshift, the Kscope anniversary shows and others. “We were talking about this the other day, that all these festivals we play, we never seem to fit in to any of them…I think Amplifier are one of those bands that people who are into different musical styles there is a space for us in their taste.

“We play heavy music so its not weird for is to be on bills with heavy bands. We are there because we are a different colour to other bands that are there. We are an option if you want to take a break from speed metal.”

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Speaking of bills, Amplifer have been announced as support for returning cult grungers Kerbdog. A move that only a few months ago would have seemed baffling now makes so much sense. “We are all about the grunge. It would be nice to play with a proper rock band. Nothing complicated.” And from this it seems Amplifier may have found a firm new home. A band renowned for transforming and shifting from album to album seems to have settled into a groove at least for the time being. “That’s where we want to be and stay. If there was one thing that would be our manifesto now it would be just lean and mean. That’s what its all about so playing with Kerbdog, will be good because it will be simple.”

 

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Words by CHRIS TIPPELL

Echoes from A Distant Past – An Interview With Amplifier

amplifierAmplifier and the music industry, it’s a stormy affair to say the least. Two years after the release of The Octopus Sel Balamir and co. are gearing up to release their latest effort, entitled Echo Street; it’s a very different affair with quite a story attached to it. Ghost Cult caught up with Sel to discuss the latest developments in the Amplifier camp… Continue reading

Amplifier – Echo Street

Amplifier - Echo StreetAfter years of struggling with record companies UK-based alternative/progressive rock outfit Amplifier managed to find their groove again by independently releasing The Octopus. It’s their most coveted and ambitious release to date. Coming up with a suitable follow up record is a tall order at the best of times, so let’s see what Sel Balamir and his musical friends came up with this time around.. Continue reading