No, I have no idea what a Ramagehead is either, but this quixotic and enigmatic title seems entirely apposite for a third album of psychedelic Progressive Rock from this most discerning and intriguing of collectives. Combining the talents of Porcupine Tree’s bass general Colin Edwin and King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto, this already sounds like a Fantasy Prog Band competition winner. Add in some vocals of an Obake vintage and you’re there. This could end up being the most intimidating and contrived ego-trip were it not handled carefully.
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.
Opening the proceedings over at the Electric Ballroom is Icelandic trioThe 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 deliverone the best sets of the weekend. Sporting some glorious Hawaiian shirts, the Mancunians take an already hot and sweaty venue into even wetter territorywith 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
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
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, 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
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.
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.