Desertfest returns to London in May with a wonderfully eclectic collection of riff pounding acts set to cause havoc and harmony in roughly equal measure across four venerable Camden Town stages.
Headlining the Electric Ballroom on the opening day – Friday 3 May – are OM, a two-piece aligned spiritually to seminal doom legends Sleep in the same way that the moon aligns with the sun. When Sleep embarked on a decade long hiatus in 2003 two thirds of the band – Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius – set about creating a new force of debilitating drone.
The latter left OM in 2007 but Cisneros kept the show on the bumpy road, recruiting two new members and releasing groundshaking albums such as God is Good and in 2017 Advaitic Songs. OM’s first Desertfest performance could scarcely be more eagerly anticipated following on from the appearance of Sleep themselves two years ago.
Many riff ripples will of course wind their way through Camden Lock before we get to Friday’s headliners. Other notable acts to appear on the iconic Electric Ballroom stage are Wovenhand and Grave Miasma. The former is the intimate brainchild of Denver’s David Eugene Edwards and embraces everything from Southern Goth to Gospel with a splash of rock n roll. Those seeking a slightly faster pace will appreciate the presence of London occults Grave Miasma who will be casting more deathly spells than your average Hogwarts student.
If you can drag yourself over the road to the Underworld an equally impressive array of artists lie in wait. First up on the subterranean stage are Blackwater Holylight, from Portland Oregon whose majestic self-titled debut album made such an impact last year. While the riffs have the requisite Desertfest strength they’re supported by a foundation of wonderfully beguiling melodies. The girls will certainly be among friends at Desertfest with fellow Oregon outfit Zig Zags also bringing their own punishing diatribe of ungodly doom to the Underworld on the same day.
The magnificent Amenra are Saturday’s Electric Ballroom headliners. It’s not a bad way for the Belgians to celebrate their 20th year, although that is something of an oxymoron as their music tends to drift towards the lower end of the mood scale. Amenra forge innovative paths, not least through their respected Church of Ra collective, that embraces fellow Left Hand devotees such as Wiegedood and Oathbreaker. While their melancholic movements play havoc with your emotions it’s certainly not all doom and gloom and the five-piece can create some sublime sounds in tandem with their more woeful wavelengths.
Also performing at the Electric Ballroom are Berlin’s favourite hirsute sons Kadavar, who have the ability to generate more energy than your local power station, and Kiev kings Stoned Jesus who seal their first decade in style by making their Desertfest debut. Expect plenty of riffs from latest album Pilgrims for what could well develop into a Ukrainian sermon.
On the Sunday the main venue switches from the Electric Ballroom to the iconic Roundhouse. First up, and returning to Desertfest for the first time in six years, are German trio Colour Haze who will take early Roundhouse arrivals on a mind-numbing Teutonic trip. They’ll be followed by Desertfest debutants Earthless, and there will be a real buzz to welcome the acclaimed San Diego groove trio to the festival for the first time. No less fevered will be the response to California stoner outfit Witch who will be casting a few spells of their own, no doubt mixed in a frothing fuzzed-up cauldron of sludgepunk.
While the atmosphere over at The Underworld is invariably dark, expect the asphalt levels to turn even deeper when US doom merchants Sabbath Assembly take to the stage, just a few weeks after the release of their seventh album A Letter of Red, released via Svart Records, a track from which you can check out here.
Expect slightly more technicoloured threads from Oslo’s The Devil and the Almighty Blues whose gyrating grooves are hot enough to have Lucifer dancing.
Tucked away just over the road from the World’s End pub is Desertfest’s cosiest haunt, the Black Heart. As well as being a great downstairs boozer, those venturing up the staircase will find plenty of stunning acts over the three days. If you can, catch the likes of LA’s emerging psych doom trio High Priestess, Salems Bend, also from LA, or Sheffield’s monolithic riff draggers Kurokuma you won’t be disappointed.
Those not flagging as the curtain falls on Desertfest 2019 can either engage with the irascible Nick Oliveri and his Mondo Generator troupe at the Underworld or perhaps get lost in one final immense waterfall of riffs with the Californian Desert Rock veterans Fu Manchu at the Roundhouse.