Desert Daze 2018 in Review

Desert Daze 2018 in Review

In a year of fantastic music and wonderful music events, Desert Daze cemented itself as the premier festival experience for those looking away from the Bonnaroos and Coachellas of the world. Despite a rare southern California thunderstorm on Friday night that cancelled headliner Tame Impala and everything after, Desert Daze rebounded in spectacular fashion and delivered an unforgettable weekend full of intense, crushing, beautiful psychedelia in all its various manifestations.

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Let’s get Friday out of the way first: yes, the weather rolled in and ended things far too early. But there was no shortage of excellent acts before things went sideways. Sugar Candy Mountain and Gum started things off with some juicy, early-afternoon dream-pop. Yonatan Gat and his Eastern Medicine singers threw down a freewheeling, viciously energetic set in the Mystic Bazaar. Hinds got down to business with their head-turning, high-octane performance, and Pond absolutely crushed their set, full of watery, spacey psych.

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Warpaint tossed out top-notch tunes one after the other in a dazzling display of powerful art rock before the biggest decision many had to make on Friday night: IDLES or Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats? Talk to fans who saw either performance and you’re likely to hear the same thing: one of the best sets all weekend. IDLES and their screaming, raw energy were the only thing that could drag some fans away from the harrowing, ominous wailing of Uncle Acid.

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Friday night ground to a halt under the pounding rain and lightning, but Saturday morning was fast approaching…

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Saturday’s overcast sky let people take their time easing back into the day, and with what was in store, it was much-needed. Boogarins got people moving right away with their upbeat Brazilian psych rock. Fans had difficulty with the evening’s lineup; there was just so much top quality music to choose from. Highlights from the evening included a powerful performance from Japanese group Kikagaku Moyo, Ex-Cult’s frenetic punk rock, and JJUUJJUU and their crushing, mind-bending take on dark psychedelia. Mercury Rev’s extremely uplifting performace of Deserter’s Songs was an absolute highlight of the entire weekend.

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The evening took a turn once Chelsea Wolfe took to the Moon Stage, her ghostly voice echoing over her sludgy, viscous doom metal. Slowdive and Wooden Shjips gave everybody one last chance to mellow out, with celestial waves of sound gently caressing their ears. It was nice to catch our breath before King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard brought their electrified freak out and careened through their set with the pedal to the floor.

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The late night sets on Saturday proved to be the ultimate test of endurance: Straight from King Gizzard, fans were treated to a breathless sprint to sunrise. Sets from Shannon and the Clams, Deap Vally, Prettiest Eyes, Wand, and the Mattson 2 became a blur of sonic delights. From surf and psychedelic blues to fuzzed-out garage noise rock, it was a true spectacle and one of the reasons Desert Daze has such a devoted fan base. Sunrise sets happen from time to time, but rarely does the music literally not stop until the sun comes up. It was an interesting choice in scheduling, especially given what came Sunday.

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It makes sense that on the last day of the festival, there would be some music that would make people forget how exhausted they were and get them back out to the stages. What was surprising at Desert Daze was that it seemed that all the loudest bands on the bill were on Sunday, one right after the other.

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After Bedouine’s dulcet tones and Julia Holter’s orchestral art pop faded away, things got real with a terrific showing from Canadian post-punk group Preoccupations. Their sound seemed to radiate in physical waves from the stage with a power of their own. It was a high-energy, frantic burst of music that prepared the fans for what was coming next.

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Another aspect that sets Desert Daze apart is the presence on the lineup of unique and unconventional albums being performed in their entirety. One of the three full album shows of this year was the spectacular The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, by legendary doom metal group Earth. Featuring two songs that had never been played live before, the album is as slow as they come, inducing a hypnotic trance on the audience, alternating between delicate, crystalline notes and overpowering noise. It was a startling performance that shook bodies and rattled bones, and not a show that will not soon be forgotten. This, however, was merely the first stage in a devastating psychedelic onslaught.

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Sunday night featured probably the loudest, most intense music of the entire weekend. Industrial experimental punk rock hip-hop group Death Grips took to the stage in one of the most aggressive, commanding displays of musical brutality this author has ever witnessed. Their intense, domineering show led to several mosh pits as the group went wild onstage; they honestly sounded like they were trying to bring the entire thing crumbling down. But even Death Grips couldn’t prepare the fans for what came next.

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The main headliner of Sunday night, My Bloody Valentine, absolutely blew everyone away. Returning to the US festival circuit for the first time in five years, MBV was playing to a mixture of full-throttle fans who knew what to expect, and newcomers who had only heard rumors of what happens at one of their shows. The rumors were proven true all in good time. The sheer volume and titanic, colossal wall of sound could be heard throughout the festival area and out into the campgrounds. It was a bludgeoning, abrasive, yet beautiful and truly psychedelic experience; their visuals were utterly enthralling and perfectly complimented their unbridled ferocity. The sonic meat grinder of “You Made Me Realise” and the extended break of noise and feedback was too much for some fans, who had to leave for fear of losing their hearing.

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For those still standing after MBV, Shellac brought their hard-edged, minimalist noise rock to a frothy head, Steve Albini’s harsh, yelping vocals embodying his punk spirit. King Khan and the Shrines threw down a psychedelic soul party before the night crashed right into the daunting festival closer of Ty Segall and White Fence performing both of their albums in full. Known for being a ball of energy, Segall and White Fence (Tim Presley) seemed to come undone. Spastic and frenzied, they roared through Hair and Joy with aplomb; it was a last-minute dash to the finish, and what an act to end the weekend. Brimming with raw, unchecked power, Ty and Tim played a feverishly demented set, closing out the festival in grand form.

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Desert Daze has a reputation for being a diamond in the rough of the festival scene: meticulously curated, set in an otherworldly landscape, and presenting something truly different from the typical festival experience, it provides a real alternative to the overloaded summer music landscape. With the lineup changing dramatically with each iteration of the ritual, each festival is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, often featuring music that isn’t played often, with artists from all over the world. The venue is a psychedelic playground to get lost in as you absorb the moment and turn off the outside world.

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If you’re looking for something unusual and enchanting, give Desert Daze a shot. Thanks for a great year, and see you in 2019.

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