Going out to Desert Daze last year was a game changing experience. The festival was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, both in terms of the environment and the music and art. It was a blinding display of hard-edged psychedelia, frayed and bloody punk rock, futuristic acid-pop, sludgy, oozing metal, bright-eyed indie, and more.
With Phase 1 and 1.5 of the Desert Daze 2018 artists announced, I’ve been digging into the names on the bill; one of my favorite aspects of this festival is how many different and outside-the-box artists they showcase, many of which I’ve never heard of. In addition, the smaller size of the festival allows the musicians to give much more intimate and one-of-a-kind performances that they wouldn’t be able to put on at a larger event. The secluded environs of this year’s new location (Moreno Beach, Lake Perris, CA) will give the music an otherworldly hue and create a whole new dimension of the experience in general.
All this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the artists from the first round that have piqued my curiosity and should excite you for the desert gathering in October. In no particular order, here are a few groups that demand you dig into them immediately.
1. Mercury Rev
Continuing the Desert Daze tradition of an artist performing one of their albums in its entirety, this iteration of the festival will feature Mercury Rev, a band very much in the vein of The Flaming Lips, performing their acclaimed album Deserter’s Songs. Replete with dazzling, sparkling strings and keys, shimmering space rock, soothing neo-psychedelia, noodly theremin, soaring vocals, grin-inducing organ, and sweeping, operatic melodies, Deserter’s Songs promises to be a magical performance, especially against the backdrop of the gorgeous lake at the new venue.
2. Death Grips
Hip-hop is one of the most popular forms of music in the world. That being said, Death Grips are not your typical hip-hop. Heavily experimental, Death Grips hit hard and fast with angular, thick, industrial beats featuring a wide array of sounds underneath aggressive vocals that can be disorienting at first. Jagged hooks, grinding guitars and stuttering electronics bring deeper texture to the high-octane music, providing for a singular experience. To quote their press release from their "disbandment" in 2014: "Death Grips was and always has been a conceptual art exhibition anchored by sound and vision. Above and beyond a ‘band’." Known for their intense and unpredictable stage presence (a performance can feature off-the-wall improvisation, live sampling, occasional musician injury, and more), Death Grips will make for an unforgettable show at Desert Daze.
3. Ulrika Spacek
As one of the many international groups on the bill this year, Ulrika Spacek will be making the journey from the UK to perform their first US show at Desert Daze. Their easygoing, melodic take on indie/psychedelia is a perfect fit for the sunny environs of Lake Perris and will make for an excellent addition to the lineup. Drenched in mellow reverb and phasers, Ulrika Spacek is the perfect soundtrack for zoning out with the sun on your face, preferably lying on your back, just letting it soak in.
4. The Holydrug Couple
Hailing from Chile, The Holydrug Couple bring a flowery, bright-eyed, early morning psych vibe, with laid-back rhythms, catchy melodies, and glittery, soft-spoken production. The bass winds itself through the synth washes and mellifluous vocals vaguely reminiscent of My Morning Jacket. Acid-soaked, drenched in squishy guitars and winding grooves with ‘70s solos sprinkled throughout, The Holydrug Couple is a delectable addition and one of the many stellar international artists on the lineup this year.
An amalgamation of Black Sabbath/Led Zeppelin-style riffage, krautrock/jazz-fusion solos, and flashy psychedelia, San Diego trio Earthless first entered my orbit with their 2007 album Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky, which is only two songs long, yet lasts right around 43 minutes. Their songs tend to build from chaotic intros into surging, muscular music with enough blistering solos and droning repeated motifs to satisfy the secret guitar hero lurking in all of us. Throw in a dash of fuzz and headbanging rhythms and you’ve got yourself a good old-fashioned rock stew going.
6. Kikagaku Moyo
Coming in from Japan is the psychedelic folk of Kikagaku Moyo. Their LP House in the Tall Grass was my intro the group; the album moves between hazy, ‘60s-era folk, traditional Japanese melodies, pensive, loping, reverb-soaked daydreams, and fuzzy, wailing guitar solos. For the most part the music is on the more easygoing side, but every now and then they really stretch out and go for it, picking up the tempo and getting almost a jam feel, or laying down a heavy drone. Overall their music produces that extra-gooey feeling in the brain and puts a smile on your face. I was hoping they would wind up on the lineup, and my hopes have been rewarded!
One of the many Australian bands to take part in Desert Daze over the years, Pond has an interesting history. Band member Jay Watson is also a full-time member of the first headliner for Desert Daze this year, Tame Impala (other members of Tame Impala are also former members of Pond). In addition, Pond’s regular lineup is something of a revolving door, with different musicians coming and going. Combining high-flying, spaced-out psych rock with juicy synths and ever-shifting song structures, Pond’s music is an energetic kaleidoscope, and it’s good to see them back on the bill.
L.A.-based Warpaint has really snared my attention lately. Their dazzling vocal harmonies, colorful yet moody musical texture, and concise yet stretchable songwriting hooked me instantly. The current all-female quartet is bombastic yet understated in their use of dynamics and catchy, danceable grooves. Thoughtful and dramatic, with plenty of gorgeous melody, Warpaint has played Desert Daze a few times before, and I am thrilled to be able to catch them out there this year.
9. Malcolm Mooney
As the original lead vocalist of one of the most influential krautrock groups in history, the legendary Can, Malcolm Mooney is an interesting character. Known for his mental health issues, abstract lyrics and bizarre style of vocal performance, Mooney contributed to a handful of Can’s early records, as well as a one-off in the ‘80s. I have to admit I’m unsure of what to expect from his show at Desert Daze; he has been writing material with Bay Area-based group Tenth Planet and working on his visual art. In any case, I’m sure he will shock and amaze, and he makes a perfect left-field addition to the lineup this year.
10. A Place To Bury Strangers
What can I say about A Place To Bury Strangers? Not that it would matter, because you wouldn’t be able to hear it over the cacophonous mountain of screeching distortion and thunderous drums and bass. Guitarist/vocalist Oliver Ackermann also founded the pedal company Death By Audio, and death by audio is the clear philosophy behind the music of A Place To Bury Strangers: colossal, awash in effects, with a nasty punk rock/shoegaze edge and ominous vocals. Described by The Washington Post as "The most ear-shatteringly loud garage/shoegaze band you’ll ever hear", I personally can’t wait to be crushed in the sonic onslaught.
To be perfectly honest, I’ve had a lot of trouble figuring out how to describe Canadian post-rock outfit Preoccupations. Formerly known as Viet Cong, and described by a Pitchfork writer as "labyrinthine post-punk", their tunes have a slightly gothic feel to the ragged, laconic vocals and echoing, morose songwriting. There’s really a lot going on, as guitars sputter and squeal against delicate synths and pounding drums. I don’t know that I would call it catchy, but it does demand your attention. I am very interested in seeing how they get down in a live setting.
12. Ty Segall & White Fence
As I’m putting this together, Desert Daze has just announced that prolific garage rock icon Ty Segall and White Fence will be performing their collaboration album Hair in full at the festival. This marks the second full album performance of the weekend, with a decidedly more freewheeling, garage-jam feel. That being said, Hair is just under 30 minutes long. Apparently Ty and White Fence are putting together another album, so we’ll likely see songs from that, as well as a few surprises here and there in typical Ty Segall fashion. Expect lots of bright, fuzzy, rock and roll guitar bravado from this show.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list; one of the best things about Desert Daze in my opinion is the sheer variety of outside-the-box music that I otherwise might never have discovered. Other acts on the bill this year include Tame Impala, Gladys Lazer, Cut Worms, True Widow, Ex-Cult, All Them Witches, Sextile, Connan Mockasin, Shannon & the Clams, King Khan & the Shrines, Kevin Morby, and more. For the full Phase 1.5 lineup, ticket info, and any other questions, check out the festival website: https://desertdaze.org/. There are still two more phases of artists to be announced; expect the unexpected in a big way.
I do not own any of the photography/artwork used in this article. It is the property of the original photographers/artists.