Anyone who has read my column in the past couple years has become aware of my obsession with Desert Daze. The Southern California festival features unique lineups and an intimate-yet-colossal ambience; throwbacks to vintage psychedelia meet gritty punk sensibility, counterculture mysticism, and singular performances from a globe-spanning lineup of musicians and visual artists. Plus the scenery with the low hills, the lake, and the beach and shade make for an excellent environment for turning the world off for a weekend.
This year’s ritual continues to demonstrate why Desert Daze has come to hold such high standing in the hearts of those summer music travelers searching out a more curated and specialized event. With a lineup already featuring pioneers of weird The Flaming Lips performing their much-loved 1999 album “The Soft Bulletin,” all four members of the squishy, noisy, freak-pop Animal Collective playing a career-spanning set, Flying Lotus transforming his jazz/hip hop fusion into a 3D experience, The Claypool Lennon Delirium’s dizzying prog, and many more, the fans are ready to go (even if the slow-drip lineup announcement style has left some feeling frustrated).
As I’ve written before however, one of my favorite aspects of Desert Daze is that it often introduces me to music I’ve never heard of, and it’s incredible. The undercard features some of the most interesting and creative music from all over the world. Whether you’re into African psychedelia, Brooklyn-style detached indie, overpowering industrial ambient, or high-flying space rock, this year’s Desert Daze has something for you. Here are a few artists you won’t want to miss, either at the festival or just in general!
Warm, addictive, and intoxicating are a few ways to describe Boston-born Crumb’s music. Guitarist/vocalist Lila Ramani’s hypnotic vocals and lysergic guitar swirl with juicy, gooey synth and sax, anchored by subdued, textured drumming and mesmerizing bass. Their two EPs and debut LP are chock full of melancholy soundtracks for staring out windows, walking through a park in the fall, or coffee on a Sunday morning. Infectious and delicate, understated and confident, profound yet aloof, Crumb is a group to keep your eyes and ears on.
2. Mdou Moctar
Hailing from West Africa, Mdou Moctar is the among the latest in a tradition of excellent Tuareg guitarists to break into the Western music world. Moctar’s story is fascinating: after acquiring renown through his music being traded on memory cards and cell phones in West Africa, he became a popular wedding and party singer throughout the region. His most recent record, Ilana (The Creator) is a joyous expression of unbound enthusiasm for life. As Moctar sings in his native Tamasheq, the lyrics are lost on me, but the music itself is electric and immediate, with a breathtaking vitality.
3. Viagra Boys
What exactly is post-punk? Does anyone really know? In the case of Sweden’s Viagra Boys, it certainly does not matter. With a greasy, gutter-punk visual presentation and hysterical lyrics about “not answering calls” and “buying things off the internet,” their debut full-length “Street Worms” hits the ear with surprising intensity on tracks like “Shrimp Shack” before drifting into a morose ’90s lament in “Worms.” Frequent references to dogs, old-school-video-game-meets-action-movie-soundtrack instrumentals, and a strong sense of satire all give Viagra Boys an appeal that I don’t see too often. Perfect for your next long drive.
4. Blanck Mass
British musician Benjamin John Power’s project Blanck Mass is something else: what can you say about his track “Sundowner” that played during the Olympic opening ceremonies in 2012? From colossal, all-encompassing glorious ambience carrying you to heaven, to crushing, spastic, disjointed fragments of industrial aggression, Blanck Mass is a true experience to take in, and may leave the listener disoriented at first. Spellbinding and truly experimental, Blanck Mass is a true gem and not a show to be missed.
The second African artist on this list of mine, the name W.I.T.C.H. is an acronym for We Intend To Cause Havoc. This group is a perfect example of what gives Desert Daze its striking appeal: W.I.T.C.H. is a group from Zambia that was a true phenomenon in their brief career from 1972-1977. A fascinating group with a tumultuous and tragic history (much like Zambia itself), the sole survivor of W.I.T.C.H., Emanuel “Jagari” Chanda is still bringing their mixture of James Brown funk and Hendrix psychedelia to every corner of the globe he can reach. This is a true example of music that otherwise may have been lost to history, and one of the absolute must-see events at the festival this year.
Another Swedish group gracing the bill this year, Dungen will be performing their 2004 album “Ta Det Lugnt” in full. Translating to “take it easy,” the music drifts between lilting psychedelic jazz fusion and crunchy, high-octane interstellar cruising. Glittering keys and slashing guitar compete for attention in a raucous, driving fashion before the dust settles into placid, soothing neo-folk. Extremely European, with a sound more comparable to the ’70s than 2004, Dungen is another choice name to add to the list of full-album performers at Desert Daze.
7. Shintaro Sakamoto
Have you ever wondered what Steely Dan would sound like if they had formed in Japan? What’s that? Never even once? Luckily, Shintaro Sakamoto is here to answer that question for you. With a supremely cool vibe and the songwriting to match, Sakamoto’s music is a heaping helping of ’70s loft-apartment-style funk topped with catchy vocals and rock solid grooves. In addition, Desert Daze will be his debut performance in the US, which is pretty awesome and a huge reason to make sure you catch his set.
8. Faye Webster
Some have said you can’t blend down-home Atlanta folk with tropical beaches, but Faye Webster didn’t get the memo. Her most recent album, Atlanta Millionaires Club, is a balmy trip from tropical islands (“Room Temperature”) to the rustic bittersweet atmosphere of the industrial South (“What Used To Be Mine”). Her plaintive, porcelain voice almost hides in the steel guitar and dropout slacker country. That being said, she deals with real anxiety, pain, and heartache in her music, which is somehow both reminiscent of an ocean breeze and a rural holler in Georgia, the rural stretches of endless highway through the South and the big city of Atlanta itself.
These are just some of the artists to look forward to at Desert Daze 2019. If those and the artists mentioned in the intro weren’t enough, other names on the bill include Stereolab, Parquet Courts, The Black Angels, Fred Armisen performing a comedy set, Sasami, stoner supergroup Witch (featuring J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame), Connan Mockasin & Friends, Wand, Lightning Bolt, Temples, DIIV, Atlas Sound, White Fence, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, Nick Hakim, METZ, Jakob Ogawa, George Clanton, Part Time, Post Animal, The KVB, Surfbort, Anika, Dumbo Gets Mad, and Jonathan Bree, with more to come. Running the gamut from modern avant chamber pop to guttural screeching noise rock to sparkling pop, crushing doom metal to psychedelic soul, spastic freak-outs to goth ruminations, and beyond, this year’s iteration of Desert Daze promises to be something special. Hope to see you out there!
Tickets and more info at the festival website: https://desertdaze.org/