Words by Jonahs Downer // All Photos by Ellie Alonzo
Paying homage to all things psyched-out and groovy Austere celebrated the 5th Annual Desert Daze Music Festival in Joshua Tree, California this past weekend in the festivals biggest year to date. Bohemian desert rats of all walks of life crawled out of every nook and cranny in pursuit of this three day fringe fest and we were no exception, piling five eager bodies into my tiny Kia Soul for the +20 hr SoCal pilgrimage, we arrived at the Institute of Mental Physics in Joshua Tree and the insanity undoubtedly ensued.
We were surrounded by mountains and desert on all sides and colorful serape laden hippies were scattered throughout the festival grounds as far as the eye could see. At first glance it would appear as though we had stepped back in time through some bizzare time warp and somehow found ourselves at the forefront of the psychedelic movement in the late sixties. But this was no mirage. We had located an artistic reservoir abundant with magnetic energy and eschewing the mind-expanding sentiments and musicality of a counterculture long gone. Could this be? Had we died and gone to some strange hippie heaven? No we were simply enjoying the eclectic sights and sounds Desert Daze Music Festival had to offer.
Originally held at the infamous Pappy and Harriet’s, Desert Daze in its fifth year since its inception, has expanded significantly from its origin. Just this year alone two of Southern California’s biggest local promotion companies, Spaceland Presents and Knitting Factory Entertainment, fused, combining their efforts to raise the bar for lowkey music-fests with the hope of proving that bigger festivals such as, Coachella and Bonnaroo, may not be offering the most intimate and immersive festival experiences available in today’s musical landscape.
Advertised as “More handcrafted and handpicked.” this year’s festival effortlessly transitioned between its eclectic roster of musicians providing a unique mixture of the most talented electronic, psychedelic and independent rock artists this side of the sun. We saw so many rad bands it’s difficult to even think about where to begin, but here are some of the highlights from our favorite sets we caught at the Festival.
For starters, Toro y Moi has got to be one of the grooviest most beautifully lush acts we have seen to date. Their take on modern electro-funk is so smooth and creamy their jams could easily cause anyone to jump up and dance no matter how many reservations you may have about your two left feet. The bands utilization of slinky synth leads stacked on top of the bouncy bass riffs and jarring guitar wharble culminate into the perfect blend of electronic disco bliss. No question Toro Y Moi definitely stole our hearts at Desert Daze, that is if they hadn’t already.
Keeping with the electronic vibes from earlier, we ventured back over to the Moon Stage to get a glimpse of Washed Out hypnotizing the crowd into complete submission. This band’s sound is nothing short of pristine and sparkling, agleam beneath the glow of what would later become a full blown Super Moon. Their dreamy synth textures created an extravagant display of electric dance mysticism as if we had taken a magic carpet ride deep into the heart of the desert and been reborn anew, awash in the waves of Washed Out’s transcendental vibrations.
Kicking off their upcoming tour of the United States were the ever babely shag-magnets in Temples. Hailing from Kettering, England these dudes are described as being one of the premier Psychedelic-Pop bands of our time and were on tour for nearly two straight years while promoting their debut album, “Sun Structures”. Frontman singer-song writer, James Edward Bagshaw with his mop-top mess of curly hair, lead the group through some entrancing harmonies and melodic breakdowns throughout their set which featured some classic tracks from the boys from across the pond including “Shelter Song “ and “A Question Isn’t Answered” as well as some new material that may be made available in the near future. So keep your eyes and ears peeled for Temples forthcoming sonic contributions.
Now you may or may not have already heard of King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard so here is what you need to know, these insane Psychedelic-Aussie-Rockers mean some serious business! Bolstering a lineup of 7 individuals, watching these guys tear into a live set is like watching a lion demolish and devour a wild gazelle. From start to finish they do not stop, stringing each of their songs through an intricate maze of guitar riffs and squelching harmonica. Its as if someone blind folded you, spun you around in a million little circles, ripped the veil from your eyes and let you loose in a mind field to fend for yourself. Everything is exploding all around you, while everyone is moshing similtaneously!!! Despite some lingering EQ complications that seemed to plague the Block Stage throughout the festival King Gizz had no dificulty launching a full on asault on everyones eardrums. Needless to say King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard is rolling deep in all of our Mind Fuzz!!!
Saturday brought about a much needed chill after making such a long drive and catching some phenomenal live performances and this next band provided the perfect escape for those of us still clinging for dear life from the night prior. Originating from Southern California, WAND is a relatively new entity amongst the revolving cast of characters we encountered at the festival despite their affiliation with several other well known groups i.e (Together Pangea, Ty Segall And the Muggers, Meatbodies, Behavior, Oil Thief) etc. These prolithic mofos dropped not just one, but three records between 2014-2015 and may have some new material slated to appear sometime next year. WAND’s specific style of melodic desert sludge was perfect for a late afternoon set, loosening everyone up for the lengthy evening ahead. Unlike their fuzzed out garage-rock contemporaries I must say WAND exhibits a finesse that is wholly unique unto themselves. Balancing a surprising amount of dynamic depth amidst an endless swell of distortion and feedback these guys were still able to dial things down and bring everyone back to earth! We absolutely love this band!!!
After tasting some of the delicious sweet potato and quinoa tacos at one of the near by Taco Stands we were already in close proximity to the Moon Stage to catch Thee Oh Sees. Talk about impending insanity! If WAND brought us back to Earth, Thee Oh Sees completely knocked us all out of the freaking stratosphere. Much like King Gizz there is an obvious similarity between both band’s radioactive recipes for balls to the wall post-apocalyptic psych-punk, however John Dwyer, the prophetic frontman for Thee Oh Sees, is a conductor of gargantuan proportions. His band operates on a level comparable to a steam ship engine, air tight and seamless, leading his merry band of heathens through a roundabout of haunting vocals, mirrored drum beats and booming bass flurry. Vibrant visuals illuminated every ones spectral field as the pixelated lights generated on the screen behind the band disintegrated and dissolved along with many a show goers acid-laced egos. This set was hands down one of the top 5 best sets of the festival and we can’t wait to catch these guys again next month for Sound on Sound.
We closed out Saturday night with a bang by catching Primus on the Moon Stage as they abducted everyone in the vicinity into their spaceship of macabre sounds. Frontman Les Claypool, of South Park and Robot Chicken notoriety, absolutely killed it, playing all kinds of staples one would come to expect from the legendary band including “Too Many Puppies” and “Tommy the Cat” to name a few. Erected on either side of the stage was what appeared to be two massive inflatable Astronauts adding to the cosmic space-age aesthetic present throughout the festival. Not going to lie there was a couple times while we were out there where all you could really ask yourself was, “Where in the hell are we?” During this set had you told me “we’re on one of the many moons of Saturn!” I wouldn’t have even been able to question. Primus was an out of this world experience!
As we recovered Sunday morning from an eventful weekend full of so many immense flavors and vibrant sounds we made our way back into the thick of things one last time to catch the last sets of the festival. Holding things down over at the Moon Stage we found the dreamy technicolor-rainbow-surf babes of La Luz absolutely killing it as they worked the crowd into a frenzy with their reverb drenched guitars and synth soaked harmonies. These girls are so great this is actually our second time catching them this year after seeing them back in May for Levitation! Their chill laid back beach vibe made for the perfect acclimation point stepping back into the festival madness. They played a mixture of tracks from their extensive repertoire forcing many an audience member to sing along to such classics as “Sure As Spring” and “It’s Alive”. If you’re not already a fan of these babely psyched-out surf rockers you need to get your shit together ASAP!
As the festival drew to a close we were fortunate enough to squeeze in a couple last minute shows before we had to hit the road and head back to Texas. Among the standouts of the last handful of acts we caught were the brilliantly talented Australian Synth-Pop Wizards, POND. The band is comprised of two of the original members of Tame Impala and their closest of kin, blending a healthy dose of fuzzed out bass, laser focused synth-precision and the deepest most booming straight-through-your-chest disco drums we’ve ever heard. These dudes played an assortment of their older material, even teasing the audience with a taste of some new jams that are slated to be released on their upcoming record in early 2017. After catching this set we are ecstatic to see what these dudes come up with next.
We came. We saw. We conquered. We also probably inhaled about a pound of desert sand from all the mosh pits. However as worn out and sunburnt and tattered around the edges as we may have appeared returning from this voyage of unfathomable proportion I can honestly say we feel invigorated. Our spirits roused. Our minds revitalized. The magnetism of the desert pulses through our veins, a crazed hornets’ nest of pent up repressed energy. Waiting patiently. Dormant. Poised to be unleashed. We are now free from our perpetual daze.
Scroll through the slideshow below to check out more photos from the festival! See ya next year Desert Daze!!
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