Live Review: Desertfest - Friday
5th May 2023
Featuring: Margarita Witch Cult, Kurokuma, Bad Breeding, Kadavar, Year Of No Light
Words: Julian Pepper
Photos: Jacob Schwar
As anticipated, Desertfest 2023 was the only place to be seen in London between the 5th and 7th May!
For 3 days the streets of Camden were awash with rocking revellers, who all seemed to have a great time seeing bands and catching up with friends old and new.
One of the main things that I love about Desertfest is the overall feeling of camaraderie and community that it generates, and this year was no different. The “Stoner Alley” hub at the Black Heart was, as always, the place to be, and it was here that I started my Desertfest 2023 journey on the Friday afternoon.
I always make a point of trying to see the first band of the festival and have seen some crackers over the years. This year was no different, with Birmingham 3-piece Margarita Witch Cult blowing minds in the sauna-like temperatures of the Black Heart. As you’d expect given their hometown, there were big slow Sabbathian riffs on show, which were mixed in with some faster Motorhead style influences. Their sound had a great groove and songs from their debut self-titled album (on the superb Heavy Psych Sounds label) such as 'Diabolical Influence', 'The Witchfinder Comes' and 'Annihilation' were lapped up by the enthusiastic crowd. A suitably slow and heavy run through of Billy Idol’s 'White Wedding' goes down a treat and finishing with a medley of crushing Black Sabbath songs (mainly riffs) was a great way to kick off the Desertfest proceedings.
My first foray to the Underworld was to see Sheffield trio Kurokuma, who’d attracted a good sized crowd. Taking to the stage and announcing that you are going to play your freshly written new album in full for the first time is a bold move but one that Kurokuma pull off! Style wise it’s still in the experimental sludge ballpark, with huge riffs scattered all over the place in amongst the more subdued moments . As you’d expect it will need some fine tuning, however, what we heard bodes very well for the next album. New bass player Zakk Wells is an imposing presence on stage and provides a great dual vocal attack along with Jacob Mazlum. As always Jozef Allan holds it all together on the drums with his hard hitting but languid style, none more so than on closing track (from current album 'Born of Obsidian') 'Sacrifice to Huitzilopochti', which rounds off the set in fine style.
Up next at the Underworld are Stevenage’s Bad Breeding, who provide some hardcore punk rock respite with their intense and furious set. Lead singer Christopher Dodd prowls the stage throughout spitting out vocals to tracks from previous 2 albums “Human Capital” and “Exiled”, with “Whose Cause?” and “Human Capital” being particular brutally frenetic highlights. Christopher is an imposing figure, stalking the stage, staring at the crowd and eventually joining the crowd in the pit.
Berlin’s Kadavar first blew my mind a few years back when they headlined Stoner v Doom in Sheffield. They’ve recently expanded to a four piece by adding a second guitarist in the shape of Jascha Kreft, who also plays synth during some of the live set. It’s fair to say that this has been a good move as it adds more layers to their already great live sound, which is evident from the off in a packed Electric Ballroom. Launching straight into crowd favourite 'All Our Thoughts' from their self-titled debut album was a great way to introduce their 70’s influenced retro stoner sound. What followed was a superb career spanning set that included cuts from their first four albums ('Kadavar', 'Abra Kadavar', 'Berlin' and 'Rough Times'), with 'Come Back Life', 'Doomsday Machine' and 'Die Baby Die' being particular highlights. Guitarist/vocalist Christop Lindemann is in fine form and his interaction with ever-moving bassist Simon Bouteloup acts as a great focal point for the band. Hard hitting drummer Christoph Bartelt holds it all together superbly and the extended jammed up version of 'Purple Sage' that ends the set is the perfect conclusion to what will undoubtedly be one of the sets of the festival.
I finish the day by venturing up to the Powerhaus, which I’m glad is being used for the whole of Desertfest this year, to see French post metal instrumentalists Year Of No Light. Having seen them play an amazing set at Damnation Festival in 2021 I was looking forward to catching them again in a smaller venue. Given their 6 members, two drum kits and myriad of pedals and synths, there was not a huge amount of space on the stage for much else. The set draws heavily on 2021’s 'Consolamentum' album, kicking off with slow building and lengthy opening track 'Objuration', which builds into a riff-led crescendo. The set gets better and better as it progresses and the crowd feeds off this, swelling in numbers along the way. With minimal white lighting adding to the atmosphere the band provide stunning versions of 'Aletheia' and 'Realgar' (my particular fave) to bring the Friday festivities to a suitably heavy conclusion.