Audience at Godflesh.

FESTIVAL REPORT: Desertfest 2024

Taking place across multiple venues in London’s once notorious centre of punk, Camden Town. Desertfest is the annual hiatus for all stoner rock aficionados, although that’s a lazy description; actually, the genre stems from the Palm Desert scene in the US and it encompasses psychedelia, metal, blues and even grunge – all of which we’re going to hear elements of this weekend.

It’s been over 15 years since I’ve been to this part of London and quite a lot has changed. Camden was once like a naughty little brother who just enjoyed the odd rave – with its silly head shops, tie-dye banners and tacky punk and goth tat for sale. Today it is a fully grown man who has become an outlaw. Like the Wild West, the area now appears to be completely lawless; rubbish is piled and strewn everywhere, criminals operate in broad daylight, impromptu boxing matches take up pedestrian space and tents line the outskirts of the tube station. Police are nowhere to be seen.

Welcome to this year’s Desertfest. Camden is a surprisingly apt location.


Frankie and the Witch Fingers

Friday gets off to a fiery start at the Electric Ballroom with LA-based garage rock quartet Frankie and the Witch Fingers. If anyone hasn’t woken up properly yet, then here’s your Bloody Mary with a shot of tequilla. John Menashe (vocals, lead guitar) carries a massive debt to Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, even holding his guitar in the same way as the latter but having previously opened for both those bands on tour there’s no harm in that. Their prog-infected, sunny psychedelia only lasts an hour but it’s an hour of pure joy.


Norwich power trio Sleemo are much darker and heavier. I only catch the first part of their set as it’s a clash with Mondo Generator (below) but their swirling, sludgy and slightly mathy set is ear-ripping in the best kind of way. They do seem slower than the sound on record but maybe that’s just because I still have Frankie and the Witch Fingers’ momentum in my head.

Mondo Generator

Somehow Mondo Generator are only into their third song by the time I arrive at the Electric Ballroom. Their songs are mostly around the one-and-a-half-minute mark so that’s pretty impressive. I manage to muscle my way to somewhere close to the front, despite the fact that the majority of festival-goers seem to have turned out for this. There’s a hawkish, redneck vibe to Mondo Generator that’s accentuated by Nick Oliveri’s perfected yet manically, screamed vocals. Towards the end of the set, guitarist Mike Pygmie brings out shots of tequilla which they knock back. Nick Oliveri promptly fires off a snotball to the side of the stage before breaking into ‘I Stand Against You/Blast Off!’ Gross. They sound like a band possessed and there’s a good chance they are.

Colour Haze

After Mondo Generator, Colour Haze are like Thorazine. Like many of the artists pitted as “stoner rock” on this line-up, they play with a concise precision that doesn’t really reflect the “stoner” aspect of their reputation at all. The drummer looks insanely happy throughout though so maybe…The band live up to their name by playing a rainbow-like set in which the lights fluctuate to represent the mood of parts of each song. They remind me of a more proggy, relaxed Slint. The only bit that bothers me is part of a song that moves into a more upbeat vibe and is quickly accompanied by a bright yellow light that’s like your mum coming in and pulling back the curtains at 11.30am on a Saturday “because you shouldn’t be wasting the day”. Colour Haze, don’t you know that the clientele of Desertfest are all vampires?!

Masters of Reality

Master’s of Reality are the headlining band at Electric Ballroom tonight. Chris Goss appears wearing a green suit and a bow tie seemingly giving a nod to the early blues pioneers. They know they are the “classic” act of the evening and tonight seems especially blues-heavy with Goss’s fine whiskey-like vocals and the band’s tight instrumentation bringing a fresh intensity to their sound. Tracks like ‘Sugar’, ‘Third Man on the Moon’ and ‘Rabbit One’ resonate deeply, blending heavy riffs with bluesy undertones that captivate the audience.


Advised by people more in the know than me, I leave the Master’s of Reality set half an hour early and make my way over to The Dev to catch Goblinsmoker – ‘a fresh, new band from Durham’ according to the official Desertfest programme. Apparently, the venue is the smallest one out of the cohort in use this weekend and it fills up quickly. It’s sound advice: the queue is halfway down the street by the time I arrive and I’m forced to use my “press privileges” so we can skip the queue and get a place to take pictures from.

Some people simply resign themselves to watching from outside, their faces pressed up to the windows like poor Victorian orphans. Goblinsmoker dedicates a song to them. They sound exactly like you would imagine a band called Goblinsmoker with song titles such as “Toad King” to sound like, and it doesn’t disappoint.

One of the heaviest, sludgiest and doomiest artists of the weekend, everyone who has managed to get in to see them tonight is making the most of it and an oddly euphoric spirit encapsulates their set. Their music is so otherworldly and underworldly that it’s amusing when the lead vocalist speaks in a North East accent. He thanks the audience for turning out and mentions they “were never even supposed to play live”. Judging from the reaction of the crowd tonight it won’t be long before they’re playing sell-out shows at bigger venues so if you’re into this kind of heavy music then I’d advise getting a ticket to see them sooner rather than later.



It’s a sort of regal start to the day as the vocalist of Norwegian, hard rock outfit, Kal-El steps out in an all-black ensemble. They play a soaring 45 minutes of fuzzed out, bass heavy, spaceship motorcycle music that sounds like it could easily be part of the soundtrack for seminal 1981, sci-fi fantasy film Heavy Metal. They’re sort of like a metal version of post-grunge band Failure.

Playing at the Underworld, the venue quickly fills up as they begin and by the time I turn around after the first couple of songs, people are already backed up to the door, and although it’s still a little early for the kind of palpable energy reserved for being 12 pints deep, the crowd maintain a steady sea of head nods throughout.

Acid King

Saturday means the Roundhouse is open for some of the “bigger” bands pitted to play this evening’s schedule. As a venue it’s a bit more formal and is certainly a break from the rest of the dive bars and clubs – this is not to everyone’s taste and I hear a few moans and groans about “having to go to the Roundhouse”. That being said, it is quite nice to have some clean toilets, space to move and a mere two-minute wait at any bar, so there’s no complaints from me.

Acid King are scheduled to play at 4.30pm today but after playing one song the band leave the stage as there appear to be some sound issues as in there’s no guitar at all, or it’s simply really quiet. They reappear about 45 minutes later, meaning that everyone who’s now showed up for Bongripper is treated to a 35 minute Acid King set. This time, the sound is in full force and we’re able to properly appreciate the waves of pummelling sonic reverb that swims over and into our ears.


It’s time to get doomy. If Acid King were West Coast punk, Bongripper are East Coast hardcore. Known for their instrumental doom metal, Bongripper delivers a punishing set that’s both sonically massive and meticulously crafted. It’s really just riff after riff and as the vocalist from Cancer Bats jokes afterwards, “who needs words with riffs like that huh”.

Cancer Bats

Cancer Bats are probably not the typical choice of band to follow Bongripper under normal circumstances but someone needs to pick the pace up before Suicidal Tendencies, so curatorially speaking it makes sense. The group do acknowledge that they know “everyone has been busy smoking and drinking things that may or may not have made them sleepy” but “they’re here to liven things up”.

Weasel-like vocalist, Liam Cormier, has a giant bottle of what looks to be honey and lemon mixed water, namely because he’s about to trash his throat screeching like a banshee. Like seriously, he’s surely only got a few more years of this left in him before he ends up Chino Moreno-ing.

The high energy combined with the all-American stage banter generates a WWE match vibe for the set. Cormier is a whirlwind, throwing himself around the stage and the pit erupts properly for the first time today at the venue.

The band’s blend of hardcore punk and metal is perfectly executed, with guitar riffs cutting through the air like a buzzsaw. Tracks like ‘Sabotage‘ (a crowd-pleasing Beastie Boys cover) help keep the energy levels high. I can only imagine that once off stage, the band must collapse into their hotel room especially as they’ve got to do this all over again tomorrow night at the Underworld as Bat Sabbath.

Suicidal Tendencies

All I wanted was just one play of “Institutionalized” and they wouldn’t give it to me. Let’s address the elephant in the room before we go on with this review. I get it, sometimes a big hit just gets too annoying to play but c’mon!

We’re treated to an animated video of Thin Lizzy’sWhiskey in the Jar’ before the band come out and break into ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down’. Muir is outspoken in between the bouts of thrash metal, speaking about freedom, and its importance regardless of what your political alignment. He also talks about the Dogtown Z boys (the skate group his brother was part of). There really is a continuing sense of being at a Smackdown challenge, especially as Muir is well-built.

The band are joined by bassist Tye Trujillo, who is the son of Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo for this set, so yeah… bit of rock nepotism for you there. He appears quite stony-faced throughout the set which is a contrast to the light-heartedness of the rest of the band but maybe he’s just concentrating.

The group orchestrate a huge circle pit for the song ‘Cyco Vision’ – made famous, of course, by Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1. Muir is dynamite and casts maniacal glances across the room throughout the performance while guitarist, Dean Pleasants, keeps the momentum going just casually guitar solo-ing all over the fretboard. He is the archetype of “making it look easy”.

Their final song of the night is ‘Pledge Your Allegiance‘, which is mostly filled with chants of ST, ST, ST! Presumably, everyone afterwards rushes to the merch stand to do just that.


Goat Major

If you haven’t had your Ready Brek this morning then Goat Major are here to feed you some hearty riffs. Taking the early slot at the Black Heart, they plough through their set with aplomb and despite a clash with the saucier and more avant-garde outfit Ashenspire, they get a decent-sized crowd show up. It’s fuzzy, it’s heavy and ultimately it’s classic. They sound very seventies biker rock, and thanks to the vocalist’s tash, they look seventies too. It’s not going to break the mould but it’s not supposed to. The band are also scheduled to play Cardiff Psych and Noise Festival this weekend, so if that sounds like your thing be sure to check them out there.


Orme are this weekend’s resident drone outfit. Today they are joined by special guest Dawn Terry, who is playing the accordion. It’s not quite Sunn O))) levels but I can feel the vibrations of drone move through the floor. The accordionist speaks deeply into the microphone with some poetic, sci-fi-inspired lyrics that open the first track but the rest of the set is a steady blend of ritualistic, dark psych instrumental ambience. Orme are definitely the shady spot at Desertfest today.


It’s clear Lodestar have got a few diehard fans. They’ve been around since the mid-nineties and whilst I’m not super familiar with their back catalogue it’s endearing to see the support they receive from those who are. The set features some infectious bass hooks (part of me wants to see a little side project there) and with the rest of the group honed in their songship skills, the band deliver a smooth and seasoned performance that resonates with fans.


Having previously toured with Part Chimp and Hey Colossus, Kulk are bound to be on my itinerary for today. They’re sort of the outliers of the festival this weekend as, unlike many of the other bands this weekend, they also kind of sit in the art-punk/rock scene. For a duo they are unbelievably powerful. It’s clear they’ve been learning from Part Chimp, and they’re one of those rare bands for whom their record simply can’t do them justice because production isn’t conducive to this level of force.

Thankfully, I have earplugs with me. The vocalist and guitarist pummels his way through the set which is so aggressive it feels like being outside whilst a hurricane is brewing. By the end of the set his voice is going and he struggles to thank the audience, taking huge lugs of water in between words, but the duo manage to bust out one more song before wrapping up.

They are hands down, one of the best acts of the weekend. Promoters running gigs on the heavy side, write their name down because you’re going to want to book them now.


Industrial metal legends Godflesh are the headline act at the Electric Ballroom tonight. I’m expecting it to be busy so I head up to the balcony area so my fragile bones can remain unbruised. The duo walk out to a mass of black-clad cheers, and are, of course, dressed in all black themselves, as is the unwritten rule. They walk over to a stool seating a laptop containing all their drum backing tracks, press play and the room erupts into the full force for one of their newer releases ‘LAND LORD’. And just like that the Electric Ballroom is transformed into that opening nightclub scene from Blade.

They play “I Me Mine’ shortly afterwards and it sounds brutally sterile, paranoid and dystopian. If Ted Kaczynski’s MK Ultra experience had a backing track, this would be it.

As I look out into the crowd, a weird free zone has emerged from what began as a circle pit. The area now just appears to be a free space for people to move into and express themselves, one guy just raises his hands into the air making a hellraiser motion, a woman grooves and sways in a warped hippy manner. Behind him, masses of uniformed shadows nod their head in unison. This is what the journey to hell sounds like and it’s just as cool as you imagined.

Another guy makes various hand gestures to the people nearby, it looks complicated and before long he is being hoisted into the air and proceeds to raise his hands in a similar hellraising manner whilst walking across the hands of people in the pit (see feature image). Afterwards, he gets taken outside for a strong word with security before being allowed back in.

After playing the more DnB/Jungle-backed tracks initially, the duo move into playing some of their more classic industrial tracks such as ‘Streetcleaner’ (where you can hear the early Swans influence) and although they do play an encore in the form of ‘Crush My Soul’, much of the crowd has moved out by that time, no doubt in a hurry to get to the next venue.

Bat Sabbath

I’ve been dreading Bat Sabbath since yesterday’s busy Cancer Bats show. It’s at the Underworld where there’s no barrier between stage and audience and my photographer doesn’t have the kind of pass that will allow him to take pictures from the safe island to the side of the stage. We know it’s going to be busy enough that it will be impossible for him to move away from the front after the gig has started. After arriving 30 minutes early and hanging around the entrance we sure enough manage to get a decent spot.

Cormier appears again with the band on stage, this time donned in a cloak and he’s shaved the beard he was sporting last night into mutton chops. His alter ego for this evening appears to be an elaborate wizard king or something. He’s taken to speaking in a drawn-out, whimsical manner that I’m not sure Ozzy would have done, and keeps referring to the festival as “dessertfest” rather than “desertfest” but, whatever, it’s fun and it befits the legend.

It’s a Black Sabbath cover band so I’m not going to go into setlist details (but you can find that on Setlist FM if you’re interested), but of course they’re going to play the classics. As the band run through their set, one guy is just leaning against a pillar with a slight smile on his face; the next time I look over he’s wearing a chicken mask, has taken his top off and is now crowdsurfing over towards the stage. There’s a lot of crowdsurfing and even photographer Tom, eventually gets involved, securing his camera bag over to the side of the stage and joining the pit. If you can’t beat them join them!

The band ends with ‘War Pigs’ and we’re all doing the clapping thing in between the seminal riff. For, as our knock-off Wizard-King Ozzy has dictated, we are here to worship the mighty riff and that we do.

PS: Shout out to the Desertfest Loners crew who provided much entertainment, regaling me with previous Desertfest anecdotes, a badge and plenty of musical and location advice over the weekend.

All photos by Thomas Mannay.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.