Desert Daze – California’s psych-leaning boutique getaway – has left the desert for the grassy, sandy, gorgeous sprawl of Lake Perris State Recreation Area. If it remains in this spot, Desert Daze could get a rep as America’s most aesthetically pleasing fest, not just for the majestic view of the surrounding mountains, but for the festival organizers’ completely overboard attention to trippy projections, art installations and neon. All was not chill vibes this year – a lightning storm and forced evacuation ended Tame Impala’s Friday night set after three songs – but the weekend rolled on with shoegaze giants, art-rap heroes and a whole lotta riffs. Here are the eight best things we saw.
These uncoiled Bristol bruisers were an absolute shot of mellow-harshing adrenaline to a fest seemingly built around chill vibes. They have a taut post-punk energy, but guitarist Mark Bowen played in his underpants and vocalist Joseph Talbot stalked the stage like a tattooed hardcore ranter. “Turn the projector off,” he demanded at one point. “It looks like shit and I can’t see anything.” Part abandon, part political outrage, part outright clowning (Bowen leaped over his guitar like a jump rope), Idles sound like an meaner breed of art-punk, splitting the difference between Gang of Four’s Entertainment! and Converge’s Jane Doe.
L.A.’s JJUUJJUU are perhaps the unofficial Desert Daze mascot – they’ve played all seven editions, and leader Phil Pirrone is the fest’s founder. They came prepared, opting for the prettiest stage (the color-saturated liquid light shows of the Block), bringing a Hawkwind-style dancer in sequins and releasing some giant inflatable balls into the crowd. Though they love the riff-riding of vintage German psych, they have the dynamic builds of a good prog band – trippy, loud, rehearsed, light-hearted and heavy enough to make a motorik beat sound like a stretched out version of Nirvana’s In Utero.
Circa ’88 EP tracks “Feed Me With Your Kiss” and “You Made Me Realise” sounded like a guitar army attempting garage rock. The crunchy, blustery, metallic “apocalypse” section was anxiety-inducing. I watched it from a beanbag.
4. Death Grips
Death Grips turned a mostly mellow and meditative weekend of vibes into Lollapalooza ’94. They were an athletic feat, all screaming and octopus drumming, with no breaks in their approximately hour-long set. Though it’s been seven years since their breakout moment, their ravenous following still feels unlikely: People screamed along to the Charles Manson intro to “Beware,” drummer Zach Hill played drums like marbles falling down some stairs and “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” felt like watching a grindcore band.
Playing their 2008 album The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull in its entirety, Earth gave Desert Daze a masterclass in restraint, languidly pushing through the slow-panning apocalyptic scene. Drummer Adrienne Davies kept it together with remarkable fluidity while keyboardist Steve Moore played flourishes and bold chords.
6. Cat Scan
Los Angeles no wave quartet Cat Scan – whose only recorded output is one 44-second song – played a high-octane set that seems to have combined a few lessons from the Eighties underground playbook: Minutemen without the funk, Feelies without the bubblegum, Sonic Youth without the lurch.
The minimalist rock trio delivered on the tricky grooves of “The Brazilian,” from their latest LP, sounding even more fragile than the album’s cinematic kraut-funk. But Beak>’s set was also good for banter like a cranky stand-up routine. Bassist Billy Fuller joked about the band on the competing stage (“We’re King Gizzard and the Lizard Jizzard”), and drummer Geoff Barrow of Portishead – a Glastonbury veteran – ribbed an American festival crowd for escaping the rain.
8. William Hutson
Fans of noise, ambient and sound art were able to lay around in the Sanctuary, a dome that featured a formidable line-up of knob twiddlers. The best set we caught there was probably William Hutson of Sub Pop noise-rap crew Clipping. He tweaked a tape loop while curving around a stand, making a suite of scribbles. Making use of the dome’s quadraphonic sound setup, he borrowed a recording of Christopher Lee reading The Pit and the Pendulum and turned it into a noise-scape that recalled everything from Bernard Parmegiani to Burroughs-ian cut-ups to John Cage’s “Williams Mix” (which Clipping covered in 2014).