Relive Our Favorite Moments From Desert Daze 2018
Desert Daze 2018 started with a shove, with confetti cannons climaxing and mother nature stealing the stage with her immeasurable voltage. The scene was Lake Perris, a vast reservoir filled by the Colorado River, boasting white sand beaches, an island, dusty mountain views, and 275 annual days of direct sunlight. With this bright statistic in mind, the festival’s opening night brought weather that was wildly unexpected. Reports of an impending storm threatened to dampen Saturday, but when 13,000 people cascaded into the valley on Friday afternoon, they saw storm clouds gather just as quickly as attendees.
Before the storm arrived, a busy Friday kicked off the festivities as artists enticed crowds larger than seen at previous years. Three all-female bands played Friday, with many others joining them in the days to come. L.A. Witch rocked under the canopies of The Theatre, Hinds spread their sound on the moon-shaped Block stage, while Warpaint’s vocals rang out as far as ears could hear as they projected from the huge block-shaped stage, named Moon.
After sunset, rain gently fell and lightning flashed far in the distance, exciting a crowd amassed to be physically struck by English hard rockers Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats’ fittingly dark and sludgy riffs. As thunder rumbled closer, the euphoric crowd clamored in front of the Moon stage for Tame Impala’s headlining set. The lightning neared, but it was an afterthought compared to our anticipation. Tame Impala soon took the stage and settled into their would-be 90-minute act. Shortly after, though, an urgent voice directed the crowd to evacuate the area. Pandemonium ensued, as concertgoers scrambled to find their friends within the crowd. People fled the grounds and into their cars, tents and RVs, and under the few buildings spread across the park. The rain fell harder as people realized phone coverage was too spotty to find friends, car-services, anyone.
Hiding in the tent for hours, the rain eventually calmed and we decided to investigate. Several rows down, a girl emerged from an SUV and asked if we’d heard anything about the Tame Impala set continuing. We were holding out hope that it would resume, but as the night grew long, that hope seemed lost. Many gave in to slumber, disappointed at the tease of Tame Impala, as well as missing many others such as Connan Mockasin, Wand and TT. So day one was over, coming to an abrupt and unceremonious end. Saturday morning brought a somber mood throughout the campsite, as everyone had just shared the experience of having their nights withheld from them. Grey light filled the grounds and rain drizzled onto muddy lawns, but the show must go on, and so it did.
We trekked across the sand towards The Theatre to catch Aussie up-and-comers Stonefield, and as the universe would have it, we merged with several members of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, including Stu Mackenzie, as they traveled in the same direction. While we moseyed between them, concertgoers offered elated smiles, fist bumps and high fives to the band mates as they passed by.
Stonefield was one of many bands on the packed lineup that played early and had a full crowd. “I think we had a decent crowd, apparently they weren’t letting any more people into the tent,” recounted Stonefield vocalist and drummer Amy Findlay. The set was tight as ever and highlighted by heavy riffing, a great mix and strong, impassioned singing. A mass of faces gathered outside the tent’s exit and, although they couldn’t make it in, they were evidently stoked nonetheless.
Brazil’s Boogarins maintained that energy, as lead singer Dinho Almeida’s infectious grin was magnified on the Moon stage’s towering screens. Meanwhile, LA’s Cat Scan slammed a visceral set in the Theatre. While Mercury Rev played the Moon stage, we caught up with Stonefield after decompressing from their set.
Stonefield was one of several Australian bands to play the fest, and they related the laid-back atmospheres and surf cultures shared between California and Australia. Australia is seen as a hub of great new music, especially rock, but, as guitarist Hannah Findlay said, “there’s a million more bands doing [psych rock in LA].” Amy Findlay added, “It definitely feels like psych rock is the thing here…” And this is true, as the festival lineup was flush with artists who were either from, or had roots in, Los Angeles.
One mainstay in LA’s burgeoning psych scene is JJUUJJUU, fronted by festival founder Phil Pirrone. Phil walked on stage emphatically clapping his hands, rousing an already fervent crowd undoubtedly mixed with the band’s cult following. What soon followed was a sonic barrage of throbbing bass that would satisfy any woofer-loving audiophile within range. Following JJUUJJUU was Japanese psych band Kikagaku Moyo. Many attendees had glowing reviews for this band, and it’s clear why. All five members smiled pleasantly as they closed their eyes and dug deep into introspective improvisations, blending with each other and transfixing the audience’s minds along the way.
Everyone was itching for a true headlining set after Friday’s cancelation. None better to fill the void than King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. The crowd gathered early and anxiously as they waited to see the prolific band take the stage. What happened next was a blur. From the first chord struck, they had the undivided attention of all. Some danced, shaking with primal energy, stomping with one another when the band hit their heaviest progressions. Others stood still, eyes gazing intently with who-knows-what happening in their heads. During a forceful rendition of “Lord of Lightning”, one might have thought that they could have driven away the storm if only they had played the night before. Before we knew it, their 90-minute set screeched to a halt, leaving us all in the best kind of shock and awe.
Deap Vally continued to bring the ruckus, sharing some much-needed energy with a crowd that had pushed through and stayed up late to see them hit the Block stage that included sets all the way to sunrise. When asked how they were able to maintain and spread their energy for their set, Deap Vally drummer Julie Edwards put it simply, “Because we mean it.”
Day three was sun-kissed from the start. Grounds opened at noon and the beach was quickly filled with those making up for lost time. Scores gladly shed their jackets and geared up for a picturesque final day. Bedouine warmed up the Moon stage and serenaded onlookers with her acoustic melodies. Her modest setup formed quite the dichotomy with the looming stage, but her wholesome sound filled up all the space that it needed to. Sextile helped get it going in the Theatre, and Death Valley Girls followed suit by settling into what was then the loudest set I had seen so far. Their driving distortion invoked the natural power of the desert, which everyone had experienced in full spectrum over the weekend. For some, the inevitable hangover began to settle in, but Earth’s mellow set helped soothe the pain.
With another long night ahead, Death Grips’ set came at the right moment. The genre-bending band was a welcome change of pace, playing an intense hour-long set with seemingly no breaks. The crowd was energized and ready to power through. Earthless took the Block stage after, playing a set bountiful with electrifying guitar solos. Lots of skilled guitar playing was done and witnessed throughout the weekend; each artist does their own thing differently as their philosophies and gear both limit and enable them.
My Bloody Valentine doesn’t have such limits. A rumor flew around that the band brought in 30 extra amps (just in case) for their headlining set that night. Let that settle in for a moment. As their set time neared, many put in earplugs and I followed suit, for which I am eternally grateful. If you want to be physically blasted at full force by a wall of sound shrapnel, look no further than an MBV show. The band triggered nostalgia at top volume as they performed favorites led by “Only Shallow,” with sound waves rumbling the bodies of all, near and far.
The Mad Alchemist’s liquid light show vibrated brightly in its last moments of splendor as King Khan took the stage after an introduction by his band, The Shrines. Beaming in a sequined suit fit for Elvis himself, Khan would broadcast personal opinions between songs, angrily slamming Brett Kavanaugh, and warmly expressing support for the LGBTQ community. At one point, Khan beckoned everyone in the audience to take a knee. We kneeled curiously awaiting the next command. Provoking comedy and some discomfort, Khan then instructed the audience to enact their own sex sounds. This was met with more hesitation, but soon enough, everyone was moaning, whether it be under their breath or loud enough for the world to hear. The band soon followed with an elaborate finish, and it wasn’t hard to tell that the audience truly appreciated their unique energy.
At long last, Ty Segall took the stage with White Fence. After a brief sound check, the band settled into a set defined by what Ty Segall does best: straight-up, unbound rock ‘n’ roll. Segall and White Fence riffed and soloed into the night, finishing off a day that quelled any remaining disappointment from Friday’s rough start. Deap Vally’s Julie Edwards (also a Desert Daze co-founder) put it best: “Things can go wrong, and we always learn the hard way… but I know that at its heart, the intentions of Desert Daze are pure: to exhibit mind blowing artists… who inspire and take risks, and who have helped define who we are.”
Desert Daze certainly had a different feel than other current concerts and festivals. You can typically count on phone screens to flood your view of a stage, but here everyone focused on experiencing the now, a testament to Phil Pirrone’s earlier comment that “[Desert Daze’s] purpose is to heal you, not drain you, at all costs.”
Yes, Desert Daze is focused on music that some label as “trippy” or “heady,” but those terms can be overly simplistic. One-word descriptions don’t do justice to the mind and heart-opening nature of this special festival. “I love Desert Daze because it is always the best festival in the world,” Julie Edwards explained, “It’s very pure and protective of a specific aesthetic that can genuinely heal the world and contribute to a sense of well-being in the human animal.” L.A. Witch’s Sade Sanchez recalled, “There’s few festivals that are catering to this type of… genre, I don’t know what to call it, but we need this. We look forward to this because it’s such a rare thing. Most music festivals are catered to a different lifestyle. We’re here because of the music… everyone is here for the same reasons.” L.A. Witch has played Desert Daze since its inception, and when asked if they would like to keep playing the festival, Sanchez replied, “We hope to keep the tradition… this is going to be in our hearts forever.”
Stay tuned to Milk for more festival recaps.