Dust be damned, Desert Daze delivers.
Now in it’s fourth year running, single day underdog festival Desert Daze has finally hit its stride. Taking place near in a veritable desert oasis about 20 minutes outside Indio in Mecca CA, Desert Daze certainly sounded weird on paper. And while it was indeed, a very weird night, it was impossible not to feel part of something special when dawn hit Sunday morning.
The grounds housed various campsites situated around a small lake. Despite having various tiers of paid camping, it was more or less a complete free for all to find a spot. This was great news for general campers and more of a bummer for those who spent hard earned bucks on upgraded camping prior to the event.
Despite the lack of structure, security was everywhere, including a dozen highway patrol cops patrolling the grounds, though it is worth noting that they didn’t seem bothered by the ever present aroma of marijuana smoke or open container drinking.
The amount of dust was staggering and served as a constant reminder of the festival’s desert location. The smarter attendees (read: not me) came packing bandanas or scarfs for mouth coverage and more than one vendor was making a fortune off those who forgot said accessories.
Like most festivals, the highlight was the music and my my what a lineup it was. LA psychedelic heartbreakers Warpaint headlined and were joined by an eclectic mix of artists including 90s favorite Failure, turntable extraordinaire RJD2, alt rock heroes Minus the Bear and resident mad scientist Dan Deacon among many many others.
The two main stages had staggered set times, meaning that with the exception of The Budos Band (who had to cancel last minute do to a death in the family) festival goers were able to catch each and every headliner’s set in their entirety. Take that, Coachella.
A 10 minute walk took you to an isolated third stage, which kept festival goers engaged with some amazing psychedelic sounds like that of Chilean group Follakzoid, who were set against a trippy changing backdrop that made more than a few friends over the course of the night.
Late afternoon at the main stages was highlighted by rock including rambunctious three pieces like Bass Drum of Death and Zig Zags as well as the neo punk sounds of Plague Vendor. Once the sun started to set, things got a bit more interesting with sets from neo-shoegaze outfit DIIV and pop rock outfit Mini Mansions, who featured Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman.
Once the sun went down, the wind picked up; blowing dust everywhere and adding to the odd magic that would permeate through the rest of the night. Chelsea Wolfe took to the stage shortly after 8 and immediately entranced the crowd with her near undefinable brand of drone metal that served as the perfectly morbid soundtrack to the weather. Seattle’s Minus the Bear were up next, playing their 2004 release They Make Beer Commercials Like This in it’s entirety. They sounded tight and flawless, no doubt thrilling old fans and earning some new ones in the process.
And then Dan Deacon came on. While hardly a household name, Deacon has developed a rabid cult following with his bizarre psychedelic electronic and equally bizarre on stage antics. Tonight was no different. While we’ll never be able to know for sure, Deacon appeared to be absolutely tripping his face off; going on long, wild rambles about the moon and, most entertaining of all, Chester Cheetah.
He managed to cork it mid set but not before charming nearly everyone who was able to catch his set. The dude is a character and it doesn’t hurt that his music is equally as eccentric as he is. He even managed to get a serious dance contest going, the best contestant of which was someone in a panda costume.
Failure couldn’t have been more 180 from Deacon and the juxtaposition of the two only manage to highlight the musical variety of Desert Daze. The people who knew the band were enthusiastic and while they sounded solid, their somewhat depressing sound wasn’t for everyone.
Warpaint and RJD2 closed out the festival, both giving the fans precisely what they drove out for. Warpaint sounded looser and more relaxed than usual, no doubt part of the atmosphere of the festival. RJD2 proved once again why he’s one of the world’s greatest true DJs as he worked no less than four turntables with nary a laptop in sight. Hearing live analog beatmaking is becoming increasingly rare and this particular set will be one to tell the grand kids about.
Sure there was dust. And yes, it wasn’t the most organized festival in the history of the world. But taken as a whole, Desert Daze 2015 was an unbridled success. The variety and quality of music over the course of 10 hours was nothing short of outstanding and, perhaps more importantly, the festival just had an impossible to define magic that is long gone from big events like Coachella. Hats off to Moon Block and we anxiously look forward to what’s in store for 2016.