A festival isn’t just made great by the bands that play it but by the people that go and place it happens: Desert Daze scores big on all three. The psych/rock/stoner/generally weird weekender, which is now in its sixth year, has got the bands – Iggy Pop, Spiritualized, Allah-Las and Deap Vally for starters – but also takes place in a stunning residential retreat designed by the 20th century’s greatest architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, in the middle of the Joshua Tree desert in California, a couple of hours drive outside of Los Angeles. It attracts a friendly, warm and excellently out-there crowd, made up of 5,000 exceptionally well-dressed music geeks, and frankly, we’re a little bit in love with the whole thing.
A cross between a mini-Glastonbury and the dearly departed All Tomorrow’s Parties, at Desert Daze you can feed the soul and spirit as well as the ears and eyes, with the Mystic Bazaar acting like a particularly Californian take on Glasto’s Healing Fields, with soundbaths, shamanic ceremonies, astrology, tarot, meditation, yoga and a defence against the dark arts class – something we definitely could have done with at certain points over this summer’s festival season while battling a pear cider hangover. From the beginning, when the stoned carpark attendant asked us to “try and park a little bit closer to that cactus”, to the end, where we watched a green-tinged meteor flashing through the night sky, the vibe was magical. “It’s all about creating an adventure, a place where you can get lost without knowing where you are” says Julie Edwards of LA duo Deap Vally, who helps run the festival with her partner Phil Pirrone. “You come upon things and you’re transported entirely – you’re not just in a big field with a stage on either side.” Art pieces are scattered around the site, geodesic snuggle-pits filled with stuffed animals, video and neon installations, thrones to sit in while you drink the festival’s potent tequila and lots of sparkly things that serve no other purpose than just to look really, really good on Instagram.
The music is as remarkable as the visuals, a deft mix of old and new, with legends like the Velvet Underground’s John Cale rocking up to storm through ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ while newcomers like Texan Thai funkers Khruangbin entrance everyone with their surf sounds, as well as the coolest cover of Dr Dre’s ‘Nuthin’ But A G Thang’ you ever did hear. The big hitting headliner is the ever-shirtless Iggy Pop, who frontloads his set with a clutch of almighty solo and Stooges classics, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, ‘The Passenger’, ‘Gimme Danger’ and ‘Lust For Life’ included, before hollering “Youth of California, I salute you” into the crowd. The 60-something Lee Fields is equally energetic, doing his sassy James Brown soul sensation thing to a reverential audience. “They say the desert brings on magic – can you feel it!” he calls out. The birthplace of stoner rock, the appearance of the heavy, heavy sounds of Boris and Sleep are vital to the bill, with the latter running through their 1992 classic ‘Holy Mountain’ in full. Fierce and meditative, their set soundtracks another dreamy desert sunset and biggest en masse weed smoking situation since, we reckon, Woodstock.
Lighter sounds come via Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s current pairing up, with the two almost identical looking songwriters jangling together on their own tunes and sweet slacker co-writes, like the new ‘Continental Breakfast’. The Allah-Las too, shimmy on the perkier end of the bill, their swirling 1960s sounds a lush, twinkling foil to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s Black Sabbath-style dabblings with psychedelia. Deap Vally bring garage-rock grit and glam rock flash to their two woman show, while Ty Segall proves himself the king of fuzz with a riff heavy set. Spiritualized bring the whole thing to a glorious end with the graceful sonic onslaught of ‘Come Together’, ‘Cop Shoot Cop’ and ‘I Think I’m In Love’. Same time next year then, Desert Daze?
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For more information on Joshua Tree visitgreaterpalmsprings.com