Desert Daze 2017,

Oct 20, 2017 Web Exclusive Photography by David Evanko Bookmark and Share


Desert Daze has restored my faith in festivals. The festival, which celebrated its sixth year this past weekend, is unique in a number of ways, not the least of which is its location in Joshua Tree at the Institute of Mentalphysics. When not hosting psych-rock hippies, the Institute-which is designed by Frank Lloyd Wright-has been functioning as a retreat center for over 75 years. Its ethos of temporary detachment from reality lends itself handily to that of Desert Daze, which takes that concept to the next level.

They may both be located in the Southern California desert, but Desert Daze is the anti-Coachella. Significantly smaller in numbers and higher in age range, Desert Daze is the antithesis of most festivals. You're not going to find EDM artists DJing drop after drop off USBs or interchangeable, predictable hip-hop acts posturing or pop stars prepped by their glam squads. What you will find is rock, in many, many varieties: desert, metal, psychedelic, grunge, alternative, garage, shoegaze. The overwhelming dust of the rugged terrain of the Institute grounds, which in no way can be contained, prevents too much glamour from happening anyway. That didn't stop the festivalgoers from expressing themselves in all aspects of their person. Showers of sequins, towering headdresses and flowing capes were the default for the guys while many of the ladies opted for a classic rock chick with a twist look-all covered with an increasingly thick layer of dust. The key piece of fashion, no matter what your look, is something to cover your nose and mouth as the dust is the ruling element.

There is a friendliness and camaraderie at Desert Daze that is specific to this festival. If you're out here for three days, dressed in the most extreme costume, burning up in the daytime and freezing as soon as the sun disappears-many camping on-site, you are part of a special fringe group that has found its 5000+ strong tribe. If you ended up in line for the bar, or the restroom, or for the tasty Indian food stall-arguably the most popular (possibly a tie with the African food stall) of the wide selection of eats, all representing local establishments-you invariably ended up in an easy conversation with the people ahead of you or behind you.

Other spots that you found yourself in unintentional conversation were the many art installations. Some of these involved physically putting yourself in the space, a mirrored cylinder, a luxuriously cushioned teepee, or lying down in one of the screening rooms. The individual installations that created their own cosmic desert garden, however, were the ones that captured the imagination, particularly in the evenings when they seemed to positively glow, lighting up the dust pathways lined with brush and cacti leading through them.

Oh, and there was some music too. Saturday's headliner, Iggy Pop, presented a performance that once again confirmed why he's considered a living legend. The amount of insane energy he has, exhaustive if you're in your 20s, mind blowing when you're in your 70s, carried through to the entire crowd at the Moon Stage. From a seated position at the side of the same stage, Jason Pierce led Spiritualized in its patented space jams on the Sunday evening for their headlining set. Eagles of Death Metal had that area both jumping and laughing with frontman Jesse "Boots Electric" Hughes' combination rock 'n' roller/preacherman performance. His banter, punctuated by "Amen" or "Can I get an amen?" is bizarrely appropriate for the group's spirited show. John Cale's gentle, artsy presence brought a mystical feeling to the Block Stage while King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, a group that could have been created solely for Desert Daze they are such a great fit, delivered a solid psychedelic experience on the Moon Stage that had the crowd raving about them through to the next evening. Once again from the Block Stage, Unknown Mortal Orchestra closed the weekend with selections from their popular Multi-Love album, as well as few songs from their previous albums, that frankly are more Desert Daze-appropriate. Not to be forgotten is the tone-setting JJUUJJUU whose frontperson, Phil Pirrone, is the co-founder of the festival.

It was largely about the female and female-fronted groups at Desert Daze. Some examples: Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, with Sandoval a barely discernible silhouette, bringing the dreamy element to the Block Stage, a stark contrast to Khruangbin who were doing an insanely inventive set of covers over at the Wright Tent. Headliners Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, toppers of many year-end charts already, as well as L.A. Witch, Weyes, Blood, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Death Valley Girls, Miranda Lee Richards, Winter, Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton, Boris, and of course Desert Daze co-founder Julie Edwards' Deap Valley, to name just a few. These powerful musicians proved there will be no "where are the females in guitar music" pundit articles written any time soon.

As amazing as an experience Desert Daze is-too many cigarettes and excessive flatulence aside-it is sure to grow and do so quickly. The move to three days from two has already happened and it's even seeping into Thursday for some festival pre-game. Rush to experience the purity of this festival before the festivalgoers who do so as a trend statement find their way to the Institute of Mentalphysics-and then find they're not quite mental enough for the experience, and that all VIP means here is a few less people in the restroom and bar queues and therefore less options for making new friends, and not much else.

www.desertdaze.org

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Spirit
October 29th 2017
1:12pm

Some of the best music I have experienced in decades of festival attendance. Without doubt the worst “organization”, staff and “security” I have encountered in the same period. And truly the WORST CONDITIONS anybody ever got me to endure for three days topped off by dust at a level that no human should ever encounter.