The sixth annual Desert Daze was spellbinding, beautiful, and absolutely mother fucking Rock and Roll.
It delivered in every aspect: from esoteric workshops, shamanic ceremonies and gypsy vendors, to mind-boggling art installations, and a legendary lineup filled with some of the greatest talent in the known universe.
The desert has a way of putting things in perspective. It’s expansive yet looming, inspiring yet treacherous, and somehow, it maintains a raw and magnetic power, floating in an ethereal limbo. However, one thing it characteristically wasn’t this weekend, was quiet.
The first act I saw was La Femme’s nightclub pirate ship. It sailed on the seas of some tidal drone that shifted sails from psychedelia to danceable synth pop.
Ty Segall set fire to the first night, in many aspects he represents the cream of Southern California rock’s crop. No longer tied down by his garage rock roots, he showcased his evolving repertoire that stretched from glam psychedelia, to punk jazz, and even experimented with Crazy Horse-esque jam outs.
To bring the night to a close you had the choice of The Budos Band’s afro, soul, funk or the jangling folk of Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile. Pick one or do both, the stages were so close you could easily astral-project from one to the other. It was like being at your favorite bar with the best jukebox in town. All you had to do was turn on, tune in, and find your way to a stage through a myriad of confession booths, sacred geometry jungle gyms, and mirrored fun houses. But that’s neither here nor there.
The next day, JJUUJJUU opened up Pandora’s box and Sleep used their powers of Viking divination to take us to the dining hall of Valhalla, where those worthy feasted on plates of seared dragon brain. I’d like to take this time to apologize to the girl with the green hair, I really didn’t mean to kick that beach ball into the back of your head. It was an accident or maybe it was all meant to be, only Oliver Hibert’s eye sculpture knows.
After Sleep, things got a little hairy as Terry Riley, King Gizzard, John Cale, and the legendary Iggy Pop took to the stage in rapid succession. Each performer, more intense than the last, became a test of cerebral fortitude, and was certainly a plethora of some of the best musicians alive today.
Reminiscing now, it felt like every band played as if it were their last. They graced the stage with alluring presences, sheer caustic energy, and delivered tantalizing, effervescent performances. I believe it meant something special for them to play this festival. Mirrored by the high spirits of the audience, a feral wildness began to germinate, enshrouded by a pensive beauty, and a self-perpetuating enthusiasm. Perhaps, that’s why Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal kept yelling, “Can I get an amen?” Or perhaps that’s the reason Spiritualized was the perfect band to bring the whole desert experience to an end.
Desert Daze, like many other festivals, is not only an art and musical showcase. It’s a dimension in which people come for love and cuddle puddles, for sanctuary and to face demons. It’s where we participate in sexual deviance and make accidental babies. It’s where we find soul mates or break up with them, where we reach to touch the hands of our idols, create friendships and lose old ones. It’s an epicenter of the existential crisis, and at times, a place marker for the epiphany that will last the rest of our lives.
At the south entrance to the Institute of Mental Physics, you may have seen a marquee that read “Why are we here?” which in all truth is a fucked up question to pose to an audience in the middle of the desert, hyped up on intoxicants, psychedelics, and overloaded with auditory and visual stimuli. It’s a question I replied to in the presence of friend’s, music and art, with a smile and a fragile whisper, “when, who, what, and where are already here… there’s truly no need for a why?”
Photos by: Lily Cai & Jason Augustine
Review by: Rory Morison