Photography by Jaime Fernández (@jaimefphoto).
Let’s face it: a festival taking place on a 420-acre sacred site called the Institute of Mentalphysics slap-bang in the middle of the Joshua Tree desert was never going to be a conservative affair. For its sixth annual outing, Desert Daze confirmed its ever-growing reputation as a cosmic playground par excellence – all sprawling cacti, installations, and dust – boasting one of the strongest bills of psych, garage, and lysergic-dappled pop you’re ever likely to lay your eyes upon.
While few music festivals can legitimately brand their angle as an “experience” without some supplementary stigma or ulterior motive bringing down the good intentions, Desert Daze thoroughly warranted it. Remember the last time you felt that short-lived yet potent sense of communal unity that often bleeds into view at the final day of a festival? Desert Daze offered up that rare and wonderful vibration from the outset. Sure, you’ll find VIP and “Super Duper” VIP sections situated throughout the site, but they’re far from your usual Coachella-esque ego shrines. The self-seekers seem to have stayed at home.
With downright legendary pioneers (not least in the form of John Cale and Iggy Pop) and those barely starting out intermingling on various stages over three days, this year’s carefully curated bill traversed every conceivable brand of jangle, haze, and straight-up garage rock. Throw in a wealth of ceremonial events, film screenings, talks, and various standalone happenings and you have proof that the utopian – and far from overwhelmingly busy – niche music festival is very achievable when guided by the right minds. Ultimately, more than any modern festival situated on this rotating globe, Desert Daze comfortably sidesteps the “I” in favor of the “We.” Even if you failed to find yourself in a tent in the Joshua Tree night watching a band tear it up with some brand-new friends, we’re here to offer the next best thing.
Here are the top sets that soundtracked the weekend-long realization that Desert Daze organizers are onto something uniquely special.
10. L.A. WITCH
Having been on the road and refining their craft over the last four years, Southern Californian garage-rock trio L.A. Witch released their stellar self-titled debut album last month. Dusting down the inevitable final-day cobwebs at the Block Stage at sundown on Sunday – a coveted slot for a band of any stature and no mistake – their set was a sleek, super-tight mid-point between ’60s girl-group swagger, subtle psych, and straight-up garage punk. Sealing the deal and then some, cutting out the stage-patter and aiming straight for the sonic jugular, their performance was perfectly framed by the falling Cali sun.
09. THE GORIES
Once hailed by Jack White as “the best garage band in America since the ’60s” (a bold but not totally fallacious statement right there), securing Detroit’s finest The Gories for Saturday was a big coup for this year’s festival. If you were somehow able to peel away the surface of Desert Daze, these guys would likely be there hanging out with the Grateful Dead. Despite a busted harmonica and a broken string detuning a guitar mid-song on this occasion, the band’s masterfully minimalist, bass-guitar-free brand of throwback garage bombast was a real joy to behold on the Block Stage, not least during “I Can’t Take It” and a resounding cover of the ever-menacing “Ghost Rider” by Suicide. They don’t make ‘em like The Gories any more.
08. DEAP VALLY
While there was no absence of heft littered throughout this year’s bill (but more on that side of things later…), L.A. power duo Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards AKA Deap Vally proved an emphatic proposition at the Wright Tent following John Maus on Friday evening. Raw and frenetic, the performance was a decidedly more fist-clenched alternative to the drifty psych-pop of Panda Bear coursing through the air from beyond. With Troy’s slinking guitar riffs and towering vocal acrobatics hitting home throughout, highlights including “Julian” and “Bad for My Body” offered up a heady dose of pure and primordial grit in the land of dirt and dust.
07. THURSTON MOORE BAND
Having been initiated by Frankie & The Witch Fingers and Mr. Elevator, Thurston Moore and co. fully kick-started Saturday’s first-rate Moon Stage lineup with a set masterfully divided between solo material and a string of exquisite noise barrages. With a sea of heads bobbing along to Moore’s twinkling guitar patterns throughout – and My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe positively ruling on bass from start to finish – “Cease Fire” and the wistful sway of “Speak to the Wild” made for highlights in an hour-long set speckled with some great moments. Taking leave with a simple “Peace and love”, Moore summoned real magic in the intense Saturday afternoon sun.
06. HOLY WAVE
Not unlike shoegaze revivalists Froth, who follow them on the Wright Tent on Friday afternoon, El Paso five-piece Holy Wave are a band whose close attention to the tones and textures of their craft has held them in the best of stead on the live front. Hitting the sweet spot between surf, somnambulant psych, and droning riffs, their set burst into blissed-out Technicolor on peaks including recent single “How Was I Supposed to Know”. Very suitably accompanied with some trippy visuals, the band veered between jangle-pop drift, Pink Floyd-esque panoramic refrains, and pit-inducing breakdowns with real authority and skill. Holy Wave collectively embody the DNA of Desert Daze.
05. KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD
Usually stemming from that rare perfect median between sound, visuals, vibe, and good timing, sometimes a main-stage festival performance just clicks extremely hard. Enviably sandwiched between heavyweights in Sleep and Iggy Pop (something they don’t fail to mention in total gratitude), Melbourne psych-rock overlords King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s sprawling, typically ambitious set all but tore at the seams with breakneck Motorik beats, wailing guitar solos, and an incessant rout of psychedelic visuals on highlights including “Sleep Drifter” and psych overture “Rattlesnake”. Two drummers + three guitarists = one serious, party-starting odyssey.
04. TY SEGALL
Introduced as a “fuzz fantasist” in a wonderfully rambling festival “opening ceremony” by the one and only Ian Svenonius of The Make-Up (“Nobody is insignificant – isn’t that right? Just as a desert is made of sand – one piece of sand isn’t more significant than any other…”), Ty Segall delivered a set that was just short of breathtaking on Friday night. From new tracks “Alta” and “Fanny” (a track, we’re told, written about Segall’s dog) to Crazy Horse-esque jamming, the crowdsurfing cosplay panda during “Finger”, and a goosebumps-prompting closing cover of “Gut Feeling” by Devo, it was a real trip doubly confirming something we already fully know: Ty Segall and his fellow blue jumpsuit-adorned band mean it hard.
The definition of quintessential final-day main-stage headliners, it can be assumed quite a few heads hit up this year’s Desert Daze with the sole objective of catching Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized. Delivering on the promise of bringing something special, their set veered between hushed majesty and thunderous crescendos on songs from 1997’s seminal Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, including “Come Together” and “Stay with Me”. Submitting to Pierce’s well-noted confessional lyricism in the desert night surrounded by a sea of beaming faces made for an at times profound trip. Special shout-out to the bunch of Irish people who initiated a big communal hug in the crowd towards the end of the set. If ever there was a soundtrack for such an occasion, Pierce and co. effortlessly provided it.
02. IGGY POP
Iggy Pop was never, ever not going to be right at the top of this list. With none other than Henry Rollins very clearly losing his shit at the sound desk throughout, thereby singlehandedly conveying the sense of occasion felt by everyone with the slightest sensory perception in attendance, his set was an instant exhibition in giving the people what they want (something that John Cale clearly had no interest in doing over at the Block Stage). Starting with “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, blistering renditions of Stooges’ classics “Loose” and “1969” stood out in a career-spanning masterclass that didn’t let up for a single nanosecond. If the Frank Lloyd Wright-built Institute of Mentalphysics is the Church of Desert Daze, Mr. Osterberg Jr. went above and beyond to sanctify in his role as its supreme High Priest.
Speaking of high priests, it would be an underestimation to say San Jose stoner rock titans Sleep obliterated everything in their wake on the Moon Stage on Saturday night. Performing their iconic 1992 album, Holy Mountain, in its entirety alongside the likes of Sabbath-worshipping single “The Clarity”, Matt Pike, Al Cisneros, and the powerhouse that is Jason Roeder channeled the breathtaking desert backdrop surrounding them and masterfully pulverized for 75 glorious minutes. Despite being in the small minority of the festival’s acts with an all-consuming knack for tympanic-membrane-shattering decibels (I’m also looking at you, Boris), the psychedelic strain in their sound really shone through, ensuring that what could have simply been a solid performance resulted in a uniquely tripped-out, festival-defining experience.
Click ahead for an exclusive photo gallery from Desert Daze 2017.