October 9-12, 2015
Antwerp, Belgium

Under the dark, wet skies of Antwerp came the second annual Desertfest hosted in Belgium. Granted there was rain but inside the Muziekcentrum Trix it was as hot as Palm Desert, the birthplace of modern stoner/desert rock. Since the early days of Kyuss, Dwarves and Sleep the genre has exploded – especially in Europe. Numerous festivals have cropped up recently including Stoned from the Underground, Up in Smoke, Freak Valley and now Desertfest in three locations (London, Berlin, Belgium). They all celebrate the new rise of doom, psych, stoner, desert and all things heavy rock. The 2015 Belgium Desertfest hosted a range of exceptional bands including headliners Dozer (SWE), Earth (USA) and Goatsnake (USA). Other highlights included The Machine (NL), Stoned Jesus (UA), Greenleaf (SWE), Deville (SWE), Child (AU), Siena Root (SWE) and Ufomammut (IT). In all, it was an incredible weekend of gritty, dusty and smokin’ rock ‘n’ roll!.

We selected several of the festival bands as our pick for “Record of the Month” over the past year including Siena Root and Child. What we were most excited about were many of the new promising bands. Our list included Planet of Zeus (GER), The Heavy Crown (BE), Wucan (DE), Deville (SWE), Banda De La Muerte (AR), Black-Bone (NL), Glowsun (FR) and Fever Dog (US). The success of the festival was the detail organization, the wide range of quality bands and the support of the audience. Very few festivals offer this level of diversity and excellence. Where else can you see 42 bands from literally all over the planet? FRIDAY: From the minute we first entered the gate we were welcomed into an elite experience. After sorting out the press access from the festival organizers we were treated to the wonders of Greek band Planet of Zeus who rolled up their sleeves and got right to working opening the festival with a tidal wave of powerhouse blues-based rock. Their excellent performance included “The Great Dandolos”, “A Girl Named Greed” and “No Tomorrow” from their current opus Vigilante.

The venue Muziekcentrum is divided into three venue areas; the large main theater Desert stage (standing capacity 1,100) and a small club-like space Vulture stage (capacity 200) on the street level. On the second floor is a large dance hall Canyon stage (capacity 800). The show times rotated approximately every 20 minutes with ample opportunity to see two bands playing at any given time. The shelter of an inside venue made it easy to move from show to show with an outside beer garden set up with hot food and plenty of Belgian ale. A common area hosted band merchandise, posters and record vendors. Having traveled from the USA, it was perfect for finding expensive imports at a reasonable price. Mid-afternoon found us in front of the Desert stage watching Swede-band Monolord tear through extended versions of “Cursing the One” and “Died a Million Times” from new release Vænir. Local favorites The Heavy Crown won many fans showcasing their roaring debut while Netherlands-based The Machine featured choice cuts from their latest effort Offblast.

“Touring from the Ukraine is very difficult, but Europe has been very good to us. We love the energy from this audience, we need to have it and it makes for a really good show. Belgium is crazy for this kind of music and they like our new album The Harvest, which is very aggressive, almost punk rock.” ~ Stoned Jesus

German band Wucan was a favorite before we even arrived. Led by female siren Francis Tobolsky (flute, guitar. vocals) the four-piece captured elements of Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath all with one song. YouTube hit “Franis Vikarma” was a real crowd pleaser as the band hosted songs from their sophomore outing Sow the Wind. Stoned Jesus, the Ukrainian wild men from up north, paid homage to their debut long player First Communion while leaving room for newbie’s off The Harvest. “I’m The Mountain” still gets the biggest response. Dozer as a headline act was everything the festival represents. The hook-filled heavy rock of the Swedes is insanely resilient with guitarist Tommi Holappa stealing the show. The majority of the set came from Call It Conspiracy and Beyond Colossal keeping the processed warm and fuzzy. Bay area feedback kings Carlton Melton played the aftershow with a steady stream of meditative psych and improvisational drone.

SATURDAY: With an open morning we checked out the local record stores in old Antwerp. Several vinyl havens dotted the map but we found Fat Kat, Record Collector and Tune Up to be the best bang for our buck. Back at the festival, Polish band Belzebong were basking under the green spotlights generating an inspired sludge of heavy smoke. The quartet delivered three songs in just under an hour including “Bong Thrower”, “Name of the Devil” and new tune “Diabolical Dopenosis”. Heavy rockers Deville, hot on the trail of their fourth release Make It Belong to Us were determined to light their own fire. The Malmö-natives have a wider sound than many of the bands playing the festival and converted the crowd with fresh songs “Out Of the Black”, “Drive” and “What Remains”. Before the afternoon ended Argentinean four-piece Banda De La Muerte brought their brand of South American riff-rock to the Canyon stage. All were stunned at their all-out assault and powerful delivery.

“Our new record, Make It Belong to Us, is a good ride and we were excited to bring it live to this festival. The crowd seemed to really dig it, which always gets us excited. This festival is a close-knit community and everyone from the fans to the bands know what to expect and get behind the music.” ~ Deville

Greenleaf was our most anticipated band of the day… and they did not disappoint. Led by new singer Arvid Jonsson and fueled by Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa, the band stormed through highlights over the past ten years. Rarely does the band tour, so the vibe was up several notches with standouts “The Drum”, “Ocean Deep” and “The Golden Throne” celebrated. No one would have minded if they’d played all night. Bathsheba spawned from the seed of Death Penalty, created quite a buzz with their set of devil tunes. However, rolling in with all the thunder of a stampede of elephants, Orange Goblin took no prisoners. Still promoting their 2014 release Back from the Abyss, kept the set loaded with “The Devil’s Whip”, “Heavy Lies the Crown” and the stellar “Sabbath Hex”. Their brand of biker rock never gets old. Drone giants Earth closed the night playing almost the entirety of current platter Primitive and Deadly. Intoxicating, loud and ethereal kept the masses swaying.

SUNDAY: The day was fully loaded with killer acts keeping us on our toes as we raced from stage to stage. Festival management couldn’t have been better helping to sort out interviews and providing an atmosphere that actually cares for the press. The energy levels tend to rise the last day of a festival. It could be felt from the opening chords of Eindhoven-trio Black-Bone as they did their best to whip the crowd into a frenzy. In a sweaty set of macho muscle rock they bludgeoned the hung-over crowd with highlights from current release Blessing in Disguise. French band Glowsun were a revelation capturing the imagination of the Desert stage with a mesmerizing graphic display that complemented their stoner psych overload. Stealing their name from the film Almost Famous, US band Fever Dog took a musical journey through ‘70s goodness complete with big guitar and groovy rhythms. Valient Thorr, America’s answer to Orange Goblin brought hillbilly Southern rock to the forefront just as the sun was setting in the Antwerp sky. They maybe an acquired taste, but are certainly worth a listen.

“This festival sounded like a stadium. The audience was totally loud and really into the gig. It was an amazing show. This is our first Desertfest in Belgium. We played twice in Berlin and once in London but this was very, very good.” ~ Ufomammut

A major draw to the festival was the appearance of Italian band, Ufomammut. For a three-piece they make a huge noise playing some of the best psychedelic sludge metal out there. Dressed in black, the band powered through the entire Ecate LP with encores “Hellcore”, “Hozomeen/Mammut” and “God”. On the heavy scale, they dominated the night. Upstairs at the Canyon stage Swede retro-rockers Siena Root introduced new singer Samuel Björö to a packed house. The quintet was in incredible form, even setting fire (literally) to their vintage organ. A real treat was the introduction of new song “84” (title on the setlist) that dripped with classic-era Deep Purple and had fans salivating for the band’s next vinyl platter. Australia’s answer to Taste was power-trio Child and guitarist/singer Mathias Northway may just be the next Rory Gallagher. The band’s brief set was a scorcher, baited with new tunes and leaving us begging for more. Fatso Jetson and Goatsnake were hearty and heavy while aftershow band Wheel of Smoke put the festival in the history books.

Full line up included; 3rd Ear Experience, Banda De La Muerte, Bathsheba, Black-Bone, Belzebong, Bongzilla, Carlton Melton, Causa Sui, Child, Crystal Head, Deville, Dozer, Earth, Fatso Jetson, Fever Dog, Glowsun, Goatsnake, Greenleaf, Harsh Toke, The Heavy Crown, The Machine, Maudlin, Monolord, Monomyth, Moon Duo, Orange Goblin, Papir, Pendejo, Planet of Zeus, Progerians, Psychonaut, Siena Root, Stoned Jesus, Sunder, Tangled Horns, Ufomammut, USA Out of Vietnam, Valient Thorr, Vandal X, Wheel Of Smoke, Wucan.

Website: Desertfest (Belgium)

Special thanks to all the cool folks that put on Desertfest Antwerp 2015, Peter Peeters for all photos and Claire Bernadet at Purple Sage PR