The streets of Camden are flooded (even more than usual) with bearded, long-haired, beer-swilling maniacs – Desertfest 2016 is upon us. As a sizeable crowd floods into the Underworld, the taps are flowing, spirits are high, and UK underground sludge legends Gurt  have been bestowed with the honour of starting proceedings for the weekend. The band launch into forty-five minutes of energetic, punchy sludge, combining the nihilistic hardcore sensibilities of Eyehategod with Sleep’s drone-tinged doom. Throw into the mix David Blakemore’s thunderous, Geezer Butler-esque bass riffing and a colossal amount of energy, and its easy to see why Gurt have been chosen to kick things off. To finish the set, the band introduce members of fellow UK doomsters Trippy Wicked to the stage to perform a lethal cover of ‘Children of the Revolution’ from their new split EP. Once the band are in the throes of their set, its hard to believe its only two in the afternoon – things are just getting started.
Up next are The Grudge , providing the crowd with a short respite from the more brutal side of the day with a slab of meaty hard rock riffing. The Grudge fall somewhere in the mid-atlantic in terms of sound; there’s definitely a strong, Southern-fried flavour to their music, which wouldn’t go amiss around this evening’s headliners, Corrosion of Conformity. However, there’s also something definitely British about the band’s sound, which plunders the rich lineage of Orange Goblin, and Motorhead before them. Unfortunately, vocalist Keith Barker sometimes seem to prioritise emphasising his vicious, gravel pit of a throat, sometimes sacrifcing the melody of his vocal lines, but all in all, its hard to argue that The Grudge’s high octane riffing and pentatonic shred isn’t, at the very least, good fun.
Next up is Black Pussy , who, ironically, for a band with such a hilariously offensive name, deliver the subtlest and most nuanced performance of the day. The band take their aesthetic and musical queues most strongly from the space rock of the 1970s, complete with organ parts, delay drenched guitar riffs and dual vocals from guitarist and frontman Dustin Hill, and keyboardist Keith O’Dell. This set is a joy to watch – stoner rock might be fundamentally simple music, but its still easy to tell when you’re watching a group of fantastic musicians, and this band certainly has a great, tasteful sense of melody in their writing. Black Pussy aren’t a total throwback – there’s also an element of their sound that’s reminiscent of weird, early Queens of the Stone age. However, having said this, the abundance of drainpipes and denim on stage make it clear that Black Pussy’s intention is to be a kind of 70s time capsule, and today they do a damn good job.
After a few hours in the Underworld, and a quick breather in the streets of Camden, where the bearded masses are only growing in number, its time to head to the Electric Ballroom to catch New Orleans sludge legends Crowbar . Windstein and co stroll onto the stage with the ease a band who know they’re being worshipped by the crowd, crack open their beers, and the next hour is an oppressively heavy, brutal celebration of sludge. Its everything you’d hope for in a Crowbar set – dark, thick, oppressive riffs alternate with vicious, mosh-friendly hardcore, whilst Kirk Windstein and Matthew Brunson stand like colossal statues at the side of the stage, ripping out power chords.
Crowbar are undisputed masters of the riff, and a tough act to follow, but up if anyone can do it, its tonight’s headliners, fellow southern Sludgesters Corrosion of Conformity . The band are playing their first UK show since reuniting with Pepper Keenan, Windstein’s ex-bandmate in Down, and excitement in the crowd is palpable. What comes next is an hour-long celebration of COC’s Deliverance and Wiseblood-era material. The band are on fantastic form, bursting full of energy, and looking every inch the underground rock’n’roll legends that they are as they tear through a set of classics that gets the whole of the Electric Ballroom singing along. From moshpit to balcony, pints are raised (and drained) to Albatross, Seven Days and Broken Man, and its easier than ever to feel the tight-knit community that this kind of music (and this festival) brings together.
Stay tuned for full coverage of the Saturday and Sunday from Desertfest 2016 as well as some exclusive interviews from behind the scenes at Desertfest!