You find yourself deep into a desert moshpit on a Saturday night in California, experiencing the immortal Iggy Pop, only to glance to your right and find Ty Segall in his leather-clad glory with arms raised praising The Godfather with you. Are the rumors about Desert Daze true? That it’s really not a music festival, but some sort of sandy wormhole delivering you glimpses of an alternate life where there is no separation, your neighbor is your kin, and all are gathered in rock and roll ceremony to worship?
It certainly seemed that way by day two, and encountering that exact scenario I questioned reality as a close friend received a lift from Mr. Segall himself to surf the primordial human sea during The Passenger’. The scene of the liturgy, The Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, offered a haven for attendees from all over the world to get properly Dazed and, well…blazed.
Desert Daze, now in its 6th year, started with humble beginnings in 2012 as an 11-day rager (yes, you read that right, ELEVEN) in a roadhouse in Palm Springs. Founded by JJUUJJUU guitarist Phil Pirrone, the event has flourished, and 2017 proved to pull in the big-timers with sets by John Cale, Spiritualized, composer Terry Riley, and the new Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile collaboration.
La Femme transported Friday afternoon attendees to a French nouveau-cirque dance party on the main stage, opening their set with a fanfare of horns and swirling red balloon visuals before igniting the crowd with ‘Antitaxi’ off 2013’s Psycho Tropical Berlin. Toronto-born jazz experimentalists BADBADNOTGOOD have matured into masters of their craft, and their affection for hip-hop was apparent as their set on the Block Stage progressed from lounge groove takes off last year’s IV to full-blown, bass thumping club bangers with freeform sax solos effortlessly infused. LA duo Deap Vally, who are fresh off their recent tour opening for Garbage and Blondie, set the tent ablaze as singer Lindsey Troy howled into the star-speckled night. Ariel Pink closed day one with a set consisting of much of his latest release, Dedicated To Bobby Jameson, and a mop-topped Kurt Vile could be seen manning the tambourine as he crept onstage for ‘Another Weekend’. Sleep’s Holy Mountain performance bathed the Saturday afternoon crowd in bellowing sludge from the landmark stoner rock masterpiece.
Ty Segall had quite a busy weekend, performing on the main stage on day one with The Freedom Band (even delivering a cut from last year’s Muggers album), partaking in the archetypal Iggy pit on day two, then popping up again day three in the Wright Tent to blister a sun-parched yet rambunctious crowd with GØGGS, drawing in a sizable audience even with Spiritualized headlining the main stage next door. The band, featuring Fuzz’s Charles Moothart and Ex-Cult’s Chris Shaw, seethes with unaltered animosity drawing more from L.A.’s bleak gutter punk underbelly than Segall’s previous fuzz and garage laden work. Shaw snarls like an underfed Doberman, lumbering around on the mic stand as the crowd did their duty kicking up what seemed an endless supply of dust.
Candy-colored light shows evolved on each stage, and two giant mirrored pillars loomed near the far end of art park. In the Sanctuary Hall, Cristopher Cichocki's varying installations provided a much-needed retreat space where attendees could take off their shoes and lay in a wash of grounding drone signals.
Expanding this year for their second edition at the Institute, the increase in crowd size seemed to correlate to the increase in the mushroom clouds of dust, growing exponentially as each day passed. Unfortunately, this made a few of the tent performances virtually unbearable to attend, and during John Maus I had to abandon ship and retreat to fresh air.
It seems that Desert Daze has opened a gateway, marrying activities in the Mystic Bazaar like Shamanic Plant Walks and Crystal Bowl Baths with the typical Dionysian hedonism that accompanies festival culture. The move to host such an event on what would widely be considered sacred lands provided opportunities for plenty of mystical social entanglements, with an audience of strangers leaving the Daze with a stronger sense of connection to the ancient landscape of the desert and to each other. This is the new human rite of passage, creating a micro paradise in a world of uncertainty.
All photos Sinéad Mac Conmara