Desertfest 2024 review: sludge, thrash and hair-raising volume at London’s stoner rock gathering

Masters Of Reality, Suicidal Tendencies and Godflesh lead a surprisingly eclectic lineup for the annual desert rock weekender

Suicidal Tendencies live in 2023
(Image: © Mat Hayward/Getty Images)

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The streets are strewn with Sleep shirts, all of Camden’s venues are fully booked and the Northern Line stinks of weed. It can only be Desertfest: London’s annual celebration of all things stoner, psychedelic and sludgy!

For 2024, the weekender has ventured beyond its own hazy horizons. The bill this year is topped by genre-straddlers Masters Of Reality, thrash hellraisers Suicidal Tendencies and industrial metal pioneers Godflesh, setting the stage for three days of surprises. Enticed, Louder’s team descended onto the capital and were there to catch as much of the action as possible, from the garden-variety doom acts to punks, post-rockers and whatever the fuck Ozric Tentacles are.

Here’s our report on what went down:


Despite the comparative eclecticism of this year’s lineup, GRAND ATOMIC start Desertfest 2024 with the usual fare: stoner/doom from the wilds of Norway. And it’s… fine. The trio’s set inside The Underworld honours the woozy stylings of Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard, dealing out some enjoyable fuzz but little more. In The Black Heart, BOREHEAD distil doom to its base elements, cultivating a hypnotically intense atmosphere with just a guitar, a bass and a drum kit.

Friday’s line-up in the Electric Ballroom is decidedly dedicated to the scene that gives the festival its name. Openers FRANKIE AND THE WITCH FINGERS are more in line with the garage rock/psych of modern stoner acts like All Them Witches, but the shades of psychedelia that bleed through as the set progresses put them at least in the same spiritual planes as such fellow Cali forebears as Kyuss. Later tunes like Dragula Drug and Cops And Robbers add a Cramps-like psychobilly swing that shows there's so much more to stoner than just a Black Sabbath template. 

Nick Oliveri brings the hardcore punk chaos of MONDO GENERATOR screaming to life. Oliveri delights in shrieking his way through a set covering Generator originals alongside some choice Kyuss cuts. Supa Scoopa And The Mighty Scoop, Allen's Wrench and Green Machine are souped up like they’ve had a jet engine stuck in the back, Oliveri celebrating the end of the set by taking a running leap into the crowd. 

By comparison, BRANT BJORK can only suffer. Plying a more sedate, hippie-friendly vision of stoner with funky, fuzzy overtones, Bjork’s set feels overly lethargic, jams stretching out just a little too long after the short, sharp shocks that have come before. There’s still brilliance to behold, however. The choppy beats of Let The Truth Be Known and Automatic Fantastic offer head-bopping fun, while the expansive grooves of Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians and Low Desert Punk harken to the cosmic instrumentals that made early Kyuss such a formidable force.  

In Dingwalls, PIJN’s post-rock symphonies dazzle. The quintet layer cello and keyboard notes atop a bedrock of drums and guitar, resulting in beautiful blasts of texture. Their slow-rising compositions and Hans Zimmer-like performance arrest a venue that, at 5:15pm, is impressively rammed to the rafters. WAKE also break the Desertfest mould, delivering a set of grindcore onslaughts and progressive death metal suites. The show encapsulates the Canadians’ dynamic career, which has seen their songs gradually grow more spacious and melodic. SUGAR HORSE, on the other hand, are staunch post-metal noisemakers. Their cacophonous mix rattles Dingwalls’ foundations but – even with 20-minute giant Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico closing – the set offers nothing ardent fans haven’t already experienced.

America might have dominated the market for stoner in the 90s, but it was by no means the only game in town. By rights, COLOUR HAZE should have earned the same reverence as fellow stoner acts like Karma To Burn or Monster Magnet, but always felt a little too isolated to get the celebration they deserved. Such isolation is a bonus when it comes to distinctive sounds, though. Their set is one of meditative, psychedelia-hued instrumentals, veering much more towards a 60s-style kaleidoscopic vision via the cosmic sounds of krautrock than their desert-dwelling compatriots, while the occasional vocal breaks up an otherwise alien sonic plane.

“I fucked up my back so I’ve gotta sit down, but we’re still gonna rock like hell.” Sat in a green suit jacket and bowtie, MASTERS OF REALITY frontman Chris Goss looks like he’s cribbed style notes from B.B. King and there’s definitely an air of the King Of Blues as he bends notes and twangs guitars in a soulful, emotive set. Predating most of their desert rock contemporaries by a full decade, Masters… serve as something of a missing link for the world-weary psychedelia of Screaming Trees and the trippiness of early Queens Of The Stone Age, Goss’s sonic imprint on the latter clear on the likes of opener Blue Garden and Absinthe Jim And Me, each evoking the otherworldly weirdness of Auto Pilot/Songs For The Deaf era-QOTSA while a late-set cover of Desert Sessions’ Hanging Tree makes the ties much more explicit. 

In turn, there are spectres of the band’s own influences. Masters might have taken their name from Black Sabbath, but sonically the links aren’t so apparent until the lumbering, lead-weighted blues of Alder Smoke Blues, while Sugar – the band’s first new song in 15 years – feels as faithful a tribute to The Beatles’ psychedelic pop era as you could ever hope to find. In the midst, the band settle on to a tight, rhythmic flow, Third Man On The Moon bouncing along on a riff that rises and falls like a steady tide, while even the more discordant wails of Also Ran Song come with strutting beats and riffs. It all comes to a crescendo on psychobilly-like toe-tapper She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On), a simple, skittering beat and vocal hook providing a springboard for twanging southern guitar licks that provide a suitably showy, but never ostentatious finish to the set, the Masters wandering off into the night to roars of approval from a delighted Electric Ballroom. 


These days Desertfest is as much a celebration of the riff as it is a mecca for UK stoner, doom and psych fans, and over the years its bills have evolved to reflect a wider spectrum of guitar-slinging brilliance. So while PEST CONTROL couldn’t be further from the psychedelia-drenched blues of yesterday’s Electric Ballroom bands, they provide the perfect wake-up call and opener for Saturday-night Roundhouse headliners Suicidal Tendencies. Vocalist Leah Massey bounds around the stage with seemingly limitless energy, a physical reflection of her band’s bouncy brand of crossover that quickly shakes away the cobwebs. 

Meanwhile, SERGEANT THUNDERHOOF offer an adept stoner rock detour through rural Somerset. The collective employ all the familiar elements, yet invigorate them with some interactive flair, singer Dan Flitcroft easily getting The Underworld to join in with his whoa-along hooks. DOMKRAFT similarly present a fresh take on old ideas, taking the loudest parts of stoner, sludge and prog metal and throwing out the filler. Their set is a 45-minute riffstravaganza because of it, and their down-tuned guitars still lay down some identifiable melody. The Dev is jam-packed for US doom/melodeath outfit FIRES IN THE DISTANCE, who belie their grubby pub surrounding with compositions as majestic as Opeth and My Dying Bride’s.

Two songs into their set and it all seems to have gone wrong for ACID KING. The thunder of low-end from the bass is sufficient enough to rattle the seats of The Roundhouse, but vocalist Lori S. is lost amidst a muddy sound mix and looks confused as the rest of us as the lights come up and an announcement is made that due to technical issues the band will need to delay their set. Thankfully the 40-minute wait is worth it: sound gremlins now banished, their hypnotic brand of doom metal is especially transcendent. 

By this point, it’s fair to say you can put CANCER BATS on just about any stage and they’ll thrive. Sprinting, bouncing and crashing around the stage like the ground is electrified, the Canadians’ brand of metal-tinged hardcore is sufficient to elicit a near constant flurry of moshing and crowdsurfers throughout their set. Growing ever-more frenzied – an annihilating rendition of Sorceress an undeniable highlight of the festival – the band depart on possibly the weekend’s strongest closing run, leaving the Roundhouse in a sweaty, delighted delirium with Bricks And Mortar, Sabotage and Hail Destroyer offering a whirlwind of snarl-alongs and riffs so nasty they make you want to dropkick your nan. 

MASERATI threaten to steal the weekend in The Underworld, their danceable post-rock blasting from the speakers so loudly that it vibrates everybody’s hair. The capacity crowd responds in kind, with some of the most rapturous cheering of the entire festival – that is, when everyone’s not boogying the set away. 

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES aren’t just crossover legends; these days they’re something of an all-star supergroup. Like a thrash Avengers, the band feature the talents of former Dillinger Escape Plan guitarist Ben Weinman, wunderkind bassist Tye Trujillo and most recent addition Jay Weinberg, fresh from his departure from Slipknot. The infusion of young blood certainly adds to an almost impossibly energetic set, Suicidal’s junior band members clearly relishing their position as they catapult themselves across the stage, leaping off drum risers and generally playing as hard and as fast as they possibly can. 

Not one to be outdone by the new blood, Mike Muir is still an exuberant and irrepressible force, charging back and forth like he's trying to deliver each lyric to the crowd individually. Howling out the gates with You Can’t Bring Me Down, the set is a blitzkrieg of gang chants, funky riffs and dexterous bass-fills that capture the boundary-pushing brilliance that made the band legendary in the first place. Even without their breakout hit Institutionalized – presumably cut from the set as they run over an 11pm curfew – they’ve got so many massive tunes in the bank it’s impossible to deny the sheer scope and power the band possess, as vibrant and utterly thrilling as they’ve ever been. 


ASHENSPIRE are weird in all the wrong ways. Absurdly costumed and atrociously mixed, the avant-garde black metal band’s Electric Ballroom set is a mess of atonal sax sounds, the only entertainment value being schadenfreude. Mercifully, UFOMAMMUT force that hideousness from everybody’s ears with their psych-metal experiments. The French trio’s hulking rhythms and massive tunes beget an enormous audience, all of whom happily head-bang throughout the hour.

“You, sir! Are you ready to receive my riffs?!” SKYPILOT ask inside The Black Heart. Everybody is, and the Northern Irish three-piece deliver. Their tunes bridge sludge metal and more melodic rock yet are uniformly heavy, with the sheer volume refusing to let anybody here go unengaged. Back at the Electric Ballroom, OZRIC TENTACLES are today’s outliers, replacing lead-heavy songs with faster-paced prog/psych/space rock. The venue is somewhat sparsely attended as a result, but the Brits nicely make do. A drug-tinged video backdrop draws those in attendance into this five-piece’s parallel universe, where flurrying keyboards, sweeping guitars and whimsical flutes replace conventional song structure.

GODFLESH couldn’t care less about all that high-falutin’ shit. Since emerging in 1988, Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green have been one of metal’s heaviest bands, inspired by the industrial clamour of their native Birmingham. Their headline set is an unpretentious emotional purge, even through the early difficulties with the pair’s electronic percussion. Such bruisers as Post Self and Like Rats swiftly punch that awkwardness away, though, and when man and machine are in harmony, tonight’s a focussed, unwavering bruiser.

DVNE don’t just wrap up the festival in Dingwalls – they do their damnedest to upstage everybody before them. Pulling largely from April’s magnificent Voidkind album, the prog metal sextet crash cosmic guitar leads into hellishly dense rhythm work. It makes for an aptly triumphant end to a weekend that, despite foraying from Desertfest’s typical “all stoner all the time” manifesto, has consistently surprised and impressed.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.

With contributions from