Written and photos by Adam Alloy
Desert Daze is the festival I’ve always dreamed of. Three days of the world’s most glorious genre, psychedelic rock, played endlessly on three stages. The festival grounds are something out of a martian landscape: red rock hills beside a lake, a sandy shore to lounge on, the full moon rising orange above mountain tops, interactive art sprinkled liberally. Two side by side stages trumpeted non stop musical majesty, there was never a moment free of sonic satisfaction. Away from the main event was a masterfully curated tent for the up and coming super stars of the future. Walking could get exhausting, good thing there was a geodesic dome sanctuary when you needed a break from reality. Under the white canvas glorious soundscapes ran rampant through your mind, allowing everyone to tune in, turn on, and drop out.
The lineup was in the sky with diamonds. From major acts like The Flaming Lips and Flying Lotus to rising stars like Crumb and Post Animal, festival founder Phil Perrone successfully curated one of the best lineups in modern musical history. Desert Daze fills a very real niche. Psychedelic rock is one of the most innovative, experimental, high powered, and fun genres of music and is played in countries around the globe. However, normally a festival booking hundreds of acts will only bill one or two psych rock bands. Phil’s experiment in curating a 3 day musical festival dedicated to psychedelic music, without the frills of a “transformative” festival, has been a wild success. People flew in from Nashville, Austin, Seattle, and Portland to attend. Desert Daze is living proof that if you birth something from passion it will resonate on frequencies you’d never expect.
Phil Parrone, who is also the frontman of JJUUJJUU had a chat with me about the history of the festival.
“Live music is the center of my universe. In 2008 I put on my first outdoor event. Something clicked, it felt like my natural habitat. I like the workload. It resonated with me. I kept doing it. Then around 2011 we were living in Pamona in the glass house, in a live/work loft… and when you live down there you have to contribute to the monthly art walk. Our way of contributing was to throw a block party with a couple of bands playing. And that blossomed into, I think this is my life’s purpose. A road house in desert hot springs asking us to throw a party, which we did. Then they asked us to throw another party during the double weekend of Coachella. I suggested we do 11 days in a row, the first Thursday to the second Sunday, and we just stay out there in Desert Hot Springs. We had to manage a 40 room hotel on top of booking 122 bands over 11 days… and it was free. That was the first Desert Daze. There was only six of us on the crew then and all six of those people are on the crew now. It was almost like going to war together. We are bonded together, these people. It’s almost like Desert Daze, the very last thing it is is a business venture. It’s a natural extension of my own creative lifestyle but it’s also this club with my friends. It’s like having a bookclub or a monthly dinner. We throw a festival together. It keeps us together. The festival acts as a magnet for other people to come and join that. Get acclimated into that. There’s some people who haven’t been on the staff that long that already feel that kind of family dynamic… in a very non cult way.”
Top Seven Sets
They aren’t just four weird guys your parents listened to. DEVO, short for devolution, was the original meme. They are the concept, conveyed musically, that society is regressing backwards. Devo is a parody of the music industry and consumerism, marketing such gear as their iconic red DEVO hats. More importantly, their music is too catchy and clever. They pioneered many of the 80s synth techniques used in the current wave of 80s revival music, and they were doing things ironically 30 years before the internet made it cool. To be honest, I was expecting them to suck and be dad rock. But they lassoed me and brought me into their fandom. Their set started with one of the most what the fuck videos I’ve ever seen in my life, a comedic mockumentary about devolution and the media monster. Made in 2010, it predicts many of the comedic trends of the last ten years, and I oscillated between finding it hilarious and wanting it turned off. After their much needed introduction, they came out to play the best set of the festival. Which is saying a lot because…
Animal Collective played one of the top five sets I’ve seen in my entire life. They will go down in history as the 21st century’s finest collection of musical geniuses. Never in my life have I heard sounds like this. They fill you with joy and delight, terror and uncertainty. There’s an abstraction to them that give the songs a visceral punch. And when they play it is almost like they are injecting pleasure directly into your cerebellum. They jammed out a song that sounded like the dreams of Salvador Dali, and then Avey Tare sang “BONER! BOOOOOOONER! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOONER!” layering organic vocals with autotuned loops. This middle school, prepubescent joke of a song was so strikingly beautiful that it has been running through my head nonstop. I don’t think it will ever be unstuck. No this magical boner song is just part of who I am as a person from now on. Living up to every accolate and word of acclaim aimed in their direction, the indie rock and psychedelic worlds are lucky to have been graced with Animal Collective. They’ve only played 6 shows this year and they treated us to “Reverend Green,” which they haven’t played in 15 years.
The Flaming Lips
Wayne Coyne is one of rock’s most dynamic front men, with a shock of fuzzy hair streaked with gray and outfits pulled directly from Evel Kinevil’s reject pile. He can work a crowd like no one else in music, adapting to the energy and familiarity of his audience to whip them into a frenzy. It is hard to believe that he spent nearly a decade of his life working as a fry cook at Long John Silvers, and just goes to show that dreams can be made into reality. The Flaming Lips’s stage show features incredible larger than life lights, an inflatable pink robot, and Wayne’s signature “roll on top of the crowd” ball. He will stop a song in the middle if he can tell the audience doesn’t know the chorus, and give them some other way to interact – like a karate chop and a few notes to sing – then he’ll start it up and we appreciate him for doing it. Not many people could pull that off. Wayne explained that Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots isn’t actually about a Japanese woman karate fighting an invading force of evil robots, but is about supporting your friends as they explain to you impossible dreams – like going from fry cook to rock royalty. He’s also very down to earth, pausing to pay his respects to audience member’s dead friends and remind everyone what it truly important in life. If you have never seen the Flaming Lips buy a ticket to their next show.
Post Animal often gets overshadowed by their former guitar player Joe Kerry’s Stranger Things success. This is a damn shame because they are truly one of the best up and coming bands in the world. I have had the pleasure of seeing them on multiple occasions and their sounds just keeps getting more nuanced. Four years ago their shows were one long mosh pit, this time most of their set was soft and powerful. Their instrumentation is intricate and complex and, although influenced by powerhouses like King Gizzard, it is truly a unique sound.
Wow, George Clanton just seems like the nicest guy. His synth heavy vaporwave music was a sharp welcome departure from the heavy psychedelia of the weekend. Arguably the danciest set of the weekend, George’s music feels familiar yet new, simple yet exciting, contagiously happy yet steeped in anxiety and dread. The crowd was wild, not only did George perform a good chunk of the set elevated by the hands of his fans but a girl in a panda suit surfed for nearly five minutes. His quips between songs were humble and gracious. This is a man who truly appreciates every one of his fans. To be honest, I was feeling a bit bummed out before he came on, and by the time he walked off stage it was like everything was right in the world. Give this lil genius a listen.
Manhattan’s Crumb is taking the youth of the nation by storm. Their laid back, deeply intimate, thick amniotic music speaks to a spot we all have tucked away in the back of our minds. Despite the fact that Crumb’s jazzy psychedelia is best enjoyed solo, in an introspective state of mind, live they absolutely cast a spell over audiences. I’m convinced frontwoman Lila Ramani is a sorceress with how she absolutely enchants the entire crowd and brings them through a unified experience. This was their first major US festival, I look forward to seeing them at Outside Lands and Bonnaroo someday.
Norwagian musicians used to burn down churches, now they drop panties. There is only one word for Jakob Ogawa: dreamy. His music is listful, airy, gentle, and unbelievably catchy. It is the sonic equivalent of the butterflies you get in your stomach when you fall in love. This man is proof that music only hits with more power when it’s quiet. No less than 35 people in the crowd proposed to their girlfriends during his set, each proposal was greeted with an enthusiastic yes. All jokes aside, if you’re looking for something wholesome yet psychedelic, Jakoc Ogawa is your tangerine dream.
I’d also like to shout out the Paranoyds, JJUUJJUU, and Khruangbin as truly exceptional. The Paranoyds are a fast, schizophrenic, and fun psychedelic rock band with heavy punk sensibilities. This female driven band kicks ass and should be on your radar. JJUUJJUU is festival founder Phil Perrone’s band and living proof that the festival arose from his natural passion expressed organizationally. They had a more classic psychedelic rock sound and a very mad scientist vibe to their live show. Khruangbin is the sexiest thing to come out of Houston since Beyonce. They played almost an entirely instrumental set in outfits straight out of Libriace’s closet. The best part of their set was the dancing. Guitarist Mark Speer and bassist Laura Lee were in an endless dance battle, building on each others moves and radiating sexual energy.
My hope is the success of Desert Daze inspires more festivals of its nature, catering to fans of the amazing psychedelic music our generation is making instead of just clone after clone EDM festival. The more we build the infrastructure for community the more it can grow. Until then, Desert Daze will remain a bright beacon of hope to musicians around the globe. See you next year.