In the past seven years, Desert Daze has grown to become California’s seminal celebration of all things psychedelic. An experiential festival, unlike any other, Desert Daze, is chalk full of mind-bending activities ranging from modular soundbaths and shamanic reiki sessions at the heralded campsite pit stop, ‘The Mystic Bazaar,’ to one of a kind art installations, world-class vendors and, of course, a far-out line-up full of psychedelic rock, shoegaze, stoner metal, freak folk and everything in between.
This year, they traded in the dusty desert of Joshua Tree for the expansive beachside retreat of Lake Perris in Moreno State Park. The move came with a multitude of highs and lows, some expected, others not so much. Friday saw unprecedented thunderstorms that led to the unfortunate cancellation of headliner Tame Impala, just three songs into their set. A band that was seemingly destined to make it onto the top of the Desert Daze bill, Tame Impala uploaded a post on Instagram shortly after with the simple sentiment, “Devastated.”
If you had just dosed up with your most desired party favor prior to Tame Impala’s set, I definitely felt bad for you. If you decided to bail on the fest after the rainstorm moved in, I don’t feel bad for you because, despite the brief buzzkill, Desert Daze rebounded beautifully over the next two days proving that the good vibes could not be stopped.
The beachside views were unbelievable as the main stage - called the Moon stage - was bookended by the bouldered mountains and the calm waters of Lake Perris. At sunset, the backdrop of rolling peaks lit up a glowing red. Festival-goers also had the option of wading in the water while enjoying the shows. All-in-all, once the rain clouds passed, Desert Daze ended up being quite the picturesque success.
Here are some of the stand out performances from the weekend:
5. Ulrika Spacek
British noise rock band, Ulrika Spacek, complimented the shoegaze-leaning bill of this years’ Desert Daze. The five-piece announced the fest date as part of their first ever U.S. tour. Held in ‘The Sanctuary’ tent, Ulrika Spacek’s set was full of fuzz and doused in garagey goodness that paid homage to indie greats like Velvet Underground and Pavement. Steadily building with each song, the droning closer, “Mimi Pretend,” left concert-goers on a high note. The thumping tune was a trance-inducing banger, embellished in driving melodies and ghostly vocals. These Brits definitely made a solid first impression in the States.
4. Julia Holter
You know when you become obsessed with an artist, playing their records nonstop and then you get the chance to see them live for the first time in the “sweet spot” of your discovery? Well, that was Julia Holter for me. The experimental singer-songwriter was slotted on sunny Sunday afternoon and it was simply sublime. Tracks like “Feel You,” “Sea Calls Me Home,” and ”Silhouette” soared over the beach with excellence, tingling the senses of all in earshot. As if to symbolize the festival’s triumph over adversity, Julia Holter brought uplifting vibes, closing with the droning meditation “I Shall Love 2,” stopping passersby in their tracks.
Not only did Desert Daze boast Tame Impala, but the bill also included both Tame-associated acts POND and GUM. POND frontman, Nick Allbrook served as a touring member until 2013 when he decided to devote his time fully to POND. It definitely worked out. POND was positioned in the sunset slot on Friday afternoon and it was a memorable one. The energy was infectious! The band was raucous, playing fast and loose, appearing to be having the time of their lives. Allbrook proved a worthy frontman, lunging around the stage belting the anthemic chorus to “Sweep Me Off My Feet” and occasionally blazing the guitar with a powerful solo. The band also debuted two recently released tracks, “Sixteen Days” and “Burnt Out Star,” to an extremely enthused crowd.
It was easy to see why Slowdive has kept such a cult following since their invention of shoegaze in the early 1990s. It was as if the band hadn’t aged a bit. Kicking off the set with “Slomo,” the opening track from the 2017 self-titled comeback record, the band expanded upon their washed out studio sound with a high-energy, intense live set that showcased crushing textured guitars, soaring reverb-drenched vocals, and a career-spanning set. “Star Roving” and “Souvlaki Space Station” launched the fest into the stratosphere with the help of a top-notch kaleidoscopic backdrop that left fans awestruck.
1. Kikagaku Moyo
Desert Daze was made for bands like Kikagaku Moyo to thrive. The Japanese acid-folk masters commanded the Block Stage with their intricate musical composition and far out Indian ragas. Yes, they even have a live sitar player. The energy was palpable as the band took the stage with a swelling drone. The hypnotic bass line of “Green Sugar” had the crowd entranced. “Dripping Sun” showcased a controlled ebb and flow of trippy time changes and epic odysseys that would blossom from soft and contemplative jams to full on shredding headbangers. The backdrop of a live liquid light show didn’t hurt either. The whole experience was a feast for the eyes and ears of all those who love expansive and mind-blowing music.