There’s No Seven-Year Itch at Desert Daze 2018

Desert Daze moves to a new location but keeps the same far out vibe.

What is it about Desert Daze? The little festival that could is in its seventh year, having moved from the esoteric location at the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree to its new home at the scenic oasis of Moreno Beach at Lake Perris State Recreation Area. This is a timely relocation, since the festival’s steadily growing numbers need some breathing room. Even spread out, Desert Daze maintains its communal energy.

A primary explanation for Desert Daze’s unique feel is the festival’s analog nature. Eavesdropping on conversations about the artists present last weekend, I heard people ask, “What do they sound like?” and the answer, inevitably, was either “psychedelic rock,” “stoner rock,” or “desert rock.” There were no EDM, pseudo-pop, or hip-hop acts infiltrating this festival’s guitar-driven structure.

photo by Kirby Gladstein

Festivals are generally melting pots, with the music being the stick stirring attendees together. At Desert Daze, the music attracts a multicultural, multigenerational mix—without the younger crowd’s presence annoying the more seasoned individuals. In this friendly space, strangers strike up natural dialogues with each other. Everybody’s on the same page, fully buying into the fest’s hemp granola–sprinkled character.

An extension of this analog mindset is the attire, which was a little more toned down this time than in previous years, though it was by no means a reversion to the painful “festival fashion” default, or the kiddie-clothes-turned-BDSM-wear of electronic events. There is something non-intimidating and approachable about someone dressed like they are going to the grocery store. This is not to say there weren’t all-out costumes, of course, like the spangled jellyfish lady or the T-Rex or any number of onesies—and sequins were not at all out of place. Lakeside, bandanas are optional (unlike at Joshua Tree, where they seem to be a necessity), though they are still a familiar trademark of the Desert Daze uniform.

JARV IS (aka Jarvis Cocker) / photo by Kirby Gladstein

You may not have been born by the time Jarvis Cocker was fronting Pulp and mooning Michael Jackson at the Brit Awards in 1996, but that has no bearing on relating to his singular, hilarious performance and inimitable banter on the Block Stage. Meanwhile, at the Theatre (the only tented stage), the UK’s IDLES were knocking themselves out with a punk-fueled, frantic performance. This all happens the same evening as the much-discussed storm: Thunder and lightning ushered in Tame Impala, who got through three songs before they were pulled off stage and attendees were instructed to leave the area and get to safety. Although there were reassurances that this was a delay and not a cancellation, reality proved otherwise.

By the next day, the legendary vehicle entry issues of day one were resolved (up to three hours at standstill waiting to access any one of the free, all-weekend parking lots), and it was like the previous night’s storm never happened. If anything, the overcast skies and cool air gave the fest an otherworldly, refreshing tinge. It felt like the perfect place to mouth the words to Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs, which you could watch at the Moon Stage standing on Moreno Beach. Another huge winner was Japan’s Kikagaku Moyo on the Block Stage, who developed a new slew of worshippers after their amazing set of immersive rock.

Tame Impala / photo by Kirby Gladstein

If anyone had any pre-festival aggression left over (unlikely), Death Grips helped get that out on the final day on the Moon Stage. I worried that any one of the group’s three members could drop dead from exertion—or worse, that one of their fans might, as they incited such a raging reaction. Luckily, everyone was fine. And as loud as that was, they were no match for shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine, whose amp collection threatened to cover the backdrop it was stacked so high. This provided an entirely distorted sound, and drowned out any other artists who had the misfortune of performing during the same time slot.  

And then there’s the food. Handcrafted New York Pizza, the incomparable India Gourmet, Sentient Chefs, who served a delectable quinoa bowl, and so much more. From all-vegan to Middle Eastern fare to fresh juices and ice cream sundaes, it’s worth going to Desert Daze just for the food alone. But the music is pretty tight, too. FL

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