The sixth Desert Daze Festival is quite the destination this year as many attendees came from not only Los Angeles and surrounding areas, but also flew in from all over the country. This is the second time the festival will take place at the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, the oldest and largest spiritual retreat center in the western United States designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Son. It’s easy to see why Moon Block Party & Co. keep returning — this Joshua Tree-laden property complete with a labyrinth, cottages, plenty of hideouts for the more curious art installations, and the star-filled desert sky make these grounds quite special.
Arriving on a Thursday afternoon, the festival was still being set up and cars were lining up, waiting patiently to get in. The staff scrambled to get everyone checked in to the camping grounds, but no one could enter the festival grounds yet unless they were a vendor. Thursday night promised DJ sets from John Dwyer and Death Hymn Number 9, but these did not appear to take place as the festival grounds were closed off and the Mystic Bazaar in the camping area appeared unopened. But this didn’t stop the campers from settling in and having their own parties. Many patrons built mega forts with tents and easy-ups, decorated them with lights and just chilled, knocking back a few beers. Many also called it an early night and went to bed in preparation for the next day.
Friday was the first full day of bands and, ready or not, the festival grounds were open to the public at noon. From the campground, getting to the Block Stage nearest the entrance was quite a mission, but well worth it to see Los Angeles psych rock group, Triptides. “Hey Desert Daze, it’s good to see you guys!” they addressed the crowd. They started with “Summer is Over,” and their dreamy psych rock sound fit in perfectly in their surroundings. The crowd nodded and rocked their bodies gently to the medium-paced beat of the song. To the left, a giant carrot could be seen waving in the desert air. They finished this track with a guitar solo and lead right in to the next song, “Colors” off their 2014 album. The crowd started filling in nicely during “Afterglow,” a groovy song that had a ‘70s inspired keyboard solo. While some of the crowd filtered in and out, those that stayed were highly engaged, jumping around with their hands in the air.
Prettiest Eyes, a psych-punk and noise rock group also based in Los Angeles were setting up at the Moon Stage, the main stage right in the middle of the festival grounds. “Cheers for Desert Daze! Cheers for Puerto Rico!” Puerto Rican frontman Pachy Garcia addressed the crowd who cheered back. The the trio opened with “Out of Control,” their raucous punk attitude and style garnered a larger audience who were ready to get a little more rowdy. The Moon Stage was donned in solver streamers that glimmered in the desert sun, and a colorful geometric projection of the band made the backdrop interesting. The bass player was the most animated of the group, gyrating his hips often and even jumping toward the crowd getting right in their faces at times. They also played a couple new songs off POOLS, and shared about their release show on November 26 at the Echo. One of their new songs, “Don’t Call,” was the most dance worthy of the set and had the whole crowd moving.
Holy Wave was playing in the packed and dusty Wright Tent, the closest to the camping area and farthest from the check-in point. Their sound mixed between a dreamy ‘80s feel and psych rock with a liquid light display playing in the background. They played some of their more dreamy songs like “Western Playland” and “Do You Feel It,” and new song “Habibi.” The members of L.A. Witch were backstage and Holy Wave gave them a brief shout out. Some of the crowd crowd surfed to the faster songs.
La Femme at the Moon Stage was the most packed performance so far, and it was easy to see why. The French electro-pop group that mixes ‘60s surf rock, psych rock and electronic music were charming and full of life. They came out to an instrumental theme and addressed the crowd, “We are La Femme from France!” They opened with electro song “Sphynx” and the crowd reacted right away to the heavy electro beat. “Ou va le monde” was one of the more surf rock tracks they played. “Our best shows are in the desert,” Marlon Magneé shared. He donned jean cutoffs, an open robe-like top and knee-high socks. For faster songs like “Antitaxi” a full on pit formed that mostly consisted of full body bumping. There were plenty of head bang worthy moments as well, with the keyboardist hyping up the crowd by telling them, “it’s not dusty enough!” to which they responded by dancing harder and kicking up more dust. So far, this was the most energetic and uplifting set of the day.
There was a quite different energy over at the Block Stage for psych group DRINKS, composed of White Fence’s Tim Presely and Wales artist Cate Le Bon and co. Their set was intriguing to watch, and even captured the likes of John Dwyer who was spotted hanging out backstage. Songs like “Hermits on Holiday” were stripped and had a Siouxsie and the Banshees feel about them. More dissonant tracks like “Tim, Do I Like That Dog?” were screeching and dissonant. In fact, most of their songs were characterized by dissonant sounds and changing time signatures. They all wore red lipstick on stage, even the men, joining each other in solidarity. At one point, it seemed like the guitarist was off as the front woman and bass player made shifty eyes at each other, but their dissonant sound made this hard to notice if something was truly out of sync.
Japanese sludge and doom rock trio Boris took the Moon Stage at sundown, pleasing the ears of doom and metal fans around. While the stage wasn’t necessarily packed, the audience toward the front were engaged and followed the drummers cues to raise their finger or fist. With the gong behind the drummer, the smoke and lights and any daylight that remained fading to the night, this made for quite a theatrical set.
Back at the Block Stage, one-man show and Animal Collective member Panda Bear was playing electro-indie songs to a video backdrop featuring abstract images of body parts and even sprinkles. Songs like “Boys Latin” kind of go on and on without many exciting changes. The crowd seemed pretty split here; some of them were engaged and alert, others were on their phones and not really connecting to the more abstract, chill sounds. Maybe because it was just one person on stage behind his instrument or that the vocals felt a little thin, but this performance was pretty lackluster.
Ty Segall’s set at the Moon Stage was packed to the brim. They played beloved tracks like “Finger” that had the entire crowd moving, moshing and crowd surfing. Perhaps one of the most tender moments was when he shared, “The next song is about my dog, she’s a dachshund and my favorite thing in the world,” before diving into “Fanny.” People head banged and nodded along. A person dressed as a panda bear was seen crowd surfing in the audience as well. “I wish we were always here!” Segall shared with the audience, no doubt having caught the infectious good vibes the crowd was giving off and appreciating the desert landscape.
Lee Fields and the Expressions were delivering a completely different but equally enthused performance over at The Wright Tent. Fields was key in engaging the audience, as he initiated tons of audience call backs and hand raises. The crowd didn’t need much to get involved though, as his soulful sounds and upbeat music had the crowd dancing and grooving. “When I’m With You,” was soulful and slow, and some couples in the audience could be seen slow dancing. “Right now we need more love in this world,” Fields shared. He continued, “And I’m optimistic we can make this world a better place, do you believe that?” The audience cheered before he ended the set with “Make the World.”
BadBadNotGood was delivering a jazz-filled set over at the Block Stage. “Get your hands in the air…we’re gonna float, we’re gonna fly,” said keyboardist Matthew Tavares. For the final track, they had the audience get down low to the crowd as they played a repeated piano and bass rhythm, and when the bass dropped, that was the cue for the crowd to get up and get down to the electronic sound. It was a solid end to their set.
Headliner Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile and the Sea Lice were getting ready to play to a filled-to-the-brim crowd. “This ain’t no disco… this ain’t no country club neither,” Vile said to the audience. They opened with “Over Everything,” and the mellow rock sounds washed over the audience as they swayed and bended their knees. “Continental Breakfast” was another one that had the crowd moving ever so slightly. The chemistry between Barnett and Vile was one of closeness, comfort and ease as they played off each others’ vocal styles and often took turns singing verses before joining together in the chorus. “This is my favorite one,” Vile shared before they dove into “Depreston,” a slow love song. Kurt Vile performed “Pretty Pimpin'” to the crowd’s delight, but the best moment of the night was when Courtney Barnett closed with “Avant Gardner.”
The last performance of the night was Ariel Pink delivering a set at the Block stage to the audience members who hadn’t yet decided to head back to camp. It was a great way to end the night, as they performed upbeat ‘80s inspired and disco tracks like “Round and Round” and “church songs” like “Feels Like Heaven,” that had many of the crowd members dancing like no one was watching. Perhaps the biggest treat was “Baby,” which Pink and his band delivered soulfully. It was a great way to end the star-filled night before heading back to camp to get some much needed rest and prepare the feet for another day.
Walking down from the Block Stage gives one the opportunity to also check out the art installations, which were now fully lit. People wandered through the artistic area which included rainbow tie-dyed female bodies with skull heads and one with a giant tie-dyed iris eye. There were also installations to step into, put one’s head into and experience for oneself. People rang the bell at the bell tower donned in lace curtains, the same curtains in the labyrinth that blew gently in the breeze. People also stopped at the mirrored neon light installation to take selfies.
With plenty to engage with, these festival goers and campers will have a huge supply of artists to listen to and experience on day two. Day two will continue with headliner Iggy Pop and more!
File photo by Raymond Flotat