ENTER the DAZE
text KRISTIN WINTERS & KYLIE KNIGHT
photography MINI VAN PHOTOGRAPHY & LUNAFORA
The sun rose on the Sunset Ranch in Mecca CA, casting purple shadows against the rust colored mountains, illuminating the crystal blue sky. Once again the nomadic Moon Block Party set up camp for the Desert Daze psychedelic music festival. “The culture is vibrant and the atmosphere is mellow, like a backyard BBQ but exciting like a safari adventure,” said founder and organizer Phil Pirrone. Concert goers from all over the country come to Desert Daze seeking memorable performances by boundary defying artists. It’s a true experience that is all about the music, art, vibes, and feel of camping under the pitch black desert night.
This year’s Desert Daze brought in a killer lineup including RJD2, Warpaint, Minus The Bear, and Deap Vally. These artists embrace psychedelic, progressive sounds, and audience interaction. The artists get lost in their music onstage, creating magical moments for festival attendees and musicians alike. It is this openness that makes Desert Daze a unique experience in contrast to the larger commercial festivals the Coachella Valley is known for.
Each stage provided different vibes for the artist’s performance. The Party Stage created a trippy atmosphere with a dramatic liquid light show onstage; the neon colors created the illusion of morphing entities, swirls that turned into galaxies and abstract expressions. This surreal backdrop for bands such as Fever The Ghost and Mr. Elevator And The Brain Hotel, enhanced the psychedelic feel of their music. The Block Stage boasted a clear sound system despite the wind and dust, with lights and plenty of room for dancing. Dan Deacon’s spaze-inducing set lead the audience into a spontaneous dance contest, including a crowd surfing panda bear that ended up dancing onstage with them — a true performance piece.
Desert Daze also exhibited art installations throughout the campgrounds to add a human element to the festival. Tepees and illustrated tents gave concert goers a place to relax, take cover from the wind and heat, and a chance to contemplate their inner experience. Artist team Celeste Byers and Aaron Glasson’s interactive piece “Inter-dimensional Teleporter” was composed of a richly textured diamond-shaped white cocoon, nestled against the Sunset Ranch’s lake. As the sun set, it reflected the breathtaking sky transitioning into the blues, pinks, and purples of the desert twilight with the moon beaming down on those in view. The “Inter-dimensional Teleporter” portrayed an otherworldly scene, dreaming of life on another planet and its habitat.
When you come to this one-night-only desert happening, don’t expect the status quo. Open yourself to the sensual enchantment and formation of lifelong memories.
MUSINGS ON CHELSEA WOLFE
Often, Desert Daze evening performances are delayed with multiple sound checks and interference due to the high wind and dust tampering with the equipment, and this set was no exception. But the audience could swear the music had already started, with the hypnotic melodies of guitars and keyboards coming through the speakers. As the industrial baselines and drone noise built up, couples wrapped their arms around each other in a sensual embrace, while others smiled and swayed like kelp forests in the ocean. Then, Chelsea Wolfe’s voice bled out over the microphone and the dream sequence had begun. She transformed into a desert sorceress, the audience bewitched under her spell. Wolfe cites a major influence in her music is her battle with sleep paralysis: the helpless state between wakefulness and dream state. Is it any wonder she grips the psyche of her audience?
Onstage the purple and contrasting yellow lights illuminate her face and the figures of the other accompanying musicians. The effect is that of a graphic novel coming to life before our eyes, but instead of the dialogue bubbles, the audience holds up their iPhones to record the event. The climax of the set was Wolfe’s performance of “Iron Moon,” a seductive ballad that lured the crowd in with gentle, whispering plateaus that cascaded into hallowing drum beats over her passionate roar.
Chelsea Wolfe’s latest album Into the Abyss debuts this August. She’s back with her haunting voice, siren-like at times. At others, it is dark as a bottomless lake, as if she’s calling to us from underwater. This album comes from a much darker place, as the industrial baselines and the more nebulous, atmospheric distortion exemplifies. Wolfe’s production is both anxiety-riddled and blissful, her voice quiet and screaming at the same time. This is Chelsea Wolfe at her most vulnerable, peeling back the layers of her skin to reveal the music inside.
Take a slow drive into the heart of a thriving desert abyss fluid with promise. The journey is the destination. Concert goers arrive at Desert Daze and commune as though they were a tribe separated merely by time and space. They converge in a ritual of music worship primal in its purity. Everywhere an animal in heat.
The campground is a long, winding corridor lush with vegetation and rich with new friends who take me in as their own, swap stories, feed me beer, and offer me hallucinogens. An arid expansion of whatever is left of our minds. I wonder briefly about the lives of these specimens, but eventually regard their story as my own, just another head like so many others seeking a new experience in an alien atmosphere, either for the sake of the experiment or for the raw, blinding love of music. In any case, the scene is refreshing. Up-and-coming acts are embraced by an audience of like-minded individuals, and a young take on old ideas grow into the new flesh of this community-grown grassroots project.
Unlike the more commercialized Coachella Festival, Desert Daze seems to be birthing fresh life into the now stale, repetitive, and calculated music and arts festivals which seem to be the butt of every blogger’s joke. More of a selfie opportunity than a music event, these festivals are no longer appealing to a large group of influences who are fed up with rising ticket prices and less than shocking headliners. To Desert Daze attendees, there is something appealing about the DIY, hands-on approach that’s supporting this newfound community of artists, musicians, and doers.
“The first Desert Daze was held at Dillon’s Roadhouse in our own backyard — Desert Hot Springs,” reminisces bass player Nigel Dettelbach of local Coachella Valley based band Slipping Into Darkness. “It was eleven days of music and about one hundred bands, which was wild for us. A lot of crazy shit went on! Now it’s more like a raw, less electronic version of Coachella for pennies on the dollar.” Slipping Into Darkness played the first and most recent Desert Daze. The festival is now condensed into a day, but still manages to breed the same sense of local patchwork.
Falling into the night, the performers are lit up amongst palm trees and reflected by a conscious oasis. Strangers smile at one another, a child walks hand in hand with their mother, a couple sits inside a cocoon and time is suspended, music howls overhead like a wave when the tide is coming in. The moon isn’t full, but you’d swear it was. Everyone is dancing to a new rhythm, you don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
MUSINGS ON DEAP VALLY
The first time I had the ear-piercing experience of watching Deap Vally perform, all I could think to myself was, “Where the hell did these rad chicks come from?” This was back in 2012 at a dive bar called Dillon’s Roadhouse, which was holding the first ever Desert Daze, at the time advertised as “11 Days of Music” set to the backdrop of the Desert Hot Springs mountains. Seemingly effortless, the rock n’ roll two-piece completely slayed the entire audience, and the fact that they were both chicks only seemed to heighten the experience. The band features vocalist Lindsey Troy and drummer Julie Edwards, which after the show I found out to be avid knitting enthusiasts. Apparently, they met at a knitting class before birthing Deap Vally, something you’d never fathom when assaulted by their passionate, pissed off stage persona.
Living up to their original Desert Daze debut if not surpassing it, this year they attacked with a sexed-up, full force, rock n’ roll blow to the audience. Taking the stage shortly after sunset, they helped us transition into a state of newfound vibrating, nocturnal energy as the audience became loose and exalted, getting amped for the night to come. Although the desert heat had dissipated, Troy and Edwards never bothered to cool down, reminiscent of the sexual backbone behind 70’s rock n’ roll, but with an honest, feminine edge all their own.
Between songs I briefly surveyed the crowd, faces alert, mouths hung open, complete silence, everyone waiting for something to happen. Everything about Deap Vally is pure energy. They don’t just play, they perform. They give you the show that so many musicians have forgotten how to give, even their outfits are an example of this. Outshining even the brightest stars that began to peak out over the night sky was Troy’s star-studded red, white, and blue one-piece leotard, another testament to their love of the American rock n’ roll aesthetic.
As the night began to fade into a darker shade of blue, Deap Vally charged the stage up until their final closing song, catchy riffs becoming heavier as Troy’s primal screams and edgy lyrics dizzied us into a state of ecstasy. Leaving us with jaws agape and blown-out eardrums, the silence after their performance seemed to be the most deafening. We wandered on, confused and exhilarated, a herd of misplaced animals looking for another band to devour.