Desert Daze 2015 Desert Daze 2015

Photos and words by Natasha Aftandilians

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Desert Daze 2015, Sunset Ranch Oasis, Mecca CA

The California desert is a place of never ending surprises. From the dinosaurs and windmills that stud the barren landscape, to the religious zealots and artistic trailblazers who populate it, the baked earth seems to attract the most carefree weirdos. So it comes as no shock that tucked away behind a veil of palm trees in a city rather forebodingly named Mecca is an oasis that serves as the setting for Desert Daze, the fledgeling festival for those who prefer the road less taken (musically and literally).

The festival (organized by the husband and wife duo of Phil Pirrone and Julie Edwards, members of JJUUJJUU and Deap Vally, respectively) is a “psychedelic bootcamp” that lacks all the more luxurious amenities of another festival in the California desert you may have heard of. There’s no VIP area, no air conditioned sponsored tents, no gourmet food trucks, just five small stages around the oasis and some food and merch tents in between, with the occasional experimental art piece here and there. Camping means dragging your gear from your car to a patch of dust near the small mosquito-riddled lake, sweltering in 99 degree heat, and no showers for at least 24 hours. As the anti-Coachella, Desert Daze has perfected the DIY aspect and the “music first” attitude lacking from most major festivals, and fans have embraced it with open arms.

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For the early arrivers who showed up around 3pm, the afternoon heat and the persistent fog of dust wasn’t enough to wilt the spirits of retro psychedelics Levitation Room, metal shredders Zig Zags, garage rockers Bass Drum of Death or harcore trio White Lung (featuring Deap Vally’s Lindsey Troy pulling double duty on guitar). Early standouts Kim and the Created were the most exciting thing to hear and see in the blazing sun, as lead singer Kim House jumped into the pit flailing and writhing on the floor, her chest and torso streaked in splashes of black paint and strategically placed tape.

One of the bigger bands on the lineup, DIIV, took the stage at the perfect moment when the sun finally began to set. Admittedly the members of DIIV have not been having a great PR year (lead singer Zachary Cole Smith was arrested for possession of heroin and  bassist Devin Ruben Perez was caught making racist and sexist comments on reddit). Too much drama can be the death knell for indie bands but they sounded surprisingly better on Saturday than expected, their signature hazy shoegaze serving as the refreshing first act of the evening.

The slow ascent of the moon was the ideal backdrop for Chelsea Wolfe— goths in the desert would make for a disastrous and potentially deadly situation (all that black!) but luckily her set was long after the sun had gone down, giving her the perfect platform to shimmer like the rare gem she is. It was impossible to not be immersed in the experimental folk strains and haunting drones as chiffon of her dress fluttered in the breeze.

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The wind showed no signs of stopping during the Minus The Bear set; it seemed like the Seattle math rockers were singlehandedly conjuring up a mini dust storm as they played through the entirety of their 2005 EP They Make Beer Commercials Like This. Their set made for a strangely nostalgic trip down memory lane, back to the mid-Aughties when times were simpler and this was rock music at it’s peak (a throwback continued by the lush, spacy hardcore of Failure).

Later in the evening Dan Deacon proved to everyone that he is the undisputed master of nerdy absurdity; he spouts off life affirming mantras, odes of devotion to the moon and fantastical stories about how Steve Jobs was a horse with the self-assured calm of someone giving you driving directions. Singing into a voice modifier that turns him into a hyperactive garden gnome, he bounces and bops around the stage like a wizard conjuring spirits. His enthusiasm brings out the best in his audience for as they participate in an impromptu dance contest featuring a gyrating panda (who later decided to grace the stage and get down with Deacon for a hot minute).

The women of Warpaint attracted a similar frenzy of obsessive fans (and pandas) to the main stage, with people yelling breathless words of encouragement at Emily Kokal and Stella Mozgawa every time they did something as simple as adjust their drum kit or tune their guitars. The quartet seems so at ease with each other, grooving and harmonizing in their own bubbles until they start to collide and everything falls into place in a beautiful way.  When Kokal does her fly girl dance moves the crowd goes into a panic, one that was only amplified when Theresa Wayman decides to join them for a brief crowdsurfing session.

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In its fourth year, Desert Daze is in the awkward pubescent phase; it’s a respected enough name to pull in major indie acts while still serving as a platform for promising unknowns, and they have managed to achieve a coherent aesthetic and vibe that lures in a wide demographic. Most of the logistical growing pains are under control, but if the festival continues to grow in popularity year after year, the organizers will have to adapt to thrive. If they can continue to strike the balance between big time aspirations and lo-fi attitudes, success is a guarantee.

Desert Daze 2015 Pictures
Pic Legend
Bass Drum Of Death
Chelsea Wolfe
Dan Deacon
Diiv
Failure
Kim And The Created
Levitation Room
Mini Mansions
Minus The Bear
People
Warpaint
White Lung



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