Desertfest in Camden is a highlight of the year for any fan of stoner, sludge, doom and psychedelic music. The sixth incarnation of the fest is taking place this year in Camden and it boasts an incredible line-up with headliners Sleep, Turbonegro and Slo Burn, big guns such as Candlemass, Stoned Jesus, Bongzilla, Lowrider and Saint Vitus; as well as incredible underground acts such as Vodun, Steak, Boss Keloid and Monolithian. To get the low down on this year’s Desertfest, I spoke to organiser Reece Tee about last year’s edition, the underground, Temples Festival, the past, present and future of Desertfest.
Jack: Hey, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you?
Reece Tee: No problem at all, and all very good here at Desertfest HQ.
Jack: How did you feel Desertfest went last year and what was your favourite set?
Reece: I was very pleased with Desertfest last year. After each edition I think to myself how are we going to beat that but somehow we seem to. I loved the combinations of last year but having Corrosion of Conformity with Pepper was a dream come true for me.
Jack: Are indoor festivals the future of festivals or will there always be room for outdoor ones?
Reece: I wouldn’t say indoor fests are necessarily the future but genre specific fests are and that’s why festivals like Desertfest are doing well and growing. People expect more cohesive line-ups now and don’t want to pay £150 for a big festival to see a handful of bands they like.
Jack: The UK underground seems to be filled with quality doom, stoner and sludge bands. Are these genres getting more popular or do you just think there is more exposure to them?
Reece: Desertfest has definitely played its part in getting the UK underground bands noticed for sure and we are very proud of that. It’s great to see other fests in Europe book the smaller UK bands that we have been championing.
Jack: Desertfest really supports the underground, how important is it to give these bands a chance?
Reece: It’s very important to us, we have always put on a lot of UK bands on the bill because there is so much quality on offer. Like wise with smaller European bands also, those early Black Heart slots are rammed and a great opportunity for a relatively unknown band to get some exposure.
Jack: Do you think the cancellation of Temples has benefited Desertfest in a way? Did you see Temples as a threat?
Reece: Competition isn’t a bad thing and I think Desertfest is stronger for having that pressure. I think the way that guy went about things was wrong and was pretty much was an ego trip for him. Instead of working together he wanted to take us out but if you play straight, pay your bands and do it for the right reason then even if you lose you have won. That’s why Roadburn gets it right, Walter loves the music and his festival, it’s not about saying ‘I have the best fest’. If you’re a promoter then you have to pay the bands when you lose.
Jack: This year you have Turbonegro headlining, how do Turbonegro fit the Desertfest ethos?
Reece: There are always some eyebrows raised at some of our choices and I love that. Of course Turbonegro are a Desertfest band, they are underground legends who know how to party. This year was great as we announced them 1st and some people were complaining but ultimately we knew that we were building a well-balanced festival that caters for a whole bunch of music fans.
Jack: You also have Slo Burn. How did you convince them to reform for Desertfest?
Reece: Slo Burn I have been trying for years to get after our success with Unida, Dozer and Lowrider and finally it came together. John Garcia had already decided he was doing this thing and we had to get some of the action. Now there is a bigger market to celebrate the great stuff he has created over the years.
Jack: Was it hard to convince Sleep to come back after such a short time?
Reece: When you get the opportunity to book Sleep you have to book them, I don’t care how often they play the festival, they are always welcome.
Jack: What prompted the promotion to the Roundhouse for the final day?
Reece: As always we try to push the boundaries of the festival each year be it musically or the operation itself. We have always tried new things and introduced new promoters and stages. The Roundhouse is something special, it has so much history and is the right move for the festival. It allows us next year to expand again and bring new headliners in and make the festival even cooler!
Jack: With the inclusion of acts like Wolves in the Throne Room and Godflesh last year, some have suggested that Desertfest is moving away from its stoner roots, would you agree?
Reece: I would agree and not agree all at the same time. I guess we started out more as a stoner and doom fest but we still are very much that fest that started in 2012. If you are an out and out stoner fan then you can pretty much jump from one band to the next, right through the weekend and avoid the other stuff. As I said, we have always tried to push what the festival is and can be without alienating those very first fans and I think we are doing that. It’s a celebration of underground music.
Jack: Is there a particular set you’re looking forward to the most this year?
Reece: I’m still a big Kyuss fan so any Garcia project will be enjoyed but also for me to be sat watching bands like Sleep and Saint Vitus in The Roundhouse really will be quite a goose bump moment. I was a huge Pink Floyd fan as a kid so The Roundhouse with all of its history really is a big moment for me personally and the festival.
Jack: How have your relationships with the other Desertfests improved?
Reece: We are the other Desertfests! We are a family and the connection is very strong in lots of ways. We have expanded the brand because there felt a need to and we have great partners who are doing a great job.
Jack: Have you started booking for Desertfest 2018?
Reece: Yes and I believe it will be the biggest and best yet.
Jack: Is Desertfest a full-time job?
Reece: Not fully, I have lots of full-time jobs in music that all compliment each other. I guess along with playing music, Deserfest is the most important job.
Jack: What’s the dream band to book for Desertfest?
Reece: Can’t say because hopefully we have booked one of them for 2018!
Jack: When can we see the next announcement?
Reece: The announcements are all done now for London but Belgium names will start coming late March.
Jack: Finally, Candlemass’ Nightfall is thirty years old this year, what does this album mean to you?
Reece: It changed so much and really set the tone for what came after. Arguably the best album they have created and means so much to doom in general. It’s an honour to have Candlemass play the Roundhouse with the likes of Saint Vitus, Bongzilla and of course Sleep.