Roy Jurgens on
Desert Daze traces its genesis to 2012, when 122 bands played for 11 days at a dusty and charming old burger joint called Dillon’s, in Desert Hot Springs. Founder and promoter Phil Pirrone was taking in $5 donations trying to keep his idea of an eclectic grassroots festival afloat. Meanwhile, just down the road a behemoth by the name of Coachella was taking place concurrently, featuring giants like Radiohead, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
Pirrone and his wife, Julie Edwards Pirrone (of the band Deap Vally), had been throwing shindigs under their Moon Block Party moniker in Pomona and were looking to reach out into the desert. The idea was innocent enough, friends and family jamming together under the stars. Ten years on, their innocent idea has become a jovial behemoth itself, drawing 35,000 kindred souls to an idyllic state park in Lake Perris for three-plus days of beachside frolicking to a live soundtrack from across the globe. The park provides a certain isolation from the rest of planet earth. With cell service dodgy at best, the vastness and overwhelming musical, art, culinary and recreational options give one a unique perception of space and time. For a few days, the outside world no longer troubles your soul.
In Desert Daze, Pirrone, along with Knitting Factory CEO Morgan Margolis, has curated one of the most adventurous festivals in the country, often giving relatively obscure bands their first taste at playing in front of a bigger crowd, with many of those acts going on to appear at more mainstream festivals. As cliché as it may sound, playing Desert Daze gives an act tangible and marketable indie cred.
For several years the festival gathered steam at the Sunset Ranch Oasis in Mecca (Riverside, CA). In 2016-17 the festival took place in Joshua Tree, where a shortsighted local government scuttled the promise of it being a long-term home. The next year found the festival in its present environs, Lake Perris State Recreation Area. After an absence in 2020 due to the pandemic, it returned at reduced capacity last year.
2022 found it once again in its full glory — and weirdness — with headliners King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Tame Impala and Beach House (who replaced Iggy Pop, who had to bow out late due to visa issues). Bringing the festival back successfully at full capacity posed some risks in a competitive market flooded with other events, many struggling to sell tickets. “It’s been an epic lift for me personally as well as our company,” said Margolis, “and after the storms of ’18 and the COVID shutdown, standing with the team and watching it finally come together and work, has been, frankly, euphoric.”
Here’s a mad dash through three days of Daze:
Speaking of euphoria, Friday kicked off with Al Lover’s futuristic set of loops and beats floating from the Beach stage, setting the mood for the day to come. With Tinariwen and M’dou Moctar as DD alumni, it made sense that another Tuareg blues outfit, Imarhan from Algeria, would represent a desert a world away. They deserved a bigger audience and a later set time. The Psychedelic Porn Crumpets are essentially the junior varsity to fellow Aussies King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s varsity squad. A musical anxiety attack, their frenzied guitar assault has been a staple on Desert Daze stages throughout the years. It’s hard to believe that the L.A. Witch gals have been kicking around for over 10 years now. Their reverb-heavy surf punk fit the Beach stage perfectly. Sky Ferreira’s set was … well, strange. The synth-pop princess showed up a good half-hour late and barely got through five sultry songs before being shushed off-stage. Chill Byron Bay boys the Babe Rainbow were perhaps the most perfect choice for the entire festival, although their weedy Latin-infused surf grooves would have played better as the sun was setting. I dare you to find a festival that Chicano Batman did not play this summer. Their vibey psych-funk brought some true L.A. flavor to the bill. Headliners King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard exploded onto the Moon Stage and didn’t hold back for 70 minutes, a guitar-psych freakout from Melbourne’s finest. (By the way, they released five albums this year.) Meanwhile over on the Beach stage, London weirdos Snapped Ankles delivered a highly entertaining set of art rock. But the discovery of the evening was lost to most: Acid Dad played a brilliant set up in the campground. Dirty, groovy and greasy, these Bushwick boys should have been playing down the hill.
Hometown youngsters the Paranoyds launched into Saturday with their catchy and cheeky retro-new wave sound. The highlight of Lady Wray’s set was the touching song she wrote for her daughter, Melody. Black Country, New Road faced the unenviable task of playing without their lead singer, Isaac Wood, who bolted for mental health reasons. The rest of the band wrote an entirely new set on the fly. What resulted was long on ambition and musicianship, and understandably short on structure. Post-punk South Londoners Shame were right proper devils. Their working-class anthems make one want to throw a pint glass at the wall and fight. There was much crowd-surfing. Over on the Beach, Brooklyn punks Surfbort were raising hell, as well, with frontwoman Dani Miller as a delightfully unhinged performer. Frankie and the Witch Fingers are also Desert Daze alumni who have moved their way up the pecking order over the years.
A perfect example of the artistic variance existing at Desert Daze is as follows: On the Block stage, Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 were spectacular, colorful, brassy and vibrant, with Seun carrying his father Femi’s Afrobeat legacy with class and dignity. Over on Moon stage, the Viagra Boys were profane, ugly, ham-fisted, hilarious and wildly entertaining. One would be hard-pressed to find another festival organizer to be fronting an act, but Pirrone has been doing that for a decade. His brainchild, JJUUJJUU, just released their first single in four years and played their unique brand of spaced-out guitar rock which pre-gamed perfectly into Kikagaku Moyo’s set on the Moon Stage. Rumored to be one of their last performances, the Japanese legends played to a rapturous audience not ready to bid their celestial anthems farewell. I’d challenge anyone to watch Shannon & the Clams play live and not have a stupid grin on their face. In 2018, Tame Impala was chased from the Desert Daze stage three songs into their set by a torrential rainstorm of biblical proportions. Saturday night was the great comeback, as they played their 2012 release, “Lonerism,” in its entirety. Frontman Kevin Parker seemed genuinely pleased to be back at Desert Daze, getting an opportunity to right Mother Nature’s wrong. To many attendees, this was the highlight of the entire weekend. Over in the Sanctuary, Telefon Tel Aviv was cutting and sewing all kinds of beautiful sonic tapestries together to close out the night.
Festivals follow a pattern. Friday is full of giddy anticipation, and Saturday is full of overindulgence. Which means Sunday is purely about survival. There were still plenty of goodies to be had. For instance, JPEGMAFIA is a stellar example of daring artistry in the hip-hop world. Smart, risky and unafraid, this isn’t lazy Soundcloud rap. Over on the Block Stage, Daniel Rossen (of Grizzly Bear) had the perfect soundtrack to your aching head. Toronto’s BADBADNOTGOOD poured jazzy goodness across the sand. If you were looking for an electronic cousin to IDLES, Sleaford Mods are it. James Williamson barks out anger in East Midlandish while Andrew Fearn does a pretty decent Bez impression next to a laptop. Bizarre and arresting, Williamson’s rhythmic rants aren’t so much rap as they are the spoken word of a dispossessed working class. Breathless and beguiling, The Marías are led by Puerto Rican dynamo María Zardoya. They’re Spanish-tinged dream-pop with a splash of indie and a shot of rum. It wouldn’t be Desert Daze without an appearance from Ty Segall. This time he brought his acid-rock power trio, the aptly named Fuzz.
Sunday’s original headliner was scheduled to be a shirtless septuagenarian by the name of Iggy Pop. Unfortunately, Mr. Pop’s European-based backing band got waylaid by the henchmen at the U.S. Department of State, and hence had to cancel at the last minute. In stepped Beach House to the rescue, pretty much the polar opposite to Iggy, but delightful nonetheless. Their layered dream-pop found a massive audience that just wanted to be soothed. In hindsight, Iggy may have been a bit much for a Sunday night. Tame Impala’s Perth brethren Pond closed out the Block Stage. At the Beach, RadioJed reinterpreted Radiohead while twiddling knobs on a hunk of gear that looked as if it had been lifted from NASA circa 1969. As is tradition, Pirrone and friends closed out the festival in the campground and another Desert Daze was in the books until next year, or as Pirrone said, “It feels like an institution, and it is here to stay.”