Best and Worst of Desert Daze 2017

This past weekend was my first ever trip to Joshua Tree, and of course it was for a music festival. Desert Daze 2017 marked the festival’s sixth year, and it delivered a powerful lineup that catered to their trendy hippy demographic.

The first thing I felt when walking into the festival Friday was I was not remotely cool enough to be there, but everyone’s vibe was laid back and chill so I got over being self-conscious pretty quickly. A crazy statistic: one out of every three Desert Daze 2017 attendee owns a record label (not really).

Festival promoter Spaceland Presents have really nailed the booking of this festival, and I’m not just talking about the music. As I still work to knock the dust loose from my person, check below as I highlight the Best and Worst of Desert Daze 2017.

BEST: Appreesh the niche

Moreso than any festival I’ve ever attended, Desert Daze 2017 catered to music fans that favor niche genres. I’ve seen acts Spiritualized, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and BADBADNOTGOOD at other festivals. While they’ve always drawn solid crowds at those festivals, they weren’t main course attractions like they were at Desert Daze 2017. Perhaps no other festival knows how to book based on their usual demographic. That allowed for these acts to play to pretty sizable crowds, and I feel like a symptom of that was these bands played even higher-caliber shows.

As nice as it was for the attendees, it had to be equally appreciated by the acts themselves. Iggy Pop didn’t open for Run the Jewels and King Gizzard for Travis Scott the way they did at festivals I saw them at this year. Every person in these crowds were 100 percent attentive to what was happening on stage rather than soldiering throw a set they didn’t care about in order to be close for someone’s set they did. It’s the kind of thing that has built Desert Daze’s credibility and will lead to even more interesting bookings in the future.

WORST: Desert fest still can’t shake people completely from their technology

Desert Daze 2017 did an amazing job at cultivating a festival full of experiences that are unique and fit the setting of Joshua Tree. However, the Joshua Tree vibe was sometimes really starkly contrasted by the fact that people were still very much obsessed with their phones and technology while at this festival.

People walking with their head down and buried in their phones may have missed out on some of the hidden gems of the festival, like the Book Nook for instance. I had never been to Joshua Tree until now, but all people talk about as being the best part is being so removed from everything that hinders your daily life. So to see some people treating Desert Daze 2017 like any other festival was slightly disappointing. That said, I only took about five photos all weekend myself.

WORST: Not the most sanitary festival

Desert Daze 2017 boasted a bunch of new infrastructure that included better bathrooms. I can’t imagine how shitty it was last year (no pun intended) considering it was a pretty disappointing part of the experience this weekend. Every time I went to a bathroom after 3 PM, there was no soap in the dispensers outside of them. Because this is a Joshua Tree festival, they could slide on this aspect when other festivals would probably be ripped pretty heavily for it.

BEST: Mature and respectful demographic

Not everyone can handle the relentless dust and crazy temperature changes of the Joshua Tree desert. When you add that element to the type of bands that are being booked, the average age runs late twenties into late thirties. Sure, there were some teenagers and quite a number of families, but the kinds of kids that are able to get their shit together enough to survive camping in the desert aren’t running around overdosing on ecstasy and taking too many psychedelics.

The festival also seems to embrace the fact that a lot of these people are tripping on some form of psychedelic, but in doses that are meant to just improve the experiences they provide. The Block Stage had a dope setup where there were people pouring paint on some sort of turntable and projecting it on the sheets that hung behind them [one of our readers told me this is called liquid lights — it’s drops of food coloring poured into oil]. That matched the music of acts like BADBADNOTGOOD perfectly and probably aided the effects of the experience dramatically for those who had eaten some caps and stems.

BEST: Sunflower Bean highlights rich undercard

I caught Sunflower Bean back in June at Firefly 2017 without knowing much about them and was immediately pleasantly surprised by their vintage sounding rocking guitar riffs and vintage look. Lead singer Julia Cumming’s voice dazzled as much as her awesome red pantsuit. I caught Pretenders vibes from their sound and it was one of the standout performances at The Wright Tent this weekend.

Sunflower Bean was just one of the many killer acts you could have caught before sundown at Desert Daze 2017. Other favorites included the shoegazey Earthlings?, the trippy synthy MNDSGN, and funktastic The Budos Band. There was so much to stumble upon that even if you did no research, you came away satisfied with what you saw.

BEST: These three things I overheard at Desert Daze 2017

“I really thought I was gonna run into Finn Wolfhard [kid from Stranger Things] at this thing. I really think this would be his vibe.”

“You could walk around completely naked at this festival and nobody would care.”

“I haven’t been forced to take off my shoes since growing up under my Asian mom’s totalitarianism rule.”

Five bands that Desert Daze 2018 should book

Wolf Alice at Cal Jam 17 courtesy of Debi Del Grande

Usually, I end these reviews with a recap of my five favorite bands or songs that I saw performed that weekend. After taking in this festival for the first time, I really feel like I have a grip on the kinds of bookings Spaceland Presents is doing and I have five suggestions that I think would fit the vibe perfectly. None of these bands have played the festival previously, to my knowledge.

Sigur Ros — The Icelandic atmospheric rock band has felt out of place on other festival bills like Hangout and Boston Calling, but would be right at home at Desert Daze 2018. Hearing lead singer Jonsi’s divine vocals float out over a desert would be a great fit and they are clearly headliner worthy.

Air — The Governors Ball 2017 set these French dudes rocked was sparsely attended but heavily appreciated by the same kind of thritysomething audience that would flock to their set at Desert Daze 2018. Their rich textures would be an amazing fit with the desert landscape.

Wolf Alice — This British four-piece have really come into their own since they began to play songs from their recently-released sophomore album Visions of a Life. As live performers, they match the charisma and energy that King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard brought their sub-headline set before Iggy Pop on Saturday and would fit that booking on this lineup next year. They are a multi-dimensional rock band that can lighten things up or rock your faces off and would be a perfect fit.

Klangstof — I caught this awesome Dutch indie rock band multiple times on the festival circuit this year and their brand of tunes would fit this festival like a glove. They bring it for their live sets and have a sort of Radiohead vibe to their sound. The next time they’re on an album cycle, they need to be at Joshua Tree.

Jagwar Ma — I never felt more on drugs without being on drugs than during Jagwar Ma’s crazy Coachella 2017 set this year. They feel like a no-brainer booking for Desert Daze based on their experimental psych rock sound.


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