BY DARAGH MARKHAM
Fresh conscripts from our sister pubs clock in. Actually, most of them are volunteers — naïve sadists with an expectant gleam in their eye. Sorry dude, there’s only one wristband on bar. Take a number and get in line, because you’re not catching Truckfighters. You’re standing here for the next nine hours, getting intimately familiar with how to pour a Hells. An urgent care package of Modelos is brought in from a nearby corner shop, as staff, some Desertfest team members, and a few customers have drunk through the entire weekend’s supply already. A customer grabs my arm. “Man, I saw your set at the Underworld yesterday — that was fucking nuts, your guitar must be totalled!” Yesterday feels like a hundred days ago. We played mid-afternoon, before the drummer and I, both ranking warriors of Camden bars, hightailed it back to start/resume our Desertfest shifts. One eye on the customer, the other toward the taps. “Yeah that was actually pretty much inadvertent, the guitar smashing…” I reply. It wasn’t my guitar either so, I won’t be hearing the end of that. Wonder what I can break next year.
Another customer is complaining about the toilets, reminding me of a recent review. We never really read reviews of the bar (as Larry David says, “the customer is usually a moron and an asshole”), but this one was great. Besides whining about the smell of our (a rock bar) toilets, the author referred to one of the staff as “Satan’s idiot”, which left one obvious thing to do: get cut-offs with Hells Angels-style back patches made up saying SATAN’S IDIOTS, for every member of staff. That this wasn’t achieved in time for Desertfest will forever be my shame. Eighteen hours in one place, doing one thing, listening to (essentially) one riff will either send you mad or grant you a sense of Zen you never thought possible. (For days after, I will lie in bed waiting to fall asleep, calves screaming, my mind endlessly flashing, locked into the mechanism of pouring pint after pint after pint like an automaton, the main riff of Sleep’s Dragonaut haunting my head in an infinite loop). The shifts follow similar patterns, and when the day’s headliners take the stages of the bigger venues, the bar clears out for awhile. This reprieve is spent with frantic smoking/drinking, before more prepping, stocking, reloading.
The final offensive will hit us soon — the bestial midnight raids of the afterparty. Actually, “siege” would be the more appropriate term. One bartender likens it to the relentless blitz of Call of Duty’s Nazi zombies, with the platoon pinned down, cornered behind the bar, weaving and dodging and sidestepping around each other, pouring pints with one hand, making spirit ’n’ mixers with the other, taking change with our mouths (pre-covid). The faces of customers become interchangeable bearded blurs. Your ears ring like after a bomb blast, fingers whittle into numb stumps from hammering orders into the till screen. Legs beg you to stop. Have another shot, keep going. This is the final push. If you can’t find a rhythm, you lock into crushkilldestroy mode: no logic, no order, just serve the first person you see after every completed order. My personal record is making over three grand’s worth in one day, and that was when we flirted with 10-hour “easy” shifts one year, so God knows what I rack up on a day like today. The bar is packed, the party heaving, the whole room one single, multi-limbed, multi-bearded organism. DJs are deafening — orders for cider result in soda and confusion. Regular Mat buys the whole 10-strong staff a round of top-shelf tequila, a much-needed and appreciated bolstering of our defences.
With the unexpected May heat and so many people in, our weathered cooler gives up and dies. The fan units out the back of the building pump out piping Saharan air. The beer starts pouring as pure foam in a bar full of pint-hungry maniacs. What can they be appeased with? The Modelos are long gone. Bongripper soundtracks our endless descent into ruin. Finally, at 3 am, we clean down the bar to Darude’s Sandstorm, because surely this should be the anthem of a festival with “Desert” in its moniker, and after a full, uninterrupted day of doom and stoner blasting through the PA and roaring from the venue, you need pop music. Hip hop. Fucking Dido (ok, not Dido). Exhausted, you stand at the toilet, jeans and boxers peeled midway down your thighs, pissing free and airing out your region. You look down to discover you are pissing directly into your yanked-down boxers, which have become a sort of piss-cradle. You are too tired to do anything about it, and just keep pissing. After all, you have survived a full Thursday–Sunday Desertfest. You are kept buoyant by the achievement. Tomorrow you will awake broken. Tonight, you will slumber victorious, knowing you will do it all again next year.
But right now, it’s time for the best-tasting beer you have ever earned. Dixie Dave is roaming the bar in a determined daze, clutching a large inflatable giraffe/camel. I’m drunk enough to get over myself and grab him and apologise for being one of those annoying, demanding fans, but something has been bugging me for years and I need to know: the burning American flag on …And Justice For Y’all’s cover art, the lyrics in Jason… The Dragon (“Abandon ship, and burn that goddamn flag… burn that fucking flag”), among other anti-American sentiment sprinkled throughout their recorded output — that’s pretty ballsy stuff, coming from shitkicking North Carolina… Dixie explains he’s always been a punk, and those things are just an extension of his skateboarding, anti-authoritarian origins, and some other rapid, rasping, guttural mutterings I can’t decipher. Then, straight-faced, he says to me, without a hint of irony, “Y’know, Weedeater… I don’t get why people think we’re a stoner band”.
Daragh Markham has worked, attended and performed at Desertfest many times over the years, sometimes all at once. He’ll play with D-beat speed metal hellions Dungeon at this year’s edition.