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Tag Archive for: The Black Heart

Last month we hosted our first ever Orange Jams event at London’s Black Heart with US band Monarch. Hailing from the San Diego / Encinitas / Ocenaide area, Monarch are one of many bands who have followed in the footsteps of the mighty Earthless and Astra and turned the area into a psychedelic haven for both bands and listeners, contributing to a scene that’s been making waves way blowing minds for nearly two decades. Mixing elements of classic rock, psychedelia, prog, jazz and improv jams, Monarch seemed like the perfect fit for our psychedelic summer extravaganza and we could not be happier with how it turned out.

Support came from HECK / Haggard Cat guitarist Matt Reynolds, Swedish Death Candy drummer Marco Ninni and GNOB bassist Ben Kenobi-Marflar in the form of an improv psych jam. Despite frequenting different circles and having only met and played together once in early 2017, they all accepted the challenge in a heartbeat and blew all our minds when they came together to let their worlds collide.

We’d like to thank: The Black Heart and Matt for working alongside us to make this a night to remember, Mathmos and their lava lamps for adding to the visual experience, The Great Frog for their social support and gifting to the band, Liquid Death and Signature Brew for offering drinks to the band, Yorkshire Burrito for feeding the band and photographer Emily Power for capturing it all on camera.


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.


Let’s get one thing clear: if you can survive a weekend working the bar at Desertfest, you can work a bar anywhere, in any situation. Forget other festivals. You can sling pints on deck as the Titanic sinks. You can line up shots while a mushroom cloud courtesy of Putin/Biden/Kim Jong-fucking-un towers in the distance (customers irradiated before your very eyes, what a sight that must be…). But I’m drifting.

So it starts like this: you wake up, legs still aching. You’ve only shut your eyes a minute and now you’re on your feet again, slouching back to the front. At least you didn’t follow your colleagues to their spontaneous Slimelight afterparty (they’ll roll in soon, sicker than Mike IX Williams in withdrawal during Hurricane Katrina).

At the bar, every morning of Desertfest begins with the keg hustle. How much beer does the focal point of a festival need each day? About as much as Matt Pike loves aliens — lots. You’re rolling, stacking, lifting, packing an inordinate number of kegs, the tiny cold room filled to the rafters as your frazzled brain plays keg Tetris trying to organise it all while you sweat out yesterday’s regret.

It’s like war prepping, strategising every bit of space before another full-day assault. They rinsed us of that peach sour beer yesterday — gonna need to push something fruity to the front today… Fortify yourself with a couple Bloody Mary shots and a Modelo for breakfast. You’ll need it. For today be Saturday. Or is it Sunday? Forget it. Eighteen-hour shifts don’t require day names — they all spell insanity anyway.

It’s May in England and this year, miraculously, it’s not raining. Throngs accumulate in the alley out front, allowing air into the bar. By midday, the venue upstairs reeks of beer, bud, BO and beard. The volume is unreal. It’s way past capacity up there, a line of people snaking out and down the stairs, all looking to the venue door, where all you can see is the backs of heads. The body heat and smoke-machine dry ice hang in the stagnant air like mist from a Hammer Horror film. Oh, for a big-titted vampiress to take me now.

Those too late to get upstairs congregate around the bar. Acid casualties. Serial defecators. Curious out-of-towners demanding round after round of Bloody Mary shots. Space cadets reeling from obscene amounts of weed/shrooms/beer/acid demand they be looked after by your staff (this is the second consecutive year this happens).

Time gamblers cling to the bar, gripped by the unmistakable murk of several accumulated all-nighters, well-earned sleep circling, beckoning like a vulture. Any minute now, the eyes of one of them will roll back, their head will fall forward, and their face will slam on the bartop with a meaty smack. And somewhere in the bar, a skinny white boy is a bit too eager to clarify the name of the Eyehategod song playing, yelling the racial epithet in its title loud enough to startle the dazed, glazed and blazed attendees out of their afternoon reveries. Someone comes to the bar to inform us that one poor soul/hole didn’t quite make it to the toilets, opting instead to shit in the corner of the corridor leading to the johns. A recruit drafted in from one of the sister pubs is sent on a search and destroy mission. He returns disgusted but triumphant.

Ten minutes go by and someone else informs us of the faecal matter. Turns out the wet-behind-the-ears grunt had simply doused the mound of human waste with disinfectant powder (blue-coloured, meant for drains) and cordoned it off with blue roll, so the offending corridor corner appears infested by a pile of luminous blue-spotted mutant excrement like something out of The Thing. A dishonourable discharge beckons for this soldier for his failure to properly deal with the offending dishonourable human discharge.

Naturally, a weak stomach has no place in bar work. But this weekend, my diet will consist of three Quorn scotch eggs, a Quorn cocktail sausage, 63 Modelos, and anxiety. All of which means we have to talk about the snack station — the infamous, annually expanding staff snack station behind the bar.

I’m talking four one-litre bottles of vodka, four cartons of tomato juice, and multiple packs of celery sticks. I’m talking three large bags of tortilla chips, various salsa/guacamole/sour cream and chive/nacho chilli cheese dips, along with apples, oranges and bananas. I’m talking bread rolls, slices of cheese, ham, and cherry tomatoes. I’m talking sausage rolls, scotch eggs, pasta, chicken bites and steak bakes. And I am most certainly talking four to five ASSORTED TUBS OF HUMMUS and endless Modelos.

This is how we win. An army marches on its stomach, and my unit is no different. Around late afternoon, a senior member of the Desertfest team locks eyes with me over the bar and nods to the office. I nod in confirmation and lead the way, followed by the team member and an unknown third party dragging a suitcase on wheels behind them. The door closes, and I look at the two of them, waiting for some sort of introduction, status update, or indication as to why the three of us are cramped into the hobbithole confines of this office.

The two of them ignore me and a sordid transaction unfolds before my eyes.

“You got it?” the team member asks.

“Oh yeah,” comes the reply, in an American accent.

The American unzips the suitcase and produces two extra-large ziplock bags, containing six airtight Tupperware boxes, three in each bag. The boxes are brimming with a beige–brown substance.

My eyes widen, pulse quickens. “Is that h-“

The team member turns and narrows their eyes at me, smiling. “That’s right. Pure, uncut, homemade hummus.”

I gulp. Hard. The team member pulls an artist pass out of his pocket and places it in the American’s waiting hand.

He nods and smiles at me. “I’m an artist, bro.”

I’m hip to this scene. “Oh yeah, me too,” I wink and nod back.

A clandestine hummus handoff! In my own office! I am completely aroused. And, naturally, for his silence, your boy gets a slice of this action. I nip back to the bar to grab a bag of crisps and then scurry into the office and the chilly keg room to luxuriate, alone, in my share of the contraband. Fuck yeah, I whisper to myself, dipping crisps into a hunk of hummus clutched in my hand. This’ll take the edge off nicely.

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.