In the last two decades, Desert Rock has been thriving, getting more recognition day by day, and rapidly growing its fanbase. I recall the first time I listened to the album Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA). As someone who has always been a fan of rock music, I was totally blown away by its unique sound. It felt like a combination of Nirvana, The Doors, and Led Zeppelin. It was heavy and psychedelic at the same time. I was immediately hooked.
Beyond the valley girls and glamour of Hollywood, there is another side to southern California. Palm Desert is a region roughly 130 miles east of downtown Los Angeles and is renowned as the birthplace of the desert party. Its remote location is why even Covid-19 seems incapable of causing this community significant difficulty, even these days.
People recognised the potential of this isolated territory and eventually the desert became a stage for live rock concerts. Imagine this! You send text messages to your mates about a jam session that will take place that night. You take your guitar and a bottle of tequila, load your gasoline-powered generator for your amp into the backseat of your car, and drive towards the sunset and the meeting point. A truly Californian experience, I cannot think of a more vivid vision of freedom these days than this.
The Palm Desert scene includes various bands, such as QOTSA, Kyuss, Eagles of Death Metal, Slow Burn, and Yawning Man. The heavy, dark, fuzz-driven sound of these formations has been impacted by psychedelia. However, due to the proximity of Mexico, not to mention the local Spanish speaking communities, their music has been influenced by Latin melodies as well.
Whenever I listen to a band, the first thing I check out is its origins. Maybe this is just my opinion, but it’s based on personal experience: I think geography and different cultural environments have significant psychological influences on music. Think it over! A rock band from South Africa or Australia will probably have a totally different sound to a rock band from London or the north of Scotland. It’s the same with desert rock: it has a unique sound that cannot be mistaken with any other genre.
Maybe that’s the reason it’s a subculture that has a traditionally massive following. Today, it’s one of the most recognised subgenres within rock music. The loneliness of the Mojave Desert shines through the sound of these bands, along with its darkness and enormous power.
Having shots of tequilas with your buddies and jamming all night long in the desert is an idyllic way for musicians to spend their time. But once your gasoline-powered generator runs out of fuel you need to make a decision.
Do you stop partying, get some badly needed shut-eye, sober up, and drive home with the first sunlight? Or do you use what’s left of the gas in the tank of your car, and play on until the dawn? I’m guessing that you’ll need to find the nearest gas station in the morning and drive home carefully! That’s my plan anyway.