Shimmy on Down to the Black Deer Takeover at Desertfest

With Desertscene invited to host some of our favourite acts - including Yawning Man, Brant Bjork, Radio Moscow and more - on The Roadhouse at Black Deer Festival from 21st to 23rd June, we’ve returned the favour by bring the Black Deer Stage to The Dev on Desertfest Sunday. Hosting four of the UK’s best American bands, it will be a nice shake up to our most diverse weekend yet.

To let us know about the bands playing the Black Deer Stage, and to explain all about the crossover between our scene and country, we asked Olivia Cayce of Little Criminals and formerly of prairie doom band Black Tremor to tell us more.

The link between stoner metal, desert rock and blues is well known, but what’s less talked about is the overlap between heavy music and old time music. There’s a large collection of folk and country side projects associated with doom and sludge bands, like Iskra’s traditional folk band Knacker’s Yard or Weedeater’s country/bluegrass spinoff BarStul. Nobody does it better than Hank Williams III, though; this goddamned outlaw country hero who plays in Superjoint Ritual drunkenly stumbles between bluegrass and metal with undeniable style.

If nothing else, blues, bluegrass, country and metal share a common penance to Black history and resilience. As Henrique Prince from the Ebony Hillbillies says it, “All of this stuff, this music, has been in the Black community, in the Moor and Arab community, since the 11th Century. This stuff goes back, back, back, back, back beyond Appalachia.” Jim Bower himself (Eyehategod) roots the entire NOLA sludge scene back to Black communities resisting slavery by jamming in Congo Square on Sundays; the only day this was permitted publicly. Anything anchored in Sabbath is also anchored in this history. What is truly incredible about bluegrass is its unprecedented capacity to push you right out the other side of your hangover and back into the bottom of a bottle of whiskey before you even know what’s happening… and if that’s not metal, I don’t know what is.

The Vanguards
Those of us who walk in both worlds of bluegrass and doom will tell you that our love of one deepens our appreciation of the other. Bluegrass lets us scratch the itch to thrash when we’re out in the bush, which seems to be a common occurrence for metal heads, whether we’re drawn to fishing or shot-gunning beers by the canal. We can’t drag our cabs around, but we also can’t be without music. In the absence of stacked rigs and distortion pedals, a bluesy rip and a country drawl – even a shredded Irish reel – somehow fill the perpetual void. This five-piece from London absolutely does justice to traditional bluegrass and undoubtedly will not be slowed down by a weekend of heavy riff partying.

The Fargo Railroad Co.
In a scathing Pitchfork review of Xasthur’s bluegrass release ‘Doomgrass’, Grayson Currin makes the point that bluegrass and folk music are full of doom. Fargo Railroad Co’s ‘The Well’ almost feels like a gentle nod to Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’. Their singer lightens up the twang for a wailing intro into a song about two brothers fighting each other in the American Civil war, and we share a sweet moment in doom halfway through the tune when the drums drop, just before the vox return to a country rock twang. Instead of trying to hear metal, try letting the country wash over you and remember that Lemmy covered Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash in his side project HeadCat.

The Southern Companion
After a weekend of nonstop desert rock and stoner metal, Southern Companion is a handful of espresso beans to freshen your pallet. This group brings some elements of the ‘70s scene that gave birth to Deep Purple and Aerosmith. The guitar riff in ‘Billy’s Brother’ suggests that there’s also some Guns ‘N Roses influence happening here; that said, the general vibe of this band is closer to Van Morrrison. Van Morrison but make it country. Fun fact: Southern Companion is influenced by the Allman Brothers, whose lap steel player Warren Haynes plays on some Corrosion of Conformity records.

The Outlaw Orchestra
Dishing out a distinctly Devil Makes Three vibe, the Outlaw Orchestra undoubtedly dabble in doom. The banjo, the twanged-out three part harmonies and the upright bass (!!) anchor this band firmly in the realm of bluegrass / rockabilly, but Roux’s vox bring to mind Primus’ cover of ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’. Don’t be fooled by these acoustic instruments and the band’s placement in the lineup: these dudes have obviously ripped their fair share of joints and spun no shortage of Sabbath records. This opener really sets the vibe of the stoner-rock – bluegrass connection that this whole lineup highlights. Don’t miss.

Words by Olivia Cayce, a permanent member of Little Criminals (Facebook) and former member of prairie doom band Black Tremor (Bandcamp), plays with mantra doom band Zaum (Bandcamp) and fiddles in the likes of Montreal’s Old Time Honey (Bandcamp), the After Eleven Blues Club (Website) and Quebec City’s street band Bosko Baker (Bandcamp). This article owes much to her bandmate Taylor Jade (Bandcamp) whose deep love of stoner and sludge has heavily influenced the Little Criminals’ trajectory.