The Desert Daze Festival has basically earned its place as the best live (and most forward-thinking) rock music event in the USA right now. Although its focus is mainly on bands with a psychedelic or garage-rock edge, there is still enough of a nod to who is the best and biggest on the current alternative music scene. Located by (swimmable) Lake Perris, about halfway between Los Angeles and Indio (site of the Coachella fest), Desert Daze presents 2 festival-size stages, a smaller tent stage, a dome that provides film, electronic and ambient experimental music, and a special small stage at the actual adjacent campsite. Burning Man is still the best festival out there for endless art installations but Desert Daze has just enough art and glow-y illuminations to keep one happy for architectural eye candy.
Symbiosis and Lightning In A Bottle are equally as well run, but the focus on those festivals is more oriented toward electronica. The Coachella Festival, while ONCE sharing similar instincts of who is the newest and brightest on the alternative scene has unfortunately basically been taken over by completely commercial artists and has lost any kind of underground appeal—perhaps a victim of its own commercial success.
Attendees at Desert Daze this year were treated to such "heritage" alternative acts such as Devo, Stereolab, Ween and Flaming Lips, as well as a surprise fill-in set by shoegaze pioneers Ride (who were incredible, BTW). There was plenty of psychedelic rock too, represented by such stalwarts as The Black Angels, Dead Meadow, Wand, and Animal Collective, and cosmic alignment with Flying Lotus' glitch-hop sensibilities (hundreds of 3D glasses were passed out for his audiovisual set). Speaking of which, both large stages presented astonishing computerized and liquid light shows every night.
The real excitement at such festivals, though, (at least for me) is the lesser-known, and edgier acts at the smaller stage. NYC's Surfbort had one of the brattiest and most engaging femme vocalists in a long time, and both The Locust and Lightning Bolt verged on deafening but inspired sonic terrorism. The biggest surprise here was Russia's newly rebooted Pussy Riot, who have gone from riot grrrl rock to red-lit industrial hip- hop, replete with masked dancers.
Speaking of international acts, also of note at Desert Daze was the booking of several world-music-type bands. W.I.T.C.H featured some European white boys so enamored with '70s psychedelic Zambian band that they traveled to Africa to resuscitate the band with the original lead singer. Saharan guitar wonder Mdou Moctar also played an equally galvanizing set. Turkish psych revivalists Altin Gun wowed the afternoon crowd, and later in the evening, Khruangbin (actually from Houston) slayed with their Thai/funk/surf mashups.