For anyone who grew up on '90s rock, the generator parties of California's low desert communities — towns like Palm Desert, Indio and Joshua Tree — are the stuff of legend. The infamous renegade events, held far off-road in the canyons and washes of the Mojave, are where bands such as Kyuss, Yawning Man and Fu Manchu developed the punk/metal/pysch-rock hybrid that came to be known simply as “desert rock,” a sound popularized by later bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Mondo Generator and Eagles of Death Metal.
That scene may be long gone, but this spring, one of its originators will pay tribute to it with the first Desert Generator festival, taking place April 9 at Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace. Kyuss co-founder Brant Bjork helped organize the event with L.A. van-culture magazine Rolling Heavy, and his current group, The Low Desert Punk Band, will play the festival alongside such desert rock–influenced groups as Red Fang, Acid King, Golden Void and Ecstatic Vision.
Speaking by phone from his home in L.A., Bjork explains that while Desert Generator is definitely meant to be “a nod of the hat to the scene that I was a part of,” the one-day festival will also “stand alone as its own thing. It will represent what rock culture in Southern California is today, and we’re really excited about that.”
Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band released their last album, Black Power Flower, on Napalm Records in 2014. Bjork says he has a new album almost completed, which he hopes to release this spring or summer, also on Napalm. “It’s just me doing kinda what I always did, which is just assemble some rockin’ musicians and make what we consider to be some rockin’ music.”
In addition to music, the Desert Generator festival will feature a custom vintage van show and an all-night campout reminiscent of '70s “van-in” events. “That’s just Southern California tradition,” Bjork says of the van/desert rock connection. “Hot rods and lowriders and custom cars in general. Southern California’s the birthplace of that.”
Asked if vans played a role in those early generator parties, Bjork reminisces fondly about a ’70s Chevy van nicknamed “Bartholomew” that belonged to his friend and fellow Kyuss co-founder, Chris Cockrell. But he's quick to note that nothing as stylish as what will be on display at the Rolling Heavy van show was part of that early scene.
“We were just a bunch of punks,” he says. “A lot of us were just lucky to even have a vehicle. There was a lot of beat-up trucks and certainly there were a couple of vans, for sure. But no one had anything worth bragging about. It was just a bunch of kids who were lucky to have four wheels and something that could get ’em out in the middle of the desert and hopefully get ’em [back].”
Bjork, who played Coachella last year, insists that Desert Generator isn't mean to be some sort of anti-Coachella (“I'm not anti anything”), but does hope it will embody some of the renegade, off-the-grid spirit of those late-’80s and early-’90s generator parties. “The rock movement I’ve always been a part of has never really been concerned with commercial success or mainstream culture. That’s not to say that we demand that we be underground, but it’s just kind of a street-level thing.”