Desert Daze is, first and foremost, a festival for freaks, but consider that sentiment with love. Take the jet-setter grating cheese on people’s heads during Viagra Boys, the friends grooving to samba music with melons wearing sunglasses, the disciples toting signs depicting Kevin Parker as Jesus. Within 20 minutes on the box office grounds, I was offered a giant bag of weed and a psilocybin chocolate bar by two Gizzheads who needed a ride to the entrance. It’s all so ridiculous and heartwarming and wonderful — plus, there’s always a guitar soaring somewhere in the background to coax you into the haze.

For three days, Lake Perris, California transforms into a Technicolor haven replete with sci-fi sculptures, a wall of vintage TVs spitting supernatural visions and a sunken living room on the beach. In these sacred grounds, apathy is insignificant; the fest refracts hope and happiness at every turn. Simply witnessing concertgoers kick up cosmic stardust for an hour and then bend down to pick up their own trash afterward makes Coachella’s suffocating influencer culture or Lollapalooza’s infatuation with mass appeal seem so distant. And no surprise, with its stunning mountain view and some of the most delightful people, Desert Daze presents the ideal environment to both catch some sun on the beach or have a revelatory trip with friends.

Read more: This surrealist fashion brand dreams up freakish meme-iverses onstage and in music videos

This year’s event was buoyed by an all-star lineup and a return to three stages after 2021’s smaller-scale production, celebrating the festival’s 10 years around the sun. On Friday night, King Gizzard frontman Stu Mackenzie relented his ferocious trance by crowd-surfing to the lake and back. At The Beach Stage on Saturday, Slift conjured up a mosh so heavy that security requested backup. The following afternoon, Surfbort caused mayhem on the same stage, playing cuts like “Lot Lizard 93” while fans threw roses at Dani Miller.

With any festival, there are thorns. There were bands that were loud for the sake of being loud. Sky Ferreira’s 20-minute set — her first U.S. show in three years — was tragically short (“I wasn’t late for the sake of being late,” she stressed twice). Under the influence (or not), dodging gopher holes in the dark poses obvious risks. But these snags aren’t enough to make negative waves; you simply take it as it is and move on.

In a weekend boasting dozens of incredible acts, these are some of the most memorable performances across the festival’s three-day celebration, along with a photo gallery by Maria Cardillo.

Farewell Kikagaku Moyo, one of the world’s greatest living psych bands

Before there was Kikagaku Moyo, there was Acid Mothers Temple, White Heaven and Boredoms. Japan’s psych-rock scene soared in the ’90s, rife with raucous gems that’ve been relegated to Discogs obscurity. But this year, Kikagaku Moyo transcended their psych predecessors with a series of spellbinding farewell shows, each different from the last. And to mark their final North American festival appearance on Saturday night, the band acted like gods. They transitioned from meditative passages to all-out riffage with the type of precision that’s rooted in mastery of their craft and a profound sense of alchemy between all five members. The set peaked when the band erupted into a mind-searing freakout during “Dripping Sun.” Fans began to mosh. Daoud Popal dipped backward while unleashing guitar fervor (he barely looked human). “Nazo Nazo” and “Monaka” served as the epic, bittersweet comedown. There’s something melancholy about people starting to discover just how good Kikagaku Moyo are as they head out the door, but their live show will be an important part of their lore. A massive farewell to these interdimensional psych voyagers.

Kikagaku Moyo
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[Photo by Maria Cardillo] 

The Marías conquer panic attacks and triumph on the main stage

On wax, the Marías exude a seductive cool that makes you feel as if you’ve fallen deep into a vintage cinema. Live, that sentiment swells as they flip from rock to reggaeton to Britney Spears covers with a velvet touch. The LA quartet made every song feel so massive on Sunday evening, it was jarring to read that vocalist María Zardoya suffered a severe panic attack before they took The Moon Stage. But it makes their set all the more revelatory and monumental. Few other bands feel like they’re casting incantations with the cue of a light. One moment, they’re debuting a new song in an orange-and-red haze. The next, the group are pulled into darkness, with María’s shadow working a slow strut across the stage.

The Marías
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[Photo by Maria Cardillo] 

BADBADNOTGOOD channel Mahavishnu Orchestra for the new age

BADBADNOTGOOD exist in many shapes. There’s the jazz school dropouts, the hip-hop disciples, the savvy lounge act. But as BBNG tuned their instruments to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” on Sunday evening, it reminded goers that the band are dealing in fiery jazz-rock these days. During their vivid performance, BADBADNOTGOOD channeled a similar boldness, grandeur and intensity as Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1972. The low end rattled in your chest. The tone of Leland Whitty’s saxophone felt as golden as the dusky, sun-glowed backdrop. Drummer Alexander Sowinski’s commands compelled you to groove. Toward the end of their set, the band even brought out collaborator Charlotte Day Wilson for “I Can Only Whisper” and the hazy stunner “In Your Eyes.” Simply wicked.

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[Photo by Maria Cardillo] 

Tame Impala take a bittersweet nostalgia trip by playing Lonerism in its entirety

For years, Kevin Parker has mapped out psychedelic ruminations in seclusion, making a career out of songs that chronicled his anxiety, social shyness and general ennui. In the ensuing years, he abandoned classic-rock worship for pop prestige (like trading milky bong hits for red wine) and became a lot less interesting to many of his followers. That’s why this year’s Desert Daze marked such a momentous occasion. Not only was the festival celebrating its 10-year anniversary, but it also signaled a decade of Lonerism. Naturally, Parker was compelled to play his best album from front to back for one night only. The result was a heavenly set for lifers, brimming with stage theatrics (lasers, confetti) and live gems (“Be Above It” was played for the first time in seven years, whereas “Sun’s Coming Up” made its live debut). Lonerism remains a sublime representation of where Parker’s been and where he was going, and getting to hear the record in its entirety was a sweet nostalgia trip. But there was something a little off-putting about the moment, too, knowing Parker’s outgrown this era of his life. Despite the gimmicks and the crowd’s intensity, the songs lacked the same edge. When he mentions how the night is “going way too fast for me,” part of you wonders if you even believe him. Then he kicks into “She Just Won’t Believe Me,” for the first time ever, and it’s better to just soak up the moment instead.

Tame Impala
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[Photo by Maria Cardillo] 

Cortex’s slick jazz fusion was an intimate, unforgettable time warp

Cortex possess a type of aura that feels mythical. The French jazz fusionists have been sampled by everyone from MF DOOM and Madlib to Tyler, The Creator and Raekwon but remain largely shrouded in mystery. The band hardly tour; their most popular album came out in 1975; until 2020, you couldn’t find them on Instagram. It’s a marvel (and a blessing) that the festival managed to book them, but we remain grateful. Because witnessing Cortex on Friday night at the Beach Stage was like being sucked into a musical vortex and spit out in a mid-’70s Paris jazz lounge. As the band unfurled their silky jazz-funk, it felt like catching a glimpse of Herbie Hancock jamming with the Head Hunters or Donald Byrd mid-session with the Mizell Brothers. The type of set that’ll make you a jazzhead for life (and one you wished went on for another hour at least).

Chicano Batman own the main stage with Latin groove and a “Creep” cover

Shifting from Cortex to Chicano Batman to Men I Trust on Friday evening was its own life-affirming surprise, with each stage presenting a different vibe. Arriving a couple of songs into their set, Chicano Batman were clearly in the throes of a sweeping performance. The four-piece carved out deep grooves on the main stage, playing music with a message (“Freedom Is Free,” “Black Lipstick”) and songs that ruminate on daily life (“Cycles of Existential Rhyme”). They even busted out a faithful cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” toward the set’s end. A must-see live act that uses music as both a balm and an act of resistance.

Chicano Batman
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[Photo by Maria Cardillo] 

Nilüfer Yanya brings PAINLESS to life with poise

At the top of the year, Nilüfer Yanya released her excellent second album, PAINLESS. It’s a record that saw her reaching toward softer introspection, rather than the searing solos that colored her debut LP. Naturally, transferring those whispery meditations to a live setting presents its own challenge, but Yanya made the songs pop onstage. Her touring band helped her bring the album’s texture to life, particularly the buttery saxophone solos from Jazzy Bobby. Yanya’s set might have been a better fit for Sunday, but her songs acted as a reprieve from the heaviness to come. Besides, there are worse ways to spend an hour than swaying on a man-made beach as Yanya performs Radiohead worship and PJ Harvey covers during the golden-hour glow.

Desert Daze 2022 photo gallery

This year's Desert Daze transformed Lake Perris, California into a psychedelic retreat from Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Photographer Maria Cardillo was on site to capture the energy and action behind the barricade. Check out these incredible photos of the three-day celebration.