From The Doors to Wolfmother, the desert has long provided an oasis of spiritual escape for wandering rockers. So how will the likes of Iron Maiden, Incubus and Mastadon fare under the glare of Dubai?
As the skyscrapers and irritations of the big smoke's hustle and bustle fade into the distance, you find yourself driving deep into the heart of the desert. Or so it seems. The Dubai Country Club is teetering on the outskirts of the city, just waiting to burst into life. Normally a hardcore rock festival comes into view like a weekend's whirlwind of insanity. But Desert Rock, buried deep in the heart of the Middle East, instead appears like a brief glimmer of sanity in a messed up world. It's the towering city surrounding it which looks more like the freak show, so it is no wonder then that it's not merely the rock enthusiasts who are drawn to the festivities.
The fact that this is not going to be a Download-esque bash is glaringly apparent from the off.
After breezing through the queues and the security staff armed with metal detectors – presumably just being used as fashion accessories such is the lack of any enforcement – the stern faces of two armed police officers await you, guarding the stall where festival-goers pick up their 'over 21' wristbands. Rocking out seems to the last thing on their minds.
Their disproving looks can't stop the rock though and, now armed with said wristbands, it's time to figure out where the hell you get the booze. On finding the beer stalls at the rear of the grounds and spending around 10 minutes trying to explain to people you just want a freakin' beer, it becomes apparent that you first have to queue elsewhere for booze/food tokens. This immediately sounds like a schoolboy festival organiser error – something which becomes reality over the course of the weekend in the form of constant massive queues for absolutely everything.
And as all this token malarky is going on, Indian upstarts Junkyard Groove are kicking things off on stage. The winners of Shamal, a talent show featuring new bands from various sections of Asia, are welcome musical relief in a land that boasts about as much musical talent as a chipped Spice Girls fingernail. That being said, they are no great Sheikhs and lack a certain flair that the bigger names are sure to have in abundance later on.
The same could be said for the act that follows – Lauren Harris. Interestingly, the attractive yet underwhelming singer is the spawn of Steve Harris, bass guitarist and founding member of today's headliners Iron Maiden. Surely just a coincidence? Although the music is inoffensive to the ears, the likes of 'Get Over It' and 'Your Turn' seem to be taking a labourious walk down a well-treaded rocky path to a place called Lame. Lovely girl though.
It's only when Mastodon take to the stage that things really start to heat up. Their typically rambunctious performance is exactly what the beer-guzzling crowd has been screaming out for – loud, brash and pretty damn good. Pasty Swedes In Flames follow up in the same ilk, seemingly surprising sections of the crowd in being the highlight of the day – that and a scaffolding company's giant sign with a slogan that reads 'erection specialists'.
"We never see the sun and now we're playing in glorious sunshine", roars In Flames' frontman, Anders Friden. "We're having a fucking great time!" And so is the throng of onlookers, predominantly music-starved expat kids, whose awe and excitement is simply contagious. And this with old timers The Prodigy and Iron Maiden still to come. Neither disappoint. Favourites such as 'Firestarter' and 'Smack My Bitch Up' go down an absolute storm, despite Keith Flint seemingly being rather intoxicated and looking like he has no idea where the hell he is.
The following day seems to take even longer to burst into life. The first band of any real note are The Bravery – the third band to take to the stage – and although they play a tight set with some new and old material, it's a souless performance. 'Honest Mistake' and 'Fearless' are well received but by all accounts it sounds like their next album is going to be instantly forgetable.
Fortunately, the ensuing ensemble are the weekend's true salvation. Incubus breezing onto the stage are as welcome as a cool wind on sunburnt skin. With an unrivalled passion and enthusiasm they burst into recent hit 'Anna Molly' at a rate of knots, following up smoothly with the likes of 'Nice To Know You' and 'I Wish You Were Here', which are the best songs of the weekend by a country mile.
Then comes the climax Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation. Nobody seems quite sure what the former Led Zep man has got to offer but it soon becomes apparent that the guy has got plenty left in the bag. He doesn't even really have to do much and he still looks cool and sounds awesome.
The only things cleaner than his set are the toilets, which must surely be the cleanest festival toilets in existence. They're so immaculate you could eat your dinner off them if you could be bothered queuing up for food tokens again, then queuing up for food, then queuing up for the toilets. Well, you get the general idea.