As a whole, Dia de los Deftones stands as one of the most compelling and unique music events in recent memory. 2019's second iteration, in what will hopefully become an annual tradition, could have easily have been made into an alt-metal invasion of San Diego’s Gaslamp District. Instead, the Deftones have again curated a festival that simultaneously caters to their core audience (Gojira, Brutus) while also challenging them (Hum, Chvrches, Megan Thee Stallion).
Certainly this is still a "darker" fest. After all this it is the Deftones, but it's also a one of a kind festival featuring the clear skies of San Diego, Deftones' own microbrew, and a ton of Mexican culture (complete with an ofrenda largely dedicated to deceased Deftones bassist/founding member Chi Cheng) that adds up to an event that you miss at your peril.
BRUTUS :: Post-Hardcore :: Leuven, Belgium
Deftones Soulmate: "Kimdracula"
Led by drummer/vocalist Stefanie Mennaerts, Belgian trio Brutus opens the day on the Cavaleras (small) stage, whose stunning album Nest should already be near the top of your best albums of 2019 list. Brutus is perfectly matched to the Deftones-curated festival. They brood, they explode, and are probably just as likely to be caught listening to The Cure as Converge. One can't help but be reminded of "Kimdracula" by the dramatics of their set.
Guitarist Stijn Vanhoegaerden and bassist Peter Mulders are impeccable musicians, but it's Mennaerts's soaring mezzo-soprano that devastates the stage before anyone else gets the chance.
YOUTH CODE :: EBM/Industrial :: Los Angeles, CA
Deftones Soulmate: "Nosebleed"
Youth Code is a manic, uncompromising twist of electronic and hardcore anguish. Like "Nosebleed", a hectic track from the Deftones' debut, the duo's brand of energetic electronic mayhem is reminiscent of Ho99o9, who played the same stage last year. The texture is evocative of mid-career Skinny Puppy, compressed through a thousand algorithms of pain. Truly, a digital meat grinder, and by the end of it, everyone is hamburger.
MEGAN THEE STALLION :: Southern Rap :: Houston, Texas
Deftones Soulmate: Pink Cellphone
Megan Thee Stallion emerges on the All Souls (Main) Stage with a pomposity unlike anything else for the day. She jaws at the audience with impunity, beating her chest and tumbling through routines with her backup dancers. Deftones have always had a tangential connection to Hip Hop, but Ms. Stallion faced the gathered black t-shirt masses and instead of meeting them halfway, she dragged them with her.
HUM :: 90s Alt-Rock :: Champaign, Illinois
Deftones Soulmate: Riviére
Hum was probably surprised when they got the offer to play Dia de los Deftones. While their dynamic isn't terribly dissimilar from the fest's namesake, they do come off as excessively straight. But just like Deftones' "Riviere", Hum's music vacillates between quietly romantic and bludgeoningly expansive,
It's the first time they've played live since February 2018, and while they sound a little rusty, their catalogue does most of the heavy lifting. From the moment drummer Bryan St. Pare shuffles the hi-hats at the top of "The Scientists" to the moment they close with "I Hate It Too" (during which Megan Thee Stallion dances among the crowd) they find their way home.
JPEGMAFIA :: Experimental Hip-hop :: Baltimore, MD
Deftones Soulmate: CMND/CTRL
The experimental style of JPEG–("motherfuckin")–MAFIA takes an interesting turn in a live setting. While this year's All My Heroes Are Cornballs was a step toward something more subdued, his onstage presence remains anything but restrained. Peggy paces the stage, screaming and writhing, and serves as an apocalyptic force. More than closing the Cavaleras stage, he practically burns it down, as more and more people who aren't camping out at the main stage find their way over to witness Peggy's madness.
GOJIRA :: Metal :: Bayonne, FR
Deftones Soulmate: My Own Summer (Shove It)
Even a barely casual fan, had they wandered into a Deftones festival, would expect something traditionally 'heavy', and Gojira fits the bill. They are a black-clad, double-bass-drum-thumping, down-tuned metal band, and while it all sounds good on paper – a passing teenager says to his friend prior to their set, "They're like Metallica, only better" – Gojira, whose songs often feel arbitrary, is really more machine than man. And as fun as it is to watch drummer Mario toss out drumstick after drumstick amid their trademark pyrotechnics, the band struggles to find a real groove during their 45-minute set.
Still, the band rips, and the pit still moves, and maybe that's all you need.
CHVRCHES :: Synth-Pop :: Glasgow, SCT
Deftones Soulmate: Phantom Bride
The penultimate act of the night is a brave choice for both bands. After all, the Deftones are pretty far from the huge synth hooks and guitar-less shine of Chvrches. Led by jubilant sprite Lauren Mayberry, the band makes mostly inorganic pop songs with obvious crossover appeal. For goodness sake, they're on their way to play the Late, Late Show with James Corden the very next week.
Mayberry's voice is the connection between her band and the headliner, though, as it is cutting, meticulous, and soaring – her verses laser-beam through a sea of black t-shirts, which is not too disparate from one Mr. Chino Moreno.
They're like Cyndy Lauper backed by M83, and honestly, they're a perfect palette cleanser. It's pretty damned addictive, and near the end of their hour, Mayberry gushes about the band's collective love for the Deftones. Then, their pulsing rhythms, if not their melancholy, win over a good portion of the skeptical, this writer included.
DEFTONES :: Alt-Metal/Post-Goth :: Sacramento, CA
Sacramento's favorite five-some only carved out a little over an hour for their headlining set, but they perform some fun tricks for those paying attention. First of all, Chino Moreno has grown into one of the most charismatic front men in heavy music. The gloomy nature to much of the Deftones' music casts him as vulnerable, but often he swaggers. His knees bend and his hips sway in unlikely moves for this type of music.
The majority of their set features performances of 2-3 consecutive songs from Around the Fur, Koi No Yokan, Diamond Eyes, and White Pony, with standout deep cuts "Rickets", "Romantic Dreams", and "Street Carp".
But the deepest cut, "Smile", is a never before performed track from Eros, an album which has been shelved since Chi Cheng's coma in 2008 (Cheng died in 2013). The song is a moody hymn held together beautifully by current bassist Sergio Vega.
The curators of the day play some early favorites from their debut album Adrenaline – released twenty-four years ago – and the day is done.
Throughout the departing crowd, it's debated whether or not Moreno shouted, "See you next year!" but everyone hopes he did.