Deftones established their Dia de los Deftones festival in 2018 as not just a celebration, but a challenge as well. The celebratory theme centers on Dia de los Muertos, but the challenge comes from an annual lineup that gently pushes sensibilities and expectations. Assuredly, there will be heavy guitar music, but at this fest there will also be contrasts. That tradition continued in 2023, which brought another eclectic lineup to San Diego’s Petco Park on Saturday, November 4.
Salt Lake City’s RILE, a trio featuring Sam Richards of Cult Leader, opened the afternoon – in the shade, mercifully. The band has a new EP with Kurt Ballou’s stamp, a drummer who’s part wild animal, and a taste for chaotic hardcore. RILE isn’t so much looking to move people as they’re trying to abuse them, a very difficult task during a festival opening slot in a baseball stadium.
Capra, up next, treated their early slot as though they were the headliner. Vocalist Crow Lotus emerged amid a sea of feedback wearing a Padres jersey and a take-this-shit-down look on her face. At this point many fans were just arriving to the field, and wandered over. They were received by a searing, cacophonous, and beautiful half hour of destruction beginning with “Chsf” from their new album Errors, and ending with “Silana” from the same.
Next was Pinback; Rocket from the Crypt played the inaugural Dia de los Deftones in 2018 and this invitation to another San Diego band is the first time the fest has paid tribute to its host city since. For their part, Pinback played the part of placid Gen-X outlier, much like Hum in 2019. While all the other acts on the lineup this year tend toward rocking the boat with energy and volume, Pinback seem to be more than comfortable letting their exceptional songwriting be the center of attention.
Mexican-born, NYC-by-way-of-Philly-based Latin Pop sensation PIERI exploded onto the stage next, near sundown, with beyond-assertive delivery. Her lyrics are in Spanish, but the attitude is universal: her set began to a mostly ambivalent crowd, but just ten minutes in they were screaming while she gyrated.
What better gift to the fans of Deftones than a high energy set from Knocked Loose next? Vocalist Bryan Garris appeared on the main stage with all the authority in the known world. From the front-man-front-kick, to the “WHAT THE FUCK IS UP SAN DIEGO,” to the constant audience instruction (overheard between songs a young woman said to her friend, to uproarious laughter, “Maybe they should start using PowerPoint if they want the mosh pit to look a certain way!”) Tropes don’t really matter in hardcore/metalcore, though, and there’s no other way to parse this out other than to say that Knocked Loose kicked everyone’s asses completely.
It should never go unappreciated that Dia de los Deftones has been very successful at including some of the most cutting edge hip-hop artists of the last few years. Doechii, next, performed the same slot that was previously held by the likes of Freddie Gibbs, Doja Cat, and JPEGMAFIA. Not to mention that Audrey Nuna burned the stage down last year, and the 2019 edition of the festival featured Megan Thee Stallion before she was THE Megan Thee Stallion. The stage was spartan, but Doechii’s presence was anything but. Her lyricism, execution, and enthusiasm are contagious, and she whipped the crowd up so easily and completely, all while slurping Don Julio tequila, that mosh pits began to form by the end. The only problem, however, is that her thirty minutes felt shorter than seems fair, and by the end of it, it’s like we hardly saw her at all.
Up next was 100 gecs; a recent, glowing review of their 2023 album 10,000 Gecs inferred that the key to understanding their music is to follow the irony. But festivals – especially ones rooted in heavy genres – are often very literal. Complicating things is the very strong instinct for older music fans to reject things they don’t understand, which is what a portion of the crowd did for the duo. It is the only time in four editions of Dia de los Deftones that this writer could remember actual booing at this usually very supportive event. While the overall response to 100 gecs was positive, it was clear from the crowd’s reactions and the subsequent internet chatter that fans wondered if Deftones might have been crazy to include them in the lineup. However, others might suggest that an even crazier idea is that someone would pay good money to attend a fest like this, and then jeer any performer as opposed to, say, going to enjoy a fucking taco or one of Deftones’ many beer collaborations with Belching Beaver instead.
Closing out the night, the mission statement for the fest’s namesake remains the same: play a handful of fan favorites (“Cherry Waves”, “Swerve City”, “My Own Summer (Shove it)”) along with more than a few that haven’t been picked up in some years (“When Girls Telephone Boys”, “Korea”, “Xerces”). Singer Chino Moreno does not typically get the credit he deserves for being one of the most charismatic frontmen in music. He turned 50 this past June and his performance is better than ever, despite not being the type to dive directly off the speakers into the crowd these days. The fans in attendance were rapturous, as they are every year, and a growing subset are younger people, teenagers, all screaming lyric after lyric and chewing on the deep cuts. Thirty-five years, nine studio albums, two Grammys, and four festivals later, Deftones feel simultaneously like a huge band and a semi-kept secret.
Check out pictures from Dia de los Deftones 2023 by Tojo Andrianarivo below.