Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Test Site is a documentary by Jesper Wachtmeister focused on the unique—if not downright odd—life perspectives of 14 interesting characters, all living and creating in North America’s deserts.

The film is filled with breathtaking desert landscapes from Utah to our own backyards of the Coachella Valley and Morongo Basin. If the majestic imagery doesn't draw you in, the personal stories—offering intimate looks at characters who would fit in a new-age Mark Twain novel—will.

Wachtmeister visits with folksinger Katie Lee, James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney; archaeologist David Nichols; Karen “dezert nymph” Reynolds; ex-homicide detective Pat Dingle; writer William L. Fox; Area 51 expert Glenn Campbell; bar owner Pat Laudenklos; artist Bobby Furst; desert-rave organizer Willy (Electronarcosis); musicians Mario Lalli and Tony Tornay from Fatso Jetson; drummer Johnny ”Sticks” Hilliard; and poet Richard Corsano. Each story is extraordinary!

Jesper is on a quest to learn about what goes on in the outskirts of civilization, where people are free to express themselves in ways not permitted in the urban world. The film takes viewers to artists’ colonies, temporary shelters for transient desert visitors at The Slabs, Peyote trips in sweat lodges guided by a real-life native-American medicine man, and crazy desert rock shows in box canyons powered by generators.

The film was produced in 2010, but I only recently learned of its existence. It boasts some of the most beautiful images of the desert I have ever seen. I was shocked to see footage of a generator party that I had attended in 1999, in a box canyon of the Indio Hills called the Iron Gate; the footage was shot by Steve Esterly. My dear, departed dog was actually in a frame. Dear sweet Kobe, rest in peace. It made me feel that stumbling upon this gorgeous piece of art, inspired in part by things I value most, was no accident.

After viewing the entire 57-minute film, I had to learn more about the filmmaker. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Jesper Wachtmeister has been making films and building light installations since his teens. It was his sense of adventure, and his love researching and exploring to find out more about a subject, that led him to creating documentary films. He prefers making films about the real world over make-believe scenarios, he said.

“I lived in and around L.A. in the early ’90s,” he said. “I studied filmmaking at Cal Arts. During that time, I took various kinds of adventurous and spiritual excursions in the desert. I was intrigued by the layers of mythology that are embedded in the desert landscapes—science fiction, old Westerns, the Swedish immigrants who died on their way west, the Las Vegas mob who brought people out in the desert to have them disappear, UFO-myths.

“It’s a place where, according to many beliefs, you are able to ‘find yourself.’ (It’s) a place for hallucinogenic rituals, ancient and modern. A place where people do what the hell they want, without having to think about their neighbors. And (it’s) a place to experience the awe of nature—where you feel both smaller and larger.  In the desert, we humans enter into a very different kind of proportion than what we are used to. Seemingly, the law seems to look the other way, allowing people to blow off some steam. Make-shift communities exist there, like Slab City.”

Wachtmeister said he listened to Kyuss back in the 1990s, but he didn’t know much about the desert-rock scene until he began researching Queens of the Stone Age for the film.

“I didn’t really know about their connection to the desert or about Mario Lalli, Rancho de La Luna and generator gigs,” he said. “They opened up the whole family tree of Masters of Reality, Desert Sessions, Mark Lanegan, Fatso Jetson for me.

“The people I met were very different, depending on what their relation to the desert was. What they all seemed to share were exceptionally strong emotions while being in the desert: Fear, love, awe, freedom and inspiration.”

Wachtmeister returned to the desert not long ago for another documentary.

“Most recently, I made another film that was filmed around the world, but that also brought me back to the U.S. deserts—to Texas and in the Joshua Tree area. It’s called Microtopia, and is about inventors, artists and architects who have chosen to downscale their or others’ living/houses—in order to put money, time and resources on other things in life.”

Learn more about or watch Microtopia at Learn more about or watch Test Site at

Read more from Robin Linn at

I discovered the depth of composer and multi-instrumentalist Vince Meghrouni when I heard him last year with the Rubber Snake Charmers, a side project involving him and Mario Lalli (Yawning Man, Fatso Jetson).

But it wasn’t until I heard him performing with Fatso Jetson that I realized what an absolutely incredible musician he is. His sexy sax lines and ultra-vibey harmonica solos brought new depth and layers of dimension to music I had experienced many times before.

Meghrouni’s name recently came up was when I was prodding drummer-percussionist Rob Peterson (Sort of Quartet, The Pedestrians) about his next musical project. I have been a huge fan of Rob since his early days with Groovalopocus, and I would follow The Pedestrians to the ends of the Earth! Rob filled me in that he had just signed on with The Atomic Sherpas … a Vince Meghrouni-led project.

I immediately looked into the matter—and learned that Vince is a complete and utter musical badass.

His strength as a songwriter benefits from his experience in many projects over the years (including Axis, The Firemen, El Grupo Sexo and Bazooka; current projects include Fatso Jetson, jazz-band the DownBeats, prog-punk band HellBat!, and free-improv group Brainchildren of Xenog). His sax work is purposeful; he has a uniquely relevant approach to the harmonica and flute; and his earthy, raspy vocals are unforgettable … as are his lyrics and song ideas.

Listening to The Atomic Sherpas is like taking a sonic ride in a first rate amusement park! There’s a horn-player clad in white; a keyboard-player in a Melvins-style wig; beautiful suits; and impeccable musicianship that entices debauchery to break out within the first song. “Funky freak-out deep-fried blue bebop rock” is the band’s self acclaimed genre. Call it what you want, but Vince and the boys take audiences far beyond the perimeters of jazz, rock, funk or fusion to a place where everything is crazy and beautiful. They take jazz, put it to a groove, and rock your freakin’ socks off!

This sextet has a stellar lineup of acclaimed and accomplished musicians: Carlos Alvidrez on trombone and percussion; Michael Alvidrez on bass; Anthony Cossa on guitar; Marc Doten on keyboards; Meghrouni on sax, flute, harp and vocals; and the desert’s own Rob Peterson on drums, the newest member.

“Rob’s virtuosity does not take a backseat to groove, inventiveness, balls-out rocking, deep-in-the-pocket funkiness or grease,” Meghrouni said about his new drummer. “I have loved every single member of this band, (and have) loved every incarnation. … But Rob has gelled this thing into the greatest gestalt yet, and I think Anthony (bassist) had a lot to do with that, too. The playing is stellar, but you can’t undervalue the enthusiasm and spirit, either.”

The band has two full-length records under its belt (Blowin’ It at Ya and Lit Up), with a new one in the can. My favorite Atomic Sherpas record to date is the newest recording—awaiting final mixing and pressing. I was fortunate to befriend Vince and was entrusted with a copy I will never, ever part with. It’s burn-a-bowl, pour-yourself-a-glass-of-wine, dance-around-in-your-underwear fun! The banter in between songs employs skit-style commentary; the music moves and grooves in a dozen different directions. One song explores the notion of guitarist John Scofield discovering that his recent love participates in a coven; the only lyric is: “Sco’s chick’s a Wiccan.” Then there is a “horny” War Pigs cover that is just over-the-top fun.

The Atomic Sherpaswill be playing in the high desert at assemblage artist Bobby Furst’s private venue, the Furst Wurld Theatre, on Sunday, Aug. 31, along with the Inner Planetary Monks, featuring guitar alchemist Bobby Nichols (full disclosure: he’s my honey), jazz/rock drum-wizard Nathaniel Scott, and the legendary jam-band bassist Bob Gross. This is a must-see event, and I hope all my desert friends will join me in welcoming this Los Angeles-based band with open arms. Seeing any show at Furst Wurld is like taking a page out of a rock ’n’ roll fairy tale; this show may be like taking an entire chapter!

There is a suggested donation of at least $10. Get more information at the Facebook events page.

Learn more about The Atomic Sherpas at To read an expanded version of this article, visit Desert Rock Chronicles at Below: The Atomic Sherpas’ Vince Meghrouni. Photo by Andy Garza.