OFF Festival 2019 in Katowice, Poland, August 2, 2019 Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019  

Suede

Soccer Mommy, Stereolab, JARV IS…, Jarvis Cocker, Suede, black midi

OFF Festival 2019 in Katowice, Poland, August 2, 2019,

Aug 16, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Having never been to Poland before, I am unsure what to expect from OFF Festival and as I approach the ominous looking makeshift entry gates built out of three shipping containers, a light plane immediately hurtles within spitting distance overhead to haphazardly land in the adjacent field. Moments later, it is followed by what looks like some sort of homebuilt helicopter giving the impression that I've stumbled into some sort of chaotic Mad Max setting and I begin wondering just what post-apocalyptic madness waits instore.

I soon discover that OFF is actually a fantastic weekend for the discerning music fan, which doesn't settle on any one particular style, sound, or genre by having carefully selected the best in rising homegrown talent and essential acts which have proven themselves on the festival international festival circuitplus a couple of true icons thrown in for good measure.

Though the site may be somewhat small, it benefits from having relatively few clashes enabling festival goers to see almost everyone they would wish. Plus the festival offers quite a few luxury extras including a vinyl record store, boutique clothes stalls, and even a hairdressers. The food is fantastic, making good on the promise of offering something for every dietary requirement, although the standard was so exceptionally high it did make me occasionally miss a cheap and nasty chip van (you can take the boy out of Yorkshire...). And good news for drinkers, beer worked out at about £1.75 with cocktails and spirits also very reasonably priced. But be warned, the whole site is cashless and so it is worth getting your hands on a pre-paid travel debit card because paying in fistfuls of 2 złoty vouchers bought from the kiosk was pretty annoying, especially when meals tended to cost around 32!

Having been promised by previous attendees that often the most interesting acts can be found on Scena Eksperymentalna (the experimental stage), I make my way there and so the first act of my weekend is Polish band Dynasonic: a haunting breed of post punk which draws on both drone and techno that seems in line with the sound that is currently emanating from Eastern Europe and Russia right now. Patiently, the almost nervous energy builds and swells to create a sense of hypnotic concentration rather than relieve the tension with some sort of drop or burst of energy. Given that they're one of the first acts of the weekend, it's impressive how full the tent is, unlike in the UK who tend to ignore the first performers in favor of the big names and this gives an early indication to the character of OFFit really is a weekend for those with a deep respect for innovative music looking to discover something new. Yet despite the high attendance, I can't help but think it is a shame they are on so early as their dark, repetitive meditative quality would have worked better in the deep dark late of the night rather than the well-lit summer afternoon.

A little over an hour later and it's time to check out Sub Pop signing Perfect Son aka Tobiasz Biliński at the idyllic Scena Leśna (forest stage). Similarly taking a dark edge but with more overt synth pop appeal, Biliński's style is far from aggressive and provides the perfect time to grab something to eat. The reaction here is appreciative and singing in English with the backing of the iconic indie label, it's easy to imagine that he will find a receptive audience in the West though he is likely to be named amongst a number of acts you like rather than your favorite artist.

The first explosive act at OFF is undoubtedly Northampton, England's new tearaway slowthai. Treating his set more like a metal gig rather than rap, Tyron Frampton divides the spectators into walls of death and easily instructs the throng to form a circle pit during his muscled single "Doorman." It's interesting to see that the large crowd knows every single word and eagerly scream loud enough over the dense bass to be heard by the Mercury Prize nominee, who drinks in the madness with a crazed glassy eyed grin. In a weird parallel with fellow UK rapper Dave's set at Glastonbury earlier this summer, Frampton plucks a fan from the madness to join him on stage and after given the mic we discover his name is Alex and the pair somehow spontaneously work seamlessly together before Alex is crowd surfed back into mob to join his friends. Frampton signs off for today, but no doubt he will soon be back giving it some in Poland and likely after he has got a Mercury on his mantelpiece.

This year has seen jazz make a massive return to the mainstream, and leading the charge is The Comet Is Coming. The London based three-piece are the perfect combo of big beat excitement and complex time signature sophistication that draws in on elements of electronica and space rock, and their appearance this evening absolutely proves why they are at the forefront of the re-emergence of the previously often derided genre. They achieve a remarkably large turnout at Scena Leśna, likely due to the Polish revellers' apparent taste for an avant-garde sound you can get down to, and the impressively loud set sees the troika create a groove so big that once you fall for them it's impossible to escape. However, their set does peak when they play hit single "Summon the Fire" and they do feel a bit like a spent force once it has been and gone. The jazz influences continue over at Scena Eksperymentalna with black midi who provoke wild cheers with their angular punk. Artistic rather than agitational, the band are the masters of freeform guitar riffs, purposefully breaking down into almost a shambolic mess to be reunited by drummer Morgan Simpson into a tight flurry of acid reflux.

Despite being one of the enduring icons of the '90s, Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker now feels the need to re-introduce himself to the world as JarvIs. The first headliner on the Scena Perlage main stage of the weekend, the anticipation is high with the impatient masses accidently cheering roadies believing them to be band members.

In this new incarnation, Cocker explores disparate influences including Arabic inspired starter "Sometimes I Am Pharaoh" and hit quintessentially British take on Krautrock with "Must I Evolve?" as heard v on BBC 6 Music every hour.

When he isn't leaping around the stage, showing off his signature dancing skills like his very own unique Yorkshire style Fung Fu, he's regaling some witty anecdote in his own inimitable wry manner, indulging in a little crowd surfing, offering a packet of crisps to the many onlookers to prove that sharing is the highest form of civilization and even trying his hand at a bit of pidgin Polish which sends the locals into spams of delight.

I must admit, I went crazy when they played Pulp deep cut "His 'n' Hers" (not to be confused with the essential album!), the disco freak out led on to new song "Swanky Modes" which is Cocker at his frustrated best, to finish with his rallying anthem against the selfishness, ineptitude and ignorance of those at the top; "Cunts Are Still Running The World."

The next day I manage to share a few words with the national treasure we like to think of as "Our Jarvis" and thank him for a wonderful performance the previous night, citing the closing number in particular. Cocker gloomily shrugs and says, "It's just sad that's it's so relevant right now." To which I reply: "Yes. Which is why it's so important you are playing this song to people right across Europe rather than shying away."

The second day starts with a visit to the Muzeum Śląskie. The modern building occupies the space that used to be a former coal mine, and while the temporary feature on native hip-hop is interesting, the permanent exhibition detailing the country's turbulent history listing the tremendous violence of WWI, the terrible atrocities committed on its soil during the Nazi occupation, and the stifling control on movement and culture during the years within the USSR are a stark reminder of the importance of a unified Europe and a reminder of the uncertainty to come with Brexit.

Returning to the site, what better way to re-engage with the festival than being greeted by the dulcet tones of neoclassical pairing tęskno? Pianist Hania Rani and vocalist/violinist Joanna Longić are surrounded by an attentive gathering at Scena Trójka during the early evening, with the respectfully muted numbers steadily building throughout their set. The mewing vocals and the air of gentility is a far cry from slowthai tearing it up on the same stage the previous day, which is a testament to just how diverse the festival is. A quick visit to Scena Eksperymentalna is rewarded by seeing Brazilian psyche rockers Boogarins, whose chilled set oozes all sorts of cool as they play material from their fourth LP Sombrou Dúvida, released just this year.

The relaxed start to Saturday's music takes a definite frenetic change with the arrival of premier Polish punks Dezerter on Scena Perlage. Playing their seminal debut album Underground Out of Poland, the atmosphere suddenly turns rowdy right from the start and they immediately solicit a furious mosh pit from the very first opening bars of "Ku przyszłości" ("To the Future"). Neither Dezerter nor their fans relinquish their impassioned energy as rapid pogoing continues unabated and the circle pit literally lasts the entire length of the slotnot bad for band whose collective age must hit around 150 despite only being a three-piece.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend was Jakuzi. While there was nothing necessarily bad with his performance, the promise of being a representative of the Turkish underground scene in the program appeared quite wide from the mark. Instead, what we got was a very direct copy of classic synthpop to the point where direct comparisons of Gary Numan, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and Depeche Mode could be made but without the bite of the generation that was being crushed by Regan/Thatcher economics and the ever-looming threat of nuclear annihilation. Enjoyable but hardly edgy, it gave the feeling of watching a Best of '80s compilation album being played live.

As darkness descends, I leave euphoric indie pop group Superorganism to chirp merrily away at the main stage, and head on over to catch the lauded Nashville songwriter Sophie Allison aka Soccer Mommy. The clash of the two acts is a real shame, especially as it splits potentially the same audience into two, but the wander over to her stage really does pay off as it's a sweet set full of charm. While Allison's earnest style, which includes a charming couple of solo numbers including an enchanting dream pop cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" may not exactly feel like a wild Saturday night, I'm struck by the concentration of those watching and realize there are very few people taking photos or attempting to live-stream all those magic moments. In fact, there was very little of that sort of thing all weekend, which is a huge difference to the UK where it seems the sole reason for many going to gigs or festivals is to gather up as many Likes as possible.

Dorset doom metallers Electric Wizard play a savage set consisting of brutal basslines and sludgy riffs, totally satisfying the need for something deep, dark and nasty. Scena Leśna provides the perfect setting to give an epic emphasis for seven intense songs that disintegrate the ears. Meanwhile, Foals take to the Scena Perlage and the majority of the festival goers are there to greet them. Thanking the assembly and telling them they are pleased to be back in Poland, Oxford's renowned art rock band shows off the new two-part album Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost and plays such classic hits as "Mountain At My Gates," "My Number," and "Inhaler" but surprisingly not "Cassius," which was a mistake as just that song would have perhaps elevated their slot from a perfunctory performance to something a bit more exciting.

Arriving back on site for the final day, it begins with a casual viewing of Babu Król and Smutne Piosenki's bouncy collaboration on Scena Perlage, which takes traditional Polish dance and gives it a humorous hip-hop twist. I'm sure a lot of the jokes were lost on me owing to the language barrier, but they certainly were fun to watch.

However, Sunday truly starts with Trupa Trupa. There has been a lot of talk of this fast-growing Polish band hotly tripped to spread across to the West after impressing at SXSW plus Primavera, and with the imminent release of their new album Of the Sun, plus a newly announced world tour, I was eager to check them out for myself. Drawing on aspects of post punk, ambient post rock, and just a hint of pulsing psyche, they certainly impress by carving out their own unique sonic space that doesn't neatly fit with any current trends, driving themselves ahead rather than just riding the wind of what is currently popular. Singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski snarls in brattish English, his acerbic vocals floating inside watery delay that will no doubt serve them well at their dates in the US and UK. I love the guy who has constructed his own cigar box guitar out of what looks like a flight case, giving the band that sharp tiny cutting tone to put your teeth on edge.

Their live sound is definitely nastier than the relevant ambient feel of their forthcoming album, and the title track really is the stand out song, with unsettling rhythm and creepy echoing vocals. Then the obligatory rise of white noise and descent into a hellish noise to finish their slot. It's a confident execution from a group who know they are on the right path, and I can't wait to see more of them in the near future.

Having borne the brunt of the Nazi regime followed by the strict cultural confines of the Soviet regime, the Poles are keen to recapture a genuine sense of national identity through art and music. It's all the more important to find a positive way of expressing this pride as patriotism has been hijacked by the Far Right which is growing in size and strength-so, great hopes are pinned on the Śląsk Song and Dance Ensemble. Stirring operatic choirs tugging at the heartstrings and bombastic beer hall folk is combined with conservative paring of pretty girls in traditional dress spun around by smart boys in shirts and waistcoats. The 66-year-old troupe is certainly popular but it's a bit twee for a far cry from Trupa Trupa's dynamic and inventive display only moments earlierbut it is quite the spectacle and the large crowd loves it. I select to wander over to catch the end of the cutesy indie pop of Phum Viphurit and immediately feel a pang of regret having not got here sooner. The call of the disco is being definitely being answered by hipsters and families alike.

Next up is the deft and delicate brilliance of Stereolabthe laidback lounge avant-pop perfectly suits the relaxed attitude of the event. The announcement that next song will be "French Disko" get a respectable roar of approval from the many gathered fans, and despite a slight mid-start is the first song of the night to rally get the onlookers moving but then the bring the pace right down again with "Rainbo Conversation." They veer wonderfully from the craziness of "Crest" to the more mellow "Metronomic Underground" and of course the utterly cool "Ping Pong."

Meanwhile, Loyle Carner is enjoying his first time in Poland and gushes about the food, the friendly people and whole feel of the Eastern European country. His soul/R&B enthused down to Earth hip-hop is certainly going down well with the locals and his boy-next-door charm translates well to the fans that knew every word and appear quite starstruck.

The Mercury Prize nominated South London lad tells the spectators "I'm mixed race, I know everything about being white but not all that much about being black" before starting reflective track "Looking Back" which receives a seemingly never-ending round of applause and Carner is clearly moved. Later he blows the roof off with "Ain't Nothing Changed" and "NO CD" begging the question why he doesn't have a bigger presence back home.

Concern has been raised around the world by the efforts of Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party efforts to stoke up homophobia, with party leader and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declaring that the LGBT community is a "threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and thus to the Polish state," which encouraged violent attacks by Far Right, Catholic and conservative groups on the city of Kielce's first ever Pride march only two weeks earlier. Speaking to an acclaimed Polish journalist, I wanted to know just how bad the attacks by the government and in the street had become. He told me he no longer felt safe in his country and both he and his boyfriend were looking at leaving to find a home in another country having learnt the lessons of how minorities have been cleansed in his country's past. It is repulsive that anyone should be made to feel unsafe or be targeted by the state on the grounds of their sexuality, gender or religion and any moves towards systematic bigotry must be opposed.

The air was heavy with expectation at Scena Perlage as it got close to the time for the final headliner Suede to start. Before they take to the stage, the spine-chilling school choir lengthened intro of "As One" creates an atmosphere of menace adding to the tension before guitarist Richard Oakes lets rip followed by lean and almost skeletal Brett Anderson bounding onto the stage.

The past six years has marked a true creative high for the band with the release of a trilogy of albums staring with Bloodsports, then Night Thoughts and last year's truly exceptional conclusion The Blue Hour which explores a fractured Britain through the eyes of a lost child in the country wastelands. This inspired studio work has certainly revitalized the band as their shows the past 12 months have been some of the most energized in quite some years and OFF is no exception. Prowling like a panther and then leaping from one end of the stage to another, Anderson tears it up with more vigour than a man half his age and swings the mic above his head like a lassoing drugstore cowboy as the band thrills all stylishly clad in black us with a barrage of such classics as "She," "We Are the Pigs," "So Young," and "Metal Mickey" reminding us that in addition to their forlorn romantic side, Suede can be heavy as fuck when they want to be.

Anderson kneels to the floor, prone and vulnerable so that "The Two of Us" has never felt more intimate before diving headfirst into the giddy mass during "The Drowners" which sounds so fresh and vital making it hard to believe that the single was first released 27 years ago! Sticking mostly to their hits, we are treated to a couple of deep cuts from their Dog Man Star era including B-side "Killing of a Flash Boy" plus "The Asphalt World," the latter of which really gives Oakes his time to shine. The momentum continues to build with everyone losing their shit to "Trash" and their timeless sexually brazen anthem "Animal Nitrate." Anderson is left alone to play a truly exquisite solo acoustic rendition of "The Wild Ones" before being re-joined by his bandmates to play "Beautiful Ones" before walking off the stage with grins bigger than Cheshire cats, suitably pleased with themselves for a faux ending.

The insatiable ones return for an encore and it's a shame it starts with "She's In Fashion," which is one of their songs I've never quite liked, and it's an acoustic version to boot too. However, they more than redeem themselves with the euphoric closer "Life Is Golden." Thanking all the attendees for making their first gig in Poland so remarkable, Anderson states they are "only as good as our last album... This song is for my son," before leaping to the barrier and creating truly special moments holding hands with his devoted fans. It's a magnificent end to a master-class in showmanship and if Suede are to judge themselves on their current output, they can rest assured that we can see they are currently on one of the greatest highs of their career.

www.off-festival.pl/en/

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