SPACEFEST! 2019, Gdansk, Poland, 13-14 December | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, April 5th, 2020  

Pure Phase Ensemble featuring Adam Franklin

SPACEFEST! 2019, Gdansk, Poland, 13-14 December,

Dec 21, 2019 Web Exclusive Photography by Pawel Jozwiak Bookmark and Share

In what's now become the traditional musical precursor to Christmas, Eastern Europe's finest psychedelic weekender Spacefest! delivered again. Held every December in the industrial heartland of Gdansk, a city steeped in history that gave birth to the Solidarity movement in the 1980s while also hosting the Second World War Museum. 

This year's event once again took place in Klub B90 in the city's docklands area. Having earned a reputation as one of the finest events of its kind, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that this year's edition was something of an international affair, attracting artists and punters from as far afield as Chile, The United States of America, and various corners of Europe. Now in its ninth year, Spacefest! has always been a voyage of discovery when it comes to finding new music from around the globe and 2019's two-day jamboree proved to be another fruitfully satisfying affair.  

While those of us in attendance from the UK are in need of cheering up after the horrific general election result 24 hours earlier, its left to Polish metal trio KRZTA to open proceedings and bludgeon the senses accordingly. A late addition to the line up after French dreampop outfit Marble Arch were forced to pull out earlier in the week. Their inclusion further epitomising Spacefest!'s spirit of diversity where anything goes. The Olsztyn based three-piece might be the antithesis of textbook psychedelic stereotypes but that's no bad thing, and their raucous performance kickstarts Friday's programme into life.  



Chilean ensemble Chicos De Nazca might be one of the more established names on this year's bill, yet their performance here massively divides opinions. The main reason being that singer/guitarist KB Cabala is the only full time member of the band present this evening, and while his makeshift line up does a more than passable job (in this scribe's eyes at least), there is a tendency to just do enough and go through the motions at times.  

Locally based four-piece Kwiaty fare much better, drawing a large crowd to the Spaced Out (second) Stage as expected. Taking their cues from the ebullient shoegaze of Slowdive and subtle dreampop espoused by Beach House, they're an early evening delight and one that immeasurably raises the bar for Spacefest!'s first day.  

The Cosmic Dead are one of those bands whose name has been synonymous with the psych rock festival circuit for a good few years now. A once seen, never forgotten live experience that owes its existence to stoner metal and Black Sabbath as it does psychedelic warlords such as Hawkwind or Pink Floyd. Always engaging, and often mesmerising, tonight however they're an altogether different beast entirely. No doubt fuelled by the previous evening's political discourse while also revitalised by the addition of new members Russell Gray on synths and Tommy Duffin on drums. Their performance stands out for many reasons, not least Gray's furious outbursts during "Scottish Space Race" where he lambasts our new prime minister ("Fuck Boris!"), the Conservative Party ("Fuck the Tories!") and Brexit ("Fuck Brexit") while calling for a vote on Scottish independence ("We want an Indy Referendum!"). It's powerful stuff that makes for an inspirational show that ranks highly alongside anything Under the Radar has witnessed all year.

The Cosmic Dead

The Cosmic Dead

Karol Schwarz is a bit of a legend in these parts being one of Spacefest!'s initial founders as well as having a pivotal role in the festival's annual Pure Phase Ensemble (more of them soon). He's also a highly respected musician and record label boss - check out his excellent Nasiono Records imprint and its equally superb roster - which makes his KSAS (Karol Schwarz All Stars) project essential listening. Having recently put out his seventh album Hi D(e)ad, the long awaited follow up to 2013's Hi Mom, tonight's set mainly consists of largely improvised interpretations of songs off that record. Unsurprisingly drawing the biggest and most receptive audience of the day, Schwarz and his band are a rewarding experience in the flesh and one that renders Boris Johnson and his Tory cronies a distant memory.  

The next day, a discussion about the state of the music industry between The Telescopes' Stephen Lawrie and Finders Keepers' Doug Shipton opens proceedings. Which actually provides a fountain of knowledge and experience not to mention a ray of hope for aspiring musicians in the audience. Ukrainian trio Straytones also offer some much needed inspiration for the future, their potent mix of garage rock, new wave punk and opulent shoegaze proving excitingly popular for the enthusiastic audience out front.  

Having released arguably their best record in over two decades this year in the shape of Future Ruins, Swervedriver's Adam Franklin was a very inspired choice of curator for Spacefest!'s traditional Pure Phase Ensemble collaboration. Comprised of twelve musicians this year, many of whom had never even met let alone played together before. Their set proved to be one of the festival's undisputed highlights. With Franklin at the helm along with the aforementioned Karol Schwarz among his co-conspirators, their hour long show highlighted its curator's uncanny knack for knocking out incisive melodies coupled with thoughtful lyrics seemingly at the drop of a hat. Particularly heart wrenching is closing number 'Daybreak', a song inspired by the (then) impending general election and Brexit that ranks alongside the finest compositions Franklin has ever put his name to throughout a very distinguished career.  

Over on the second stage, French trio The Blind Suns are having the time of their lives, and rightly so. Having been selected from a string of unsigned competition entrants to play this year's festival, they're something of a revelation. Playing a variant of surf infused indiepop that recalls the likes of The Primitives, The Raveonettes and The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Blind Suns' output resonates a timeless quality that should ensure their name will become very familiar over the coming months.  

It's been a landmark year for The Telescopes. Not only are Stephen Lawrie and co commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of debut album Taste, they've also released one of their most critically acclaimed long players this year in the shape of Exploding Head Syndrome while the band's live shows are as caustic, uncompromising and eminent as they ever have been. So it goes without saying they're arguably the biggest draw of the weekend here, and as with their set at Fuzz Club Eindhoven in August, it doesn't disappoint. Recent single "Strange Waves" is an early crowd pleaser, as are outings for Taste staples "Violence" and "The Perfect Needle", while a brutal rendition of "The Living Things" brings their set to a customary raucous finale. Earlier, Lawrie tells us a twelfth album is well on the way to completion at what is possibly the most prolific period of his career.  

The Telescopes

The Telescopes

As midnight descends and German power chord specialists Heads take the stage, it feels an appropriate time to start planning ahead to 2020's tenth anniversary. Because when it comes to confounding expectations while introducing new music alongside established icons, Spacefest! do it better than most. 


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