OFF Festival – live review
Last weekend, somethingyousaid.com’s Lisa Says visited the OFF Festival in Katowice, Poland. Here’s what she thought:
Imagine: a calm, green place, a small lake, trees in the wind, the smell of honey and sun – all embraced by the sound of music – and voila, you find yourself in the middle of the Off Festival, somewhere in-between the four stages. You see people running around, busy trying to figure out which band to see next, others just hang around in one of the comfort-zones in-between the concert areas, drinking, chatting, enjoying a moment of rest before the next show.
Thank God the different scenes are quite close, and there are not more than 20,000 visitors each year. You don’t get lost, there is enough space and you can easily rotate in-between the scenes – which sometimes is more than necessary, as the line-up every year is a brilliant one that gives you a hard time making a choice what to see and what to skip.
The reason for the quality in the line-up might partially lie in the concept of curation. Like a good exhibition, the OFF festival line-up is carefully composed and coordinated. Working together with the two other important European festivals for alternative and experimental music, Primavera Sound and the All Tomorrows Parties festival, OFF is OFFering (haha) a quite unique focus within the range of European festivals. Especially the line-up of the experimental stage: Each day it is set around another subject. The first day was curated by Sub Pop – who sent over Wolf Eyes, Lyla Foy, Protomatyr. Another legend took over the scene on day three: Glenn Branca. He played himself as well as other noisy acts, such as the Japanese band Nisennenmondai and the Paranoid Critical Revolution. Day two focused more on world music, as it was dedicated to the Polish folklorist and composer Oskar Kolberg to celebrate his 200th birthday.The Off fest features several opportunities to learn more about the Polish culture and history: Polish visual artists and a lot of local bands can be discovered as well as the heavy history of the still underrated country – there was the offer to do an excursion to Auschwitz, which is situated not far from Katowice. Besides other special offers based around literature and discussions. The schedule keeps you busy until four or five in the morning.
But for the most part the festival is really centred around music. Anyone who is searching for a nice place just to hang out, get drunk and have some random band playing in the background shouldn’t go there. It is a very civilised, clean and calm place where the focus is based on experiencing sound.
This is quite positive, and it is no problem to take children to the festival, vegan food can be found and the festival even won an award for its environmental friendliness. Conversely, it has to be stated that the festival in general is quite regulated, The freedom that can be found in musical expression is not to be found in the organisational structures. The ambiance is dominated by sponsorship, the whole area is dominated by logos and advertisement. This commercial aspect rests as a huge overall shadow. Instead of the very tasty Polish beer only Dutch Grolsch is offered, drinks and food can not be taken out of special areas and everything has to be payed by card.
Festivals are short-term places that offer a common ground for people with similar interests, lifestyles and taste to gather, connect, exchange and celebrate what they love. The density of Sonic Youth-shirts might be a good indicator to describe the kind of audience the OFF fest attracts: People who love alternative, independent and experimental music. But, sadly, underground culture can’t exist on this scale.
This can also be found within the bands themselves: Everything quite professional, planned, predictable. The most disappointing group might have been The Jesus and Mary Chain – who played motionless, without motivation and who failed several times and missed the beginning of their songs. They didn’t seem to care at all.
But not all of the heroes failed. The performance of Michael Rother proved several things. First, the music of Neu! and Harmonia is still more than relevant and exciting. Second, it is possible to re-play old material with passion and inventiveness. And third, getting older doesn’t necessarily mean to lose all dignity. It might be possible that Michael Rother was the musician who had the most fun of all acts during his performance.
The band almost everyone was waiting for the most might have been Slowdive – and indeed it was magical to see them live, although they played without special incidences. The same can be said about most of the shows – nice concerts, but nothing special. Chelsea Wolfe, Neutral Milk Hotel, Deafheaven, Belle and Sebastian – nice, nice, nice, nice, but that’s about it.
Still, there were some outstanding shows and new bands to discover. Hookworms played a mad set, energetic and thrilling. Rose Widows played heart-warming, powerful music with interesting arrangements, sometimes a bit repetitive, but only the strong voice and sweet personality of their front-woman make it a must-see. A real pleasure was to see the performance of Glenn Branca – stunning. And the Warszawska Orkierstra Rozrywkowa – who played the Beck-album “song reader” with so much fun and delight that almost everyone in the audience began to smile. The most confusing group of the festival might have been Wolf Eyes. Their performance was a half-ironic, half-bitterly serious hyper-masculine egotrip of noise. And the most underrated artist might have been Jonathan Toubin – a New York vinyl-DJ who played in a small tent on a stage sponsored by Mastercard – to which no-one really payed attention. Sadly.
All in all the festival felt much more like a nice sunny Sunday trip with the family. I wouldn’t miss the Off, but still, I prefer some unknown band in a sweaty cave. More anarchy, please!
Words and pictures by Lisa Says.