Pitchfork, the leading online music magazine, shortlisted the Katowice OFF as one of Europe’s most significant festivals. So what's to be expected from the 2013 edition of the event?
Among its other distinctions, it is the only alternative-music festival visited annually by former Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, former President of the European Parliament, and the only festival to host Zbigniew Wodecki - Poland’s senior renowned instrumentalist, musician, composer and actor, along with with My Bloody Valentine, fathers of shoegaze from Ireland.
The Festival’s Colours
The OFF Festival is held since 2006, and its formula seems to grow with each edition. The event started in Mysłowice, and in 2010 it was moved to the Dolina Trzech Stawów / Three Ponds Valley in Katowice. The festival’s instigator is Artur Rojek, known from the legendary Polish band Lenny Valentino and, more recently, as the vocalist of Myslovitz. Throughout the event, Rojek wanders from one stage to the next, and there are festivalgoers who hunt him down for an autograph or a photo - the little custom has become a ritual at the festival.
Last year, the OFF Festival was presented with an award for the best medium-sized festival, a title presented annually by the European Festival Association. Pitchfork, the leading online ,shortlisted OFF as one of Europe’s most significant festivals. So, what is to be expected from the 2013 edition of the event?
First of all, an array of names that are milestones in the history of alternative and popular music. There will be a gig by My Bloody Valentine, the U.K. band that attacks the audience with a wall of noise and songs of love, and which has made history as the founder of a new genre, shoegaze, a name coined by critics and journalists. The moniker is indicative of where the artists’ sight is directed throughout their concerts. There will also be Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the Smashing Pumpkins, Japandroids, and the KTL. Fans of electronic sounds should also find something for themselves - perhaps the gigs by Fatima Al-Qadiri and John Talabot?
Representing Poland: the Legends
This year, the programme gives a special place to Polish artists, with more than 20 performers from all genres of independent music. To begin with the eldest - Zbigniew Wodecki who, together with the mad virtuosos of Mitch and Mitch, performs material from his debut album of decades ago. Accompanied by the wild, often comic musicians backing him, Wodecki returns to when his work wasn’t as courtly as today. The soul sound of the songs still rings out, maintained - yet the old tracks and lyrics gain an unexpected meaning.
Wodecki is not the only legend to perform at the OFF. Pelson, Vłodi and Vienio perform the songs from Skandal, the first legal album recorded by Molesta, an icon of Polish hip-hop. Perhaps "songs" is not the right term - they were, properly speaking, hymns, with DJ 600 Volt providing the beats, to which whole neighbourhoods swayed across all Poland.
Not everybody grew up in these apartment-block neighbourhoods, and not everyone is into hip-hop. For some, the atmosphere of Super Girl & Romantic Boys may be more appealing. This legendary Warsaw disco group grew out of the spirit of punk-rock melancholy. They started to perform in the early 1990s, at a time when absolutely no one would have guessed that the synthetic sounds of the '80s had a chance at a comeback. In other words - they were visionaries. Super Girl & Romantic Boys recently released their debut (sic!) album, and after some years of absence they are back on the scene.
Another great return is that of Skalpel - a duo that never officially stopped functioning, but whose performances were very rare in recent years. The musicians are know for sampling Polish jazz from the 1960s and '70s, employing it to create their own form of expression. They recently expanded their field of activity and performed together with Pianohooligan, the young jazz pianist known for his love of piano preparation. Skalpel - Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudło - declare:
We, as well as our fans remeber our show at the first OFF in Mysłowice is a very good way. We’re happy that our full-blown comeback will take place at this very festival. The concert will be anthology of sorts. We will play material from our two records, some music from the Sacrum Profanum [festival] and premieres of compositions, too.
Representing Poland: the New
All the artists mentioned above have been known for years and adored by a wide audience. But OFF Festival is first and foremost about new music, and Artur Rojek strives to keep his finger on the pulse, inviting the up-and-coming pearls of the Polish music scene. They are often musicians who evoke diverse trends and currents, and sometimes it is hard to find any common denominator among them. Yet they all create music that draws attention - and does not take shelter behind the international stars of the festival.
The audience in Katowice will have a chance to hear UL/KR and Stara Rzeka - artists who employ unusual means of expression and who create their own mythology. UL/KR go for the half-said and a formal minimalism - “A brief dream, a break, a gap”, as decribed by journalist Jacek Świąder. Stara Rzeka, the solo project by Kuba Ziołek, is eclectic and explosively rich, overflowing with exaggeration. There will also be the overflows and explosions of energy with two punk bands, Gówno, and Semantik Punk. The former play dirty, lo-fi and uncompromising punk, the latter have better guitars and record in the U.S., but their music is equally chaotic and lively.
There will also be musicians, who constantly experiment and evolve in a search for their own sound, and whose style fluctuates. Piotr Kurek, who began with the band Ślepcy, penetrating the possibilities hidden in extreme genres of electronic music from the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. Today, the landmark of Kurek’s style is a rhythmical looping and a gradual growth of tension achieved with seemingly modest means. How How is a Warsaw-based group frequently engaged in electroacoustic improvisation, with the one regular feature of always sounding completely different. They draw from anywhere possible for inpsiration, but first and foremost from ambient, post-rock and pop, in the broadest sense of the term.
Piotr Kurek - Coda from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
There will also be songs, and some heavier sound at the OFF. The festival hosts a gig by Drekoty, a trio of women that enchants listeners with very unusual sound that then nonetheless develops into songs. Unlike Trupa Trupa, lead by the Tri-city’s poet Grzegorz Kwiatkowski. A heavy, grinding music, in which words remain in strict contact with the played sound. And there will also be the extremity of Furia, an avant-garde black-metal band. The song titles speak for themselves: Zgniłem / I've Rotted, Ohydny jestem / I Am Appalling, Skadś do nikąd / From Somewhere to Nowhere.
One Cannot Live on Music Alone
Film screenings will also take place at the festival, and a small art gallery and literary cafe will function. The artwork is provided by MOCAK, Kraków’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Festivalgoers will be able to see works by Rafał Bujnowski, Edward Dwurnik, Marcin Maciejowski and Wilhelm Sasnal. Sasnal’s paintings will be literally omnipresent, as the artist has allowed them to be used as graphic motives on festival gadgets - T-shirts, mugs, bags, etc. MOCAK’s director, Maria Potocka reveals:
For the OFF Festival we selected over a dozen works, looking at the importance of names, the clarity of the images and the possible appeal in such a broad context. The works will be shown seperately or in small groups across the festival’s grounds. Most frequently, they will be significantly enlarged and printed in the form of banners with the artist’s name, the title of the work and the information that they are derived from MOCAK’s collection.
The curator of the literary cafe is Krzysztof Varga, an acclaimed Polish journalist, writer and columnist. For the three days, participants will be albo to talk with those invited by Varga: Sylwia Chutnik, Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Ignacy Karpowicz, Piotr Paziński. Meetings will also address the contact between music and literature - Kamil Sipowicz, Jacek Dehnel, Robet Brylewski and Maciej Świerkocki conduct a workshop of writing lyrics for rock music, and Kostja Usenko, a member of Super Girl & Romantic Boys, will speak about his book on the Soviet underground. The last meetings begin after midnight - since it’s a music festival, no one is going to think about sleeping.
Author: Filip Lech, translated by Paulina Schlosser, 18.07.2013