Live Report: OFF Festival 2019

Live Report: OFF Festival 2019

In a world gone mad, Katowice once again delivers unison and awe…

With headlines so sour even a Care Bear would reach for the bottle, Clash heads once more to southern Poland to take refuge in the weird and wondrous. Music is, after all, a balm for the soul, and as we've previously reported there a few places that offer variety and community better than OFF Festival.

Founder Artur Rojek's knack for compiling a lineup both eye-opening and crowd-pleasing remains undiminished, Suede and Loyle Carner booked alongside the likes of Electric Wizard and OM. In these strange times, it's good to know that this Slavic gem remains fiercely unconventional in spirit.

Some unexpected detours around the European mainland handled, Clash finally makes it to the region’s former industrial hub. After a few tall beers with Jarvis Cocker’s band and 5.5 hours of solid sleep, the batteries are recharged for the festivities. Wrist band slapped on, and things kick off Friday in arresting fashion with Polish dubwave outfit Dynasonic, a healthy crowd turning up to check their groove-laden drone despite the early slot.

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Upping the ante is slowthai over on the Trójka stage, the Mercury Prize nominee proving he’s more than worth the hype - circle pits, stage dives and one lucky local named Alex all combining for an incendiary hour of fun. 2019 has been a big year for the rapper, 2020 should be massive if these international reactions are to be judged.

From the streets to the stratosphere next as The Comet is Coming’s blend of psych jazz and funk help bring in the night sky. An undeniably potent mix of rhythms, it’s ‘Summon The Fire’ from this year’s sophomore effort that gets people skanking hardest.

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While Aldous Harding brought her haunting melodies to a tent full of followers, the main stage greeted Durand Jones & The Indications. Surrounded by esoteric fair left and right, the group’s retro flavoured funk and soul proved a welcome break, a singalong cover of The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ going down a real treat.

A few drinks in hand, and it is time to return to the Experimental Stage for a taste of black midi. A love or hate affair on record for many, tales of the group’s live power is well deserved as they manage to harness chaos to invoke an unholy jam atmosphere. There was a mass exodus of the fair-weather listener, but for those locked in it was just the ticket.

Adding some appreciated showmanship to proceedings was JARV IS…, Cocker’s latest live outfit. Performing a mix of new and past material, the lithe icon captivated all present with some trademark wit and arm gestures. A national treasure who shows no signs of slowing down.

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Saturday starts in a more relaxed fashion with Tęskno, Joanna Longić and pianist Hania Rani’s take on contemporary classical. Both dramatic and haunting, their songs attract a large crowd of people recovering from the night before - but does suffer a little from some nearby sound bleed.

No worries about that for Warsaw’s Dezerter, the popular punk legends have no time for subtlety as they rip through three-minute number after number with the energy and swagger of two bands. There is beauty in simplicity. Turkish post-punk next with Jakuzi, whose set acts not so much as a clear artistic statement, but more a smorgasbord of early 80s synth pop and sadness. A little Soft Cell here, some OMD there, all combining to give the impression that Top of the Pops 2 has now become the bible to certain segments of the underground.

Soccer Mommy draws a good crowd, Sophie Allison’s lo-fi tales acting as a clear contrast to Superorganism’s pounding pop madness on the main stage. Joyful, wonky and with a likable level of wit, there’s a little Flaming Lips apparent in the outfit, but their kids-TV-theme-on-acid shtick becomes repetitive over time.

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Not long after and a volcanic eruption announces the arrival of Electric Wizard, and boy what a set. Grindhouse visuals, riffs to shake the fillings from your teeth and just tonnes of unadulterated fun. Dorset's finest made sure both young and old could not resist the likes of ‘Black Mass’ and ‘The Chosen Few.’ Foals predictably draw one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, deafening screams accompanying ‘My Number’ and ‘What Went Down.’ After nearly 15 years in the game, they’ve got no issue delivering a crowd-pleasing headline set.

For those sticking around afterward, more left-field tastes were well served by Ammar 808’s intense Tunisian electro or Veronica Vasicka’s atmospheric techno.

Save the best for last they say, and this year’s festival certainly did that with Sunday’s lineup. Highlighting OFF’s ever-present love of doom-filled noise was Oleśnica-based metallers Entropia who waste no time trying to make friends by bathing all present in some seriously impressive drum work. It’s 15 minutes before any vocals even make an appearance, focusing rather on building tension and release. One to watch for those who love their heavier tunes with a pinch of cosmic exploration.

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Trupa Trupa continues to follow instinct over trend and treat a varied crowd to a mixture of new and old material. At moments verging on plain alt-rock, Trupa‘s ever-shifting tones change from song to song while maintaining a sense of hypnotism and drive totally their own. We can’t wait for the new album this September.

In what is a simultaneously traditional and left-field move the main stage is suddenly filled with the Śląsk Song and Dance Ensemble, a 66-year-old folk outfit. There are choirs, there’s dancing, there are orchestras and axes. It’s high octane snapshot of older Polish culture, part opera, part musical, and completely joy-filled. It’s unifying force that gets the locals grinning and visitors laughing in awe. Post-show, still attired in dresses and stockings, the members walk through the industry bar to be applauded like the legends they are. 

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A recently reformed cult concern was always going to be a sure-fire hit at OFF, and Stereolab makes no exception. Decked out in a dandy boiler suit, Lætitia Sadier and co. bring ample charm and groove to a twilight sky. It’s a somewhat restrained performance, but tracks like ‘French Disko,’ sound as fresh as ever.

“I’m lost. I know white, but I don’t know black.” declares Loyle Carner to a packed tent, musing on growing up mixed race. He’s on usual chatty and well-mannered form, and the crowd is loving it. The energy is respectful, yet charged, ‘Loose Ends’ and ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ invoking roars of admiration and sing-a-longs. It’s a triumph of a set and further proof why Carner’s emotionally open and honest hip-hop is so refreshing.

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After a mishap with a burger named Black Death and some heavy political discourse with a local, it’s time for Suede. Like a fine wine Suede have only become more potent and impressive over time, last year’s ‘The Blue Hour’ moving the band into even grander waters.

Grandeur or not, live they remain first and foremost a rock ‘n’ roll band, and Brett Anderson stands as a Grade-A fucking rock star. From the opening chords of 'As One,' Anderson prowls the stage with utter ownership. He’s humping PA’s, flying into the audience and hamming it up to the cameraman like a man possessed. All this would be entertaining enough, but when you’ve got the likes of ‘Trash,’ ‘Animal Nitrate’ and ‘The Asphalt World’ in your back catalogue, it’s simply unbeatable.

A solo acoustic rendition of ‘The Wild Ones’ proves a standout moment in quite possibly the standout set of the weekend. Nicely done.

Another weekend in Katowice over, and it’s sad to be leaving. Phenomenal sausage products aside, the festival’s celebration of old and new, it’s lack of pretension or cynicism is a very fine thing. After all, what’s better than standing in a field with a stranger and discussing the world’s complexities to the sound of exotic rhythms?

Not much in our book. 

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Words: Sam Walker-Smart

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