OFF Festival 2011

One of the best musical parties you will find ANYWHERE

With a glut of festivals and outdoor events happening across Europe every summer, how do you know which one to choose? Let me help…Off Festival, which takes place on lush parkland near Katowice in Poland, is one of the best musical parties you will find ANYWHERE.

Two years running, it has provided some of the best musical memories of my life thus far, from dancing onstage with The Flaming Lips and meeting Bobby Gillespie and the rest of the Scream team, to the sheer thrill of watching outstanding performances from some of the world’s best alternative talents. Where else can you get a full 3 days’ worth of these kinds of memories for only 50 Euros?

Imagine a boutique festival where the scheduling and layout means that you never need to miss that band that you really want to see. Then imagine that you only paid buttons for the cheap flight over here, and once here, you only pay £1.20 for a pint. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

We started off by checking out some of the sounds emanating from the Experimental Stage. Karbido ‘Stolik’ (The Table) is exactly what it says on the tin, four men sat around an old wooden table in the centre of the stage, each touching, rubbing and pressing the surface to produce some of the most interesting and weird noises ever to come out of a piece of dining room furniture. Laden with sensors and electronics, The Table comes across as members of Faust or Neu dining out with Einstürzende Neubauten, a hazy mix of almost Hari Krishna chants and minimal techno. A perfect start.

From there, we head of in search of food and water, and find a nourishing selection of dishes from across the world. A major improvement on last year, and one sign that festival organiser Artur Rojek listens to his loyal customers!

It’s an easy skip then to Warpaint, who draw the biggest crowd of the day so far. Having seen them recently, it comes as no surprise that they produce a beautiful, textured set, one that mixes the best elements of early Cure records with a solid rhythm section and spindly, undulating melodies from the two guitars. It’s a joyous experience, and one that finally lets us settle into festival mode.

Cue Baaba Kulkah, a Polish acoustic Iron Maiden covers band; Junior Boys, who finally bring a bit of 4/4 dance beats to the Main Stage; and Meshuggah, who leave us with no choice but to seek solace elsewhere. Next up, it’s one of the most entertaining acts of the Friday, the inimitable Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. “I’d like to play a little song for my wife,” he says, before screaming “Oh baby, you just like to FUCK”. Who said romance is dead? Copied by many, bettered by none, Spencer has more personality and character than many bands half his age, and this set also reminds us why, sometimes, a man with a guitar who suckles on the devil’s tit can be so fucking entertaining.

Closing the main stage on the first night, Glasgow’s own Mogwai are a long way from home, but that doesn’t stop them providing a festival highlight, bringing the set to a close with a thrilling one/two of Kicking a Dead Pig and Mexican Grand Prix, the latter unfurling in all its Krautrock glory.

The next day kicks off with tres.b, an indie-pop delight fronted by Eastern Europe’s answer to Hope Sandoval, the stunning Misia Furtak. So good that it’s almost criminal they are not more well known outside of their native Poland, it’s little wonder they won a Polish Grammy for their debut album, The Other Hand.

The rest of the day is a hazy mix of memories from Dry The River, Blonde Redhead, Barn Owl, Polvo, Kury and Neon Indian, and while the historical value of Gang of Four is enough to see them through a set that suffers from muted sound on the main stage, it’s Destroyer on the other stage that prove a revelation. The solo project from Daniel Bejar of The New Pornographers, the music invites comparisons to the likes of Yo La Tengo and Pavement, and it’s the perfect way to gear up for the main event over on the main stage.

Released 20 years ago, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica has long been part of our modern musical history, but when it’s played out like this, by a band who are so obviously reinvigorated by the prospect, then these songs prove themselves as just vital as they ever were. Beautiful, brilliant and utterly thrilling, like all great rock and roll should be. It’s only fitting that after this set we take to the Polish vodka with wild abandon…

The next, and final, day starts off in blazing sunshine with a tinnitus inducing set of warped showgaze from Ringo Deathstarr, playing their first European festival in their short history, thanks to the excellent debut album, Colour Trip. Seconds after they come off stage to a rapturous reception, the heavens turn black and unleash a deluge of heavy rain that lasts for hours. But luckily, it means we manage to catch home-grown act Paris Tetris, whose beguiling mix of off kilter melodies and jilted, shifting time signatures bend our tiny minds and protect us from the rain, undulating from cartoonish theatrics to 8-bit electronics in a heartbeat.

While the rest of Sunday’s line up is a plethora of talents such as Oneida, Deerhoof, dEUS, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Public Image Ltd and even Sebadoh, it’s the early evening main stage appearance of Liars that is the liveliest, most visceral experience of the day, and one of the most memorable of the entire weekend. From jaw-dropping excitement to the verge of tears via The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack, their unpredictability and sheer entertainment value is the perfect mirror for the entire 3 day spectacle that is Off Festival.

Can there be a better party in Poland? We think not. Already looking forward to seeing what Artur Rojek has in store for us in 2012…

Watch interviews from OFF Festival 2011 below:

Part 1 : Liars & Pustki
Part 2 : Primal Scream & Gang Of Four
Part 3: Ringo Deathstarr

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