Lush, green parkland in Katowice, Poland, in the height of summertime, with thousands of the great and the groovy from all across Europe, accompanied by one of the coolest, most invigorating line-ups of the festival season. Sounds like the recipe to a perfect weekend, doesn’t it?
And that’s exactly what’s served up by OFF Festival 2013. Three days of beautiful sunshine, great company, and an endless succession of bands that wouldn’t look out of place in any discerning hipster’s record collection. It’s a recipe that makes for the creation of some amazing memories, the kind of festival experience that puts this compact, well-organised musical celebration head and shoulders above many of its European counterparts.
It’s the kind of bill that not only showcases how diverse and interesting Polish culture is at large, but also makes you admire the minds of those who help put it together for a ticket price of less than 50 Euros.
Over three days, Clash witnesses a smorgasbord of music that can take you anywhere from experimental electronica to hardcore, from traditional folk to emotional balladeering, and even general strangeness that tickles and inspires in equal measures.
Whether it’s influential noise rock, home-grown hip-hop, or any other kind of tipple you wish to consume, there’s four stages of musical flavour for your ears to devour, as well as, it has to be said, some very fine vegetarian food for your beer-filled bellies.
A highlight is watching très.b take the stage to a packed crowd, the band’s reputation and success growing overseas more and more after steadily building a strong fanbase in Poland. Zbigniew Wodecki with Mitch & Mitch Orchestra and Choir are a local favourite, and it’s hard to resist the sweet nature of this collaboration when they leave the stage to the biggest crowd sing-along of the weekend, thousands of arms aloft and voices calling into the night.
International artists like Fucked Up, Dope Body, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor also impress, the latter providing a brooding end to the first evening with a set that works and evolves four songs into a dark masterpiece of mood and timbre, all emotional highs and devotional lows.
The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band on the mBank stage, only appearing as a last-minute replacement for the cancelled Solange, prove one of the unexpected joys of the weekend, their mesmerising mix of Thai folk, groove-ridden funk and tight percussion enough to send an entire field of dancing fans off into the stratosphere.
It’s good to see AlunaGeorge pull a crowd, given who they are up against on the bill. Not everyone wants to see The Smashing Pumpkins in 2013, it seems. But we do, so there’s only time to enjoy the warm clash between the pounding bass and Aluna’s mesmerizingly sweet vocal for four songs, and then it’s a quick dash to the main stage, just in time to see a great run from Corgan and company that includes ‘Tonight, Tonight’, ‘Disarm’ and ‘Cherub Rock’. Leading his current bandmates through the more ‘artistic’ output, it’s at times trying for a crowd this size, but typically uncompromising.
One of Sunday’s special moments comes courtesy of John Grant, who can seemingly get away with a darkly emotional, confessional statement like the glorious ‘GMF’ standing alongside a digitised ‘Pale Green Ghosts’, his band of Scandinavian musicians switching from torch song to techno mode with ease. And, always, his deep, angry and sometimes hilarious lyrics draw you in.
Clash bumps into Kevin Shields the night before, and far from being the elusive presence he presents onstage, he’s chatty and personable – although this may be due to the large quantities of Polish vodka we collectively ingest. Thankfully, he seems to recover better than we do, and produces, with My Bloody Valentine, a Sunday night headline set that provides waves of intricate melodies washing over an awestruck crowd. The brutal noise and sheer, unadulterated beauty combines into something that seems like the perfect delirious and dreamy closer to another great weekend at OFF Festival.
- - -
Words: Mark Millar
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone - download the app here