OFF! Festival - Katowice
Live Review

OFF! Festival – Katowice, Poland

OFF Festival 2013, Katowice, Poland, Aug 2-4

More of the same… prosz?

Over the years it’s become quite apparent that the concept of the ‘European Festival’, at least in musical terms, has become the best destination to frequent for those seeking diversity, and generally, those who desire something that little bit more appetizing than what’s offered closer to home (in my case, Blighty). Perhaps it’s a view given slightly too often from ‘snobbish hacks’ like myself, but the point is that the truth, at least in this case, can often be spectacular.

OFF Festival is the gathering I speak of, and like many of its kind – La Route Du Rock in France; Slottsfjell in Norway; Pukklepop in Belgium, to name but three – the quality of music, culture and weather is all to be savored and sought as much as possible. Christ, even in a land where pork seems to take precedence in every dish served, a vegetarian like yours truly could happily thrive on a diet on more than just spinach and lager.

The surprises and stand-outs where to be had from day 1 and came firstly with the brilliantly named Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats who played an energetic plethora of good old fashioned stoner guitar rock. Elsewhere the legendary 80s pioneers The Pop Group would then have the writers amongst us again scribbling furiously, and despite the name it’s fair to say that ‘pop’, as such, was not presented. Instead, it was a marvelous collage, painted with post-punk/ devil-ska and god-knows what else. From every song played the bands influence on artists like The Birthday Party was obvious, and a clear indication why (Uncle) Nick Cave applauds their work so.

Closing Friday would of course be the band at the top of OFF’s billing. The Smashing Pumpkins required no introduction. Whilst many cooed over blistering renditions of old favorites like ‘Tonight Tonight’, ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’ and ‘Cherub Rock’, it was the breathtaking ‘Disarm’ which proved the pivotal point in the bands set. Clearly, Corgan still has passion for what is essentially ‘his’ band, and on the back of the performance at OFF, ones hat must be tipped.

Aside from a mild case of melancholy (perhaps infinite sadness) from the previous nights Smashing Pumpkins performance, OFF Day 2 would deliver a similar feel to that of the previous – at least in terms ‘must see’ artists and lesser-known treasures. More than a few eyes would then be keeping a close watch on Swedish maestro Jens Lekman, in Poland for the first time, who had no trouble introducing himself to the crowd which turned out in high numbers. However, a low point was the inclusion of certain songs which came across more Paul Simon rather than the needy almost crooner-like songwriter which we’ve all come to know and admire.

Whilst Julia Holter and her blissful electro pop kept things moving along ever-so nicely, on OFF’s second day, my interest would be fixed on one band only. OK, well maybe two. The almost uninterpretable Godspeed You! Black Emperor did bring the main stage to a spectacular close – in typically manic and seductive style – but it was The Walkmen who would provide the standout performance of the festival. Most of a certain age should remember the moment they first experienced ‘The Rat’ in all its glorious splendour, now almost ten years ago, however it’s worth noting the amount of quality this band have produced since then. It’s also worth noting how terrific they are live. The bands last album ‘In Heaven’ came out in 2012, the one prior – the even better ‘Lisbon’ – was released the year before, and OFF was treated to the best tracks from each. ‘Angela Surf City’, ‘Heaven’ and ‘Juveniles’ all rung out perfectly… though I dare say for most, the highlight was probably the one about the rodent.

And so, as day three came and before anyone could really try and reflect on what happened previously, my colleague and I ended up in a room interviewing John Grant prior to his set. Admittedly, I’ve never really been able to grasp the man’s solo records, however his sheer affability in person demanded a second chance. Sure enough, it was to the Scena Experimental Stage we went to witness this dark, broody, confessional, at times funny individual. “You probably say I’m difficult/ I am the greatest motherfucker you’re ever likely to meet.” he sang on ‘GMF’. And he might be right, which is all the more reason to take notice.

Later it was the majestic-sounds and bizarre visuals of Goat which was to really throw certain individuals off (excuse the pun), being as they were a kind of psychedelic blend of Jefferson Airplane and The Stooges. Ending OFF 2013, with their ear shattering set fully of distortion and seemingly never ending songs, My Bloody Valentine were perhaps the perfect band to close the festival. Thinking back, our nerves and emotions were probably near breaking point by the end of it, however at the time no one seemed to care. It was about the moment. OFF Festival 2014 can surely only bring more of the same.

Ray A. Jackson

Photo: Adam Kozlowski

Venue: Katowice, Poland
Support Band: Various

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