‘Eclectic’ is a word that gets bandied around far too much in the music publications and PR pitches of this world. To us cynical sorts, when applied to a festival, the word serves as an implication that a few of the bands billed aren’t white, male and brandishing guitars. However, there are still few out there who give a damn about dictionary definitions and thank the gods that OFF Festival founder Artur Rojek is one of them. Now in its eleventh year, and sixth amongst the charming greenery of Katowice, OFF Festival is a three-day bonanza showcasing an admirable mix of homegrown talent, global alt heroes and the truly indefinable.
A good way to convey the event’s spirit would be by wandering on site early and seeing drummer Adam Golebiewski lose himself in one repeated, 30-minute beat on the floor of the experimental tent, crowd sat before him in awe, bafflement and curiosity. Enjoyable? That’s subjective, but hell, it’s uncompromising. Later musical duo Zimpel / Ziolek ease the previous intensity with their magical brand a multi-instrumental melody before Willis Earl Beal and his iPod Nano accompaniment take to the main stage after some push ups and stretches. Declaring: “I’m not a festival kinda guy, I’m a cranky guy,” Beal erupts into a powerfully somber yet unhinged set mining material from his latest post-XL works ‘Through The Dark’ and ‘Noctunes’. His voice remains as potent as ever, and while his stand-offish attitude does add some welcome edge to proceedings to start with, stretched over the course of an entire set it becomes weary on a paying audience.
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A packed crowd welcomes Norway’s Jenny Hval, whose bewitching appearance brings the day’s first real standout moment, her articulate stream-of-consciousness styled lyrics really making an emotive mark on those present. After a few hours spent swimming in the dark nights of our soul, Maryland’s Clutch make a welcome relief on the main stage. Their first time in Poland, Neil Fallon and co. soon turned a small gathering of flannel shirt-wearing stoners into one of the biggest and energetic gatherings of the day. Young, old, hip and square couldn’t get enough of the bands groovy tales of telekinesis, bad women and good drinking. Night now fallen, Polish star Brodka pulls all the stops to weave an hours worth of spectral tunes, string section, organ and capes all apparent. After a day of somewhat DIY performances, Brodka’s more fully-realised production and gentle grandeur works wonders. Of course Napalm Death were off being Napalm Death if you fancied something a bit more arresting to see you through the night. Variety is the spice, etc...
Day two sees the most household names present on the billing; before a queer and unfortunate series of events sees them, and one’s replacement, fall to the wayside. The Kills’ Allison Mosshart was struck with pneumonia the day before, forcing to cancel their forthcoming dates while GZA mysteriously vanished from the lineup to be replaced by Wiley, who then also executed a no-show. Luckily a festival not overly reliant on the big guns, things did go on, with Japan’s Goat drawing a packed crowd into trance like state with their hypnotic, atonal madness. Indescribable and arresting. The newly reformed Lush prove the perfect match for a twilight set, the band’s famed shoegaze numbers and Miki Berenyi’s charming tween song banter warming all. Later, Ghana/Canadian artist ATA KAK brings some much-needed groove to the site, his once-thought-lost Afro-house tunes finding themselves entertaining a crowd of eager Europeans in 2016. Beautiful.
Just after the witching hour the suitably titled Mgla (Fog) take to the Trojka Stage and unleash their masterful black metal, material from latest release ‘Exercises in Futility’ proving anything but. One to catch next time on home shores you headbangers. Day three and more unbelievable bad luck for the organisers as Anohni pulls out due to illness. Not that you could tell this from the crowd, who stoically rock on with a smile of their face, simply happy to be present for one last day of outsider art and first-rate veggie burgers. Good old-fashioned English eccentricity is represented by the J-Pop flavoured Kero Kero Bonito who entertain the early arrivals. Toy flamingo on hand, Sarah Midori Perry and producers Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled perform the kind of songs that taught manners on ‘90s kids shows and will either have you grinning like a loon, or vomiting rainbows from the sheer quirkiness of it all. Over on the main stage, Beach Slang prove the most alarmingly normal-sounding act of the festival and worryingly dated for a band who’ve only around for a mere three years.
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The following Mudhoney prove yet again why they’re still an exciting live concern, their snarling and snarky grunge as appealing now as it was twenty-five years ago. Propelled by Dan Peters, incendiary drumming numbers including ‘No One Has’ and ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ can’t help but ignite the snot nosed punk within. For something utterly otherworldly, punters had to look no further than producer-cum-conceptual artist Pantha Du Prince’s ‘Triad’ project. With mirrored discs covering their faces and some strategic lighting for mood, the trio build a world of ambience and introspection, rationing out a few choice drops at opportune moments. In an event filled with oddness it is a testament to the German’s skill to deliver a set that hypnotises with such ease.
With no Anohni to look forward to later, Polish hip-hop legends Kaliber 44 become de-facto headliners, drawing a huge crowd with their energetic ‘90s sound. The local lads clearly enjoy tearing it up for home crew young and old and arguably make a better main stage finale than the planned appearance. Overall, and despite having their ‘unluckiest’ year to date, OFF Festival still proved an enchanting experience, a laid back and well executed affair boasting a heady mix of the psychedelic drones, earth shattering guitar and eye pleasing greenery. So here’s to next year — better start collecting those four leaf clovers though, guys.
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Words: Sam Walker-Smart
Photo Credit: Honorata Karapuda