OFF Festival 2019
OFF Festival is a medium-sized festival where you can slow down for a bit. You don’t have to run from stage to stage because everything is close by and there’s always the possibility that you will be lured to a different stage than planned because of the music coming from there.
We entrusted our special collaborator and photographer, Paulina Leśna, to experience OFF Festival and share her thoughts on UNCERTAIN.
For me this is a festival like no other. Every year I get to see my favorite bands and discover a ton of new music, some of which I would have never expected to enjoy. This is the fifth time I’m attending the festival and I will keep coming back every year for the extraordinary atmosphere.
Now let me introduce you to the mastermind of this event – Artur Rojek. He’s a former member of the Polish rock band called Myslovitz and in 2006 he became the artistic director of this festival. Rojek is a huge music enthusiast and his taste is unpredictable and extensive. Every year he chooses a couple of well-known names like this year’s headliners – Jarvis Cocker, Foals and Suede – but also a lot of up and coming bands you may not know, but if you trust him, you’ll most probably end up loving them.
Located in Katowice, Poland, OFF Festival takes place in a lovely area surrounded by trees. You can get there from the city center by designated festival buses. From the very moment you arrive, you will soak in the festival atmosphere. To get the real festival experience you can stay at the camping site, which is very close to the festival area.
OFF is known as one of the most eco-friendly festivals. Everything’s very tidy and there’s a special area inside of the festival dedicated to plastic waste recycling.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, the food court is basically heaven. Take this year, where 80% of the food served at the festival had meatless options. But if you’re not from Poland and want to try the regional cuisine, you can also eat traditional Polish dishes. For great coffee and unwinding, there is the Literary Café, where you can spend some nice time and take part in various meet-and-greets and discussions with authors.
OFF Festival might not offer a ton of attractions besides music, but I think that’s actually an advantage. Bigger music festivals offer an enormous number of activities and eventually you end up exhausted, walking aimlessly around the grounds; at OFF you’re here just for the music.
There are five stages. The biggest one is called The Perlage Stage, a smaller one – The Forest Stage, two tent stages – Trójka/Tauron Stage and The Experimental Stage and last but not least – a tiny Dr. Martens stage, dedicated to short, usually acoustic sets. Don’t let yourself be fooled by its size though, it’s a great party venue!
As I said earlier, there might not be a lot of attractions besides music, but there are definitely a lot of places you can check out if you go to the city. My friends and I decided to visit Nikiszowiec, a historic monument built in the 20th century for coalmine workers, which is particularly interesting when it comes to its architectural design. It’s also a very popular spot for OFF attendees. You can go there for a walk, learn about its history, get a coffee and eat some delicious homemade cakes in a charming café. I would definitely recommend it as a way to get some rest before going to the festival.
The Most Important Bit – The Music
One of the most beautiful things at OFF Festival is that music lovers gather together in one place and none of them cares about music stereotypes or genre differences. There are lots of exciting acts from all around the world. So let’s dive in!
Day 1 – August 2nd
Festival days always kick off with Polish acts. On the first day, I saw a female duo called Cudowne Lata. After that I went to see a band which recently started to gain popularity in Poland – Niemoc – and also turned out to be a nice way to get warmed up for the rest of festival. Later on I got to see Perfect Son, the Polish representation of Sub Pop record label.
Even though I’m not big on rap, I don’t regret seeing slowthai out of curiosity. What I experienced there was pure energy. People were in a total frenzy and so was the young British rapper, who screamed out his anger at the world and Queen Elizabeth. Getting rid of all your negative feelings through the means of music can be very cathartic.
After that I changed the genre radically. I went to the small tent stage to see Lebanon Hanover. This band was definitely on my “must see” list. The atmosphere was really cold and dark. If you like the 80’s vibes and a Gothic aesthetic, this is a band for you. People were slowly dancing, mesmerized by their sad, romantic lyrics.
Next stop: Aldous Harding. She was supposed to play at OFF the previous year, but she had cancelled her tour. I would have to call it a show for patient people. She started all on her own on the stage, just with her acoustic guitar in hand, but soon her band joined and things started to take shape. It was nice to chill out and relax to a great sound.
After watching Black Midi’s KEXP concert on YouTube, I was expecting a wild party and I knew I had to go see them. A lot of people were talking about these young guys and how phenomenal they’ve been lately, so I chose to give them a chance but didn’t quite get them, probably because Jarvis’ show was coming up soon and I was a bit distracted.
At last, the headliner of the night. A legend that doesn’t need any introduction – Jarvis Cocker presents JARV IS…. He stole my heart with all of his dance moves, his energy and the great connection he had with the audience. A lot of things happened during this show; it was just crazy! Jarvis even tried to speak Polish and as you might imagine, it’s not that easy. Soon after he also tried to feed the audience cookies, as he was worried we were hungry and exhausted. At one point he asked the crowd what their biggest fear was and one girl gave him the perfect answer: “I’m afraid this night might end”.
Day 2 – August 3rd
The second day we started with a serene show brought by Tęskno – two very talented girls playing piano and singing in Polish, which I think is kind of unusual for Polish musicians these days. At the Experimental Stage I had the chance to see Boogarins, a Brazilian psychedelic rock band, quite perfect for the summer. They reminded me a bit of Tame Impala.
And now it’s time for a real hit! If Juan Wauters is playing somewhere nearby, please trust me and go check him out. He will literally melt your heart! He might seem inconspicuous, playing on his own, accompanied just by an acoustic guitar, but believe me, he knows how to throw a good party. He was joyful, had lots of fun and pretended to smash his guitar like an old-school rock star. His song “Guapa” became the OFF festival anthem for me and my friends. We were dancing and singing even though we don’t speak a word of Spanish and this whole experience is precisely why I love OFF. After the Juan Wauters gig, we went to the nearest stage to see Jakuzi – Turkish synthpop made people dance like no one was watching.
Her favorite artists might be Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift, but don’t worry, she doesn’t sound like them at all. Soccer Mommy doesn’t care what people think about her, she’s just as genuine as her music and lyrics are. It wasn’t a musical revelation for me, but it was worth checking out.
The best show of the day was brought by my beloved band – Foals. Some people said they didn’t really fit the whole idea of OFF Festival because of their undeniable popularity verging on mainstream. I didn’t really care. I was super excited to see one of my favorite bands and I felt like a teenager again, jumping and singing along.
Day 3 – August 4th
The last day of the festival is always the hardest. You try your best to have fun, but you know it’s all going to end soon and it sort of puts a damper on the whole mood, doesn’t it? I was really tired and didn’t feel my best that day. Fortunately though, whenever I hear good music, I suddenly start to feel better.
The Polish duo Wczasy was the first band I saw that day. Some people say they are the voice of their generation. They sing in Polish and their lyrics are kind of sad, but the way they deliver them somehow makes you want to dance. The lyrics do seem to perfectly reflect the atmosphere of the end of the festival. We have to go back to our lives soon, but for now we can still dance and pretend our problems don’t exist. Wczasy are spontaneous and genuine, maybe that’s why they are so popular here.
I am a big fan of Mac DeMarco, so when Artur Rojek compared Phum Viphurit to him, I knew I had to see for myself. These young guys from Thailand knew their way into people’s hearts, making them smile and dance. However you shouldn’t expect them to go as crazy as Mac DeMarco goes on stage. Later I headed to the Experimental Stage, where I stayed to listen to Tirzah’s beautiful voice.
Since I didn’t have the chance to go to any shows at the Dr. Martens stage, I decided to go there and see Wczasy one more time. They were playing a second set that day. As I recalled from the previous year, Dr. Martens stage had a lovely and intimate atmosphere. I guess it was supposed to be a calm show, but then it started to rain, so everyone tried to hide onstage (there are no barriers and people are allowed to come up there), so just try to imagine a bunch of people on a tiny stage, all jumping at once and screaming out how they don’t want to go to work tomorrow.
I didn’t know what to expect from Stereolab, but I was sure I had to see them. Somehow every single band member onstage seemed to be alienated and the whole show didn’t worked for me as I wish it would.
Unfortunately, the grand finale is here: the last show before saying goodbye to this year’s OFF. I’ve never been a huge fan of Suede, but I couldn’t miss this icon’s show. I have to say that Brett Anderson was the most photogenic person I’ve ever seen on stage. He was very charismatic and even seemed to actually pose for photos at times. I noticed the band had a very devoted group of fans – they were all crying and screaming so loud. The show was kind of dreamy, especially for people who hugged Brett during the last song of the set “Life is Golden”. Life must have been golden for them indeed at that moment.
But for me, life is always golden at OFF Festival. See you next year!
Paulina Leśna is a Polish film photographer based in Gdańsk. She graduated Cultural Studies with an MA thesis on the festivalisation of culture and music festivals as a kind of contemporary heterotopias – unusual places that appear and disappear.