The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

News

LISTEN: The Best New Polish Music From Nowa
Tristan Bath , September 5th, 2016 09:49

Tristan Bath visits Tauron Nowa Muzyka festival and reports back on some of the most exciting artists in the Polish underground

Eltron John photo courtesy of Paweł Zanio

Wandering around the former mining complex a few minute’s walk to the north of Katowice's surprisingly picturesque city centre, the subtle success story of the city’s post-industrial regeneration is plain for anybody to see. A group of beautifully decaying red brick buildings that once housed the city’s fruitful mining industry meander from a set of space-efficient star-shaped tower blocks completed during the 1970s (Osiedle Gwiazdy), to the city’s most striking building, the UFO-shaped arena complex known as Spodek (spodek translating to saucer).

Katowice is one of the major cities in the region known as Silesia - a resource rich area with its own distinct language that has variably fallen under German, Austrian, Communist, and Polish rule over the centuries - and thus has been torn this way and that as a hotbed for mining and industry throughout its history. The ultimate 21st century fate of the former mining complex as a cultural centre is still in the process of being cemented, with newer buildings popping up all over the area. A vast International Conference Centre (MCK) - built with EU funding, able to host events for dozens of thousands of visitors, and comprised of gigantic smooth and sharp aerodynamic black shapes - opened its doors in March 2015.

Right next door, a circuit of red brick monoliths surrounds an 1,800-seater, acoustically exemplary concert hall, built for the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR), and completed in 2011 (again co-funded by EU initiatives). In addition to several marquees set up around the site, both the NOSPR and MCK buildings have been made available to this year’s Tauron Nowa Muzyka festival, which began back in 2006 before either building existed.

Taking place only two weekends after Katowice’s OFF festival (this year’s edition was brilliantly written up by tQ’s own Julian Marszalek), Tauron Nowa Muzyka boasts a lineup that is just as eclectic, comprising a string of Polish underground artists alongside the likes of Floating Points and Battles, plus an opening orchestral concert of minimalist classics and a closing set of contemporary jazz by Kamasi Washington (both in the NOSPR concert hall). The likes of Stara Rzeka recall the country’s defiantly psychedelic underbelly that clung on throughout the 1970s, while Kamasi Washington’s refreshingly melodic take on modern jazz is met unsurprisingly with resounding enthusiasm, somewhat embodying Poland’s own emotive take on jazz (which has always been Europe’s key contribution to the genre - besides perhaps the UK’s influential improv scene that is) as much as that of his American forebears.

Niechęć photo courtesy of Michał Murawski

For this writer however, the key attraction are the Polish acts on the bill. Britain’s got a relatively abysmal track record when it comes to funding contemporary music (with a few very notable exceptions), while countries like Poland have readily channelled the benefits of EU membership (and thriving modernity in general) into projects such as the regeneration of Katowice. It’s all sorely at risk however, with a right wing government now firmly in place, beginning the slow backwards march of conservatism. Warsaw’s already seen thousands march in protest against the new Polish government over the summer.

The days these former mines can house the search for Poland’s uniquely idiosyncratic strands of music are perhaps numbered. It’s with that in mind I’ve highlighted five of the finest Polish artists from this year’s Tauron Nowa Muzyka below.

T’ien Lai

The quartet of T’ien Lai began as the duo of Kuba Ziołek (best known to tQ readers as Stara Rzeka) and Łukasz Jędrzejczak, before expanding with the addition of percussionists Rafał Kołacki and Mikołaj Zieliński. They’ve a handful of releases online dating back to 2013, but the project appears to have been gaining some heat since expanding to a foursome, and their Friday evening set is a clear and instant winner. Donned in cloaks and thrown together hoods of crocheted textiles, Jędrzejczak and Ziołek lead the way with tables of synths, samplers, and pedals, summoning quivering techno psychedelia while the percussive duo behind them bang congas and shake shakers with a sort of drum circle tribalism. The epochal percussion jams of Boredoms spring to mind, though darkly shaded with industrial techno bleeps, and those charity shop Bedouin outfits exude an attitude closer to the dadaist comedy of The Residents. The group take flight seconds after hitting the stage, and it’s an utter joy to watch. T’ien Lai represent the (small ‘C’) catholic tastes of the Polish underground, which so sharply contrast the country’s (big ‘C’) Catholic regressive mainstream. A recent tQ interview with Ziołek made it clear how this is meant to be politically subversive music. With a recent governmental shift in Poland veering the country’s politics to the right (in line with the rest of Europe), this sort of subversive a-cultural crucible of wobbly industrial electronic and primordial percussion is more vital than ever.

Wrong Dials

Hailing from Gorzow Wielkopolski in the northwest of Poland, Future Perfect in the Past by wrong dials

The above recent release from the artist barely reveals his ability to twist his gear into more lopsided productions, but the broad spectrum of sound sources in his arsenal lies therein, along with a few straight up bangers (check out ‘Street Fighters’).

Niechęć

The name of this jazz/rock fusion group Warsaw translates to ‘Reluctance’, which is ironically pretty far from describing their playing style. Far from your learned conservatory fusion group, or an overwrought prog band, Niechęć sacrifice none of that smokey mood in the name of precision or complexity. The band put out their first album in 2012, and purportedly scrapped their second album entirely so as to avoid sophomore syndrome, and went straight to recording their self-titled third album out in April 2016. The sax playing of Maciej Zwierzchowski somewhat inevitably takes the most central role to the live show as on the group’s recordings, ably weaving between the swooning gothic sermon parps of Bohren & der Club of Gore’s Christoph Clöser, and far nimbler freak outs. The rest of the band are no slouches either, particularly drummer Michał Kaczorek, so although appearing on the techno-heavy Red Bull Music Academy stage (Hieroglyphic Being plays only a couple of hours later), the group garner plenty of interest, dancing, and enthusiasm from the crowd. There’s passages of funkified cosmic noodling, and plenty of moments of grinding metallic noise, but Niechęć are neither Polar Bear, nor are they Sex Swing. This is a decidedly Polish beast, owing more to melodic Polish legends like Tomasz Stanko and Krzysztof Komeda than anyone else, recontextualising Polish jazz into suites that balance aggression with grace.

Eltron John

Okay, give the DJ and production nom de plume of Marek Stuczynski a chance okay? We all agreed to allow Sly & The Family Drone a shot to prove themselves… Appearing at 9pm on Saturday night on the RBMA stage, I expected little from Eltron John beyond a DJ set of bangers to sink a few Lech to before a hot date with a box of fresh pierogi from the food stalls. To my pleasant surprise, Eltron John deploys an odd sort of hybrid live/DJ set, snaking his way from beatless spacey Stranger Things synth lines to syncopated techno, pummeling house and a glorious finale of eternal disco classics. A set of such metamorphosis isn’t unheard of, but across every genre he touches upon, Eltron John remains a master of hold and release. Somehow the best set to dance to, and the best set to chill out to, all at once.

RSS B0YS

The relentless duo of RSS B0YS (they really like that zero by the way - ‘b0ys’ is spelt thus, and their country code in the programme was given as ‘00’ rather than ‘PL’) deliver what is easily the most astonishing set of the entire festival. Though still consigned to the fourth biggest stage, the B0YS have been making their presence increasingly felt at festivals across the continent over the past few years. Without having heard note one it’s already pretty hard to forget them, the duo wear textile mesh for clothing, as if fashioning hijabs from your nan’s old doilies. Previous releases like 2013’s catchily titled Th T00th 0f Th Ftr crafted intelligent techno that strayed into wounded territory akin to the Opal Tapes roster, or perhaps Steven Stapleton remixing Terrence Dixon, but their 2016 set seems to have done away with any niceties and goes straight for a gut punch, barely letting up for a full hour.

As if watching a particularly explosive fireworks display the crowd (particularly the handful of discernible music journalists) were audibly oohing and aahing at the duo’s many about turns and consistent beat drops. One of the b0ys on stage right manned a lattice of samplers, drum machines, wires, pedals, synths, and more wires, coercing the gear into producing fiddly arpeggiated funky and searing interleaving loops. To stage right b0y #2 wields a pair of drumsticks before a mysterious drum pad setup, sharply laying down countless beats that bump and grind up against his cohorts groovy mess. The aggression of the music is outright nuts and one breaks a sweat simply watching RSS B0YS at work.

The pair have really hit upon something of a holy grail here. Most techno sets come across as well-rehearsed run throughs, triggering cues and clutching to drum machines for dear life. RSS B0YS however, make it seem like an outright feat of superhuman proportions.

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.