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Things Learned At: OFF Festival
Julian Marszalek , August 10th, 2018 08:49

In Poland, among trees and meadows and ponds, OFF Festival brings us joy and succour with Lonker See, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shortparis and more

Charlotte Gainsbourg - photo by Michal Murawski

Some artists seeks anonymity, while others have anonymity thrust upon them

They secure some powerful headline acts, but it’s always worth diving in beyond the headline acts to the find the true pearls at this Silesian institution. Lest we forget, OFF is a festival that specialises in the eclectic and esoteric by bringing together music and audiences from all over the world; by the time you’ve sunk your second vodka and tonic, the chances are you’ll already have heard anything from folk-punk to hip-hop to gospel music and back again.

Meanwhile, this year the sets at the top of the bill are all characterised by their anonymity. In Charlotte Gainsbourg’s case, one suspects it is entirely intentional - she becomes a component within a bigger picture, thanks to a stark stage set that recalls David Mallet’s work on the Kenny Everett Video Show. For M.I.A., the anonymity seems like an accidental and unwanted by-product: she effectively becomes her own support act as she’s frequently upstaged by her exuberant MC and her dancers.

As with Gainsbourg, Jon Hopkins is not so much a focus as a catalyst as he brings Friday night to stunning close on the Forest Stage. This is music that’s both cerebral and physical. His control of pace, beats and digital drama is a joy to behold, and and even greater joy to dance to.

Polish psychedelia is kissing the sky

The last time tQ encountered Lonker See and ARRM, both bands were making tentative yet significant waves at Poznan’s Spring Break showcase festival. Fast-forward to 2018 and they are both taking to the bigger stages they deserve. Lonker See arrive on the Main Stage at what is undoubtedly the hottest point of the festival, with temperatures at some uncomfortably high levels, and deliver one of the standout performances of the weekend. Such is the charisma of epic pieces like opener ‘Lillian Gish’ that the crowd braves the sweltering heat to be handsomely rewarded with a slow-burning and hypnotic set. Over on the Forest Stage, ARRM burn with a quiet and increasing force. Sedentary throughout, their repetitive and tightly controlled marathons move at a glacial pace, but burn with the intensity of a thousand suns.

Photographers are expressly forbidden from shooting or filming Ariel Pink

Which is fair enough, because anyone making music as awful as this drunken and painfully self-conscious toss wouldn’t want the evidence to haunt them in later life either.

Warsaw Village Band - photo by Michal Murawski

J-Pop beats Europop

Line-up clashes are inevitable at any festival and OFF is no exception. The choice for Saturday night is whether to go for Aurora’s set on the Forest Stage or the J-Pop of Wednesday Campanella over at the Experimental Stage. Sadly, Aurora fails to make the grade with a brand of Europop that lacks the exuberance and hooks needed to reel the audience in. In the tradition of her Norwegian homeland in Eurovision, it’s nil points.

No such problems for Japan’s Wednesday Campanella. Such is the level of pumping beats, throbbing bass and insanely catchy choruses, the rammed tent that houses the Experimental Stage is full to bursting with dancing figures and hands waved in the air.

Some acts you can always rely on

Turbonegro are an absolute scream from the moment they hit the stage until they depart about an hour later. Combining balls-out rocknroll with a healthy degree of sexual liberation and knowing humour, Turbonegro are the musical equivalent of leaving a bottle of poppers open at a biker’s bar.

Elsewhere …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead battle against jetleg as they turn back the clock to revisit 2002’s Source Tags & Codes in full.

But the focus is on Central and Eastern Europe

Having driven 19 hours from St Petersburg, Shortparis deliver an incendiary set of post-punk electronic madness that leaves the Main Stage reeling while justifying the recent praise that’s been showered upon them.

In sharp contrast but making no less of an impression is Sunday night’s stunning set from the Warsaw Village Band. Their combination of medieval influences and contemporary aesthetics sums up exactly the eclectic and global fare that’s been served up across the weekend.

In a world seemingly intent on fragmenting itself, OFF Festival offers an alternative possibility and reality. It’s a vision that’s urgently needed as we hurtle towards the cliff edge of next March.