KEXP at OFF Festival 2016

OFF Festival, Wo' Pop
01/17/2017
Jim Beckmann
Darek with OFF Festival founder Artur Rojek

By Darek Mazzone

Festivals are amazing. The gathering of tribes, the sense of discovery, the hard work that it takes to put a good one together - all of these things combine to create a memorable experience for everyone who attends. Beyond the audience, even the staff and the artists on stage all feel the impact of such an experience. This is why so many festivals have proliferated through the last 20 years and the good ones just get better. Today, the OFF Festival, in Katowice, Poland, is one of the best. Everything, from the programming to the design, and particularly its inclusion of Southern Polish culture, makes OFF stand out in a crowded field.

Following our coverage of the OFF Festival from the year before, KEXP was invited again to bring a small crew in 2016 to check out the festival again. This time, cameraman extraordinaire Scott Holpainen and I flew in to check it out.

Our journey started in hilarity since our luggage was lost in Amsterdam due to the pilgrim onslaught to meet the Pope in Krakow, Poland's ancient capitol. Fortunately, our gear was safe, as we carried that on, but our various skivvies and toiletries were MIA for the duration. We had to hit the closest retail outlet to don some muted-toned Euro threads for proper interview presentation.

Scott and Darek in muted European tones

The lineup for this year’s OFF Festival was especially strong and diverse. Included, of course, are many current interesting Polish bands, but along with these came with some wonderful surprises. For me, the international representation was exceptionally strong. The bands that festival founder Artur Rojek and PR manager Jarek Szubrycht, and the rest of the OFF Festival programming team, booked not only represented the best from various countries but also drew from an intriguing range of genres and styles. One of the main threads that wove the OFF Festival together was a sense of courage about presenting music and art that challenges the audience. From post-classical Korean to the most current expressions of youth culture in Cairo, the range was intoxicating.

We came to the OFF Festival expecting only to capture a few moments, but we ended up recording 20 bands, both interviews and performances, to present a wealth of new discoveries from the current Polish music scene. It was an unprecedented experience and I’m so happy to be able to present so much of it here:

  • Brodka: Monika Brodka is probably the biggest singer on the Polish stage today. She got started by winning the third season of Polish Pop Idol in 2004 and has released gold records that showcase her evolution to a very intriguing artist that could go global anytime.
  • Księżyc: A great example of a particular Polish/Eastern Europen style that combines electronics, improvised jazz and traditional music styles with vocals that feel like they transcend time. The band was active from 90-96 and reactivated in 2014.
  • Islam Chipsy: One of the most intense bands out of the Chaabi scene in Cairo.
  • Kaliber 44: A very influential Polish hip hop band.
  • Kero Kero Bonito:  J-Pop sensation out of London.
  • Zimpel/Ziołek: Intriguing improvisation flowing from jazz to prog rock, electronic to soundscape. 

  • The Feral Trees: An intriguing synthesis of Colorado folk-tinged rock and Polish sludge metal.
  • Mudhoney: Without Mudhoney there would be no grunge.
  • Bechir Attar:  Leader of the the Master Musicians of Jajouka whose work brought to attention thousand year old musical styles that live in rock and jazz.
  • Ata Kak: The auteur's left-field highlife-hip-house creation is one of the more joyous sounds on the interweb.
  • Beach Slang: Based in Philly and playing some of the most interesting and strangely vulnerable indie rock today.
  • Jambinai: From Seoul, this post-rock band won best crossover record in the 2013 Korean Music Awards.
  • Komety: A major alt-rock band on the scene in Poland and the evolution of the very influential 90's band Partia (The Polish Smiths)
  • Odpoczno: A very cool synthesis of Polish traditional music and alt-rock.

While Polish music has evolved rapidly since the country joined the European Union, there now seems a strong curiosity among current bands about the artists who were making music in Poland in the 90’s, after the country finally jettisoned Communism. The OFF Festival booked some of these bands, and the various members were completely amazed as the audience were singing their songs back to them. These artists, who have relied on day jobs as teachers or accountants, are now finding themselves back on a stage they thought they left behind decades ago. The future looks extremely promising for both these bands and the future Polish music scene.

After the festival, we took a few days to see what was going on in the nation's capital, Warsaw. Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman and his wife, Lenka, were there, and we were able to join a panel discussing how a city can activate and support their local music scene, much like Seattle has done already. Through this, we were able to film a few interviews and performances of some of the best of Warsaw based artists.

  • Daniel Spaleniak: American Gothic styling through a Polish filter.
  • Ifi Ude: Polish/Nigerian singer is considered one of the most outstanding performers on the Polish scene today. 

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In all, we barely scratched the surface of what is going on in both Katowice and Warsaw. We hope to be back regularly and present to you more of these amazing stories and songs.

View of Katowice

OFF Festival Main Stage

Mudhoney!

Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman

Outdoor stage

In the tent

Festival curator Jarek Szubrych interviews Brodka

Don't forget the pierogi!

View more photos here.

Please share generously and often.

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