A piece in Seattle’s The Stranger weekly was published about four years ago that initially tipped us off to OFF Festival in Katowice, Poland. There were so many features then that made this obscure festival really stick out as something that had to be seen in person, from traditional bison grass vodka to onsite tattooing and, of course, an incomparable lineup; the combination was irresistible.
The festival promises to be non-commercial and in some ways really is. Although a large chunk of the festival site itself is given over to a marketplace full of merchandise for sale, it is run exclusively by vendors from small independent record labels selling vinyl, and designers of interesting gadgets you would never be able to find on your own. There is a mobile salon where you can get a haircut for charity and a station sponsored by Levi’s where denim is customised with knives and fire; superficial distractions maybe, but they create a unique experience that comes completely unexpectedly.
This also goes for many of the artists who play OFF festival each year; largely experimental or international acts who in many cases fuse together diverse cultural influences, niche genres and technologies, they are a class apart from the performers you often see on the festival circuit.
Of everyone playing OFF this year, Mudhoney are probably the most established and well-known – and that is if you ignore their role as a largely counter-cultural band, compared with a programme of relatively new and/or completely unknown artists. Korean ‘post-rockers’ Jambinai, Norwegian jazz collective Jaga Jazzist and several electronic artists from across Africa widen the musical scope of OFF Festival, and while the weekend seems to draw a predominantly Polish audience, the experience feels international.
Flatbush Zombies, Kiasmos, and Sleaford Mods draw some of the largest crowds of the festival, packing in festival-goers for dazzling performances. Kiasmos in particular make use of technologies that add an imersive aspect to their DJ set, simultaneously mesmerising the crowd with a combination of spectacular aerial holograms and elaborately animated background graphics that perfectly complement their electronic creations.
On the Experimental Stage, DJ sets from Machinedrum, Powell, and many others are a riotous success, shaking what seems like the entire site with synchronised jumping and dancing long into each freezing night of the festival. Heading back to a massive nearby campground after a full day of sets is both a relief and a harsh contrast.
This may be place of extreme contrasts, from American rock to eastern-tinged electronica, pierogi dumplings to vegan curry, yet OFF is a festival that delivers the best of each.
Photos: Marissa Field