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OFF 2019

festival (Poland's premier festival previewed)

By • Jul 10th, 2019 • Category: Feature

As the big major festivals on the summer circuit become more expensive than actual holidays it grows increasingly clear that smaller fests are a much more cost-effective way of experiencing a weekend of horizon-expanding music.

And if combining a few days festing with a trip abroad is your thing (as well it should be), then, in this fester’s humble opinion, there is no better place than OFF.

Situated in the Southern Polish city of Katowice, OFF will tick all your festing boxes, and then some. So pull up a screen and indulge me a few moments to elaborate why I will be returning to OFF for the 7th time this August 4th.

The main reason to decide on any fest is the line-up, the actual music, but we’ll get to that. For now, let me elucidate why the fest itself is worthy of your affection.

First and foremost (or second, after the line-up) is the price. OFF offers everything the largest fests do but at a fraction of the cost. Weekend tickets come in at roughly £50, while all your on-site refreshments are ludicrously cheap. The price of a pint is particularly worth noting; an ice-cold Lech costing roughly £1.60 last year! Travel and accommodation are also very affordable. At this fester’s 2nd OFF, back in 2013, flights, 5 night’s accommodation in Katowice and the festival ticket cost less than a full weekend camping ticket for that year’s T In The Park!

After the price, the next biggest consideration on whether you will return is the atmosphere, how enjoyable the whole thing is. Well, dear Fester, I am here to tell you that OFF is among the most pleasant, enjoyable and downright fun fests I have experienced. The combination of all-but-guaranteed blazing sunshine, incredibly friendly staff and locals, no police presence and, very importantly, no drug dealers creates an atmosphere that is as welcoming for families as it is for hard-core music lovers. The good-hearted nature of OFF is an essential part of the festival’s ethos and carries through to its sense of social responsibility as well. OFF has for many years been very forward-thinking in regards to it’s ecological impact, and has previously been nominated for Most Ecological Festival in Europe in the European Festival Association’s Green ‘n’ Clean awards. This year it will be going even further, pushing the festival’s Gastronomic Zone to be almost entirely vegan and vegetarian and turning its entrance gate into a giant plastic-recycling container.

The city of Katowice itself is a great place to spend your festing downtime. The city centre has undergone extensive redevelopment in the 8 years I have been attending OFF and is almost unrecognisable from my first encounter. The central Galeria covers all your consumerist needs, there are plenty of museums, such as the Guitar History and History of Katowice museums, for those who wish to enrich their mind as well as their senses, and hit up Mariacka after hours for all the best nightlife.

And so, onto the most important aspect of any festival, the line-up. For all its positives as a fest, I wouldn’t keep returning each year if the music didn’t warrant it. Yet every year OFF continues to surprise, excite and amaze and, thankfully, this year’s line-up looks to be as good as any.

So how about those headliners? For a festival of its relatively small size OFF has always been able to attract impressive top-bill acts and often quite left-field choices. This year, the mighty Foals are returning to the festival circuit with new album ‘Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost’, while Suede will have the crowd singing along to some 90s classics. Bet you know more of them than you realise. The most tantalizing prospect, however, is Jarvis Cocker, who will be strutting his gangly stuff on the main stage on Friday night under his new guise JARV-IS. Expect some crowd-pleasing Pulp belters alongside his interesting new gear.

Headliners are only part of the story, of course, and over the years intrepid Fester has learned that the true joy of OFF is diving head first, often heedless, into the supporting acts.

Hip-hop is a big deal in Poland and OFF has always fielded a strong contingent of home-grown and international talent. The biggest name this year is Mercury Prize nominated Loyle Carner, followed hotly on his heels by Brit School alumnus Octavian. Representing the home nation are Jan-Rapowanie, whose heavy electro sounds are making him one of the fastest rising Polish rappers, and P. Unity, a psychedelic jazz-funk-hip-hop hybrid that promises all sorts of Parliament-inspired nonsense. By far the most exciting prospect for hip-hop fiends this year is Northampton’s Slowthai, who’s nihilistic street poetry will be one of the gigs of the weekend.

The other pillar of the Polish musical landscape is metal. Good, old-fashioned death-by-riffage, and in this regard OFF never disappoints. Polish legends Dezerter will be playing their debut album ‘Underground Out Of Poland’ in its entirety, always a fun prospect at a fest. The sludgy trio of OM, Electric Wizard and Poland’s own Entropia will have doom fans jumping for joy (if that’s possible), while Rhode Island’s Daughters will be bringing obscene levels of intensity with their Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial headbanging.

The world of jazz is experiencing something of a renaissance these days, and leading the charge at OFF is The Comet Is Coming. This London trio are the spiritual sons of Sun Ra and his Arkestra (who expanded minds on the Forest Stage in 2015) and will be bringing their own style of Space-Jazz to the same hallowed ground on Friday night. I’ll go so far as to say this will be the performance of the weekend. Poland’s own rich jazz history will be well represented this year by Polmuz and the Slask Song and Dance Ensemble, combining traditional Polish folk stylings with decades of jazz experience. Perhaps most intriguingly, virtuoso pianist and OFF stalwart Marcin Masecki will be heading a power trio playing songs he composed for Pawel Pawlikowski’s sublime Oscar-nominated ‘Cold War’.

One of the most wonderful aspects of the OFF experience is the chance to witness acts from across the world that you wouldn’t normally encounter in a thousand TRNSMTs. If you’ve ever wondered what its like to dance to Brazilian Tropicalia (Boogarins), Ugandan underground party music (Bamba Pana) or north African trad-futurist electro (Ammar-808) the OFF is your playground.

Finally, an essential part of any fest is having killer DJs to round out each night’s festivities. Taking you home on the iconic Forest Stage this year are the psych-rock and hip-hop stylings of The Gaslamp Killer, 80s electronica of Veronika Vasicka and trans rights activist Honey Dijon.

Whatever revs your musical engine, OFF has you covered. For a (much) more in-depth look at this great festival, check out my review of OFF 2018.

OFF 2019 takes place in Katowice, Poland, from August 2 – 4. More at off-festival.pl/en/.

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