It’s been three long years but everyone’s patience has been duly rewarded with a very fine summer festival season. And if the spiralling costs of, well, everything are limiting your options, then do yourself a favour and check out OFF Festival.
Nestled in the southern Polish city of Katowice, OFF has been quietly forging its reputation as one of the very best alternative festivals in Europe. This hard-won status is built on a solid foundation of smart organisation, a welcoming and lively atmosphere, and, most importantly, a line-up that gives you more thrills, spills, twists, turns and surprises than you could hope to see in a hundred Glastonbury’s.
This year’s bill is a strong mix of festival veterans and white-hot up-and-comers, eager to strut their stuff. Anchoring the whole shebang is the veteran’s veteran, Iggy Pop, still holding after several hundred years and even more grams. His is a live show that everyone should see at least once, and he’s here to show all the young team how to really do it, drawing from his deep bench of solo work and hopefully a few Stooges classics thrown in. You can only hope to be as cool at his age.
Coming across like the musical equivalent of a French Nouvelle Vague, Metronomy apparently enjoyed the last OFF in 2019 so much they decided to come back. Headlining the main stage on Sunday with a brand new album, standout track ‘It’s goods to be back’ may encapsulate the feeling of the whole weekend.
Just before publication of this preview, it was unfortunately announced that Rina Sawayama will not be appearing, so in her place the organisers have decided to go in completely the opposite direction. Ride have stepped into the fray and are doing the classic fest move of ‘Debut Album From Start To Finish’. Point your gaze at your shoes and expect things to get fuzzy.
Refined British Indie has had a bumper few years and OFF had gathered three of the bands leading the charge. The triple threat of Dry Cleaning, Yard Act and Squid will have fans of literate, angular tunes jumping out of their plimsolls.
Heavier acts always have a strong showing at OFF, and this year is no different. With their fusion of doom, post-rock and black metal, Belgium’s Amenra will be turning it up to 11 in the T Tent on Sunday. If you require your bones to be rattled at a higher BPM, The Armed will be mixing hardcore and post-industrial noise on the Forest Stage on Saturday. Of course, any self-respecting host nation should be expected to hold their own, and in the metal stakes this task falls to Gruzja (Georgia). Simultaneously embodying and skewering black metal archetypes, Gruzja will provide nourishment and sincere headbangers both (provided you speak Polish, probably).
The other great feather in OFF’s musical cap is it’s always stellar crop of hip-hop artists. Representing the cutting edge, for good or ill, of British drill and grime are London exports Central Cee and Ghetts. Ploughing a similar furrow from across the pond comes Pi’erre Bourne, who has produced, among others, Travis Scott, Playboi Carti and 6ix9ine. Which should tell you everything you need to know. Flying the flag for home-grown Polish hip-hop is Bedoes, whose polished beats and sharp flow (again, helpful if you speak Polish) will grace the main stage on Sunday.
But the most tantalising option for hip-hop junkies is Mura Masa, Perhaps best known for producing Slowthai’s certified banger ‘Doorman’, the multi-instrumentalist’s own live show mixes hip-hop, dance and jazz elements to thrilling effect.
Similar genre-hopping weirdness can be found elsewhere over the weekend. Makaya McCraven and Jaubi each combine hip-hop and jazz with a flavour of their respective home countries, while Poland’s own Lordophone throw pop and indie-rock into this already volatile mix.
And of course no trip to OFF would be complete without diving heedless into the myriad world acts on the line-up, many of whom you are unlikely to come across ever again. Pick of the bunch this year is Mdou Moctar from Niger, whose Knopfler-esque plectrumless virtuosity mixes with his Tuareg roots to create some of the best guitar music of the last few years. Also, Arooj Aftab, born and raised in the Punjab region of India, whose jazz and Asian influenced compositions are sure to leave audiences spellbound.
So now you know what it’s all about, what are you waiting for? I’ll see you front-left, near the speakers…