When compared to the overpriced, under-whelming line-ups filling the UK festival circuit, the offerings across mainland Europe can be rather sobering. One festival that is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the best weekends away in terms of both value and quality is Katowice, Poland's Off Festival. Set in the city in which the talent of the greatest composer of modern times, Henryk Gorecki, blossomed, the festival is now celebrating its seventh anniversary. 2012's edition was originally offered at a scandalous price of around £25, meaning that the sneaky early-bird flights (from London), accommodation and a weekend ticket would cost less than the entry fee for Leeds Festival. As it stands, there is still little difference.
Not that Off Festival is a budget festival; far from it. Although it does suffer from the unfortunate cancellation of Suicide, Akron/Family and Purity Ring, there is still a wealth of interesting acts from all the way across the musical spectrum. From the infamous proto-punk of Iggy Pop & The Stooges and the crushing, nilhistic post-punk of Swans right through to the intimate ambience of Nils Frahm, whose 'Felt' is one of the most affecting (neo) classical albums of recent years, there is an abundance of unmissable artists, most with the only tie being between their own unique identities.
Which makes a summary of such diversity rather difficult. Here is what but a day's schedule holds: Friday could see you jump from the caterwauling saxophone-drones of Colin Stetson to the heads-on hardcore of Converge, take a quick break with a couple of ludicrously cheap beers from the designated drinking area and gradually cocoon the night away with sets from Death In Vegas, Mazzy Star, Alva Noto, Josh T Pearson and Demdike Stare. If you prefer to keep the tempo up, however, you may wish instead to gravitate towards the triplet of Metronomy, Shabazz Palaces and the lo-fi Detroit techno of Container.
The weekend doesn't peak too early either. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, the former couple that spearheaded Sonic Youth, play separate sets on separate days for those looking for a refuge from melody and The Twilight Sad and The Antlers, two of Contactmusic.com's most featured artists of the past couple of years, are other indicators of the weekend's strength in depth. As is the booking of Shangaan Electro and Group Doueh; two unmissable acts that transpose traditional African sounds into blurred new landscapes.
All of which leads up to a final fearsome triple-punch of Battles, the aforementioned Swans and Chrome Hoof. The former's mutated math-rock is always a spectacle despite the departure of vocalist Tyondai Braxton, whilst the latter are perhaps a summation of all the strands of the weekend prior; a dizzying blend of rock, metal, jazz, blues, electro, soul, R'n'B and whatever else counts as a 'genre' nowadays.
Festival goers should also endeavour to make time, as impossible as the schedule makes it, to visit the city of Katowice. The catchily named Silesian Culture and Recreation Park is perfect for pre-festival entertainment, hosting a zoo, planetarium, amusement park and the world's first open-air museum which contains replicas of buildings from the Silesian era. At the heart of the city, the foreboding St Mary's church is one of Katowice's prominent architectural interests and, dotted around, a range of restaurants serving up anything from traditional cheap and hearty Polish cuisine (The Patio and Restautacja Fantasmagoria ) to ambitious forays into exotic tastes (Little Hanoi's take on East Asian dining) with a meal and a drink often costing somewhere between the £5 and £10 mark.
Barring total bankruptcy or a felony that prevents travel to a different country, there is no reason for any avid music fan not to make Off Festival the key date in their financial calendar.
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