Amongst the charming, rubble strewn city of Katowice, sits a delightful little festival that brings together some of the most eclectic acts from across the world. Founded back in 2006, OFF festival takes place in the gorgeous surroundings of Three Ponds Valley, juxtaposing Silesia's ever-industrial backdrop. The town itself is packed full of friendly locals, craft beer pubs, impressive street art and breath-taking churches; one of which acts as the platform for the weekend's beginnings.
As the skies turn to an ominous dark grey, we shelter ourselves inside the chapel to be warmed by the chest-thumping drone of Earth. Masked by a sheet of purple and red lighting, the incessant thwacks of rain upon the beautiful stained glass windows only serves to make their set all the more special. The weary heads of early revellers resting upon the pews, the three-piece finish off their performance with a few subtle nods and quiet appreciation.
Entering the festival site itself the next day is a means for exploration. The food and drinks are separated from the main musical stages, where you can grab anything from a huge falafel wrap to a generous helping of vegan carrot and chocolate cake for just a few pounds, whilst a pint of beer will only set you back about £1.50. Benches are strewn across, making for a canteen-like surrounding, which serves to make eating as much of an event as watching the bands. Locals chat excitedly about the day ahead on the huge bean bag nests, swings and deck chairs laid out across a make-shift sand box. There's even a cute, free photobooth for you to snap a few sillies before you go too heavy on the cheap booze.
Sub Pop are an imperative part of the festival, as a huge logo backdrop decorates one of the smaller stages. Kicking things off are Polish grungers Kaseciarz, who's energetic mix of frantic drums and distorted guitar tones make for the perfect late afternoon introduction. Heads are swaying, feet are shuffling and the Polish crowd are as respectable and attentive as you can get - something that will come to prove itself time and time again. Meanwhile, Brooklyn's Cerebral Ballzy are causing a storm over on the Forest Stage, shouting anecdotes such as 'This song's about not going to school!' before ripping into their screeching punk rock. It's not even 5pm and there's already crowd surfing, devil horn hand gestures and sweat-drenched teenagers.
Over on the main stage, OFF are graced with the first British addition of the weekend - Los Campensinos! Despite a few sound problems, the band rile up the audience with their pop aesthetic, causing a sea of hands to grace the air as soon as they dive into 'You! Me! Dancing!'. Lead vocalist Gareth even makes his best attempt at a few Polish niceties, stating that us British folk will often 'talk English at you until you understand and if you don't, we'll just write you off,' much to the delight of the crowd.
As early evening sets in, Perfume Genius is beginning his performance in a tiny tent behind one of the larger stages. Dressed in an impeccable black jumpsuit, he shyly says hello to an invigorating crowd who hang on his every syllable. Playing a perfect blend of songs old and new, it's songs such as 'My Body' and 'Queen' that are showcasing Perfume Genius in a new light; he's a front man now and despite his adorable nervous twisting of the microphone cable, he's more confident than ever before. 'Hood' causes a raucous of monumental proportions before the audience fall to a deadly silence; eyes wide and mouths slightly open in awe at Hadreas' talent. Even after playing for almost 45 minutes, the crowd scream, clap and whoop for another ten in hope of encore but sadly, tonight wasn't the night.
One thing that's noticeable about this festival is its inclusion of almost any genre. In one tent, clipping. are showcasing their unique, ambient hip-hop, whilst Black Lips are perfecting their jangly, indie rock with cuts from the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. And if none of those take your fancy, you can peruse the stalls of independent Polish traders that include artists, photographers, record labels and even a hairdressers; if you're feeling particularly daring, there's also a tattooist ready and waiting.
Headliners Neutral Milk Hotel start their set with a humble acoustic performance of 'Two Headed Boy' before showcasing bow playing banjos, impressive saw talents and a few special inclusions of some lesser known tracks. Despite this being the main event, it's incredibly easy to find a spot right near the front and as no one can drink whilst watching the bands, there's not a heckler in sight - just an excitable, respectful crowd that seem genuinely chuffed to have these bands in their little town.
Hookworms kick off the proceedings on Saturday, with a packed out tent witnessing their looping synths and erractic vocals before a crescendo-ending set that showcases their faultless instrumentation. San-Francisco's Deafheaven take to the main stage, with lead vocalist George Clarke waltzing onstage like he owns the place. An arrogant expression and endless spitting isn't enough to put this crowd off, as they easily pull in one of the biggest audiences of the weekend so far. Dressed all in black, the band's blend of emo melodies and black metal is enough even to get the mums going, as many middle-aged festival goers throw their fists into the air. Even if you hated their tunes, the set was faultless and unforgettable, with Bo Ningen even snapping Instagram shots at the front.
One of the few women at the festival is Chelsea Wolfe, who's early Bjork and punk influences make for a magical set against a backdrop of towering trees and golden lighting. The warmth of this set is echoed across the field, as Frank Fairfield showcases his country expertise to a tent full of dancing couples and smiling children. Bo Ningen welcome in the evening with their new melodic approach proving a hit to the entranced spectators. Their 20 minute finish packed full of their token distorted guitars causes many to throw their earplugs to the wind and instead immerse themselves in the gigantic wall of sound the four-piece are so brilliant at delivering. Over on the main stage, The Notwist are delivering exactly the opposite with melancholic vocals and mechanical instrumentation. Their song structures are faultless and it seems OFF are a crowd that love a good glockenspiel solo.
An absolute highlight of the weekend was a surprising offering from New York's Le1f. Blasting out Mya's 'Case of the Ex,' the rapper graces the stage in all black, hiding under a baseball cap and sunglasses. The reaction from the audience is enough to coax him from his disguise, as he strips to a white vest and shakes what his momma gave him. Stating 'I'm ready for the club,' he bursts into an impeccable set of infectious beats that has the whole tent moving as one. His adorable interactions with the crowd make the experience all the more connected and he seems genuinely taken aback by the love he's receiving, executing humble comments, such as 'Oh, I guess that's a good song then'. Pouring an entire bottle of beer over his head, he jumps into 'Spa Day,' that has strangers singing into each other's faces; the sweat drenched faces and aching feet proving it to be the party of the weekend.
Rubbed eyes and outstretched arms welcomes in the last day of the festival and a little sit down in the festival's literature tent with a cup of deliciously made coffee is the perfect kick start. The quiet isn't around for long mind, as Perfect Pussy stomp onto the Forest Stage. Meredith Graves is a front woman of uncompromising stature, as she narrates the band's chest-curdling punk rock with both grace and ferocious passion. A gentle breeze causes a wave of dandelions to float across the stage during the entire set, gorgeously juxtaposing the band's approach and providing a soft moment in the frantic environment. As Graves sits to face her drummer at the end of the set, the band's synth player finishes proceedings with a 10 minute electronic execution. Pointing at the video screen, the band seem bemused at playing to such a huge crowd but it's clear Poland have taken Perfect Pussy to their hearts.
Next, we're treated to a beautiful rendition of Beck's 2012 sheet music album 'Song Reader' by Warsaw's Orkiestra Rozrywkowa. Made up of the city's finest musicians and teachers, they effortlessly work through each song with huge grins and expert precision. Piano solos and ever-changing vocalists showcase the orchestra's laid back yet impeccable talents, with the crowd's yelps and bobbing heads proving it to be yet another OFF spectacle. Of course, this entire festival wouldn't be possible without Artur Rojek, who's own performance proves to be of monumental proportions. Huge canons of glitter with his initials etched into each piece fall down upon the gigantic audience, with raised hands and huge grins making for one of the most memorable performances of the weekend. His pop aesthetics teamed with gorgeous female backing vocals and slightly electronic elements are enough to have this crowd singing along to every word.
Meanwhile, iconic shoegazers Slowdive are effortlessly proving their status on the main stage. Credit must go to the band's sound engineer, as each strum, tap and thwack is beautifully showcased with the utmost precision. Rachel Goswell's fragile vocals are a marvel, whilst the red, orange and white lighting looks as though the band have actually set the stage on fire. Announcing 'Catch the Breeze,' the huge crowd radiate a unanimous scream as the band showcase their rendition to perfection. After that performance, it's obvious as to why this little band from Reading are still one of the most influential.
Closing the festival are the adorable Belle & Sebastian, who's blend of iconic indie and mixed vocals make for perfect end. With a four-piece brass band and string quartet, songs such as 'I'm a Cuckoo' sound fuller than ever before. Of course lead singer Stuart Murdoch entices a few eager fans to join him on stage for 'Boy with the Arab Strap,' - not before falling into a foetal position on the floor after misjudging the drop from stage to the floor to grab said members. No broken legs in sight, the band continue their set as Murdoch conducts his band and the entire field erupts into a foot stomping frenzy. Lights out and heads bowed, the reluctant crowd said goodbye to OFF festival for one more year.
With a line-up so diverse and an atmosphere so welcoming, it's easy to see why festivals like OFF are attracting more and more revellers from across Europe. The division of drink and music is one that may raise some eyebrows, but it does in fact make the whole experience much more memorable. Grabbing a beer in the refreshments area allows you to gather your breath - and your friends - making it more of a break than a necessity. The crowd are one of the most respectable and diverse I've ever witnessed, as revellers continuously offer me a space in front of them or graciously ask me if it's okay if they smoke next to me. With the stages a few minutes apart and hardly any clashes, you're able to see pretty much any act on the bill and the laid back stall holders offer up nothing but smiles and language barrier thumbs-up. After that weekend, OFF's tagline of 'Inspiring other festivals since 2006' is more than deserved.
Photos by Adam Jedrysik.