It’s Day 4 with KEXP at the OFF Festival, and I’ve had some tie too think and absorb all this Polishness.
Linguistically and culturally my coming back to Poland has been a wonderful revelation. The country has changed dramatically, in many ways going from black & white/2D to vivid color/3D. That transformation began in 1989 when 50 years of Communist experimentation finally ended, but it really kicked in 10 years ago when Poland joined the EU. Poland always had a large expat population, this is called Polonia and at 20 million people it’s one of the biggest Expat populations in the world. Ten years ago the native Polish population could express itself and showcase its art on the world stage. Polish cinema was always world class and Hollywood is filled with Polish cinematographers, directors, and actors. Now it might be time for Polish musicians to have their time in the sun, the talent is there.
I’m also starting to think in Polish. This is interesting since when I start speaking I sound like a small boy who uses lingo that is decades old. I’m trying to catch up but I doubt greatly I’ll ever be hip.
Our Day 4 of the OFF Festival started at the Porcelain Factory. This is the 2nd location for our in-studio sessions and it’s amazing. Southern Poland is pretty famous for its porcelain and glass work, you can find examples of it worldwide. In Seattle at the Pike Place Market there is a shop specializing in various forms, along with coal mining it was one of the main industries in the region.
In the mid 90’s this particular factory had a massive fire which blew the roof off and incinerated everything inside. What was left is concrete and a most particular beauty that comes from the process of burning and melting. The city rebuilt the roof but the interior was left open. Various startup businesses and arts organizations are taking it over slowly, but it’s still raw and dusty as hell. Aspects that make it unlivable create fabulous locations for staging music and video. We were all jazzed to be there especially our amazing video crew of Justin Wilmore, Jim Beckmann, and Scott Holpainen. Jim Bennet, our photographer, and our hard working sound engineer Matt Ogaz were eager to test the acoustics and lighting. The location was killer, you’d have to spend a fortune staging something like this on a set.
Our first band was one I was impressed with the night before at the festival, Kristen. Their sound is a synthesis of Post-Punk, Prog Rock, and a strong dose of Electronics but that element is filtered in a 70’s electro flavor.
This particular trend in modern polish music I found throughout the bands I saw at the festival. The free adoption of genres and influences, be they folkloric, free jazz improvisation, early synth experimentation, 80’s hip hop production, etc.
Kristen are based in Warsaw but were originally from Szczecin on the Polish German border. Berlin is only an hour away and you can hear the electronic influence of the city on their sound. They have been together for 18 years and this particular performance marks their 18th anniversary. They have a great reputation in the Polish Indie scene. Michal the singer and bass player is exceptionally tall, he takes a anti-ego approach to his music, focusing on the sound not image. He also plays in Enchanted Hunters and was in the band Ścianka which was influential in the Polish scene. The band killed it for their video shoot!
The second band we scheduled was a lovely contrast in both style and context, they were also the reason we had such an early call time for the shoot. Lautari had a grand piano brought in to the raw space at the porcelain factory and that required 3 hours of tuning. It was well worth it for the sound in the space was sublime. The band was founded by classically trained violin player Maciej Filipczuk who became fascinated by Polish traditional music. He ventured out to find the last of the old village fiddle players and learned as much as he could.
Maciej applied these 300 year songs to Lautari but added a modern twist by adding Jazz and classical to the sound. He brought in virtuoso musicians from the academy and created a new sound that has its heart and soul in the Polish Countryside while understanding Poland’s urban future. To quote our 20 year old volunteer at the shoot, Zuzanna Siwicka, “It’s smart and sophisticated while still bringing out the Polish country girl in me, walking my cows in the field, sun and wind in my hair”
Our third band represented a different sound as well another region of Poland: Olo Walicki Kaszebe 2.
The band takes its name from its founder and bass player, Olo Walicki, and the region he comes from Kaszebe, the seaside north of Poland. This is also the region I was born in. Like the Silesian people in Katowice, the Kaszebe consider themselves a different tribe within the Polish Nation with their own language and traditions.
The music is not an ethno/folkloric homage to the past but an abstract exploration akin to the stylings of Albert Ayler and Radiohead’s most challenging instrumental work. Evolving from subtle noise to a full wall of sound assault, the band uses a range of instruments to achieve its intention. An old soccer game toy is included with pickups to add a dada quality to the performance.
Olo invites many collaborators to work on his music, and the lyrics are often written by famous Polish writers. He comes from the influential Yass movement of the 90’s, a short lived influential music scene that left a lasting impression on Jazz and Alternative music in Poland.
Our 4th and final band was the influential Oxford England headliner, Ride. Both singers/guitarists Andy Bell and Mark Gardener came in to do an acoustic set. Than band broke up in the early 90’s with only one performance for a TV show in early 2000’s. So we were pretty excited to see and hear what would happen.
Like solid pros they quickly got into a groove and serenaded us plus an audience that got word via Social that the band was playing in an abandoned factory in Katowice. Hearing their music in that setting and acoustic was a revelation. Members of the audience were openly weeping to the lyrics of “Paralyzed”, a song I’ve only heard loud and in full shoegazing flavor. At the Porcelain Factory Ride presented a subtlety and energy to their work I won’t soon forget.