Off Festival
The OFF Story

Artur Rojek

Artur Rojek, founder, creator and artistic director of OFF Festival.

I was born in 1972. Seven years later, I discovered music. Specifically, “Another Brick in the Wall,” a song I first heard when the older brother of my friend from swim club played it for me. From that point on, I was obsessed with Pink Floyd.

When I was twelve, I wrote a letter to “Fanclubs and More”, a weekly column published in "Na przełaj" magazine, introducing myself as a Pink Floyd fan who was looking to get in touch with other Floydheads. I received 36 letters from people twenty years my senior. I didn’t reply to a single one… But I learned about radio programs with titles like “An Evening with Records” and “Rock’n’Roll Romantics”. I began to tape entire shows religiously.

I soon amassed an impressive cassette collection that was the envy of all my friends. It was a feeling I enjoyed, so I kept taping albums in order to share my discoveries with other kids. My musical interests spanned a truly broad range of genres. I could put on a Venom album, then listen to OMD or Art Garfunkel, and follow up with Run DMC. If you’ve ever wondered how a black metal band gets booked next to a shoegaze or a techno act at the OFF Festival, now you know. The lineup is just like my tape collection, except it’s live and available for everyone to hear.

This might be ancient history to some, but the early 20th century was not a good time for music in Poland. Radio stations had just discovered formatting and were moving away from interesting music. Festivals were just getting off the ground, and worthwhile bands rarely made it to Poland, especially if they weren’t getting heavy airplay on MTV. Nothing was happening — and it was the perfect moment to finally do something about it.

The OFF Festival was born of my dreams and my passion for sharing music. I wanted to create an event that, for the first time in Poland, would bring together music lovers and artists from every corner of the globe. I wanted to do the things that everyone complained no one was doing. Genre-blending, sudden jumps between styles and eras? Check. Breaking musical molds and setting trends? Sure, we do that. Booking innovate artists that are virtually unknown in Poland and featuring them on the festival’s main stage? That’s our bread and butter.

 

But things weren’t always this peachy. My wife/closest associate and I didn’t know how to run a festival. I was busy thinking about the bands I wanted to book, and here it turns out that you have to worry about water, food, accommodation, transportation, bathrooms… We didn’t even have an office: we organized three OFF Festivals out of our attic. We’d put our son to bed and head upstairs until three in the morning. There were moments of terror and despair. Despite our success, we were overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility.

We started out small, of course. The first edition of the OFF Festival took place at the Słupna water park in the city of Mysłowice, where I was born and have lived ever since. Before my very eyes, a place I knew so well was transforming beyond all recognition, taking on a new character. It was incredible to watch.

It was a beautiful, sunny weekend. Over ten thousand people showed up, likely drawn by a bill that included a number of popular Polish artists, including Lech Janerka, Maria Peszek, and — reuniting just for the festival — Lenny Valentino. The lineup also featured international guests. Among the most beautiful concerts played that weekend was one by the Norwegian band The White Birch. I felt then that we could actually do it, that this festival was really possible.

“A breath of fresh air, modernity, and broad horizons: this event breaks the stereotype of Silesia as being a cultural graveyard,”

wrote the national daily "RZECZPOSPOLITA" in 2007.

As the festival went through a period of rapid change, I became increasingly bold in putting together the program. The picnic vibe of the first edition gave way to a more authentic musical experience, with daring, provocative new sounds — music unlike anything that was being played at the time.

The fourth edition, in 2009, was our farewell to Mysłowice, and a spectacular one, with such distinguished artists as The National and Spiritualized making their first appearances in Poland. That’s when I started experimenting with genres, assembling a bill that featured folk, punk, and noise rock alongside indie pop, jazz, metal, and rap. To this day, OFF is hands down the most eclectic music festival in the country.

Regrettably, the political climate in the city and the municipal government’s incessant conflicts over the festival forced OFF to look to greener pastures, which we found in Katowice’s verdant Three Pond Valley.

Musical experiments can be incredibly satisfying, but we’re also excited about hosting the greatest legends in alternative music.

My invitations to perform have been accepted by a long list of artists, including Iggy Pop, PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, The Flaming Lips, The National, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdive, Belle And Sebastian, Run The Jewels, Charlotte Gainsbourg, M.I.A., Grizzly Bear, and more.

“One of the best-curated festival experiences in Europe, and anybody who makes the trip to Katowice in south-west Poland won’t be disappointed. Built as a coal mining town, Katowice is at the heart of a larger metropolitan area in the southwest corner of Poland. The city itself though is anything but intimidating. A soft blend of concreto brutalism sits alongside a vast range of gothic and classical architecture, giving the city a uniquely broad visual personality amongst Polish cities. It makes for a lovely city break away, sampling beer and pierogi on Mariacka street, visiting the excellent art museums, touring the mines."

DROWNED IN SOUND (UK)

The OFF Festival also aspires to showcase the best in Polish alternative music: from Hey, Apteka, Skalpel and Molesta to Pro8l3m, Stara Rzeka, Furia, and even Zbigniew Wodecki (who played his first full show with Mitch & Mitch at OFF). Many excellent Polish artists made their big-stage debuts at the OFF Festival, and have since become mainstays of the local scene. Others caught their big breaks here: Hańba! landed a record deal following their performance at Three Pond Valley, while their KEXP session in Nikiszowiec introduced them to audiences all over the world.

We don’t do this for the glory, but it’s nice to be appreciated: we’ve won numerous Polish and international awards, including the prestigious European Festival Award for Best Medium-Sized Festival.

TIME Magazine put the OFF Festival Katowice on its list of 14 music festivals to check out in 2014, and in 2017 The Guardian ranked us among the top 10 European festivals.

In 2015 we teamed up with the celebrated US radio station KEXP to shoot a series of videos in settings that included the Porcelana Śląska factory and the neighborhood of Nikiszowiec, spreading the news about Katowice and bands like Hańba!, Coals and Lautari all over the world.

More than anything else, the OFF Festival is about music. People come here to play it, soak it up, and talk about it. But our world doesn’t end at the boundaries of sound: we venture into the realms of images and sculptures, cinema and the visual arts — at the OFF Festival and outside its gates, in the city of Katowice. We step into the world of the spoken and written word, engaging in conversations — and the occasional scuffle — at the Literary Café, where we’ve even hosted a burlesque performance or two, because there’s more to communication than just words...

“OFF has grown into something of an oasis for those sick and tired of standard hierarchal line ups, crap food, and profit over passion gatherings.”

CLASH MUSIC (UK)

But more importantly, OFF is all about its unique atmosphere and the extraordinary experiences that couldn’t happen without you.

We’ve got over a decade of history behind us — history that we wrote with you, together.

Long ago, in the early days of the band Myslovitz, when I was trying to infect all my friends with my musical bug, one of my bandmates told me he wanted to go a blues festival. What? Here I am, playing Madchester and shoegaze records for him, and he wants to listen to the blues?! Once I got over the offense, I tried to reason with him. After listening to many records together, he finally saw the light when I played him Galaxie 500…

I think back on that day and laugh. I don’t get offended anymore when my friends want to attend other festivals, because I know I’ll meet thousands of like-minded people at the OFF Festival: people who welcome challenges, enjoy experiments, and who don’t shy away from risk. People who love music. See you at the fest!