Review: Tauron Nowa Muzyka Festiwal 2014

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The last image of Poland I had in mind before I visited it for the first time last week were these lightly clad girls in pseudo-traditional garbs with huge knockers washing their clothes in a wooden bucket during the appearance of the polish contestant of this years Eurovision Song Contest, which in the end Austria’s Conchita Wurst had won – you probably remember.

Besides that, I didn’t know more about it than what you know about a country when you watch the news on a daily basis and are halfway interested in politics and history.

The reason for the trip was a small festival with a roundabout capacity of 15.000 and a line-up so tasteful and well picked, that my jaw dropped instantly the first time I heard of it.

Mostly electronic, in 2013 the Tauron Nowa Muzyka Festival in the former mining town and proud capital of Silesia, Katowice, headlined with contemporary artists like Jon Hopkins, Moderat or Gregor Schwellenbach performing his already legendary classical interpretation of „20 Years Of Kompakt“. However, it also had an exquisite choice in non-electronic artists, as the bookings of soulguru Jamie Lidell, pop-sensation London Grammar or the jazzy hiphop instrumentalists Badbadnotgood had shown – so my attention was drawn and I was eager to see with which tasteful line up the 9th edition of TNM would come across with. And guess what: I wasn’t disappointed.

With artists like Actress, Ben UFO, Pariah, Theo Parrish, Kelela or a very own 10 years of Hyperdub Showcase stage featuring Cooly G, Laurel Halo, Ikonika, Scratcha DVA and Hyperdub-Boss Kode9 himself, you pretty much could see where the journey would go in 2014. And I haven’t even mentioned the headliners – or should I rather say „headlinerettes“, since TNM invited no other than two women who once had their share of being part of the mainstream music mechanism and one day decided to quit the bullcrap of being attentive and paddle their own’s canoe.

On the one side 80s soul/rap-diva Neneh Cherry who was supported by electrojazzers Rocketnumbernine, on the other 90s/00s soul-diva Kelis, which looked like a cupcake in her pink dress and performed the hell out of her old hits being interpreted in a afrofunky way.

Howsoever, it all begann with a cancellation (and this shouldn’t be the last one, since also Gonjasufi, Bilal and Jackson & His Computer Band had to cut their gigs due to some random reason): TNM has this very classy tradition of an opening and a closing concert and the opening on thursday was supposed to be done by Chet Faker in Katowice’s church St. Peter and Paul but he couldn’t come. Luckily enough for all fans of this type of music the organisers of the festival were able to replace him by similarly whiny singer Sohn, who did a great job shaking the churches walls with the few bass elements he has in his songs. For the most it probably was an intense thing, however I was getting intense on cheap wodka and beers in the nearby pub „Hocker“, since you can’t drink alcohol in public at no time, which can be a bummer indeed and so requires other methods of getting drunk.

Friday started with a session of ambientish techno hypnosis, respectively the last half hour of Kompakt’s super Swede The Field, who played a very extended version of his 2007 hit „Over The Ice“ mixed with excerpts of other compositions of his, only to always return to the chopped voice samples of the „From Here We Go Sublime“-opener. After this first séance I headed over to the main stage and was confronted with the probably costliest concert of the festival: the Norwegian Nu-Jazz collective Jaga Jazzist joined forces with the Polish avantgarde chamber orchestra Aukso, so there were about 30 people playing this modern jazz blueprint with a scary touch of Philip Glass and J.Dilla in sound. Meanwhile, house legend Theo Parrish was struggling with technical issues at the Red Bull Academy stage and took the oppurtunity to play some funky disco edits while the sound guys where trying to find out what the hell was wrong and how they could get out of this embarrassing situation. South African Shangaan Electro wizard Nozinja had no problems at all: everybody understood what to do, though nobody seemed to know what he was trying to say when he animated the crowd to cheer with him: „ONE! EIGHT! NINE!“. And everybody was like: „What the hell is he talking about? Is this something dating back to the Apartheid regime?“ But the supernerd in me immediately knew: it’s the bpm, man, 189 beats per minute! No wonder every song sounds the same. However it’s still a piece of art to make the audience go so crazy, for which also Nozinjas dancers helped a lot, shaking their hips like under a spell.

But if I wanted to get a good spot seeing Neneh Cherry performing her new Four Tet-produced songs I had to leave this great craze. And it definitely was worth it: I have seldomly seen a performer caring so little of what was going on and just performing like it was the last thing she could do in her life. So much energy, so much love, so much „Siła“ (Polish for „Power“). At the end she of course also performed her first hit from 1988, „Buffalo Stance“, in a version interpreted slightly different by her backing band Rocketnumbernine.

I headed over to the Red Bull again, but Actress was rather disappointing in his doomy gloomy way and I was way too euphorised to stay, so I once again danced my ass off at the program Mouse On Mars have been touring with ever since they released „Parastrophics“ in 2012 – the set hasn’t changed at all and after watching it five times in the course of two years it’s still working. Not sure if that’s a good thing, though, but for the moment it was. After that I just „stayed“ (I guess I don’t need to mention that I was grabbing a beer after the other every 10 minutes or so…) for Warp’s Clark, who had some technical problems with his modular setup when he started, but pulled his thing through as soon as these were swiped away. Noisy, techy, exhausting, stressful, pumping, bouncing: all the stuff I love, well done mate.

Then there was no escaping from the Red Bull again, since first Ben UFO and after him Pariah gave us the hard techno everybody has been waiting for the whole night, which they here and there interrupted with some breaks and halftime thingys. At six nobody wanted to leave but the (numerically well placed) festival securitys didn’t care and told us all off into our beds to get some rest.

So heading back to the hostel over the festival ground I got the oppurtunity to get an impression of it in daylight: Tauron Nowa Muzyka Festiwal is situated on the former mining pit surrounded by the town and its’ impressive brutalist plattenbau-skyscrapers. The restoration of the area was finished just this year and now it serves as an indeed very fancy outdoor museum (the „Muzeum Śląskie“, „Sileasian museum“) with modern architecture glass buildings standing beneath the old brick factorys in which the coal was further processed, tall pit-head frames being illuminated and standing over garden art fields with all types of flora. And thanks to neat and clean cemented pavements nearly everywhere on the property the white shoes I was wearing stayed that way although it had rained heavily during the last half hour of Pariah’s set in the Red Bull tent – lucky me. And what a impressive and beautiful site.

For saturday I was actually determined to stay at one spot the whole night, since Hyperdub took over the showcase stage and celebrated the labels’ 10th anniversary with sets of Cooly G, Laurel Halo, Ikonika, Kode9 and Scratcha DVA. Yet there was the great avantgarde Polish jazz band Pink Freud I didn’t want to miss out on, since their show consisted of reinterpreting songs of Glitch forefathers Autechre. So after a once again cryptic set of fabulous Laurel Halo, Cooly G didn’t lose much time in getting started and took off right away with bass driven tunes that made crowd dance instantly.

But it also started to rain, so I rushed to the Wigwam tent which hosted mentioned Polish experimental jazzers Pink Freud – and had a roof. There I started to think how difficult it was to recognise the original songs and what work it must have been to newly compose this machine made music onto instruments like trumpet, sax, guitar and keys – the Danzig based quartet just must have been fulfilling a childhood dream and it was great watching them doing it.

However, I still had this date I was going to with a lady I’ve seen last 11 years ago at Switzerland’s magnificient Paléo Festival: by then only her debut album „Kaleidoscope“ and her flop runner up „Wanderland“ were released and she was on the verge of becoming that „Milkshake-Trick Me“-Superstar she became in den noughties. Now Kelis had all her hits, has seen everything and just released an album on the UK electronic label Ninja Tune, which was a surprise indeed, so I was excited to see how this second date would turn out. The roofed main stage was packed and people were heading to it from every corner of the site though the rain got worse and my shoes were starting to get dirty, too. In her pink dress Kelis looked like the hybrid of a cupcake and a nicely packed present and she presented a well picked medley of her greatest hits as of course songs from her latest release „Food“. Yet, it were the old songs that gave the audience the goosebumps and made them cheer and dance: as soon as the first offbeat guitar riffs of „Trick Me“ started playing the crowd went wild promptly and started taking each others hands and shaking their hips. Really good vibes full of happiness made themselves felt and the huge circus tent was filled with positivity in the air. Or when the extremely funky bass line of her long forgotten second single ever, „Good Stuff“, came through the speakers, there was no escaping, I had no choice to stand still, the bass just made me move and sing – it just was great date, once again.

In the meantime the rain hadn’t stopped yet and was getting stronger, so I ran for shelter under one of the tents where shirts were being sold some hours before and were abandoned now – good for me. From there I perfectly heard Kompakt’s Pop-Techno-producer Kölsch playing the songs of his great debut „1977“ in a DJ-set kind of way, which worked out very well but that didn’t make me head over to the stage through the rain – it was just okay the way it was, with a plastic cup of cheap yet tasty Polish beer in my hand. And then I left the grounds of this great festival site for this year in anticipation of the closing concert with Nils Frahm the next day.

This took place sunday evening in an abandoned and dilapidated manufacture of porcelain in the outskirts of Katowice. This venue was actually so far out, that at first the taxi driver didn’t want to believe me that there was a concert going on. Instead, he rejected taking me there and drove around town for a few minutes while calling the cab office which of course didn’t know anything either. I insisted on being driven there and he was like „Okay, it’s your money.“ and we took the motorway and drove on empty roads past decayed industry sites. And suddenly there they were: people. And more and more people. The cab driver couldn’t believe it and all he could say was: „Szok!“

So there I was: on a partly torn down industry site climbing the stairs of the fabric to get to the pretty high third floor where the concert took place. A huge and very dark room that was only partly illuminated and which I couldn’t walk through without turning on my cellphone’s light. A few moments later, the Berlin based pianist entered the stage and calmly started talking to the audience, asking in a very dry manner, if the people were afraid that the building could collapse anytime if he played too much bass. I didn’t expect an introverted piano player to be that funny but this guy was cracking one joke after the other and the crowd was laughing its’ head off. But on top, he is also a n exceptionally gifted musician, which he showed on his three pianos and consoles in the following 90 minutes, overrunning his estimated playing time. Sometimes a bit too cheesy, resembling of old Jarre compositions but occasionally also with a shitload of bass, which made indeed the walls wobble and my heart jump in fear of a mass catastrophe.

But everything went well, I am writing these resumpting lines, still in some grief of these wonderful days having finally gone by and thinking about all the great concerts, emotions and all the fun that I had, since this was the best festival I’ve been to in a very very long time. I can’t tell if it was the best one ever, but it’s pretty damn close. So close that I’m not even sure if I want to be there next year, since I’m afarid it can’t be as good as the 9th edition of Tauron Nowa Muzyka Festiwal. But we’ll see.

Photo Credit: Slawomir Kondys

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Credit: Organizers Official Photographs / Radosław Kaźmierczak
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