Monday, September 13, 2010


A few weeks ago I wrote here about seeing the Stooges in Ostrava. Not far across the Polish border, there’s a place called Katowice which, in the deeply unfashionable stakes, could give it more than a run for its money. The two cities have a lot in common. Populations around 350,000, built on coal and iron and steel, both terminally linked in the popular imagination with the smokestack twilight of the very worst of the socialist past, and both struggling to rise above it. Ostrava, sadly, has just failed in its bid to become the European City of Culture in 2015; Katowice is hoping to land the gig in 2016.

The first edition of the Rough Guide to Poland, published in the early 1990s, describes Katowice as ‘a place you wouldn’t go out of your way to visit’ (something I read for the first time just before the guard informed me that the train I was in and which I thought was bound for Krakow, a totally different kettle of bigos, was headed to Katowice instead). Arriving at its main station, then or now, you see the point; man’s inhumanity to ferroconcrete if ever there was. This is typical:

But even this doesn’t really bring home the way the rain pours through the leaky roofs onto the platforms, the orcs who congregate there, the random awfulness of the ‘information’ about train departures served up at maximum distortion and in Polish only, or the sheer crapness of the Worst Kebab Shop In The World. Try their botulism special. Take it from me, Katowice station sucks.

But this is a blog that tries to be positive and upful; there’s enough gloom and doom in the world already. So let’s move out of the uninviting surroundings of the station and adopt a broader perspective.

One thing both of them have in common is that they host well-known music festivals. Colours of Ostrava celebrated its tenth anniversary this year and was sold out in advance; Katowice has the Off Festival, now in its fifth year and this time actually held in the city itself rather than nearby MysÅ‚owice, where it was held for the first four years of its existence, but where, according to the festival programme, murky politricks led to its demise. So MysÅ‚owice, a distinctly unimpressive place (think the view out of the bus window in Eminem’s ‘8 Mile’ or the landscape in ‘Fort Apache, the Bronx), has missed out on the only shot it was ever going to have at becoming a happening global metropole. But it’s definitely good news for Katowice, as, IMHO, the Off Festival is bloody good; just look at the line-up for this year’s event.

On to the highlights and twilights, brothers and sisters, starting with the latter:
The Fall – one of our main reasons for going, and boy, did they disappoint. Mark E Smith had clearly been on the pop before kick-off and, after a bright start, resorted to shambling round the stage, buggering round with the equipment, interfering with the keyboards, and mumbling gibberish in lieu of lyrics. They were booed off at the (early) end of their set. I first saw them in Liverpool in 1978 and on this showing would be quite happy to wait another 32 years before seeing them ‘live’ (well, they had a pulse) again. The alternative was the beer zone; yes, you’re only allowed to swill in a specially designated area and there are guys with big biceps and mean attitudes to enforce it. Additionally, Polish beer is ghastly stuff; it always seems to taste metallic and fizzy and far too overtly alcoholic for my taste, if not Mark E Smith’s. Fortunately, there were enough good bands on that we didn’t have to spend too much time there; some of them, like the Horrors, the Flaming Lips and Dinosaur Jr., are pretty well known anyway, but check these out:

And that’s just the ones beginning with ‘A’…

In all conscience, I can’t end this without mentioning the Dum Dum Girls, who, for reasons best known to themselves, are too coy to allow me to embed their YouTube clips here, but do yourself a favour and check them out there; they are WONDERFUL!

As are these people: