This weekend, while Britain remembered what it felt like to go outside with just a t-shirt on, I was in Poland, at a music festival. It’s called Heineken Open’er, and while people who care about tennis for one week a year were pre-empting Andy Murray’s last win as a British man before the Scottish referendum, I was watching Blur, Arctic Monkeys and Kendrick Lamar perform to an audience who didn’t really know what they were doing, or why they were there.
We arrived on the Wednesday, where a chauffeur driven Mercedes Benz greeted us. As we drove through Gdansk, I felt like a typical Brit, unintentionally brought up on a diet of passively reading the Daily Mail headlines. I’d arrived in Poland thinking that it was nothing but a motorway, a population of truck drivers, and a climate that would have me wishing I’d remembered to bring my sheepskin coat. Instead, it was boiling hot and the area surrounding the airport was fleshed out with picturesque forests and little houses that deserved their own postcard. If you like places that look nice, then you’ll think that Poland is very nice.Wednesday NightUnlike UK festivals, which grant their patronage with the privilege of being able to drink all day and “forget” to watch bands, Open’er took place between the hours of 8pm and 2am, meaning that all the bands were granted (albeit unequal) fractions of the entire population of festival goers. This lead to a double edged sword interaction, in that, each band had a sizeable crowd, but a high proportion of the crowd didn’t know who they were watching, or why.
Photo by Rachel WrightWe entered to the sounds of “Beetlebum”, which was played to what is probably the smallest place that you’ll be able to see Blur this summer. Once upon a time, watching Blur live in a millennial setting was the holy grail of modern performance, but these days it’s like watching a train go past. Blink, and you’ll be able to see them at another festival in a different location a day later (Hiya Rock Werchter!). As Damon pottered around the stage, looking like a stubbled art teacher who had spent too many days in a shed consumed with finger painting, his rhythm section went into auto pilot. While, Graham, who once said that his hobby was a jobby, looked like he was at Asda, but instead of cat-eyeing through the reduced section, he aimlessly fished through the swab of knobs on his guitar pedals.
After Blur finished, there was a mass exodus of the main stage before Kendrick Lamar, as if half of Poland couldn’t give a shit about the tales of gangbanging in Compton.
Instead, just like V Festival, where consumerism is as important as stepping into the Lynx Man Wash after an afternoon spent watching Rudimental (DJ Set), the Poles flocked down the strip toward the Kinder Egg Tattoo Parlour. A place where I can assume it would be impossible to get a tattoo of the Cadbury's logo.
And the Red Bull “stage”, which was really just an expensive hi-fi plonked in the middle of a field.
By the time Kendrick took to the stage, however, walking on the sounds of the Playstation intro music, a sizeable portion of the crowd had returned, putting their hands in the air, ready to listen to this “true motherfucking story told by Kendrick Lamar on Rosecrans”, ya bish. No one knew the words, but they were shooting their trigger fingers like their lungs were laced with marijuana found at the bottom of Grove Street.
The interesting thing about crowds in Poland, is that they don’t really seem to know why they’re there. Instead, they need instruction, which came in the form of Kendrick’s tediously repetitive, and basic, crowd interaction – “put one hand up! Now, put two hands up!”. When he finishes his set, instead of hollering for an encore, the crowd remain silent. Despite this, Kendrick came back, stating “you asked for more, so I’ve brought you more” (they didn’t), which was heartbreaking, but also heartwarming to see how Kendrick started from the bottom, and now he’s in Poland.
Afterwards, it was back to the hotel on a bus filled with journalists, including the NME lot, who played Tinie Tempah and Skrillex on their mobile phones for the duration of the journey. Which explains a lot.Thursday Night
We arrive on Thursday to a downpour that looks like it belongs in England, however Tame Impala are still in keeping with their no shoes on stage policy. The interesting thing about watching bands at Open’er, is that, just like the crowd, they don’t seem to know why they’re there, either. Last night, when playing “Swimming Pools”, Kendrick changed the lyrics to “Heineken, drank”, which seemed like, either A – he thought the festival was called Heineken, or B – he was being paid a lot of money to name drop the brand. Either way, this nonchalant approach doesn’t have any bearing on Tame’s performance, who power through set climax “Half Glass Full of Wine” with so much veracity, you can almost forget that their bassist left the band a few months ago.
After Tame Impala finish, the rain stops and we head to the Fashion Stage. Which is probably the weirdest accompaniment to a festival since the Nissan Micra Bar at V Festival in 2007. Here, swathes of Polish lads stood at the back, ogling at woman who walked around on a stage.It was if the lad army (European Edition) had come out in full force, ready to watch The Monkeys.
There were your archetypal boozers.
I can only have fun while in fancy dress dickheads.
And, the lone wolf, partnered with the generic aspects of Eastern European culture, Adidas jackets, and blonde hair. Either way, it seemed as though the population of the festival were excited to see Alex Turner perform an identikit Glastonbury set, complete with breaks inbetween songs for Turner to exercise his new found American accent.Apparently Arctic Monkeys are no longer allowed to be photographed while on stage, but imagine any other performance of them, and you’ve probably got a perfect image in your mind. Surprisingly, the sound for their set was much better than Glastonbury, which, when you consider this festival is a lot smaller, is a pretty impressive feat. The band played through all of their old classics, with “A Certain Romance” serving as a reminder of sitting on the blue mats at school, encapsulating a sense of romantic British nostalgia, which was seemingly lost on a European crowd. Afterwards, we watched a little bit of Nick Cave, who swathed around the stage like an old bat crooning for medication, before jokingly dedicating “Red Right Hand” to Arctic Monkeys, “the band who made the song famous”.Friday NightOur bus to the festival arrives over an hour late, causing us to miss the entirety of the Palma Violets set. It’s not a big deal, though, as we’re too busy enjoying the cheap Polish vodka to care (three pounds for a big bottle!). We manage to sneak some into the festival and play a drinking game while Skunk Anansie plays, one shot for every time she plays a song that sucks, which means that by the end of her set, we are suitably intoxicated to enjoy These New Puritans.
Playing on the Tent Stage, which is at least a fifteen minute walk from anything else on the site, Jack Barnett and Co sound like the consumption of my nightmares set to a soundtrack that is just about edgy enough for the Guardian to give a four star review. They’re remarkably brilliant though, even if they’re playing to a Polish crowd who are either spellbound in their solidarity of silence, or think they’re watching the philharmonic, unaware that it is fronted by a band that once gave the NME a boner.TNP finish early, so, like ants, the crowd herd toward the main stage, where Queens of The Stone Age are about to start their set. Personally, Josh Homme’s new hair cut makes him look like a butcher who used to work in my local meat shop, so we opt to go and watch Nas instead.As he walked on stage to the sounds of Biggie Smalls “Juicy”, I’d half hoped for a hologram to appear. Instead, we had a live drummer. Similarly to Kendrick, it was nice to see that Nas has managed to take his craft from small town roots to a sponsored festival in Europe, even if these days he looks like a confused version of Tinchy Stryder.Before playing material from Illmatic, Nas gives props to Eazy E and Ice Cube, which prompt several cheers from the crowd. Unfortunately, like everything else unprompted this weekend, no one knows the words to “N.Y State of Mind”, which leaves his set feeling a little threadbare. It doesn’t matter to Nas, though, because he’s a nice guy, and leaves the crowd with the sentiment “Happy birthday to anyone whose birthday it is today”.
Afterwards, we leave, and are stuck in carmaggedon for over an hour, which results in the greatest Frank Ocean acappella sing along this side of the Atlantic, and a trip to McDonalds, which is always interesting to see what additional menu items they sell outside of the UK (FYI, in Hong Kong, they sell rice)In ConclusionPoland is a really, really nice country, with cheap alcohol, cheap cigarettes, and cheap thrills – a night out costs under a tenner – but, their festivals seem like a cut-off from the rest of the crop. A bargain bin, if you will, for bands to rehearse their set lists to crowds that are thankful to see them, regardless of whether they suck, engage in an impromptu jam session, or play a set list full of b-sides that no one cares about. But, what is one Englishman’s watch of repetition, is one Pole’s best night ever. And for that, Open’er is probably the best music event to happen in Poland.Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanBassilPhotos By Jake Lewis @JakePhotoRead more festival coverage:GlastonburyPrimaveraDownload