Friday, 5 July 2013

Blur, Alt+J, Crystal Castles @ Heinekenn Opener Festival. Gdynia 2013.

Yeah, so I did finally jump the festival bandwagon.
For many years, in spite of living in the vicinity of one of Europe's largest festival sites, I resisted the urge to parade in shorts and Hunters. This year I succumbed.

We arrived at the festival site earlier than we'd expected. There was hardly any traffic and we reached the place in less than an hour, including a couple of stops, one to get the tickets, the other one to get some petrol and fags and use the toilet etc. As a newcomer I was quite surprised at the way the whole thing was organized. A bus took us from the car park to the festival site- that was great fun, then we had to exchange the tickets for wrist bands and undergo backpack inspection, all in a very pleasant and friendly atmosphere. I was surprised by the attitude of the employees of the festival. They must have been trained abroad as they displayed courteous manners not so common in this country. However, a nasty surprise awaited our friends, as the daily passes for public transport had already been sold out on the first day.
Then we needed to exchange our 'real' money into festival coupons. I found the idea annoying at first, but during the course of the evening I understood that was actually a brilliant idea which helped to speed things up and eliminate fuss when buying beer and food.
Speaking of food and beverages, the offer of alcoholic drinks was limited to Heinekenn (obviously) and Desperados, not my favourites at all, I'm well beyond the corporation stage in my drinking life. The selection of  food, however, was incredible, ranging from simple pizzas and chips to quite sophisticated dishes from Middle Eastern cuisine.

The first band for us to see was Blur. I've never been a fan, out of the whole Britpop scene I loved Pulp only and The Verve more for personal sentimental reasons - I met the guys in London once upon a time- that for their music. The only Blur songs I remembered were Park Life and Boys and Girls, and this is how the gig started. I really liked the beginning of the show, but then it only got worse. I mean, that might have been a good show for the fans as the guys really gave a dynamic performance, but I was simply bored. All four of us kept checking time or Facebook news, which was not a sign of interest. We heard Park Life from the distance as they played it long after we'd left.
I think the reason why I didn't enjoy the gig was that I feel large format festival experiences are not for me. We were standing reasonably close to the stage but the only way I could see the artists was on screens. What's the point of leaving home and paying 60 bucks and watching the telly? I must admit, however, that the live production of the show was great, and whoever was responsible for cameras and editing deserves a big thank you.
The sound engineers didn't do such a great job. I do admit that sound quality may depend on where you stand, but where we stood the purity of sound was lacking, we heard a wall of sound and a couple of audio feedbacks. Quite disappointing, cause notwithstanding the fact that we didn't like Blur, we expected to enjoy a good show.

After two quarters of Blur we decided to relocate to the Tent Stage where our star of the night was supposed to play. Convinced that I was going to see a niche band only I and a couple of other weirdos had heard about, I hoper for a more intimate experience with my music. I couldn't have been more wrong. When we approached the tent all the hipsters had already entrenched themselves in their positions and filled the tent almost to the brim. We joined the crowd and moved to a sort of central position, but that meant losing sight of the screens, not to mention the band on stage. We retreated to the back of the tent, from where we watched the show till the end.

The couple of Britons with their American vocals and hipster looks gave a great show. They proved to be talented musicians and sounded live even better than they do on the CD. They played most of their sole record, which satisfied us greatly, but left us wanting for more as the gig lasted, exactly as scheduled, only about an hour. There was no spontaneity, no encores. Just played the material they planned to play and bye bye.
This actually turned out to be a festival custom, which I suppose guaranteed no delays in the schedule, but still I think live acts could have been more humane. 

I was too far to see how the band interacted with their fans, but I suppose they were shocked by their popularity. The crowd reacted spontaneously to the first notes of the songs, made delta signs with their fingers and tried their forces at the difficult task of singing the songs.

After the gig I felt hungry for more. I'll definitely go to see the band live if the opportunity presents itself and they play in a club somewhere near. If they return to Heinekenn Opener Festival next year, I won't come to see them again.

The third band we wanted to see was Crystal Castles, who returned to the Opener Festival after a cpuple of years.
Crystal Castles are no novelty to me. I've been eyeing them for years, unsure what I think. Their music is deeply rooted in the best Canadian industrial tradition, while superficially echoing synth-pop of the 80's at its best and also its worst.
Their music could easily impress the goers of the ugliest country discos and yet attracted many fans of club music to the tent at the Opener Festival and for sure that was the best show out of the three I've seen.
While watching them and actually enjoying myself very much I was wondering whether I liked them or not.
The charismatic singer definitely changed a DJ set into a live performance. This tiny figure with mediocre vocal abilities, transmuted anyway by all kinds of electronic gadgetry, was throwing herself spasmatically hither and thither, and apparently enjoyed being touched by her fans as she crowd dived.

To my suprise this electronic duo brought a drummer to perform with them and I must say I most enjoyed the fragments of the gig when most lights went out and only the white ones were flashing rhythmically in the dark, Alice Glass retreated, probably to touch up her make-up and have a fag, and only music played with the live drum to be heard. That was excellent. 
I also liked their cold attitude to the audience.No attempts to interact. No 'dziekuje', no thank yous, nice-to-see-yous. No cheap tricks to win the audience. No messages or impressions of Gdansk. Just being on stage, and giving the show. Great! 
I'd really love to see the band again, perhaps one day, in a club, where they fit best.
Apart from the band's performance I must mention amazing sound quality, great camera work, and astounding lights show. Great engineers, in their hands skills, craftsmanship combined with artistic talent and imagination. Big thank you nameless guys for doing excellent job. 

On the whole my festival impressions are pretty good.
Everything happened with amazing punctuality. When the last sound of Crystal Castles show died out I looked at the watch, it was 2 am sharp. They played, as contracted, for two hours solid and not a second longer.
I loved the light effects during all three shows, with a special emphasis on Crystal Castles.
There were nice crew everywhere around, it was a safe place to come with kids as long as you stayed away from the crowd. In a couple of years' time we'll bring our nasty little brats to offer them their forst music experience. This is also the place which is open for people of all ages as long as they're fans of music. Perfect, cause I feel octogenarian in certain places, while during the Opener Festival I didn't.
The whole thing operated like a good clockwork machine, which is amazing, considering the number of people involved.
The atmosphere was good with thousands of identically dressed hipsters, shorts, tights, fake hunters (rubber riding boots from Decathlon) and checked shirts tied round the waist. Undercuts normally hidden under long hair, were now suddenly revealed with buns up high on the head to show how cool those serious finance managers and other office workers are.

We initially wanted to go for three subsequent days, but we ended up picking one that we found most interesting for a number of reasons. On Wednesday there played two and a half bands we really wanted to see, whereas on Thursday and Friday only Nick Cave and The National respectively caught our interest. Notwithstanding how much we love them, we believe paying about $60 per person plus petrol and parking charges is a bit too much if you're interested in one artist only. But the steep price tag was not the direct factor that dissuaded us from returning the following day.
We weren't impressed with the whole festival experience. I had known that before, Wednedsay night only confirmed my fears. I'm not a festival chick. I like the more intimate, personal reception of my favourite music in stuffy and crowded clubs. I like when artists come out to shake hands with their fans after the show is over. I like to be able to see my idols without the need to resolve to modern gadgetry. I like to experience something emotional, a catharsis of some kind, whereas what I got at the festival was a kind of Mc Donalds of music. A set menu served quickly to chew and digest, but if you're looking for some flavour, you're in the wrong place. 

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