posted on July 24, 2008 15:41
A review of the 2008 Open'er festival (Gdansk)
What? Open'er Music Festival, Babie Doly Airfield, Gdynia, Poland.
Who? Chemical Brothers, Jay Z, Goldfrapp, Sex Pistols, Massive Attack, and some cool Polish bands!
Why? the cost was cheap but the lineup wasn’t.
In recent years foreign music festivals have become an alternative for the Irish music-lover unable to cough up €200+ for a ticket to EP or Oxegen. Roskilde, Benicassim, and Rock Werchter are always guaranteed to attract the big names en-route to Ireland, and then some. Aside from these majors, there is an underbelly of emerging festivals on the continent, one of which is Poland`s Heineken-endorsed Open'er festival, sprawled on a disused air-field outside the city of Gdansk on Poland's Baltic coastline - easy to get to via Ryanair & shuttle buses. Although the 5-year old festival has expanded at rapid speed by all accounts - boasting diverse recent headliners such as Beastie Boys, Bjork, Sigur Ros and The White Stripes - the price has not. €83 was the cost of a 3-day (with camping) ticket, topped off with access to a fully-stocked-with-fresh-food 24-hour shop on the campsite as well as an on-site offy (downside: it only sold Heineken, as did the bars inside the festival). Add to this relentless sunshine in the high-twenties and we're ready for the music.
Highlight of the weekend were the Chemical Brothers. They brought down the curtain on Sunday night with an exerting set (more details below) that caused even the surprisingly reserved Polish crowd to engage in hysterics. Earlier that evening Alison Goldfrapp pleaded with the 25,000+ present to get moving. Even a boisterous triple-play of Ooh La La, Train and Strict Machine - coupled with the sight of multi-instrumentalist Will Gregory clad in Steve Irwin gear - couldn´t stir the crowd to dance en masse. This lack of energy from what was a large crowd was apparent all weekend. Maybe I'm overlooking a concerted effort by the Polish audience to appreciate the music on display. Or maybe I've been exposed to remnants of the Féile-induced "let's damage our bodies in every way possible" Irish prototype for far too long.
The antithesis of this self-destructive approach was evident during Massive Attack's set on Sunday night. Performing to a main stage crowd of over 40,000 - the majority of whom were sprawled on the grass taking in the music - it was an amazing sight to behold, a chilled out gig on such on a mass scale. Almost a decade on from the heights reached in the 90s, the Bristol trip-hoppers still deliver a stirring live show, with their touring guest vocalists giving tracks Angel, Teardrop and Unfinished Sympathy the stamp of authenticity that the crowd wanted.
The big-chill of Massive Attack's set was the perfect ease-in to the Chemical Brothers-enduced madness that was next on the menu. Taking to the stage following a medley of Kraftwerk tracks and a looped narration of the line "Open your mind, relax, and float downstream" from The Beatles 'In The Beginning' you just knew the most culturally in-tune act on the bill was about to rightly grasp the 1am Sunday headline slot. Hallucinations-on-demand followed as high-res visuals of FREAKY clowns/robots/kaleidoscopes provided the backdrop to the Chemical Brothers 2-hour assault of re-interpreted yet instantly familiar classics (esp. Believe), proving once again that the Chemical Brothers are the night.
Where the diligence and attention to detail of the Chemical Brothers set left a lasting impression, Jay Z's lack of the same did likewise. Still on a high from his much hyped success at Glastonbury the week previously, Carter hastily re-enacted live fave 99 Problems (with AC/DC 'Back In Black' guitar reference) early on but quickly resigned to carefree rapping in the company of spinmaster-of-choice Eight Track (he tours with Kanye West also). A cover of Amy Winehouse's 'Rehab' was cringeworthy (but fun) and a long way removed from the ghetto sensibilities of Jay Z's Bronx-savvy image, but he was clearly performing in a night-off-duty "let's have have a laugh" capacity. What harm.
Meanwhile, over on the Tent Stage, a mobbed marquee witnessed a subdued (by his standards) Johnny Rotten utter anti-establishment mumblings whilst fronting a musically sound original Sex Pistols lineup - then again the power chord punk that "revolutionized" rock music in the seventies was never going to be difficult to remaster.
Back to the Main Stage proceedings and without wanting to lessen the merits of Interpol & The Raconteurs, they just did not work in these environs. The Raconteurs probably went on to rock the Pet Sounds Tent at Oxegen (comments please..) whilst Interpol's main stage slot at Open'er was in broad daylight which certainly did not befit their tone.
Speaking of Oxegen success stories, positives may have been reported of Roisin Murphy's headline slot in the Pet Sounds Tent at same but she went above and beyond this secondary prestige at Open'er, headlining Friday night's Main Stage in a manner befitting the coolest female performer in the world right now. Her image and vibe are impossible to define but suffice to say she oozes sexual prowess on stage whilst still giving the crowd a big hug - she she spoke the lingo throughout and reminded the 40,000 present (in a noticeably Irish accent) how she's played more gigs in Poland than she has in Ireland. Her dance troop, outfit changes and ever-present and distinct voice wrapped up day one perfectly and standout tracks were obviously the hits 'You Know Me Better', 'Moviestar', amongst other upbeat offerings from her acclaimed 'Overpowered' album. She must headline a main stage in Ireland soon.
Being a Polish music festival, it would have been either impossible or racist not to sample some Polish acts along the way. The band-names certainly impressed, especially Hungry Hungry Models and Pornohagen! Although Pornohagen were a cheap imitation of The Hives, there was other quality rock of Polish origin to find elsewhere. Tapping into the international language of post-rock, the Czech-shirted Polish-born 3-piece California Stories Uncovered had a nice instrumental-rocking-out-in-a-garage sound to them (albeit a pretty obvious yet incomplete rip-off of Mogwai). Krakow's Gasoline also delivered a more atmospheric instrumental-rock set, Eno-esque in parts and definitely worth checking out if you're looking to add to your go-to-sleep playlist. Hatifnats also impressed - this Warsaw 3-piece stuck to the good 'ol stadium rock - albeit in a marquee - but their sound is laden with New Order riffs coupled with a vocalist whose shouty vocals I can think remind only of Jane's Addiction’s Perry Farrell. 3 bands worth MySpaceing.
A major downside of the festival was the Heineken overkill - it was the only alcoholic drink available, no alternative of wine/smirnoff ice etc was on offer throughout the festival site (smuggled vodka only lasts for so long). However if lager is your cup of tea then Open'er 2008 was for you. The weather was hot, the campsite was mudless, the music was great - so after a weekend of extreme product placement I'd give the Open'er a highly recommended 4 Heineken cans out of 5!