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Festival Review: Heineken Open'er // Gdynia, Poland // 7 July 2012 // Day 4: Mumford & Sons, Bat for Lashes, The XX, SBTRKT

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So Day 4 all started with me trying out a Polish punk band Cool Kids of Death. Talk about embracing the culture. Rap in polish is a lil difficult to attach yourself too. However they were still fun for a good old jump around in a teenager dominated marsh pit. Unfortunately towards the end of the performance the heavens Opene’ered up and the rain started. What was a few drops quickly turned into a storm with thunder and lighting. Luckily after about 45 minutes of heavy rain it all stopped and the performances manage to continue with a short delay.

Mumford & Sons were up next. And although the opening song was a weak one (I think possibly a new one) they followed it up with their entire top hits one after another and the folk (let’s not say country – I hate country) frolicking was pleasant to say the least. What with the newly formed mud lakes we could all have been jamming in a pig farm.

But I cut that performance short as I had already seen them last year at Primavera and was keen to watch the whole of Bat for Lashes.

And what a good choice that was. Bat for Lashes was the most enchanting performance of the festival. As Natasha Khan came out clothed from head to toe in a heavy patterned long dress and matching headband she looked like a pagan princess. Her stage moves were also very impressive (although completely different to those of Alison) and enchanting. The tent this time transported us to entranced moonlight feel. Her voice is nothing short of perfection – she hit every single of her notes, while rocking back and forward with her arms out like an Egyptian queen. Occasionally shaking some Latino looking shaker. It all felt so natural and intimate that she was giving you a little part of herself without it being much of an effort.

Highlights for me were of course Precilla and Daniel as I am not as familiar with her new album (which of course I will now proceed to get to as the performance was incredible).

And then the grand ending on the main stage: The XX. And it’s really strange what this nothing short of bizarre band could do the crowd. I adore the XX. They were my musical food and fuel and obsession for a good 5 months after their debut album came out. And I can still listen to their album, loving every single song on the album (which is rare) and never getting tired of it.  So impatiently I waited right up close to the stage, surrounded with hard-core (and annoyingly pushy) fans. And as the trio took on the minimal misty stage (they are abusive users of smoke machines) the musical drug started and on it we stayed.

The XX are that weird middle ground. Drawn out sound with a definite beats, but too fast to be slow and too slow to be fast. You are just not quite sure what to do with yourself at their concert. And somehow we were all ok with that. The voices Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim are as clear and piercing in real life as it is on the CD. I am still amazed how hard-core and distant the punkie looking singers/guitarist look and how vulnerable and delicate their voices sound. Don’t judge a voice by its cover. And just like The XX the most breath taking moments are the ones when they sing together and let their voices intermingle.

I was again very pleased to hear some new singles off their much awaited second album. And I am delighted to report they also sound fantastic. So only great things ahead. They have a little more bass/slight electro/mixed feel but fantastic and still as originally sounding as the first album. You can see that Jamie Smith (also doing solo mixing work under the name Jamie XX) is adding a great deal of value to Romy and Oliver.

The crowd was obviously giving the band much love as Oliver repeated several time that he was blown away by the Polish crowd, so happy to be here and sorry it took them so long to come. However no matter how much we howled no encore. I guess it’s just too cliché for them.

As the main show finished we walked back to the tent one last time to catch the Africa meets Electro brilliant mix of SBTRKT. It was a really fun act to end the concert on. We gave our tired legs one more jam session.

And as we finally retreated to the Heineken Lounge and drank our final drafts of the festival and laughed at some memories that had been cemented in the mud and in our hearts we felt a bit surreal about all that had happened and how it was now over. The festival had drawn us into this new world and was necessarily ready to leave it.

But we weren’t the only ones with a bit of nostalgia. Walking back a crowd was forming around what a must of been very drunk guy (either on music or beer but you can figure out which is more likely) who decided to pitch his tent in the middle of the mud puddle in the camping area and angrily kicked around in the muddy water. Whatever floats your boat man.

Music performances of this level does it for me.

Oh and this.

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Festival Review: Heineken Open'er // Gdynia, Poland // 6 July 2012// Day 3: Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, M83

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On to day 3. Here you start thinking that beer is your normal diet and can hardly get water down (jokes aside).

What a packed day. We warmed up with a quick run to catch Toro Y Moi at the Tent Stage (slightly disappointed) and then ran back to Bloc Party.

AND IS BLOC PARTY BACK. I caught this iconic band about 3 years ago just before they took their break (read Kele selfishly tried to go solo and had a bit of a flop). That day in Greece, after popping 3 pain killers as my wisdom’s decided to create mountains in my mouth, and braving the concert alone they won a place in my heart. And it’s good that that place was warmed up again after a long silence.

They are back and better than ever.  And the foursome has not changed. There’s of course Kele –

– who by far has the most powerful voice of the festival and just like Bon Iver – has a range of a demon. High, low and everywhere in between but all with the strength and confidence of a move trailer voice over. He has such a big mouth big lips and his vocal chords just resonate with might as he beautiful blurts out the sounds. And an incredible iconic and unique tone of voice.

There is Matt Tong the drummer. Who hit his drums so hard in the sun that he took off his shirt after a serious sweat session. He created just as much sweat on all of us as we jumped to his beats. Hands down the best drummer of the concert. INCREDIBLE skills. And then the two guitarist. Who were obviously born to create music. Who skills are beyond question. But who look as bored as if they were playing at an old age home. No emotion, no movements And you know what that’s fine. Kele and Matt have enough energy for 10 people.

They played songs from all their albums. I was also happy to hear a couple of new singles off their much awaited new album – and the good news is that even after one performance they sound freaking awesome. So can’t wait for that to come out (or the torrent to be leaked). They still didn’t play Kreuzberg (my fav) but I will just need to keep going to watch them till they do.

And then what may have been THE performance of the festival Franz Ferdinand. This was a SHOW. Franz Ferdinand, which my friend Sarah rightfully said looks like a child molester with a bad haircut, has (surprisingly) the confidence of a King. And even with his unattractive face being sprawled in the back drop behind him you can’t do anything else than respect him cause he pulls it off. The band just rocked. The energy was as high as the Heineken Star at the top of the stage and we all jammed away. FF’s songs are just made for a festival. The songs are powerful, original yet easy to listen and sing to and can’t help but get you on your feet. This music was made for jumping. And jump we did.

The lighting was also excellent – with beams resembling power lasers lighting up the sky and blaring from the stage. But the highlight of the performance was in no doubt the 4 minutes 4 way drumming mania. All four members of the stage attacked the drum kit for a full fledge mania. This was just an amazing build up and the entire stage went wild.

And as they finished with burn this city, burn this city we were left with a high that would last.

In fact the right high for us to then run back to the other side of the world to catch some M83.

You may remember I saw M83 earlier this year in Lausanne. So you can read more there. But unlike Justice (and most bands) who came down a notch when they performed at a festival, M83 came up about 1000 notches. One of the reasons was probably that the entire crowd was going CRAZY and sending them so much love. The response from the crowd was incredible and they could not do anything but raise their energy to match.

And as they played Midnight city and the tent material nearly shook from the screams and jumps of the overflowing tent there is no doubt that is a performance they will remember. As they lifted their arms to create a heart shape with their hands the entire crowd copied it and it was clear that a French-Polish strong love bond was made. Check it out below to see it for yourself.

Festival Review: Heineken Open'er // Gdynia, Poland // 5 July 2012 // Day 2: Bon Iver and Justice

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Thursday was a day I had been looking forward too for a long time. I finally got to see what must be one of my top 5 artist my dear old Bonnie Bear.

You all should be aware of my admiration for Bon Iver and Justin Vernon – the only man to beat all my insomnia. There is something so completely indescribably pure, genuine and touching to his music that makes all else stop when I listen to it. And of course with such high expectations it’s difficult to be satisfied by a performance. But more than blown away I was. Bon Iver’s self titled new album is more complex than the first and this means he no longer performance just by himself (as he started off with) or with his 1-3 accomplices (Sean Carey who approached him after a show and volunteered his services, Michael Noyce his old guitar student and Matthew McCaughan who he met on tour with The Rosebuds) as later on but with a full fledge band of about 8-10 people with him.

I think this was very fitting considering he was on the main stage of at least 60k people concert at prime time. The stage was set with cloth falling from the ceiling creating an earthy feel.

But the earth I left when he started singing. I had tears in my eyes during the whole concert and down my cheeks they rolled during the piano intense Wash. (my favourite).  The most striking thing about his voice is his range: he can sing as deep as a bear (Hinnom, TX) and then as high as a 5 year old girl (Holocene) all with perfect pitch and enchanting tone.  It amazes me how he can enter the heart of everyone in the crowd and make you feel like that performance is just for you while you are surrounded by thousands of people. The only thing that confused me is why he decided the perform what can only be a big mistake of a Phil Collins feel Beth/Rest. But hey that’s long forgiven/forgotten.

As he left the stage for the first time the whole crowd went crazy in demand for his most famous single Skinny Love. Not only did he return to play this but he followed it with the almighty build up of Wolves (Act I and II). Before he started he tought the crowd the closing refrain of What might have been lost and encouraged us to sing along. And as the calm song started nice and slow and started to grow we all waited for our time to chip in. Under his guidance we started softly and repeated the refrain louder and louder and louder until the whole sky shook with music and the song broke. And that is how he left us.

The man is my muse. And he will always be. And when I was lifted on shoulders to see the entire crowd, there was no doubt that he had not calmly, beautifully touched the sea of people all around me for as far as I could see.

I cannot wait to go see him in a dedicated concert in Lyon on the 30th of July. I think it’s an understatement to say that I recommend it to all. It’s a crime that there are still tickets.

Then what a contrast as we got ready to rock for Justice. What newspaper reported as the most anticipated act of the festival.

And of course they lived up to it. They jammed the entire stage. We all jumped like maniacs, got caught in numerous marsh pits, and generally destroyed our feet (thank goodness for the Wellies). One word about marsh pits in Poland. Wanna be cool teenagers often create a small circle of space and then push and force it out to a huge size. They then walk around trying to look impressive while we are all squished back and when the music breaks into a big beat everyone (read guys) goes nuts and jumps into it. I don’t know if it’s a Polish thing – but it’s the first that I had seen of it. check it out yourself (you want to pay attention at 1:50 when the whole circle breaks):

Anyways the lighting was incredible – same set up as in Paris. However I must say that although the atmosphere of some odd 60k people jumping to the music could not be beat, musically they were not on the level of Paris.

I think it was their first time in Poland and I guess they did not expect the audience to be at the same electro music pallet level of the Frenchies. Their set in Paris was made for their hard-core fans – that could easily digest two to three of their songs playing on top of each other for the entire set. Here the mixes were more simple and clean, the tunes more digestible. Of course I enjoyed it but it left me wanting more after the stellar of a performance I had experience in Paris a few months back.