Open’er Festival 2012
We go and try some Dutch beer in, er, Poland. Ryan Sarver gives us the low down from this years Open'er
Rain, heat, mud. Hearty food and Heineken. A four day festival of music, theatre, art, and cinema. Did I mention Heineken? This is the Open'er Festival, situated on the fields and runways of an airport just outside Gdynia in northern Poland.
Wednesday's headliner, Björk, emerged with a flaming explosion of bright-orange hair and quickly gave sufficient proof that nothing has been lost in her unique, captivating voice. Backed by a choir of colourfully-dressed female vocalists, she kept a certain distance from the audience by hiding behind interesting and fitting on-screen visuals, flames, and a giant electricity generator. All told there were only a few fleeting seconds of big screen close-ups. While this may have left some fans in the back disappointed, I personally found the emphasis on the visuals a good thing. I was left especially unnerved by stop-motion footage of starfish and giant sea worms making themselves at home in some kind of animal carcass at the bottom of the ocean – coupled with her voice, it made for an unprecedented, bizarre, and strangely moving performance.
On Thursday an eerie mist descended upon the festival grounds. As we walked towards the main stage, accompanied by the set of Penderecki/Johnny Greenwood, I couldn't help but feel as though I had been transported into some kind of Stephen King film. The sound of a live orchestra being electronified, from sparse drawn out strings to rhythmic staccato plucking, it was the perfect companion to the atmospheric weather.
Bon Iver showed up with a surprisingly rocking set to keep the audience moving amongst some of his more introverted For Emma tracks. Particularly impressive was the finale, which saw things coming to a close with an unexpected guitar freakout coupled with passionate vocal wails and corresponding flashing visuals which left me, quite frankly, stunned.
The night finished with a performance from Justice which left everyone defenseless to their body-moving disco/prog-rock/heavy metal ménage à trois. Enclosed on either side by a wall of amplifiers doubling as a cohesive light show, they delivered a full audiovisual package of a set that had us all breathless waiting for the beat to drop, blasted by a four-on-the-floor cannon of a kick drum and a wealth of synth sounds to end the night in spectacular fashion.
On Friday afternoon we took the opportunity to see a production of Angels in America at the festival's very own theatre. The immense appreciation of an all-star cast of Polish actors was evidenced by a mob of fans, queuing from early hours for a chance at tickets for the next days performance. Heated arguments broke out at several points with these tickets, valued like some kind of precious metal, at stake. Unfortunately, being in Polish with English subtitles situated above the stage, it was hard to follow what the actors were doing and read what they were saying at the same time. For the Polish audience, however, I think it was a different experience. At the end of the show, the woman sitting next to me in the audience was moved to tears. Perhaps it was the content of the play; perhaps it was the impact of seeing some of her favorite actors in such an intimate setting; either way, one could tell by witnessing this reaction – the Open'er is no ordinary music festival.
Friday evening saw the main stage taken over by UK heavyweights Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand. Both delivered exhilarating sets, leaning heavily (and perhaps wisely) upon earlier material that easily got the crowd on their side.
On the World Stage, Public Enemy came out with all the fire and intensity one would expect of them. After an introduction by Flavor Flav, they didn't have much trouble getting the crowd behind them – they were quite obviously enjoying themselves while spreading their contagious enthusiasm. Backed by a live band featuring a guitarist who incorporated a few Jimi Hendrix-esque behind the back and teeth-strumming maneuvers, as well as a stint by Flavor Flav on the bass, Chuck D's assertive voice was as strong as ever.
Ducking into the on-site airplane bunker-turned-museum was a good way to avoid a brief storm on Saturday. Small but lovingly put together, the Muzeum featured several audiovisual exhibits, exploring the relationship between sight and sound. Polish painter and filmmaker Wilhelm Sasnal's music video for the Jesus and Mary Chain's “My Little Underground” was a highlight, setting the track to a slowly burning snowman shot on 16mm film.
Unfortunately, Saturday night's line-up concluded the festival with more of a whimper than a bang. Mumford & Sons offered their inoffensive folk rock to a fairly receptive audience, but I find it difficult to understand the hype surrounding them. Main stage headliner The xx, gave a pretty reserved performance. Overall the impression was fairly lackluster and timid, one of a band that might be better suited to the recording studio or perhaps a smaller, more intimate venue.
We ended up at the Alter Kino (the on-site cinema) for a festival comedown set to Sigur Rós's live performance film, Inni. Looking around the crowded space, seats filled and people sprawled across the floor, it was clear we weren't the only ones who found it a fitting coda. Shot beautifully in black and white, we were disappointed to have to leave early in order to catch our ride to the airport and sink slowly, slowly, slowly back into reality.