Picture, if you will, a dark, dank, noisy, rock club. It’s the 1980s and the band that are violently attacking your ears with their potent brand of guitar abuse are playing, if you can call it playing, behind a steel mesh grid. You fancy a cool, refreshing soft drink, but forget it. Where the hell do you think you are? This is a club for men. Real men. Don’t expect anything but beer at the bar and be thankful it’s cold! Arnie will be along in a minute asking after a girl named Sarah Connor, and well, good God, don’t go near the toilets! Fast forward to present day and go back to this same, hypothetical, club. It’s now all UV lights and steel. It’s ladies’ night here and there’s every possible combination of cocktail available behind the neon-lit bar as the DJ is mixing it up with some Motown classics mashed with 80s children’s TV themes. The toilets? Well, there’s even a concierge handing out sachets of the latest scent from the promoter’s corporate sponsor. Now, imagine, for a moment, the horror that the regulars from our rock club might feel were they to stumble into this new, opulent, super-club. Imagine the disappointment? It may have been similar to the feeling Polish rocker, Wojciech Waglewski was experiencing when he decided to start Męskie Granie, a festival aimed largely at showcasing the male perspective on music and art. In an industry predominantly populated and dictated to by men, it seems strange that such a festival was felt needed at all, but it was and since its inception in 2010, it has gone from a simple celebration of masculinity to become Poland’s premier clash of Polish music’s generations and genres. This year, the festival’s third, Waglewski has been replaced as curator by Katarzyna Nosowska, singer in the Polish band Hey, a solo-artist in her own right and a music columnist.
Arriving late to Koneser, the large, disused vodka factory playing host to the Warsaw date of the festival, I found June already onstage sporting goatee-beard and baseball cap combos that shot out of style around the same time people realised Nu-metal was shite. With songs as weak as the singer’s on-stage presence, the only enjoyment I took from their performance was when it ended. The whole thing left me feeling as though I had been vaguely troubled by Fred Durst in a service-station-toilet. As compelling as that image is, thankfully I could shake it from my head when BaBu Król appeared on stage. Beginning with the cold beats of a drum machine, Piotr Piasecki began to loop guitar rhythms and riffs until the basis of the song appeared. Jacek Szymkiewicz then completed the layer as he offered his vocals, rich with text taken from the works of Polish poet Edward Stachura. As Piasecki continued to work wonders on guitar, Szymkiewicz added saxophone to the mix, prompting my assertion that saxophone was given to man by the devil but man didn’t get the joke. If there was ever a band perfect to accompany a trip to the bar, it would be Muzykoterapia. Reminiscent of a less boozed – and thus considerably less interesting – Winehouse, the band were laid back and inoffensive enough to provide ambiance but not interrupt conversation as we waited for our drinks. Chilled without ever descending into tedious soft-jazz, the band enjoyed pleasant applause and left. Ten minutes later I had forgotten about them entirely. I had come to see Kamp! and was delighted to find them onstage next. The trio were the first band to really impress with their Polish brand of electro-pop. Four-to-the-floor and rocking a Sony Vaio their synth-driven alt-pop left me feeling that I had been gently tickled by London in the 1980s and that, as I’m sure is quite clear, is a good thing.
If only to prove the eclecticism on show, the choice of Marek Dyjak to follow Kamp! seemed a strange but ingenious one. This gravelly-voiced jazz crooner has a voice that suggests one too many cigarettes has been smoked in his lifetime. Sounding incredible but looking like a pub bouncer that might glass you if you asked where the toilets are, Dyjak is an impressive and imposing stage presence. Ending his performance with a series of “Na na nas”, he gave a strong impression of a serial killer softly singing a lullaby. Pablopavo i Ludziki join the party just as the rain decides to commit to the evening also. The rain starts falling, heavier and heavier. The audience doesn’t care. Hip hop 1 – 0 God! Marika joins the band for a song before they demand the return of their cinema, Motherfuckers! Quite. Trumpeter Tomasz Stańko took to the stage for his collaboration with pianist Leszek Możdżer, like an old, weathered jazzman might have in cuba in the 60s. Trumpet in hand, fedora on head, he prowled the stage like a tiger – albeit a remarkably musical one. As the duo performed, a video of a slow, blue-lit air con fan turned silently above lending this outdoor, and now very wet, festival the feel of a basement jazz club. Katarzyna Nosowska is something of a legend on the Polish alternative scene and as she and her band appear on stage, there is a palpable sense that this is her audience. Delving deeper into electronica than with her band Hey, she soon has the assembled horde eating from her hand – a hand at the end of arms she seems to have forgotten she is allowed to move. At the pinnacle of her set, Nosowska invites guitarist Wojciech Waglewski onstage to unnecessarily, and thankfully figuratively, masturbate over the song, closing with the longest, audience-milking ending in living memory. It could have made Bryan May blush. Thankfully, Waglewski makes way and the next song begins like the band have invented alt-rock all over again. Despite a strobe bright enough to outshine the sun, the audience are in love. There are further guest appearances from Stańko, Możdżer and Dyjak and then it’s over. The crowd begins to file out of the venue not realising there is one artist left, which is a deep shame as Wojtek Grabek is the highlight of the evening. Using electronica to accompany his voice and a heavily reverbed violin, Grabek’s music feels like bathing in a river of modernity with the fractured drums complimenting the smooth echoing notes from his bow and the baritone sound of his voice.
Overall, a mixed bag in both quality and style was apparent throughout the festival billing but If this year’s Męskie Granie is an accurate showcase of male attitudes in Polish music and art – admittedly seen through Nosowska’s eye – then there is certainly enough here to be proud of and to celebrate.