We are squarely in the thick, bushy overgrowth of the 2018 festival season now, and at The 405 we’re always looking for creative new offerings from around Europe and beyond. One of the most inviting destinations playing host to a weekend shindig over the next month is the well-established OFF Festival in Katowice, Poland.

It has been running since 2006 and this year plays host to headliners M.I.A., Charlotte Gainsbourg and Grizzly Bear, amongst a host of other big hitters. To learn more about this year’s lineup and the special background that has lent OFF such an enviable reputation for supporting diverse and experimental artists, we spoke to festival founder and organiser Artur Rojek.

You run the OFF Festival in Katowice, which has been going since 2006. What is it about OFF that makes it successful, do you think?

I think it’s because of the festival’s authenticity. In Poland, I’m a well-known artist. I was driven to become a musician by my passion for records and bands. I’m a big music fan, and always have been. I could talk endlessly about music, which is why people don’t just think of me as a singer and musician, they see me as someone who talks a lot about music. Before I came up with the idea for this festival, I hosted radio shows, wrote record reviews for magazines, and worked as a concert promoter.

It wasn’t until 2003 that I started thinking about my own festival. It was around then that my band (Myslovitz) released an album in 28 countries, after over a decade of performing in Poland, and we headed out on a whirlwind tour of Europe and other continents. I got my taste of international music festivals when I played at T in the Park in Scotland, Bizarre in Germany, and Switzerland’s Paleo. There was nothing like it in Poland at the time. I had no experience and no knowledge. All I knew was that I wanted to start a festival like the ones I saw, for music fans like me. And that’s how it all started. That’s what makes the festival authentic. I don’t just focus on the bottom line. I think about artists that I want people to discover, music that’s different from all that predictable stuff.

There is no shortage of festival choices out there these days. What is different about OFF compared to the others?

OFF is a festival for the fans. You don’t come here to be seen, you come here to experience music and spend time with people who have something to say about art and life: people who don’t just want to have fun, but are also looking to experience something worthwhile. They don’t show up to get falling-down drunk or stoned, to gorge on food and have sex in the bushes and listen to whatever’s on just because someone said it’s cool today.

The OFF Festival is different. This might not be the most popular approach, but as the wise Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert once said, “Always swim upstream, towards the source. Only garbage goes with the flow.”

Do you think there are still people that don’t realise how easy it is to travel to European festivals from the UK or US, or from further afield?

Do people know about it? I think so. Depends who you’re talking about. These days everyone’s looking for comfort and easy solutions.

OFF audiences are a conscious crowd. International visitors currently make up 15% of the festival audience, but I there are more potential fans out there. Katowice is a very attractive destination, and the region of Silesia has a lot to offer, as well, with an entirely unique history and architecture. Katowice has its own airport, it’s not expensive, and there are plenty of hotels to choose from. There are forests and mountains nearby, and Kraków is just 60 km away. Add to that one of the best music festivals in Europe!

What is new this year at OFF?

Every day we’ve got nearly thirty concerts across five stages, with artists like M.I.A., Charlotte Gainsbourg, Grizzly Bear, Jon Hopkins Live, Ariel Pink (who is not only a performer but is also curating a stage), The Brian Jonestown Massacre, David August, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, John Maus, The Como Mamas, Big Freedia, and a selection of the best artists in Poland. It’s the most eclectic lineup in the country.

Are there things that you’d like to do in the future that you haven’t been able to yet?

I’ve experimented with lots of stuff: combining music with visual arts, film, burlesque shows, putting on concerts in churches, movie theatres, abandoned buildings, pop-up events, and much more. My ideas for the future include expanding the festival to combine music with high tech.

Are you still learning how to do it, even after all these years? What has surprised you about the process?

This business is constantly changing, so I’m always learning something new. When I was starting out, there were no festivals in Poland. OFF was very original in its concept. We never had trouble finding sponsors, even when we had really ambitious plans. Things are different now. Poles are growing satiated. We’ve got too many events happening every year; there’s just too much going on. Add to that the total domination of pop and hip-hop. All of this is really interesting and you end up learning a lot.

How do you decide who makes it onto your lineups? Do you have a group of people who make the decisions?

The lineup is function of what I want to do and what I can do. I have to consider factors such as artist availability, financial demands, etc. The OFF Festival doesn’t have an unlimited budget, and artists’ fees keep going up.

I build up the lineup from September to April every year. I know what’s going on in the music world. I follow things very closely. I take advice from others, but the final decision is mine.

Are there artists that you’ve chased for a long time that you’ve ever been able to secure, or are there ones you still never have been able to get?

I’ve wanted to get My Blood Valentine ever since they got back together, and I made it happen two years later, when they came out with an album.

There’s one artist whom I personally adore and who’s well liked in Poland. I don’t want to mention any names so as not to tip off the competition!

Your festival supports a lot of talent from Poland. Why is that important to you? Which names from this year’s lineup would you direct people towards? How does the strength of the Polish scene compare to the past?

I think Poland has lots of great music, and each passing year proves as much. Check out the folk band Hańba!, the jazz act Pokusa, the dream pop duo Coals, the metal band Furia, and the experimental Nanook of the North. The music scene has really intensified over the past ten years, and has become very rich and diverse.

Your festival has a reputation for friendliness. Is that something you deliberately tried to create?

I started out wanting to create a festival that would be what I thought a festival ought to be. The only experience I had was my own.

In time, I began to put these ideas into action. Today the festival is run by two people: me and my wife. The OFF Festival is what it is because of the people who make it happen. We enjoy hospitality, music, surprises, discovering new things and having fun. We also like meeting interesting people, and we appreciate quality.

Do you have an all-time favourite OFF memory?

The Flaming Lips show in 2010. That was the essence of what I want to show people on a daily basis.