For a Photo Essay of our time there, check out our photo feature.

You know I hate to channel the state of everything in the UK via quasi-gothic post-rock lyrics from my youth, but GSYBE's "the car's on fire and there's no driver at the wheel" has never felt such a truism than the day I left these troubled island shores for Poland's - and one of Europe's - largest music festivals: Open'er. Contextually the B word is going to be impossible to escape for this review, really sorry everyone.

So it was a relief to be at Stansted to escape the intense, surreal, and downright toxic environment from the mother of all political comedowns in a post-referendum climate. Sadly even the pre-flight ritual of having a pint at the airport Wetherspoons has been sullied (thanks to owner Tim Martin's huge Brexit vibes) - why must everything be political? The last few days prior to leaving had seen numerous deeply upsetting stories on intolerance. I mean one could trace it back pre-Brexit, but obviously things have intensified deeply. A fivefold increase in race hate crimes since the Brexit result. A horrifying amount of reported and anecdotal racist incidents, an ugly side as a minority of racists feeling validated to freely express their fascist views thanks to a pernicious political and cultural climate created by certain politicians and media outlets. Specifically targeted have been some of the 800,000 Polish-born people in the UK - racist graffiti in Hammersmith, poisonous letters in Cambridgeshire, arson in Plymouth. I felt like it was my mission in Gdynia to apologise profusely on behalf of my people. I felt... embarrassed. Amongst many other shitty emotions.

Anyways, festivals are fun things right? Escapism - and a time when escapism is most needed. Open'er has been providing such things since 2002, still held in the huge former military airfield Kosakowo on the outskirts of Gdynia, where we were based (Gdynia part of the tri-city area including Gdansk in the north of Poland on the Baltic Coast, for you geography nerds).


Day I is all about bedding in and enjoying the novelty of the surroundings - and considering it's a Wednesday the line-up is a strong one. Florence & The Machine play all the pop hits you'd expect, Florence Welch's commanding, powerful voice sounding outrageously clear on the Main Stage even at the very back. Also outrageously clear was her love-fuelled stage chat, between every other track declaring her love for everyone in the crowd, and for all in the world. A simple message, but one that felt very much-needed and received in my state, in a maternal kind of way. No no, you've got the love, Flo. An ominous and huge Independence Day-esque cloud threatens to engulf the festival site at one-point, but turns out mostly to be (a lot) of hot powerful wind once it reaches us.

Mac DeMarco on the Alter Stage in a tent provided a more languid chill hour, breezing through melancholic yet party set and seemed genuinely taken aback by the excitement of the crowd - not the first time I'll witness that over the next few days. He's very hard to not like, isn't he?

Back to the Main Stage for Tame Impala performing after Flo; who's the headliner here? And does it even matter? Open'er follows the dynamic of other non-UK European festivals with music not starting until 4/5pm, and going on until 3/4am. You know, the sensible way of doing festivals. So this means the bigger acts are not placed as the final act of the night, and somewhere in the middle - just post-Sunset time. Ish. Tame Impala have toured 2015 album Currents for a fair old time now and therefore have it down to a supremely tight formula, hypnotic smart electronic music to get immersed in and move body parts to under a thick fog of controlled psychedelia. 'Let It Happen', 'Feels Like We Only Go Backwards' - it was all there and all great. A grand end to the day/start to the festival.

Open'er Festival 2016

Day II

Today's the first full day in the port city of Gdynia and thus the day to get a sense of the city. Things to note: the cost of everything is cheap. Very, very cheap. £1.40 for a pint of beer - the universal barometer for the cost of living is beer of course, with food also shockingly affordable. And also hello a beach just over five minutes from downtown Gdynia where we're staying? Yes please. And it's actually summer here with 29 degree days. Gdynia is a modest-sized town of the seaside variety on the Baltic Coast, but with a less depressing British seaside vibe. This feels very much like a h o l i d a y.

And while this was all very helpful in the escapism element, every hour or so I'd dip into the real world (ie. Twitter) and check the news, and every hour something batshit would have happened. Boris Johnson gone?? Okay then. Yet Another Labour front-bench resignation? Fine. Umm the Pound's done what now?? It became a running joke, not thinking anything else could possibly have happened since an hour ago, but something always had. I say "joke", but it felt like one of those cruel mean-spirited jokes from some awful intolerant '70s comedian. More £1.40 beer helped - or was it £1.50 now lololol/not lololol.

Flashes of Polish football colours were spotted in town during the day as it's the day of Poland's biggest football game in a long time: a Quarterfinal match in the Euros against Cristiano Ronaldo - I mean Portugal. At the festival site, a huge screen was erected towards the back, and this is the first action I saw in the festival site that day. With England already out, and having fallen out of love with England's national team as of recent, it was a joy to adopt Poland's finest for the eve with thousands of others as the sun set. As it turns out, the sun also set on Poland's Euro campaign as they lost on penalties, but boy did they do everyone proud.

I'm not sure what to say about Red Hot Chilli Peppers (who took to the main stage during the second-half of the game) as they're not a band I can take seriously. At all. I'll stick to some objective facts instead. My new favourite fact about them is that their original name was Tony Flow And The Miraculously Majestic Masters Of Mayhem. They attracted a huge crowd, the largest of the weekend no doubt - thousands streaming across the field after the first half of the football. Flea even joins in along these lines by singing football anthem 'Polska, Biało-Czerwoni' in-between tracks. The four-piece played many old classics from Californication, so at least had a nice nostalgic vibe - an album I listened to endlessly when 15 while playing way too much Super Monkey Ball.

I fleetingly caught some of M83's set who had a smashing light show to a thinning crowd ("smashing light show to a thinning crowd" sounding like an unused title of a Jonathan Safran Foer novel that), who brought a different vibe to sets of theirs I've seen in the past - with a more hyperactive playful element prevalent. Helped contextualise their crazy mess of latest album Junk for sure.

I Can't Do Without EU Dan Snaith of Caribou shared on referendum day to all our social media echo chambers, and maybe it's the gin but I'm ready to have a cry-dance with this theme stuck in my mind. Turns out it's just a full-blown dance, tears and any other emotions cast to the wayside with a really intense, wholly hypnotic, and utterly tight hour of hits. With over a decade of tunes behind them now, they're perfected the formula to an incredible festival set - nailing the build/rise/repeat electronic dance vibe across many of their tracks. And Snaith dressed in white and backlit looking like some beautiful electro-angel. They opened with 'Our Love', turned back the clock to 2008's Odessa, 'I Can't Do Without You' obviously - and finished on the euphoric, the spellbinding, the 'holy-shit-I-need-to-call-everyone-I've-ever-loved joyous frenzy', 'Sun'.
And what do you know as we walked out of the tent, the sun was just starting to come up wasn't it?

Open'er Festival 2016


More daytime activities once again in a close, blistering heat. Squint your eyes and you could almost be in Tel Aviv; more bauhaus architecture than you can throw a modernist theory book at. Both are relatively new cities created at the start of the 20th century so that follows. I end up at the Muzeum Emigracji (that's Emigration Museum to you) and the space itself is in the heart of the still-thriving port district, with the museum in one of the old holding factories and now transformed into a beautiful cultural space.

Poland has a proud history of emigration for numerous historical reasons; displacement due to wars, industrialisation, national insurrections, and great Polish thinkers of the 1800s wanting to take export their work and knowledge to other nations. Poles played a vital part in transforming Chicago and New York to the bustling, vibrants places of commerce and culture during those cities' early days. Today you'll find many cultural centres in most countries across the globe that represent the Polish community.

I had to sigh deeply/eye roll dramatically/exasperated laugh on a section in regards to British issues post Word War II:
"..In 1950 alone, around 160,000 Poles were resident in Britain. The British looked on the Poles with displeasure, expecting them to return home. Trade Unions protested against the use of Polish labour. There was a lack of housing or work for the well-educated. Soldiers and officers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West were particularly affected by this treatment from a former ally."
Okay so there you go, some things don't change; in Britain we've always been pricks.

Wiz Khalifa began the music part of the day. Wow, does that boy like weed. A lot. They say that around 70% of all songs in existence are about love, so why not write 70% (or more) of your songs about weed? His first love afterall. He also mentioned his love of weed once or twice (okay every time) between tracks - when he's not just standing there, beaming out a huge shit-eating grin. As he's high as shit, obviously. There's even giant inflatable joints going round the crowd from Wiz HQ.

LCD Soundsystem were the one act I had my eye on since my eyes clocked them on the schedule - and the one act I had wanted to see for well over a decade. And the time has come (the time has come). James Murphy and team LCD may not be spending eighty-five days in the middle of France, but they are spending a decent of time on this continent over the summer in various European festivals as part of their reunion bonanza.

This set, and this is something you will well know if you've seen LCD live (or even seen Shut Up And Play The Hits), is everything. Every track you'd want to hear, and a couple of more fan-based curveballs too. I think part of my brain is still lodged somewhere in this set.
In a similar vein to Caribou yesterday - and more so - each and every track is transformed meticulously to reach potent stratospheres, almost scientifically engineered to reach maximum pleasure in that build/rise/build/rise/release format. Everything about it worked, it eviscerated me. Smiles everywhere.

I've been a Debbie Downer for parts of this review - but hey it's moments like this that you remember, that you take with you, that are important. And the following is impossible to say without a large smidgen of cringe, but hearing that tearful ode to friendship at the end of the set that is 'All My Friends' cements that thought nestled inside of me that being surrounded by the joyful, wonderful, beautiful humans in your own life is the best antidote to any external bullshit that comes our way.
Autocorrect went for "eternal bullshit" there, and hey who am I to argue with that.

Who'd have thought that 'Yeah' would work so well live? Literally yeah repeated over and over, yet nails that almost 2manyDJs euphoric journey. James Murphy is also on good form tonight - playfully kicking cymbals during 'New York I Love You', glass of red in hand, hiding from the stage lights. A bit of a contrast from the concentration of their Glastonbury set.

Sigur Ros close the day to complete a doubleheader that will please every indie-person from the mid 00s, with their new(sh) line-up sans-orchestra, while still retaining a gorgeous and mad set design, illuminating the night sky.

Open'er Festival 2016

Day IV

After further beach time and by now feeling quite ropey, we headed to the airfield via a 20/30 minute bus journey ride from the city centre. Ah yes, what to make of the festival site, this former airfield? It doesn't have the uniqueness and intrigue (perhaps surprising given the airfield description) of rival European festivals such as Melt! (former coalmine, by a gorgeous lake), EXIT (an old castle/military complex, also gorgeous) or the outstanding natural beauty of some UK Festivals (enter stage right Green Man, Beacons, even Latitude at a push), but it's pragmatic and easy to navigate while there and also - this is important - not full of awful people. It's a flat, quite open space ostensibly - in the Reading category (and indeed capacity) but at least with some interest and the odd aircraft hanger thrown in.

Saturday saw something of a hurricane hitting the festival site for an hour - The 1975's set delayed significantly as we hid in the VIP section (yes woe is us). A VIP section that started to fall apart due to the wind, as the Main Stage rattled. Intense stuff.

Things had calmed down in time for the sweet synth-pop of Chvrches who played a blistering set - front-person Lauren Mayberry having come on leaps and bounds in terms of stage presence since I last saw the three-piece in the embryonic stages of their career many years ago. Things also get a wee bit political - finally! Lauren commentating on the sadness of the referendum and apologising to everyone on behalf of the rest of the UK. 'Clearest Blue' aka the greatest song to have as your final pre-going-out song while necking the rest of your drink, was a phenomenon live as the penultimate track ('Mother We Share' inevitably the closing number).

Pharrell Williams was bringing the party somewhere in the distance on the Main Stage, snippets of bangers he's worked on bouncing around the site and bringing fun to all present. The final act of Open'er however was Grimes, who did what Grimes does best and brought a lot of joy in a packed tent (aptly named the Tent Stage). Claire Boucher's tracks featuring delightful collage of alt-cultural yet-pop matters goes down extraordinarily well - fighting off a huge firework display at the end of Pharrell's set towards the end. Opening with the almost soothing tones of 'Realiti', the EDM-inspired dirty noise of 'Go', guttural screams on 'Be a Body' and pop love-in of 'Oblivion' - all present go along with every track for a love-in. Her engaging and warm stage presence added to this - and ended on 'Kill v. Maim' that of course brought the tent down (thankfully not literally, that storm had passed). A mighty fine way to end the festival.

This is the part where I implore that you must go to Open'er Festival - these are why we get to go on these trips, for that above sentence. And yes, if you're into the high-end calibre of acts that Open'er draws, then in terms of price, it's without doubt the one to go to. You'll get a fun adventure out of it too - stay in Gdynia and it will feel like a holiday and you'll have a rich and vibrant experience.

If big festivals with big names are your bag it's most certainly worth looking into, though more seasoned festival goers who crave a more immersive, varied experience (you know that getting lost in the woods at 4am in the morning after seeing a drag queen show in an underground pop-up-come-rabbit-hole in which you may or may not have done karaoke and/or shat yourself after taking too much 'something') may find it a touch lacking. I do enjoy that part of festivals, but for this experience, personally I had a quite a lovely holiday for a decent price and saw a fair amount of great indie-pop music - and it was hard not to get carried away with the enthusiasm of the largely Polish-crowd, waving bye-bye to British festival-going fatigue. And of course, waving bye-bye to the cultural British climate for a few days in a welcoming place.