This weekend Gdansk, Poland hosted the fifth annual Space Fest, an annual festival of shoegaze, space-rock and alternative music featuring concerts, workshops for Polish and internationally-based musicians, meet and greets with legendary and renowned artists, a competition for young, up-and-coming bands and live album releases. And considering that Gdansk has a long-held reputation for being a hopelessly drab Soviet bloc city, the energy that has come into the city is not only transformative, it suggests that the Polish city has begun to become a forward-looking city that can (and will) attract a diverse collection of dreamers, artists and diehard fans of shoegaze, space-rock and other subgenres. As a celebration of all things expansive and psych-leaning, the festival has gradually grown into an internationally recognized festival that has become something like the European Union’s version of Austin Psych Fest. (In fact, last year’s lineup included not just locally-based bands but acts representing several EU member nations, including the UK, The Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Finland and several others.)
One of the festival’s stand out highlights over its history is a collaborative collective that festival organizers, Nasiono Association have dubbed Pure Phase Ensemble. The project is done in a revolving door fashion and features only two permanent members, Ray Dickaty, a British saxophonist and former member of Spiritualized, and Karol Schwarz (KSAS), who also manages Nasiono Records. Every year, Dickaty and Schwarz are joined by a new set of Polish musicians and at least one internationally-recognized musician as a guest director. The guest director then helps lead the newly formed collaborative project through a week of workshops and joint songwriting that culminates with the group performing their newly written material to close out Space Fest.
Now, if you’ve been frequenting JOVM over the past few months, you may recall that I’ve written about Space Fest as last year’s Space Fest had Mark Gardener, frontman of shoegaze pioneers RIDE take the role of guest director and curator. And as Gardener explained in press notes, ” . . . it’s perfect because it reminds me in some ways of how some of the early RIDE songs came together… I didn’t come in with a script; nor does Ray. There is no pre-work on this. It was just completely spontaneous.” Interestingly, Gardener’s work with the Pure Phase Ensemble 4 was the first original, shoegaze-based material the RIDE frontman has worked on and released in over a decade. And naturally, Space Fest’s organizers proudly (and ecstatically) released footage from that performance over the last year or so including footage of Pure Phase Ensemble 4 and Mark Gardener performing “Morning Rise,” a slow-burning track that sounded as though it were indebted to Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd (in particular, “Us and Them“), as mournful saxophone notes are paired with shimmering guitar chords and ethereal vocals.
“Notatki” is probably one of the most expansive and oceanic songs of Pure Phase Ensemble 4’s set as it quickly builds up a motorik groove comprised of four-on-the-floor drumming, electronic bleeps and bloops, undulating feedback, gorgeous bursts of flute and a persistent, throbbing bass line and is paired with Gardener’s ethereal vocals. Around the 7 minute song the song takes on an increasingly cosmic glow as a shimmering and mind-altering guitar solo is paired with bleeping and blooping electronics as an extensive bridge before the song turns into a power chord-based jam over the song’s last 5 minutes or so. Sonically, the song reminds me a bit of the live version of The Verve‘s “Gravity Grave,” which although written to be much shorter, is a 9 minute jam with a similar trippy, cosmic vibe.
And while we’re at it, check out a documentary from last year’s Space Fest featuring live footage and backstage interviews with the The KVB, The Oscillation, Mark Gardener, members of Pure Phase Ensemble, 2Kilos and More with Black Sifichi, Dr. Switchoff, Death Hawks, Snowid, Tales of Murder and Dust, The Enters, 3moonboys, Rara, DJ Adam Czajkowski, and more. Some of the interviews are rather revealing — in particular a segment of an interview with Space Fest’s Karol Schwarz, who revealed an interesting anecdote about the songwriting process; Silver Apples, who admitted that he wasn’t sure how his music fits into the psych scene because he just did music that sounded right to him; and Anna Szynwelska, one of Space Fest’s organizers about the future of the festival and how they hope to keep the festival’s emphasis on intimacy — the sort to intimacy where fans and artists can connect both on-stage and off-stage. There are also some man-on-the-street interviews with thrilled concertgoers, which should give you a sense of Gdansk’s youthful vibe. Certainly, as a shoegaze fan, I’m looking forward to footage from this year’s festival and hopefully one day covering it.