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19/10/10 – 26/10/10 – Krakow and Unsound Festival

November 9, 2010

Our first day in Krakow! what a relief to have finally arrived. Our first major stretch is over and the feeling of accomplishment is matched in contrast to the exhaustion we have accumulated over the last three weeks. However in Krakow there is no time for sleep, particularly with our agenda here: party party!

free beer man!

Normally I would go into detail and account the events of every day for the purpose of this blog, but for our time in Krakow this wont really work, seeing as we ended up spending 8 days here, you would for sure get bored of the accounts of the times we ate in the vegan cafe or went to the shops to buy Toy Story sketch books (thats all I could find) so instead I will condense the week into the nectar of good times we had as a summary for you to hopefully enjoy!

Wheres the bloody office?

the first two days in the city consisted of retail therapy and baring acquisition. After several very cold nights in Poland we decided to expand our arsenal of warm clothing: I am now the proud owner of a new jacket, hat, gloves and even a pair of very fetching long johns. Krakow is definately the place to purchase these wares – we were able to get them for a substantially lower price than if they were purchased in London.

We lucked out on our first few days with the hostel – we managed to find a great place for 25pln per night, which is around a fiver. As is the best thing about hostel living, we made new friends as well. Our first companion of the week was Sasha (I was shocked to meet another guy with the same name) from Ukraine. He had travelled over night in what sounded like a very difficult and exhausting bus journey from his home town to Krakow, and was here for the festival. It was great to meet someone with similar interests, as he was also a successful graphic designer with some great illustration work (he is here). We spent some time exploring the city with Sasha and sampling some of the early Unsound events that had started already.

sasha in a phone box

I had never heard of Unsound festival before, but it turns out its a really big deal in Poland. This year is the first year where theyve had a theme, and being close to Halloween, they chose The Pleasure of Fear and Unease. The festival consisted of lots of day events centred around lectures and short presentations and shows by sound designers and artists involved mostly in film and soundtracks. A lot of the music of the festival was ambient/noise, being primarily atmospheric and very eerie. There was also a lot of more club oriented stuff, with 4 really big nights in Kakows answer to Club Trouw in Amsterdam

it wasnt us, we promise

Our first foray into the festival was at the Manggha institute, which played host to a show based around reinterpreting music score to film. The first act was a lot of moody soundscapes accompanied by agressive cello playing and an opera singer, while a very odd swedish horror movie called Haxan was played in the background. I didnt really get it, but the cello was great. The second act were two Polish guys Sza / Za who did very entertaining soundtracks to Roman Polanski shorts.

We were back in the Manggha the next night aswell, for the first official event of our four day passes. This was the doom metal night, and we were very much looking forward to moshing again like it was 2001. The first act we saw were Monno from Germany (or Canada, the guide was pretty rubbish) who played a lot of noisy doom saxaphone oriented metal. It felt like listening to hell, pretty cool for a bit but after a while I could have done with some clarity. However the incredibly well dressed and varied audience really enjoyed it (a gig like this in London would only attract very bearded men, but in Krakow everyone was loving it)

The next act were The Shining from Norway. They were awesome. I had never heard of them before but it seems theyre quite a big deal. They played a hyped up (saxaphone again) type of erratic metal like Dillinger Escape Plan. Hugely entertaining and enough to get a bit of a mosh on for. Again the crowd loved it.

The Shining - Norwegan JazzMetal! \m/

Feeling adequately deafened after the show we headed back into town and checked out one of the late night screenings of various horror movies they were showing just off the main square. we managed to blag our way in for free to see the second half Wolf Devil Woman, a hilarious Taiwanese horror about, yes, a wolf devil woman. It was hilariously dubbed in american voices and was great, although I was still deaf from earlier so I missed a lot of it.

on the way to see wolf devil woman

So onto Thursday and this is the day it really kicked off with the arrival of some English counterparts! we moved hostel to Goodbye Lenin which we had booked before leaving the UK and waited for Lulu to arrive off a bus from Berlin. We toasted her welcoming with the free beer that was provided by the hostel bar and ate some goulash in a cheap local restaurant. The goulash was so good however, we almost missed the first really big highlight of the festival! Tim Hecker and Wildbirds and Peacedrums were playing tonight in St Katherines Cathedral, and we had to wolf down our dinner and run to the cathedral to catch the show. By the time we arrived Tim Hecker had already started and the place was rammed. It was really spectacular listening to these totally absorbing atmospheric soundscapes in the cathedral, and also quite eerie. everyone was sitting in the pews and on chairs in silence and in complete darkness, just taking it in. It was really meditative. I could have done with some more light however, the space was so vast and epic it really deserved to be shown off during the performance. I managed to find a great seat right at the back of the cathedral for Wildbirds and PeaceDrums, where the sound of the choir echoing through the space was mesmerising. they also turned on some lights, so I was very content.

St Katherines cathedral was epic

also epic in red

After the show we were outside and met our next festival going companion in the street. Daniel was from Ireland and had come over specially for the festival. He was fluent in Russian and japanese, didnt own a mobile phone and was a vegan who had spent a lot of time in Nepal, so was a very interesting guy! him and Sasha  chatted away in Russian while we made our way to Fabryka for the first club night of the festival.

our irish friend

Fabryka was a great place for a club – like two warehouses jammed together with a huge room for the main acts and a smaller room in the next building. Tonight would be the slightly weirder of the headline nights, with lots of soundscape drones but this time in a club environment. I didnt really appreciate it, but again the crowd was totally zoned in to the atmosphere. There were some more upbeat sections of the night, with Jigoku from back home providing some more upbeat accompaniments to visuals cut from various horror movies. It was quite unnerving watching in some cases quite grotesque horror scenes in a club environment (the most memorable being someone having a nail slowly banged into their forehead) when projected on three huge screens that absorb all of your vision, it can be quite unsettling and odd, particularly when a little boozed!

Alex arrived just in time to catch Zombie Zombie, and our reunion was complete! she managed to navigate her way from the airport to the hostel and to the club, and met us on the dancefloor. We were so alive in conversation we got told to be quiet or move by a very focussed listener nearby, such was the totally absorbed crowd of this festival!

A very late morning followed and we missed our free breakfast provided by the hostel. We made our own version and headed onto the town to check out the Krakow sights and sounds, at which point both Julian and Lulu lost their tickets. Quite how it happened was beyond all of us, but the amazingly warm and friendly staff running the festival from a tiny office off the main square were more than sympathetic and reissued us with the tickets. no problem!

Follow that pigeon!

its nearly halloween


we got lost in the centre of town (how many sides are to this square?) and managed to convene by chance with Daniel and Sasha at the Vegan cafe.

central square

Our first event of the day was in the central cinema, where Lustmord and Moritz Von Oswald played some more ambient soundscapes to a comfortably seated audience. Unfortunately we missed Lustmord, but Mortiz Van Oswald was a real treat. It was quite bizarre sitting in a comfortable theatre seat listening to Techno, but it was incredibly relaxing (almost sleep inducing, but in a positive way – hangovers probably didnt help) and a great way to rest and recuperate before Actress and Shackleton tonight back in Fabryka.

We woke up eventually and picked up a bottle of fine Polish vodka to drink on the way to the club. Once we were in the place was alive and totally packed. All the weekend ticket holders were crammed into the venue and it was full of excited Poles. (not so many brits at the festival as I was expecting, which was quite cool – we really felt like we were in Poland!)

Actress was phenomenal, as was Oni Ayhun and Shackleton. Another night to remember in Fabryka too much cherry vodka flowed and again we missed breakfast.

After eating our self prepared breakfast we headed back out on the town, this time avoiding the old centre and heading for the Kayimierz, The Jewish District. This part of town is home to lots of really intimate cafes and bars, a really beautiful and intersting part of the city – like East London but without the pretension I guess. We recovered In Alchemia, the prinicpal bar on the main square of the district. There was an Unsound event going on in the basement, consisting of three hours of noise. We pushed our way in just as two women were torturing their french horns. I couldnt really deal with the very hot and totally rammed basement, as well as the wrenching sounds they were creating, so conceded to drink coffee on the street and watch the world go slowly by. Again we bumped into Sasha and Daniel (the beauty of a small city, you always find the people you know again by chance!) and we sat for a while before heading to the Engineering museum round the corner to see Goblin.

our favourite bar

i dont know whats going on here

some nice falts in krakow

lots of public transport for a small city

Goblin - go dad!

These guys were great. They are a prog rock band from Italy, responsible for the soundtrack to Susperia, an apparantly seminal horror movie from Dario Argento. I remember seeing it in Nieuw Anita in Amsterdam and thought it was quite bad, but they played some excerpts from the film while the band played the title track, and actually it was quite good, if totally rediculously over gory and violent! They did a Zombie tribute in their set, playing tracks they had either written for Zombie films or not, I wasnt sure, but it was immense. The band are a total throwback from 60s woodstock. they were sloppy and not so tight, but they were so in the mode, you couldnt fault them. I just wondered what their kids (or grandkids) thought of them up on stage!

Unfortuately Sasha had to catch a bus back to Ukraine this evening so we parted ways, unfornately missing out on the proper goodbye. So if youre reading this mate, great to meet you, and please come to UK and we can go to mosh in Camden!

We picked up another bottle of fine Polish Vodka and got ready for the last night in Fabryka. I was looking forward to this one the most, as Cosmin TRG, Mount Kimbie, James Blake, Dorian Concept and Eleven Tigers were playing. I have been wanting to see James Blake since last year so I was really up for this one. Alex and Julians friend Spatial was also playing in the second room, so the night was made even more memorable by an extended friend base!

Yet again another breakfast missed. Lulu had to leave in good time in the morning to catch a lift share back to Berlin, so we drearily said our goodbyes as she departed for home. It was great to see her, and to have some familiar company to share our time in Krakow with!

off on a city wander

one of our many Singer bar coffees

and cigarettes

quite an apt name for the offy

So now there were three, and we again departed late to head back to the Jewish quarter to run down our hangovers, drink tea and attempt intellectual conversation. I think we succeeded on all fronts, enjoying Alchemias cheap coffee then cheap beer. Back on the game again for our last night of the festival, which was kicked off in the central cinema again with a completely mesmerising performance by Ben Frost and the Krakow Philarmonic Orchestra, who composed together a reinterpretation of the soundtrack to Solaris. The music was totally engrossing and soothing, though maybe too much for some people (you could hear several people snoring in the audience afetr 4ö mins!) The visuals that accompanied the music were equally stunning.

To activate the night in a more upbeat manner we headed to the closing party in Pauza, a great bar club off the main square. Tonight was playing host to Jackmaster, aswell as some Norweigan Skwee (?) which I didnt think much of. The night was capped off brillaintly by an unscheduled appearance of Mount Kimbie and James Blake, who played until the sound guy literally came to the decks and unplugged the power cable.

kazimierz by night

nice lighting

Pierogi - the good stuff

So that was that, the end of a fantastic festival. I felt like my musical horizons had been greatly expanded and stretched in many directions. Its so great to go to a festival that isnt focused on getting mashed up, but is really about the music. Totally geeky and nerdy, but really relaxed and a great way to open up a city to new occupants such as ourselves. I have fallen in love with Krakow, its kind and not too manic nature, the central town is beautifully preserved and the inhabitants are proud of their city, and so they should be. the people are warm and not too rushed. I could see myself living here – although the long winter may make me reconsider. I am definately coming back.

So our last day with Alex, and what should have been our last day in Krakow before getting back on the bikes. We wake late (again! must get up and get that breakfast) and decide to make our best touristic efforts to see something of the historic side of the city. Unfortnately its raining (the only day in the city with bad weather) but we push through and make our way to the old castle that sits high above the old centre, and stumble upon the recent grave of the Polish President and his wife. What a bizarre turn of events Polish politics went through earlier in the year. I can only imagine a level of pandamonium in the country that must have occured at the time the entire cabinet was wiped out.

We sit and recuperate in some of the imrpessive churches and cathedrals dotted around the city, before heading back to the hostel to regroup. Alex has to catch her flight in the evening, so her and Julian go out for Pierogi while I find a Mlek Bar that also serves Pierogi, but for 25pence! I sit in there and gorge on two plates of the best Pierogi I have eaten in Poland, sitting among the older, much more Polish atmosphere of Utilitarian eating conditions. it was great.

Alex has to leave to catch her plane so Julian escorts her to the airport while I sit in the foyer and catch up on emails and skype. We had such a fantastic week with Lulu and Alex, Krakow was great and city life as we have been reminded is a great remedy to long days on the saddle. We now have to prepare however to get back on the bikes, and overcome one of our biggest challenges for the forseeable future: getting over the High Tatras in Slovakia. We have one more night in the hostel to wash our stuff and prepare for getting back on the bikes, but we are both totally drained. We wake just in time for breakfast the next day (success!) and sit down with a map and plan a good way to get to Budapest.

We are now out of our window of high daily targets and can slow down, which is great because we can meander off the busy main roads and spend more time moving between places of interest and absorbing ourselves in the backwaters of our new destinations. We plan to hit the vast network of bike routes across slovakia that take us across the mountains and through some of the most beautiful parts of the country. it proves quite tough however to locate the exact whereabouts of these routes, so we may just have to aim for them and hope we find them.

Some more reading into the mountains uncovers that it is avid bear territory, and that wild camping should be avoided. we spend two hours scaring ourselves with the prospect of being eaten by bears, reading accounts of bear attacks and what to do with food while camping. we realise we are not going to leave today as its 4pm so we check back into the hostel we originally stayed in to save some cash (after the last week, frugal living is a must for the future!)

we take this new time window as an opportunity to give some attention to our bikes. we are given the location of a good bike shop by a friend and head down for new grip tape and for Julian to get the configuration of his handlebars a once over as they are giving him a bit of doscomfort. Its also a good opportunity to check on the status of my hub, which has been showing signs of wear.

The mechanic gives the hub the OK for now but reccomends a replacement in Istanbul. They check the configuration of the handlebars and the trekking bar is basically too close to the saddle for his posture. Another customer in the shop helps us with the translation, then tells us that he has a handlebar that will fix the problem that Julian can have. amazing generosity from a complete stranger! (i think when we said the bike had to make it to India, he realised the severity of the impending problem!) he had to rush off but said the shop had his number, so call him in about an hour after his work meeting and he will give it to us. So we go in the shop and it turns out he is the director of Google Poland! Googles ethos of free expands beyond their business model, it also filters into the generosity of its workers. We love google. (can we say they are our sponsors now? 😉 )

6 Comments leave one →
  1. varun permalink
    November 9, 2010 3:12 pm

    is that the cathedral these used in XXX when rammstein played? chooooon btw

    • November 9, 2010 3:24 pm

      dont think so mate, though it looks similar… not sure they would allow fire in that place! the one in the vid looks like it may be in prague…?

  2. varun permalink
    November 9, 2010 3:32 pm

    ahh i see…..well, keep going guys. The blog’s amazing… polish workers are getting into it as well lol! keep safe dude. muchos love x

  3. November 9, 2010 9:51 pm

    here some pics of festival
    nice to read your story

    • Julian permalink*
      November 12, 2010 10:51 am

      great photos mate! some really nice ones of the bands, specially liking the one of juzkamer in the square!

  4. Kasia permalink
    November 12, 2010 7:50 pm

    Hello! Glad you got to Budapest. It was really nice to see you in Poland! see you back in London (like in 9 months?)

    take care!x

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