Up To Date Festival 2016

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  • For those outside Poland, Unsound Festival is probably the most notable expression of the country's growing love affair with underground electronic music. The Krakow-based event has grown exponentially over the last 14 years, transforming itself from a low-key DIY showcase to Poland's answer to Sónar. Up To Date Festival, held in the sleepy, picturesque city of Białystok, is a must-attend festival in the Polish techno community, but until now, it's shied away from international attention. It started life in 2010 as an offshoot of Bialystok's Technosoul parties, and for the first six years took place at an abandoned Soviet-era military complex. The local authorities have not always been supportive: festival founder Jędrzej Dondziło, AKA dtekk, was forced to fight a legal battle that took three years to resolve. That the festival survived, and is now thriving, is testament to Dondziło's passion and dedication to the cause. These characteristics were much in evidence across the festival weekend, which not only boasted impeccable production and programming, but also a discernible sense of humour. From day one, Dondziło has promoted the event with the phrase "pozdro techno" ("pozdro" being slang for "hello" or "greetings"). This year, a large portion of the crowd turned up wearing T-shirts proudly displaying the phrase, while others made a beeline for the on-site merch store. Some also dragged their parents and grandparents along, inspired by the organizers' offer of free entry for the over 50s. After all, you're never too old to rave.
    For all the tongue-in-cheek flourishes, Up To Date's program was serious. The action was split between early evening ambient events in city centre locations, and two all-night parties in the car park below the city's municipal football stadium. The venue's Cold War-era functionality seemed rather fitting, but was in stark contrast to the grandiose locations chosen for the ambient events. Branicki Palace, for example, was once known as "the Versailles of Poland," and its magnificent staterooms provided a memorable location for live performances from Michal Wolski, Acronym and Noordwiijk. Saturday's location, the more modernist Podlasie Opera And Philharmonic European Art Centre, was no less breathtaking. On both occasions, rugs and pillows were provided so that audience members could get suitably horizontal. The combination of environment and music was rarely less than magical. Saturday's performances from Rafael Anton Irisarri and Markus Guentner were particularly spellbinding. While they were notably different—Irisarri dealt in sporadically surging drone textures, and Guentner provided more melodious movements—both were wonderfully meditative.
    Despite the quality of these ambient showcases, Up To Date's heart and soul was at Stadion Miejski. The two main stages, cannily programmed to offer distinctly different music throughout, threw up plenty of highlights. The Electronic Beats stage, decorated colourfully and lit warmly, boasted a selection of fine DJ sets and live performances, including a typically pounding rinse-out from DJ Deeon, a rare live performance from Poland's most well-respected rapper, Pezet, and on-point, jungle-inspired selections from FaltyDL, Fracture and Luke Vibert. Really, though, the essence of Up To Date was at the Technosoul stage. This area—deliberately kept dark, save for a few well-placed red lights, and equipped with a superbly tuned Funktion-One soundsystem—was packed on both days, with a cultish enthusiasm among the assembled throng. The stage's bold, underground techno lineup didn't disappoint. The set that really kicked things off on night one came from Umwelt, whose dubplate-fuelled DJing seemed to have boundless energy. The same goes for Ekman's live performance—a lesson in TB-3 abuse—and Legowelt's similarly powerful, if more melodic, live set.
    Saturday's program was no less impressive, with fine live sets from The Gods Planet, Architectural and Vatican Shadow. We've become accustomed to Vatican Shadow, AKA Dominick Fernow, delivering wild performances, and in this instance he was entertainingly out-of-control, but it was the heaviness of his industrial-inspired techno rhythms that got the crowd going. Watching from the sidelines was an exhilarating and exhausting experience in itself. As Up To Date sped towards its conclusion, the home crowd swelled to take in the traditional closing set from Technosoul's resident DJs. Fuelled by copious amounts of vodka, dtekk, Essence and co. rounded off the weekend in style, sending the "pozdro techno" army stumbling into the Sunday morning sunshine in a jubilant mood.
    Photo credits / Damian Przestrzelski - Lead, Branicki Palace, Singers, DJ, Accordion Przemek Sejwa - Ambient