The road to Bialystok is arduous. Located 200kms away from Warsaw, the city’s current main point of access is a pastiche of a trafficjammed highway, running parallel to possibly the longest stretch of under construction motorway known to mankind. But even with 12 hours door to door travel from Berlin, the trip was immensely worth it as we were endowed with the privilege of being part of the first batch of international press to be invited to Up To Date festival. Up To Date is the braindchild of Jędrzej Dondziło aka Dtekk and a tight knit group of friends with its roots in the city of Bialystok. The festival was born out of Dondzilo’s Technosoul label and parties, which have been running since 2005.
Now clocking in at seven editions, Up To Date is a hidden gem on the Polish festival circuit, one which we are growing accustomed to thanks to the resonating success of enterprises like Unsound and Tauron Nowa Muzyka. The festival’s home is Bialystok, the largest city in the north-east of Poland. A natural habitat to the majestic bison and the town of birth of Esperanto creator Ludwik Zamenhof, Bialystok is one of the country’s cultural hubs and Up to Date feels like the highlight of the city’s alternative music calendar. The appreciation that the locals have for the event was clearly visible across town with an immense number of young people either boasting festival wristbands or Up To Date’s own tongue-in-cheek Pozdro techno clothing range..
Podzro Techno, which roughly translates as “howdy techno”, is one of a number of displays of the festival’s playful philosophy, one which is detached from the oft overcoolness of techno. This year Up To Date marketed itself with a video starring the father of Up To Date diplomat in chief and creative director DJ Czarek and festival merch included a bunch of deliberately cheap-ass goodies like ice-scrapers and lighters emblazoned with the sentence “we couldn’t find cheaper”. A local well known busker was also invited to perform accordion renditions of happy hardcore anthems during the stage changeover and in a particularly positive cross-generational move, entrance to the festival was free for spectators aged 50 and over. Add to this a full festival pass for under 40€ and drinks costing no more than 2€ and you’ve got yourself a rather exceptional experience.
If it’s the location that shapes the party, then the venues across which Up To Date takes place set an incredible tone for the festival. Both nights kicked off with intimate ambient gigs: the Friday in the stunning 18th century Branicki Palace, the Saturday in a concert room of the Bialystok Opera house. Spectators were encouraged to lie down, bask in the otherworldly lights and phase out to the breathtaking soundscapes of artists which included Acronym, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Norwiijk and Michal Wolski. Both shows were the ideal way to ease yourself into the vibe of the festival.
The heart of the party was located in the depths of the car park of the Bialystok City Stadium. This was the festival’s first year in its new home. The previous editions of Up To Date took place in a disused military warehouse on the outskirts of the city, until legal and political issues arose, locking festival founder Dtekk in a costly three year court battle. The lineup was split across two imposing concrete tunnels, one hosting the Electronic Beats stage for hip-hop and urban sounds, the other home to the Technosoul stage for the full on rave action. Artist bookings focused on the flat out banging and rave-indebted ends of the spectrum: on the first night, the ghetto-house of living legend DJ Deeon casually rubbed shoulders with the footwork of fellow Chicagoan DJ Earl and the future-gazing bass of Falty DL; acid and electro were also strongly represented by some of their scene’s leading figures, with Legowelt, I-F, Umwelt and Ekman all delivering blinding sets. On the second night, a schooling in all things jungle came courtesy of Fracture, Luke Vibert and FFF on the Electronic Beats stage while the Technosoul stage dove headfirst down the techno tunnel with Vatican Shadow, Reeko, The Gods Planet and the Dtekk all dropping excellent performances. A sizable Polish hip-hop contingency featured on both nights, with a unanimously well-received performance coming from Pezet, one of Poland’s most respected rapper, who was marking his come back to the stage following an extensive hiatus. The music was beyond tight throughout the entirety of the festival and it was great to see organizers taking risks, evading easy crowd-pleasing bookings and bringing together sub-strains of the electronic music world that you don’t often see sharing stage time.
The relationship between Up To Date and the local authorities has been a rocky one in the past and that alone would make it beyond commendable that the team behind the festival continues to energetically rep its hometown. The fact that Up To Date does so with superb taste, humor, on point organization and while remaining completely cool about the outstanding event they’ve created is truly inspiring. While all the performances that we encountered over the course of the festival were top notch, we’ve gone and picked our three personal highlights of this year’s edition. Till then Up To date, do zobaczenia za rok!
Umwelt: Friday @ Technosoul Stage
Umwelt makes the kind of music you’d want to be listening to if you were on your way to destroy the Death Star, so the post-apocalyptic bunker vibe of the Technosoul stage felt like a rather appropriate setting. We arrived halfway through the Frenchman’s fairly early set and energy levels were already peaking. He delivered a constant barrage of pummeling electro where any short moment of respite merely felt like an excuse to dive right back into the melee, only twice as hard.
Listen back to Umwelt’s recent KALTBLUT mix and keep your eyes open for his upcoming beast of an album, landing soon on Berlin’s Killekill.
Vatican Shadow: Saturday @ Techno Soul Stage
Dominic Fernow aka Prurient aka Vatican Shadow is a highly vigorous performer and that’s not even close to an understatement. The last time we saw him play as Vatican Shadow, he was draped in a Portuguese flag, screaming at the top of his lungs at the front of a stage in a 14th century castle. Would he top that? Well there were no Polish flags lying around for starts but the Hospital Productions boss still went right in. His set began in the dubbed out ends, gradually gaining in sonic fury and physical agitation before delivering a final total industrial assault which saw him march across the stage, screaming at the crowd and giving the word intensity a whole new meaning. Always and forever a ridiculously good performer and producer, make sure to lock in to his recent Media In The Service Of Terror LP below.
Rafael Anton Irisarri
After spending two early evening lying half-awake in semi darkness, tripping out to beautifully weird ambient soundscapes, we’ve come to the conclusion that there really is no better way to ease yourself into a night of serious raving action.From Acronym’s fragile melodies to Noordwiijk’s dislocated sonics and Michal Wolski’s psychedelic pulsations, the ambient salon was a major highlight of Up To Date. In truth, all of the ambient acts were fantastic and we felt privileged to be able to enjoy this kind of music in such settings as the Branicki palace and the Bialystok opera. Rafael Anton Irisarri’s set was the highlight within the highlight, full of waves of sounds on the brink of explosion and a truly touching moment of music. Listen to his brilliant 2015 LP “A Fragile Geography” here and check out Michal Wolski and Noordwiijk’s Up To Date Boiler Rooms, shot in the Branicki palace.
You can also check out an exclusive Michal Wolski mixtape for KALTBLUT below.