Ever since its first edition in 2009, Asymmetry Festival has been located in the heart of Wroclaw; a city of well-established beauty more than deserving of the praise it receives for its architectural wonders. While these alone are enough of a reason to plan a trip, I was more than lucky to enjoy its three-day musical feast. Throughout Asymmetry’s six-year history, the event has taken place at various places around the city, from gothic churches to post-industrial breweries. This year the location was a little more conventional, as Asymmetry was hosted at a venue called Firlej, which had an alternate stage set up in a basement of a nearby cafe close to the historical center of town.
The goal of Asymmetry Festival has been to showcase artists who are not bound by the concepts of genres, but rather focus on their own unique musical expression. With a very broad spectrum of performers, I decided that, having been given this wonderful opportunity, I would try to expose myself to as many new artists as possible. From a total of eighteen acts on the main stage and an additional six on the second stage, and only previously knowing Sleeping Bear and Russian Circles, I dived into this rich mixture of sounds and artists as soon as I arrived.
The highlight of day one was Esben and the Witch; a band who intriguingly like to describe their music as ‘nightmare pop’. Compared to the album version, their live performance seemed much heavier in terms of instruments, though played beautifully alongside the crystal-clear vocals of Rachel Davies, which created an interesting mixture of light and dark sides to their music. A must see if they tour anywhere near you.
Christian Fennesz took me by complete surprise. Described as Electronic, I didn’t exactly expect his show to be a musical painting – his guitar taking on the role of the brush; a great palette of effects and samples offered by his laptop. The whole show was a single, breathtaking song somewhere between ambient, noise rock and drone, with every sound a carefully placed brushstroke on his musical canvas.
Hailing from America, Lo-Pan describe themselves as a machine that will keep touring, recording and playing rock for as long as possible – which could be forever. The goal they set for themselves is to go above and beyond to reach people and then punch them in their faces with their music, leaving them dazed and confused even after they’re done playing. I can say that I had a great time sharing some stories with Adrian and listening to Skot’s vocal interpretation of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck as he heard someone playing the intro on a piano. They were the coolest guys I met there and I hope their laundry did finally dry. They should be back in Europe somewhere around autumn this year with a new album, so don’t miss them!
There isn’t much to say here; Russian Circles do not need an introduction and are more than amazing live. The shining stars of day three they were, making the whole event worth the trip if only just to see them.
Every once in a while it’s good to explore what’s outside your comfort zone. The Berlin collective known as The Ocean might just be the facilitators of that – their show featured a visualization of maritime life supported by an instrumental performance of their newest album Pelagial. Being honest, I have to say that their kind of post/hardcore/metal does not strike a chord with me. However, together with the dance of various sea creatures, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the entire gig and the unforgettable memory that remains.
From the moment of my arrival to the very end, everything about Asymmetry’s organization was spot-on. Even beforehand, the website of the event was full of helpful information about travelling to and between venues and where to find accommodation and places to eat – most of which had a discount for festival-goers. While it may not seem like the most important aspect, it certainly was a nice touch.
Firlej, the main venue, was more than prepared to handle all its guests – there were two food trucks outside, accompanied by a small booth with hot/soft drinks and beer available at a very reasonable price. Inside the venue itself was another bar for those who would rather stay closer to the stage. The staff were a bunch of extremely nice people, to the point where a barmaid lent me her phone charger as I ran out of juice, for which I’m eternally grateful! With no shortage of both food and drink, the only thing left to do was enjoy the gigs. I believe that each and every one of them started on schedule, which comes very handy if you want to move between the stages or plan other activities around performances.
When planning an event of this size, inevitably something must go wrong. On the morning of day two, I noticed a message on the event’s Facebook feed – one of the headliners for that day, Anaal Nathrakh, was unable to play at the festival due to trouble with his visa. Naturally, Asymmetry is by no means at fault, so I believe that handling the fallout of this situation is not something they were obliged to do. But they did go above and beyond, promising that together with the band they would come up with a date and organize a gig free of charge for owners of Asymmetry tickets. What’s more, people who bought tickets solely for the second day of the festival were allowed to return them for a refund should they choose not to attend. I cannot be sure how fans of Anaal Nathrakh perceive this situation, but in my opinion the organizers of Asymmetry proved how dearly they care about their attendees.
THE MUSIC: CONTINUED
Of course, there were many more bands than the ones I have brought up earlier in this article. Though I can’t comment on all of them, here are a few more:
Sybil Vayne, who opened Asymmetry, is an Estonian Alternative/Indie Rock trio fronted by Helena Randlaht; apparently the only female rock singer and guitarist in her motherland. Their music was a great dose of energy and a fantastic start to the festival. While the genre itself may seem to some a little superficial, the band is far from it – they are currently considering recording their new album in a forest to sever the ties with the outer world and help fully submerge you in their music.
The first day was drawn to a close by established Belgian instrumental band We Stood Like Kings. More of a complete experience than just a gig, I had the good fortune to be in viewing distance of Walter Ruttmann’s 1927 silent city symphony Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt while the musicians performed their soundtrack live. Without lyrics in both the music and the movie, the entire performance was strangely captivating, as at that point my curiosity had reached its peak for the day.
For a young post-rock band from Ukraine, playing their very first gig outside their country must have been quite a trip, as the guys from Sleeping Bear seemed very excited about this opportunity. Having heard them before, I was just as excited, and it was well worth the wait to see their stellar performance live, where every second of build-up was augmented with the ensuing epic riffs.
Asymmetry was a thrill. Were it not for the group of ingenious people who convinced such diverse and fantastic performers to play together, I would never have risked going to see the bands that I came to admire during this festival. It is a wonderful place for musical exploration, and definitely worth the risk even if you are far from acquainted with the line-up. I myself had a wonderful weekend thanks to Asymmetry, and will be looking forward to the next edition. See you next year!