British bands aren’t afraid to say it - European festivals are a completely different sort to the mudwashed hedonism of Glastonbury or Reading & Leeds. There’s a new mentality, too. Instead of having a UK calendar flooded with fest after fest, events like Open’er are a massive deal, because there aren’t too many to choose from in each country. It’s evident from the moment this redeveloped Gdynia airport site opens up. Punters flood in, glue themselves to stages and barely think about leaving for the bar. When Drake opens his set by saying “Poland - you’re the craziest crowd I’ve ever played to,” he likely tells this to all his fans because he’s that kind of guy, but he might be telling the truth.
Earlier in the day, A$AP Rocky follows Kodaline’s main stage set like he’s a headliner. There isn’t a single moment where he’s not greeted with hundreds of raised arms, moving in perfect sync. It’s like everyone here’s been practicing. The Harlem rapper doesn’t need an excuse to go berserk, and he meets the spectacle with gigantic cannons that shoot out gold glitter. Again - this is a fourth-down-the-bill set, but the occasion is a hero’s welcome. Describing the melodically sweet ‘L$D’ as his “favourite song”, this is the only real downtime between a vibrant delivery of new LP ‘At.Long.Last.A$AP’. He gives the crowd their pick over which songs to play (they opt for ‘Electric Body’), and if the hysteria isn’t enough, he closes the set by playing out House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’. There was never going to be a dull moment, but this is unprecedented. An hour into the festival and Open’er is a sun-drenched sea of gold glitter.
Photos: A$AP Rocky and Alabama Shakes
It’s a similar scene on the other side of the site, when the festival’s Tent Stage reaches hysteria for Father John Misty. His shows are traditionally met with gentle head nods, the odd row of seats, a few quiet pauses. With Open’er, it’s the opposite. Bodies are being pulled out from the front as Josh Tillman performs his usual routine of hip thrusts and impassioned love gestures, only with a little more gusto than usual. Alabama Shakes aren’t at the top of their game - in any other setting, there’d be a strange disconnect. But nothing gets a subdued response on day one at Open’er. Modest Mouse are so thrown by their Main Stage reaction, they wind up playing an encore. Isaac Brock and co.’s frantic, chugged showcase of a rich back catalogue is wedged between two of the world’s biggest rappers. But there isn’t a single person scratching their head or checking the clock.
When it’s Drake’s turn to arrive, he’s evidently heard the rumours about this fever pitch spreading through Gdynia-Kosakowo airport. In true Drizzy style, he asks the crowd if they’re “tired yet”, immediately met with a defiant “no!”. He then starts by describing how ill he’s been these past few days while in London. “And as the clock struck twelve today, I suddenly felt amazing again,” he declares. He inserts the word “Poland” into each song at least half a dozen times, as if to remind himself exactly where he’s just flown into. Most disorienting is his rendition of iLoveMakonnen’s ‘Tuesday’, which has Drake asking “what day is it?” because he genuinely doesn’t have a clue. He’ll be telling hundreds of countries they’re his favourite, but that doesn’t take away from an impressive balancing act between fire-starting beats and eerie atmospherics. ‘Know Yourself’ has thousands running through the six with their woes, and closer ‘Energy’ seethes with the same venom that defines set highlight ‘Worst Behaviour’. He might not know what day it is, but Drake’s Open’er moment is an early week highlight.
Photos: Drake, Modest Mouse and Father John Misty
Before Die Antwoord close day one with a blast of nightmarish antics, it’s left to the more subdued Alt-J to keep the Main Stage crowd going past midnight. Talk is rife about whether this trio - two albums in - can headline the world’s biggest festivals. Glastonbury last weekend was a litmus test, and they felt a few songs short from stepping up. Staged in this after-dark glow, however, and they become a different prospect. Because Open’er is placed in the middle of a giant airfield where the nearest property is tens of miles away, this thing can go as loud as it pleases. And Alt-J are the band that benefit most from this decibel-boosting option. The playful ‘Fitzpleasure’ awakens a beast, and even the gentle-as-it-gets ‘Warm Foothills’ could swerve fatigued punters from a slumber. Second album ‘This Is All Yours’ is still taking time to have its full effect, but half-joke single ‘Left Hand Free’ and ‘The Gospel of John Hurt’ are monstrous beings. Polite and unthreatening they might be, but Alt-J are a different entity when given this kind of platform. Only one day in, Open’er already proves capable of bringing something new out of every act.
All photos: Carolina Faruolo.