England’s got Glastonbury, Germany’s got the Love Parade and California’s got Coachella. So where do you go in Poland this summer, if you want to rock your socks off and have your eardrums well and truly ringing? The answer lies a morning’s train ride away in the medieval castle of Lubiąż, on the outskirts of Wrocław, which for four days next month plays host to one of the country’s most artistic and free-thinking festivals: Slot Art Festival.
Slot has been running since the early 90s and has been staged at Lubiąż Castle since 2001. It’s a heady cocktail of rock, grunge, night shows and enough artistic talent to keep Krakow’s Bunkier Sztuki in business until the Euro Championships. Performances unravel in and around the castle’s grounds, cellars, and myriad nooks and crannies for the thousands of revellers who pitch up to one of Poland’s most revered historic monuments. And revered not just by Poles, but also by one cosmetically enhanced Yank, Michael Jackson, who was keen to buy the place in the 90s. Fortunately, he and his eccentricities never got the chance to settle in there and Lubiąż stayed firmly in Polish hands, allowing the Slot to find a new home.
Like most festivals it began life as a motley gathering of assorted “alternative” musicians and artists and the audiences have grown from a couple of hundred since the first jamboree at the castle to around 4,000 last year. Towards the end of the Communist era Wrocław gained a reputation as radical and alternative with its “Orange Dwarfs,” who subverted mainstream communist propaganda and fuelled an underground artistic movement which basically put two fingers up to the ruling regime. Slot grew out of the ferment of that discontent.
Łukasz Kaleta got involved in the first Lubiąż Slot as a volunteer and this year helped organise the festival’s first spin-offs in Krakow, which gave locals a taste of some of the bands that will play at the main gig, along with workshops and film screenings. He set up the Krakow Slot after returning from teaching in Azerbaijan and wanted to share some of his experiences of what it was like to be immersed in a foreign culture. Łukasz recalls his first Slot outing with a mix of nostalgia and mock horror: “I can just remember thinking there were so many freaks in one place. Dreadlocks, punks, a crazy assortment of people – of course it was more about me and the culture shock of it all than anyone else. I had to re-think many of my attitudes towards people, fast.”
Slot exerts a pull on festival-goers and bands that goes beyond Polish borders, with many artists travelling from Germany, the UK and the States. Headliners have included the Maleo Reggae Rockers, Armia and the UK’s Dust. While the music selection is skewed towards rock and grunge, night shows offer a more sedate affair with classical recitals and theatre performances in the cathedral. The organisers make the most of the vaulted ceilings and pillars, casting lights and visuals around the space to dramatic effect. Venture below into the castle’s cellars after dark and you can grope your way through a labyrinth of improvised clubs and cafes, reminiscent of Cracovian beer cellars.
Along with the dozens of workshops, where you can try your hand at juggling, fire-spinning and mono-cycling, is a twist to the usual fairground attractions. One small area is set aside as a kind of faith space, a place where you can chill out and meditate or just nab a spiritual volunteer for a chat. While Slot isn’t a religious festival and, says Łukasz, “most people could go quite happily the four or five days without even knowing the ‘faith space’ was there,” many of the people who make up Slot are living their lives by trying to be spiritually conscious. “That doesn’t mean being a Sunday Christian but rather as a ‘creative believer’, so they put their faith into their work and the way they behave,” muses Łukasz. It seems the key to the event is that it’s trying to help people tap into their own spirituality, whether that’s through music, dance, art or just unburdening themselves to someone. Łukasz adds: “Part of it is trying to help people not to be spiritually indifferent.”
The festival name began life as the Polish “zlot” which means a “get-together.” With the injection of British and American bands from the West, the name morphed into the English spelling and meaning: to fill a gap. “It does this because it’s like no other festival in the country,” says Łukasz. For the thousands who will make the trek again this year along with first-time Cracovians, this fourteenth century pad will be the place to be. Just don’t tell Jacko.
For full details about the Slot Festival visit www.slot.art.pl