As usual, this summer has brought a familiar tale of horror stories from various UK music events; ridiculous queues, overzealous security, and a lack of basic infrastructure blighting what are supposed to be uplifting, celebratory days out. But in Europe, they do things differently – they do things better – and Slovakia’s Pohoda Festival is fast becoming one of the continent’s greatest weekends.
To cast one’s eye across the sunbaked fields of Trenčín filled with thousands of joyous fans is to witness how festivals should be. Here, you’re not merely a “customer”, you’re treated like part of the extended family, and the organisers go out of their way to make everything as pleasant as possible. There are free drinking water and sunscreen stations dotted all over the site, the variety of (extremely) reasonable priced local food and tipples is mind-boggling, and what little stewarding is required is done with patience and a smile.
It all adds up to a jubilant three days, with the feel-good vibes reflected in a musical line up that veers towards the poppier, uplifting end of the spectrum. Pohoda has never gone in for having two or three A-list headliners, but in truth they don’t need to; instead a rich, diverse selection of artists spread throughout the day means there truly is something for everyone – and precious few clashes.
Thursday opens with a one-two punch of Ziggy Marley – whose uplifting reggae-pop perfectly matches the spectacular sunset – and the Chemical Brothers, who bring robots, offbeat visuals, and yes, plenty of block rockin’ beats to the witching hour. Cutting edge or innovative they are not, but the duo, both approaching 50, do their best to energise the crowd and serve up most of the hits, which still sound crisp 20 years after their heyday.
With a total of ten stages – including various tents, a shipping container, and a dark, sweaty, blacked-out box – it’s easy to dip in and out of sets and get a real flavour of Slovakia’s burgeoning musical talent. Rising producer-come-electro-whizz-kid Isama Zing dazzles in the dark of the Klub, while mid-afternoon sunshine is the perfect backdrop for Tolstoys’ winsome dreampop. Best of the bunch though is NVMERI, whose quirky, funk-indebted math-pop prompts an entire tent to throw shapes with giddy abandon.
The manic dancing continues several hours later as Confidence Man stroll on stage and launch into exactly the type of tongue-in-cheek, hedonistic disco bangers you’d expect from a duo who go by the names of Janet Planet and Sugar Bones. Living up to their reputation as this summer’s Greatest Festival Band, an hour in their company is the most delirious fun imaginable, combining the ridiculous, the highly camp, and the utterly magnificent.
Shoegaze legends Ride are equally as good, turning back the years and sounding as rich and expansive as ever. Combining classics with material from recent record Weather Diaries, their swirling walls of noise are as rapturously received as Slowdive were last year, and shift through the riffs and crescendos with power and grace. Immediately afterwards people pile over to watch Danny Brown – in cheerful form – deliver a boisterous, animated set that draws heavily from 2016’s Atrocity Exhibition.
For real star power though, it’s hard to beat Rodriguez, whose arrival on stage is greeted by a hushed reverence. Seated at the front of the stage and looking somewhat frail, he nevertheless delivers a wonderfully warm hour of music, and he seems genuinely touched by the rapturous reception he’s afforded. “Thanks so much for coming out, it’s really great to see you all,” he says, when of course the pleasure – and the honour – is all ours.
Pohoda excels at confounding expectations, so it’s no surprise the weekend’s two standout moments come from opposite ends of the musical spectrum. As St. Vincent, Annie Clark has long redefined what a modern indie popstar can do, and her current show distills everything that makes her great into 90 glorious minutes. She shreds, she croons, and she commands the stage with regal poise and assurance, a new neon superstar for the digital age.
Half an hour later we’re crammed into that shipping container watching Slovak garage punk trio Genuine Jacks absolutely slam through their songs. There’s only space for about 20 people, and it’s a wild, messy ride – a few even attempt to crowd surf. The blitzkrieg leaves us feeling jubilant, and we stumble into the cool night air wearing a mile-wide grin – common reactions for anyone experiencing the perfection of Pohoda.
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