Pohoda 2011 review

Pohoda 2012 is worthy of serious consideration


Slovakia Slovakia | 10 July 2011

Despite Pohoda’s titular aim, (it translates as relax), the line up this year allows not a moment of peace and quiet. Portishead, PiL and Pulp re-energised, all-out hits assaults from Moby, Madness and M.I.A and a host of incendiary performances on the smaller stages – 2011 is the year Pohoda grew up and joined the big league.
It’s a festival that has to create its own atmosphere – the site, flat as a Slovakain potato pancake, is a old army airfield about 3k outside of Trencin. Nestled in a valley at the base of the Carpathian mountains and next to the mighty Vah river it’s got the views, but no topography of it’s own. Forget any minor annoyances, this is a festival site so well run, it will have you pining for a grim portaloo and asking to be refused re-entry as if somehow you’ve been cheated. It is disconcertingly civilised. The organisers cap on 30,000 tickets, all sold out weeks before, was sensible, though the site could easily sneak another 5-10,000. It’s sense like that, however, that makes Pohoda so pleasant to be at - there is room here and no queues.
It seems all 30,000 gather for the opening gig and Moby (7/10) is very careful – perhaps too careful – not to disappoint them. Hit after hit after hit works of course, but this crowd is no pushover and Mika from Poland sums up the issues– “This is a crowd that wants more than the songs they know, you know? They want to be challenged too”. From the way the crowd respond to ‘Troubles with God’, ‘Why Does My Heart…’ and ‘Bodyrock’, this could be a minority view. It’s a disarming start and the NY boy has Pohoda off to a flyer. There’s more NY Madness on Friday as Battles (8/10) blast through a mid-afternoon set in the blazing sun, ‘Atlas’, of course, the centrepiece of a furious set that does everything that Moby didn’t.
The Slovakian sun is relentless and every shadow is populated. Up and down the runways, fire trucks spray the frazzled masses with water – it’s fun, but it’s also necessary, it’s seriously hot here.
The evening slot that Deus fill suits the mechanics of Saturdays impressive line–up. We are being primed for Pulp and Madness. Le Payaco (7/10) fill the gap between the two, a spirited and infectious Slovakian band that re-formed on the request of Pohoda organisers, a clever ruse that guaranteed exclusivity and forced Le Payaco fans to come hither to see their heroes.
No-one moves after Le Payaco and as a black net curtain (how fitting) is snipped from it’s moorings above the main Bazant Stage, Jarvis flies into view asking us if we remember the first time. Pohoda does and let’s Jarvis know it. Appreciative of his later rambles into the audience with a torch and indeed, into the Pulp (8/10) back catalogue, the crowd simply drown Mr Cocker out as he concludes the set with 'Common People'.
God knows how many pigs died in the making of Pohoda but it quickly acquires the nickname Porkhoda for the sheer array of hog-based products. The food is quality. There’s no expensive slop in a tray here, but experimentation is obligatory.
They call it Madness (7/10), but actually it’s a short, completely sane trip through a 1980’s hit factory. Reception is fairly muted, until ‘Our House’, when inexplicably, the place goes absolutely tonto and everyone knows every word.
The Main Stage sound system is capable of giving the front 20 rows breathing problems there is so much bass. The horn that signals we’re off on a 'Night Boat to Cairo' is enough to start a Carpathian avalanche and it sends the crowd into an end of evening frenzy.
Saturday is hotter and because of day tickets, busier too. Public Image Ltd‘s (9/10) John Lydon had an hours sleep but you wouldn’t know it. Charged by the sun and a bottle of brandy, Lydon challenges the audience with every line and every snarl powering through a set that oozes power and quality. They end with a version of ‘Open Up’ that would have blown Leftfield apart in a sound clash.
The organisers cannot have known it, but they saved the best till last. Portishead (9/10), denizens of the murky depths of the beat seem to found a home from home. As reverential as a catholic mass, the crowd are awestruck. There are even tears. There must be something in the national psyche here, or in the water, but this is a ‘Glastonbury moment’. Drawing heavily on ‘Dummy’, the band pulse through a set that reminds us what a truly legendary live band they can be. Pohoda’s curtain falls as Beth Gibbons apologises for taking 20 years to play Slovakia.
Clean, friendly, cheap and Pohoda is a west Europe festival for east Europe prices which this year, after 15 years, stood up for itself against the best we’ve got. Pohoda 2012 is worthy of serious consideration.

By Jon Wright.


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