Interview: WROsound Curator Maciek Szabatowski

This year’s WROsound festival is set to be the city’s music event of the summer.  In this exclusive interview with curator Maciek Szabatowski, you’ll see why.

Hi Maciej, welcome to Wrocław Uncut! First up, can you give our readers a little background info on the WROSound festival?

WROsound has been like a chameleon throughout the last decade or so. The whole idea of the music event started in the heads of people who were passionate about so called ‘Wroclaw stage’. Their goal was straightforward – bring the ‘creme de la creme’ of Wroclaw-based bands every single year.

The directions successive curators took eventually changed over the years, but 2018 was crucial for WROsound in terms of its programming. First, the December date of the festival was changed to a June. Secondly, WROsound became an outdoor instead of an indoor event.

Last year’s positive feedback generated enough impetus for the decision makers in Strefa Kultury Wroclaw to take another step forward, literally and figuratively – with a stage being erected at the front, not at the back of Impart, at Spoleczny Square, and the festival’s lineup being full of known names from the verge of both alternative and mainstream music. The clear aim now is to create a real urban music festival.

What kind of music can people expect to see performed live at WROSound this year?

As I just mentioned, we have really done our best to join the alternative and mainstream dots with our 2019 programming. The main thing for myself and my colleagues was to bring names who really mean something musically for the genres they’ve taken to.

For fans of singing and good voices, we have Michael Kiwanuka and Sohn, both of whom touch the soul and r&b base, albeit with a completely different set of tools. It’s enough to check out their live performances on YouTube to see that these guys play exquisite gigs wherever they go to. They are not representatives of music fads – the emotions are there, embedded in their lyrics and the way they compose and perform. They are coming to Wroclaw for the very first time too, something which I am personally proud of.

An essential part of our 2019 program is the first day of WROsound, which is devoted to hip-hop – a genre that any urban festival cannot live without. Our first day headliner, Sokół, is an iconic Polish hip-hop figure who will perform a set of his newly crafted solo songs, published lately finally under his own name and called “Wojtek Sokół”.

We are also reaching for the roots of hip-hop – therefore we have Smif-N-Wessun (a.k.a. Cocoa Brovaz) – a hip hop duo from New York who occasionally take to Jamaican reggae vibes.

We also want to show what’s good, fresh and inspiring from the vibrant London jazz-tinged stage. Alfa Mist, a young pianist and producer from UK, will bring us his music that touches on the worlds of jazz, soul and hip-hop.

Our program’s main pillar also features electronic music. Here I want to focus on Onuka, a Ukrainian band that’s coming to Wroclaw for the very first time. This is one of the best and most spectacular bands heralding from our eastern neighbours. Their attentiveness to detail both in terms of music, fabric and visuals is unprecedented. Check the videos for “Vidlik” and “Time” to see what I mean.

For fans of wild electronica, we have James Holden and the Animal Spirits. Let me put it briefly: can you imagine techno music being played by jazz musicians live with a hypnotizing energy? If so, this gig is not to be missed by any of you. Holden is an animal of electronic scene and his music is hard to label.

Some peace and quiet will come with the music of Król, whose minimalistic and witty songs will open the second day of our festival. His latest album “Przewijanie na podglądzie” brings him to the forefront of the young Polish alternative scene. A man definitely to be seen live!

This year the festival really seems bigger than ever – the headliners in particular are rather impressive. Was it difficult convincing some of the more established artists to come to Wrocław?

I cannot go into too many details but let me assure you that this has been hard work. The competition is really tough compared to a couple of years ago when I was booking for other festivals. Frankly speaking, I have believed in the very same equation for many years; a decent budget + a booker’s dedication and understanding + a stroke of luck = dream-artist booked.

Now, the very last and the most essential thing is whether the booker/programmer’s dreams become the audience’s dreams. 😉

As you’ve said, one of the changes the WROSound festival has gone through is the move from an indoor winter event to a summer outdoor one. Why have you made this change, and more importantly – do you feel it has worked out for the better?

The change for outdoor stemmed from the willingness to give some more dynamics into what happens around the WROsound Festival. To do so, we needed to deprive the festival of this static character that the interiors of Impart naturally impose on both the organizers and the audience.

This move has also brought us closer to the idea of an urban, lively cross-generational music event – something that WROsound genuinely embraced last year.

This year’s edition goes one step further, aims higher and is still evolving. It boldly goes out front of stage, moving out from the hidden backyard to create a brand-new space. The stage has expanded, the line-up is longer and the infrastructure bigger.

Even so,  we haven’t changed our ambition to build an event with a place for Polish rap, Ukrainian electro-folk, jazz experiments and songwriters with a hits. And, of course, the conviction that a Polish artist can become one of the headliners. This is actually the case this year.

The location for the festival this year is pl. Społeczny, a place that’s no stranger to a concert or two. What is it that makes it a good venue for an outdoor music festival such as WROSound?

There are two qualities of the square that I find universal. Firstly, this place is just a couple of steps away from the Rynek and Grunwaldzki Square – two transport hubs. It is so easy to commute to this place.

The second aspect touches on something I mentioned earlier. First WROsound went outdoor in a minimalistic way by conquering the Impart yard. Now we feel it’s time to seize the moment and take the opportunity to go bigger. The venue allows us to have a big, Wroclaw-based outdoor international festival – one that a vibrant city like ours has deserved for ages.

Besides the music, are there any other attractions for anyone taking in the WROSound festival?

I can assure all our music fans that they will not be left stranded feeling hungry or thirsty.

The “gastro zone” that’s residing at the Spoleczny Square throughout the whole summer season will take proper care of you. Any other attractions will be announced on wrosound.com.

Wrocław is arguably the only Polish city that doesn’t host a major summer music festival. Do you feel that WROSound has the potential to expand and become somewhat greater in future years? Possibly on a bigger site with some more household Indie names?

This is funny as Wroclaw had a chance to host a major summer festival as one of the very first cities in Poland. It even did, but the idea/formula was ditched. This chance was lost irrevocably and other big festivals organised elsewhere took over the reins.

Many of my acquaintances tell me openly that WROsound 2019 is bringing a breath of fresh air in terms of music programming. No matter how enthusiastic I am to hear such words, I am very much keeping my feet on the ground. As a person who has booked artists for many years, I’m aware that the new page of WROsound’s history needs to be written very carefully and with the biggest dedication possible on all levels.

I hope today’s conversation is one brick towards us building faith in this promising brand built by Strefa Kultury Wroclaw. I would not be here talking to you if I did not believe in the power of this year’s lineup! 🙂

Thanks Maciej, we’re very much looking forward to the festival too ! All the best from the Uncut team. 

Gregor Gowans

The founder and editor of Wroclaw Uncut, Gregor has been running the website since its inception in 2012. A Wroclawian for almost 10 years, Gregor writes on a wide variety of topics including, food & drink, nightlife, local news and politics. He is also a regular guest on Radio Ram's Sunday lunch programme.

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