congress / reading room

Taming Monsters

Interview with Artur Rojek

Artur Rojek, curator of the Scary Monsters and Super Creeps project, talks about terrific and terrifying music, breaking musical conventions, and the differences between American and British alternative music.


Michal Kukawski: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) is the title of David Bowie’s 1980 album. What made you choose it as a name for the concert series you’re curating?

Artur Rojek: Whether I like it or not, everyone’s probably going to associate this mini-festival at the ECC with the OFF Festival. But names like “OFF The Road” or “OFF The Music” felt too obvious. I once had a great adventure with the title of a Joy Division track, “Something Must Break.” I was obsessed with it, to the point where it would fit into everything I was doing at my festival. And to be honest, it would work with the project in Wrocław, too. The reason we selected these particular artists is to break conventions, to open up a rift in the program. The way events like this usually work is the organizers try to give people a good time, let them lounge around on the grass, having fun, while the music serves as a kind of filler, a complement to the rest. Meanwhile, the music we’ve chosen is probably going to irritate part of the audience. You can’t be indifferent about it: it’s going to be more than just background music. But in the end, I decided against copying my old idea, and I replaced “Something Must Break” with something else. I really like Bowie, although I’m not one of those fans that knows all of his work from A to Z. I have a few favorite albums, but they’re mostly from his early days: Hunky Dory, Space Oddity, and Ziggy Stardust. Scary Monsters was never a favorite of mine, but I found the title intriguing. And it works perfectly: the artists are going to be these scary monsters that come out on stage and try to draw the audience into their weird little world. Some might find it disconcerting, others will be shocked, and some might even find it terrifying. I’m not expecting everyone to like it.

MK: How did you put the program together?

AR: Most of the artists are acts that I had wanted to invite to the OFF Festival, but for various reasons couldn’t make it to Poland. Now it’s finally worked out. Also, whenever I put together lineups like this, I always think about the context that the performances are going to take place in. The Centennial Hall next door is going to host the two main musical events of the ECC – a performance by Penderecki along with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and then one with Aphex Twin. I wanted my program to fit in with the rest of the events.

MK: You’ve split the program up into themes.

AR: I decided that it would be interesting to create sets with three distinct atmospheres. That even worked out on its own. When we arranged the schedules for all the bands, it turned out that the first day would have plenty of folk-oriented music (Zun Zun Egui, Wildbirds & Pecedrums, Stornoway), Friday would be more of a dance and electronic themed day (K-X-P, Slagsmalsklubben, Tim Exile), while Saturday audiences would get hit with a solid dose of music bordering on kraut-rock and metal (Anika, Killl, Faust). Today’s metal is a very interesting and important phenomenon on the alternative scene. It’s not the embarrassing metal of years gone by, the one one we mocked for sounding like Iron Maiden. There’s nothing funny about these new bands now that they’ve started incorporating other musical genres into their music, and the result isn’t tailored to suit the taste of just one type of audience.

MK: Most of these bands are unknown in Poland.

AR: If it weren’t for the OFF Festival, I probably wouldn’t risk inviting a lineup like this, lest I be accused of a lack of taste and misunderstanding the market. But this is something I test out every year, and it’s often the obscure, underground artists that play perfect shows. I was asked to prepare a program similar to that of the OFF Festival in terms of atmosphere, and since the idea behind the festival is to showcase bands that aren’t popular in Poland, the lineup in Wrocław will also consist of artist that aren’t well known in our country. I think audiences will be pretty surprised by what these acts have in store for them.

MK: Do you go to a lot of concerts yourself?

AR: I rarely go to shows in Poland. Mostly because I perform a lot myself, so I try to take a break from concerts in my off time, and also because there’s rarely anything that I actually find interesting and surprising. But I did go to shows when I lived in Seattle for three months. I knew I would never have another chance like that.

MK: Have you ever discovered an interesting artist at a concert?

AR: Yes, Silver Jews, a band that has since broken up. My stay in the US finally convinced me just how different the British and American markets are. The alternative music market in the UK is finely tuned – everyone tries hard to prove just how unique they are, as if it were some kind of competition. I realized this when I saw three concerts in a row. The first day, I saw Deerhoof, next was the American band Silver Jews, and finally Britain’s Friendly Fires. While the first two shows were as natural as could be, Friendly Fires looked as if they were trying really hard to make a good impression and the vocalist seemed more concerned with showing off his nice jacket [laughs]. Of course, this doesn’t apply to every British band, but it is true for the trendy ones. So if you’re going to invite bands to Poland, it’s better to chose the more obscure acts that have yet to be “discovered.”