It was a slow day on the roadwork ridden Polish highways. By the time we arrived in Katowice our hangovers had well and truly fermented and we were glad to be free of the bus. Town was packed for the festival and the meagre selection of hostels in Katowice was fully booked. Ryan had made the executive decision that campgrounds weren’t for us and instead had booked us in for a few nights in a hotel (yup, no spelling mistake there).
We were treating ourselves for the princely sum of 25 Euros a night and if nothing else about Eastern Europe appeals, then this alone should get you there. Despite our southern origins we were Western Princes, wealthy beyond belief and keen to splurge. What time would we be taking breakfast? Would we like the spa heated up now or later? I didn’t even know you needed to heat spas up.
And this wave of good vibes just continued to break. Expectations of an unloved Soviet backwater were never met, and as we explored it became clear that Katowice was quite the opposite. Instead of decay and krokodil we found clean pedestrian malls and an edgy youthful presence. Old men played petenque in the middle of the street and there wasn’t a single crack whore in sight.
The festival we were there for, Tauron Nowa Muzyka, had won Best Small Festival in Europe in 2010 and deservedly so. Unfortunately for us renovations meant that it wasn’t in its usual coal mine location but our hopes remained high and were met: with friendly people, crisp sound and all the magnificence of a European festival line up.
Our conduct was the standard festival malarkey: we struggled with Poland’s punitive drug laws and watered down beer, saw more acts than you can shake a stick at and kept the sleeping to a minimum. Mark and Ryan’s relentless inquiries (fuelled by the aforementioned beer) eventually overcame the Government’s best wishes and some Italians sold us what I can genuinely say were the best ecstacy I’ve ever done.
We dropped and made friends with some locals who, in a serendipitous turn of fate, had a ‘spliffy’ to share while we waited. Their pills were kicking hard and one of the girls breathed out with the deep satisfaction of someone whose every sense is alight. She hugged herself in the dim fluorescent light, lost in sensory decadence: “suuuch a nice spliffy!!”
The anticipation grew and we ran through the crowd on a cloud of growing euphoria. Hot Chip’s set began and we weren’t quite sure what to make of it all. “This shiiiit is ridiculous mann, I’m sooo hiigh!” [maniacal laughter all round]. “Mark was right about those crystals! This is fuucked!” The laughter threatened to take over and we huddled close, talking past each other but speaking the same loved up language.
This wasn’t the drawn out insomnia of speed or whatever other rat poison lurks in New Zealand pills. Instead it was pure and brilliant, and we drowned in its joy. My irises went heart shaped and the world was rose pink; I loved it all: these friends, that my tough times had passed and that I had months to go. I wanted to hug the whole crowd – but limited myself to immediate company, just.
I can’t remember how we got home. A bus? A taxi? Maybe it was both over the course of it all. It doesn’t matter now; I doubt anyone really knows what happens in the small hours of a Katowice morning. Breakfast at the hotel started at 7. Mark and I waited outside in the corridor: too awake to sleep (just yet), too exhausted and exhilarated to do anything else. When it finally opened we joked with the waitress about our “beeg partey”, and ate jam croissants with gaping pupils.
Sleep came to collect its debt and the day passed by. We recovered in the spa and sauna, living the lives of royalty, content in our decadence after months of slumming it in the more expensive Western states.
The acts from the two nights blur into a heady mix of thumping bass and literal ecstasy as we head banged to everyone from Four Tet and Scuba to Gaslamp Killer, Rustie, and the indomitable TNGHT. It eventually came to an end and we nursed vodka nightcaps in the hotel room, again waiting for breakfast. I fell asleep on the table and never made it: head in my hands and completely spent.
I was too faded to realise it at the time, but I was content. There was more solitude to come but the dread that had grown in me was gone. Morocco was done; I had found redemption in the madness of late nights, mates and molly. On a whim I booked train tickets for Ukraine, and the physical informed the metaphysical. I was back on track and finally knew it.