Text by Luc Ampleman
Photos by Juan M Sarabia
A historical and musical bastion
An hour’s drive west from Wrocław and a few kilometres from the Czech border, the small town of Bolków might be unnoticeable if you’re just dashing through Lower Silesia. Make a stop, however, and you will be enveloped in its unique aura and discover why it is host to one of the most outstanding dark independent festivals in Central and Eastern Europe, the Castle Party.
Crowned by a medieval castle known as – SURPRISE SURPRISE! – the ‘Bolków Castle’ (Zamek w Bolkowie), the small community of some 5,000 souls has every element it needs to assert its historical identity: a town hall (ratusz), a marketplace, two churches (one of them, the Old Evangelical Church, becomes a stage during the Castle Party), a fountain and of course a statue of John Paul II. Promenade around the centre and you will spot well maintained green areas, small English-lawned parks and impeccably clean children playgrounds.
The Castle is the main attraction in town and welcomes a good amount of visitors each year. It is also the main venue during the festival. Built in the 13th century, it has gone through several periods of destruction and reconstruction. Well! That’s what castles are for after all! It has been preserved and restored through local initiatives since the early 20th century. Today, its promotion and conservation is managed by the Fellowship of the Bolków Castle Knights.
If you’re into agritourism or just need to escape from the bewildering rhythms and the orgiastic cultural attractions of metropolitan Poland, the region has a lot to offer: mountains, woodland, trekking trails, microbreweries, beautiful farming landscapes and nice, little, picturesque villages.
The Castle Party
For more than 20 years, the Castle Party has been the undisputed rendezvous for gothic, dark wave, electro-indus and metal fauna of Central Europe. Founded in 1994 as a small independent music festival, the dusky fiesta had to move from the Grodziec Castle to the Bolków Castle in 1997 to accommodate a growing international audience. Polish fans are still the largest group, but a quick walk amongst the Victorian vampires, the SM cyber nurses, the medieval blacksmiths, the post-nuclear vamps and all other enthusiastic festival aficionados, you will overhear German, Czech and English revealing the international nature of the event.
A look through the annals of the festival shows it has been host to some of the most influential bands in all genres of dark music as well as promising new talents. Like many of the summer music festivals in Poland, the Castle Party is a chance to enjoy music at a reasonable price: 4-day festival pass (270 PLN, 65 EUR). Much less in comparison to other similar festivals like the Wave Gotik Treffen (120 Euro) in Leipzig or the M’era Luna Festival (105 Euro) in Hildesheim.
The festival takes place in mid-July from Thursday to Sunday. There are two main stages: one at the old evangelical church and the main stage at the Castle. Parallel to the main concerts, festival goers can attend all kinds of before and after-parties organised all over town and at the main camping site. Yeah! There’s a big camping area with a gigantic swimming pool and all services including showers, toilets and even a reading corner. Small grocery stores, squatting food-trucks and local cafes/restaurants provide nourishment. The music goes on non-stop in all corners of town.
During this year’s edition (2017), the lineup featured bands as diverse as Diary of Dreams (dark wave); Neuobersliesien (metal), Diorama (dark synth), Suicide Commando (electro-indus), Arkona (Russian folk metal) and Rome (neofolk) among others. Fans enjoyed the shows and danced to exhaustion before rushing to the after-parties at the Hacjenda restaurant which went on until the early morning.
The place to be, to see and to be seen!
Castle Party promotes itself as an “independent dark festival” and indeed it is. One of the first things you’ll notice while walking around Bolków is that you’re not being harassed by the aggressive marketing of a multinational beer company or a soft-drink sponsor that would in other cases dominate the visual identity of the event.
If you have some reserve with summer music festivals and get fed up with the unbearable chemical toilets, hostile gate control, endless queue to the closest beer stand and bellicose pseudo-fans pushing everyone to show off in front of the main stage, then you will definitely find some redemption at the Castle Party. Try it once and you’ll become a Bolkoholic.
Paradoxically, the so-called dark festival has its clean and clear side. If you can enjoy the parade of gloomy incarnations of Bela Lugosi, distort punk-ranchers and other succubi-look-alike, you will then discover a place for musical enjoyment characterised by a good-natured atmosphere. The show is not only on the stage, but all around. You won’t have any problems to take a picture of yourself with the luminous goth babe or the metal hunk that just grabbed your attention. Just ask courteously. This is a place to see and be seen. People invest money and time in their accoutrements and are, therefore, more than happy to be remembered, not to say immortalised.
“Castle Party is not only a music festival, it’s also the celebration of tolerance and diversity.” Devoted festival goers who once landed in Bolków years ago, now return with their infant progenies wearing a Suicide Commando t-shirt proudly or a hat with horns. A family atmosphere is guaranteed by a safe surrounding, cheerful staff members and non-excessive and friendly security at the different festivals areas. While strolling through the streets, visitors enjoy drinking with impunity for the duration of the festival. With ale in hand, they move from stand to stand perusing neo-medieval gadgets, bracelets, vinyls, dress ornaments, corsets and dark bands t-shirts. Quick pit stop at the corner store or the microbrewery stands set up in a house courtyard to fill up between gigs.
BTW. On the way up to the castle, on Bolka street, a mandatory stop for homemade pierogis (8 PLN for seven delicious state-of-the-art dumplings). Straight out of the window of a family’s abode, they’ve been feeding the hordes of hungry goth pilgrims trying to make it on time for the next concert. In fact, one of the most interesting features of the festival is the local people, who despite the invasion remain happy, always smiling to their guests from 6AM to 6AM.