24 hours in Budapest: Titusz Bicskei (part one of six)
Nowhere is the contrast between the progressive drive of Hungary’s creative class and the current government’s reactionary politics more visible than in the sprawling capital Budapest. The city is known as the Paris of the East for its art nouveau architecture and flâneur-friendly boulevards, though extreme budget cuts and rampant racism under Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party are rapidly degrading its potential as a creative hub in what many see as an only nominally united Europan Union. We met six protagonists from the city’s varied art, music and cultural scenes who remain cautiously optimistic about their individual futures amidst the collective crisis. This is the first of a six-part series, read our second part here. All photos by Rosalia Kullick.
Musician and DJ Titusz Bicskei is a resident at the city’s renowned A38 club. However, he prefers to stay at home and cocoon himself in his DIY studio in the capital’s central eighth district.
10:30 am: Three cups of mocha with DJ Titusz in his home recording studio
When I started organizing my first acid house parties in 1992 there was a very real and positive sense of hope in Budapest. The Iron Curtain had just fallen, the era of Socialism was over, and everybody, especially young people, felt liberated in the new capitalist world. Now, twenty years later, you may sense a very different feeling here: the euphoria that once characterized the city has been drained away, and personally I prefer not to go out as much as I used to, opting instead to spend my time at home together with my family. I don’t even watch TV. Compounding this feeling is the fact that Budapest has become an expensive place to live, especially as I still remember the golden age when the city was cheap compared to Western standards. While it’s easy to allow yourself to become depressed, I do see a future: a lot of new, interesting music clubs and spaces are opening up throughout the city, a fact I’d like to interpret as a good sign.
From day one, I’ve always divided my energy into various projects, and this helps me remain positive during this period. I am a DJ, but I also founded and participated in bands such as the hip-hop group Bëlga and the electropop band Carbonfools. In contrast I started a new group called the Chip Chip Chokas a couple of years ago and our equipment is entirely made up of DIY instruments such as old, pimped-up 8-bit Commodore C64s, Atari consoles and all manner of strange devices scavenged from flea markets and eBay. This interest in homemade electronics is a way for me to channel my creativity and also corresponds to my interest in stop motion movies and music videos that I’ve produced over the years in an attempt to refocus my restless mind.
The internet is a good medium to keep yourself connected to the world even if you prefer to stay at home. The Chip Chip Chokas would not exist without it, especially considering the online websites and forums where I learned about circuit bending, taught myself how to solder and harvested similar strains of niche knowledge required to tweak electronics. If you listen to the Chip Chip Chokas’ first album Chip Rock Hungary from 2009, you can hear a lot of weird, alien sounds which is the direct result of my designing entirely new instruments and noisy effects modules from scratch. I saw Chip Rock Hungary as an opportunity for collaboration and invited many fellow Hungarian musicians to participate. In that sense, the record is akin to a family album, mapping out and documenting the country’s widespread nexus of underground artists.
However, this surplus of talent would probably never have existed without one important factor: Tilos Rádió. Twenty years ago everything started with that pirate station. It’s where I cut my teeth as a DJ. Set up in 1991, it was directly involved in the first acid and tribal parties that took place in and around Budapest. Working there was an adventure, because you can’t forget that back then we had no such thing as the internet or cellphones. Our shifts at the station involved guarding the doors, equipped with walkie-talkies, to warn the crew if the government, with their undercover monitors, were preparing a raid on us. At Tilos I was always encouraged to play eclectic sets of music and to this day I don’t like to limit myself to specific styles; I love acid, hip-hop, disco and minimal techno as much as I like psychedelic, country, baile funk and reggae. Later I moved on to the nationwide Magyar Rádió 2, the station that commissioned me to produce a weekly DJ mix, but things there were very different from Tilos. Back then everything was new, and not only did we do the first DJ parties but we were also the first to take music to special site-specific locations; from canyons in the countryside to Turkish baths in the heart of the city. For us it was a natural extension of what we had previously seen at punk rock and darkwave concerts in illegal clubs under communism; it was all part of the same DIY, anything-goes ethos. It remains to be seen whether we can ever get back the spirit of that pioneering era. That’s why I’ve isolated myself from the world: to find it in isolation. If I have a DJ set at, say, the A38 club, I will take the tram, spin my records and then come home again. You’re much more likely to find me in my studio working on new material than out and about.~
Published April 14, 2013. Words by Titusz Bicskei.