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 third of a six-part series. Read the second part here, the fourth part here. All photos by Rosalia Kullick.
Zsuzsanna Bende is the booker at A38. By pulling in larger acts and making serious investments in the soundsystem and club architecture, A38 has survived the wave of extinction that has ravished the city’s club landscape.
2:00pm: Lunch with Zsuzsanna Bende
The A38 was founded in April 2003, almost exactly ten years ago. Back then we had a boat and a love for music, but we didn’t exactly know what our direction was. All we knew was that we wanted to present great international acts, even if we didn’t know how to get them. We had good intentions, but because there was essentially zero basis or expertise, we couldn’t pay fees that would match international standards, nor could we refer to past merits. It was, in short, very, very difficult. To install a challenging program and to build up confidence for a venue in an ex-Eastern Bloc city such as Budapest requires patience and a huge amount of responsibility, and only by properly booking and organizing concerts can you gain credit. Over the years, my strategy of booking primarily international acts paid off very well and today we are known for exactly that. We are proud to say the A38 has become Hungary’s first stop when it comes to current cult international performers, ranging from Jane Birkin to David Lynch to The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble. Of course, we book outstanding Hungarian artists too—DJ Titusz, for instance, has a residency at the A38.
We’ve invested a lot of money into the A38 over the years and we now have a great sound system and capacities to film our concerts professionally. We even have an art exhibition space and a restaurant on the boat. Still, even if we aspire to be a live music space primarily, we also know that the real money comes from organizing parties. To book a DJ is always cheaper than paying a band and their entourage for a gig, so we came up with the idea of double billings on Fridays and Saturdays: first a concert, then the party. This concept has helped us enormously to navigate the brutal financial crisis that our country has seen over the last three years, and now we’re out the other side and very much looking forward into the future. Of course, it helped a lot that we were voted “The World’s Greatest Bar” by the readers of Lonely Planet and this past January we were voted “Best Venue 2012” by the readers of Electronic Beats online, picking up even more votes than the Berghain in Berlin. We’re already noticing the positive effects of these poll results, and as we build a more international audience, we face fewer problems booking for the forthcoming months. But despite these recent developments, the A38 strategy will always remain the same: we have to trust our personal taste as we feel it is our role to survey the market. The A38 never was and never will be a space focused only on one particular kind of music, and that is its strength.~
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.
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.~
Nika Roza Danilova, aka Zola Jesus was one of our favorite artists last year. Her experimental, ice-cold dark-pop is something we can’t get enough of. After her 2009 debut The Spoils she got wider recognition with the Stridulum EP followed by her successful sophomore LP Stridulum II in 2010 and her most recent effort Conatus in 2011.
The 23 year old Russian-American singer has made some great collaborations such as providing vocals to M83’s and Orbital’s new albums or being remixed by her fan, the legendary David Lynch. To dig deeper into her mind and discover thoughts on her music watch this EB TV exclusive feature. You can also read a brief interview with her, as well as her comments on her icon David Cronenberg, that was originally featured in the Electronic Beats Magazine’s winter issue. We had goosbumps at her live show at the Electronic Beats Festival Warsaw last December so we highly recommend you see her live if you can.
Fill in the form below to win 2×2 tickets for Zola Jesus’ Budapest show on 7th April at A38 Ship, she will be supported by local talents Belle Belle (rsvp on Facebook here).
Stream Zola Jesus’ Conatus and read our review on it.
– – – Competition is closed, winners have been notified – – –
This year in Budapest was a quite strange one. It started with a horrible disco accident in January that shocked the country and had long lasting consequences for the city’s party culture. During the year the political and economic crises caused a lot of negative vibes. The closure of cult clubs like the Merlin Theatre and the open air Zöld Pardon also sent out shockwaves. But apart from the bad news, there were still many positive moments to be happy about instead. We’re going to take a look at some of the more exciting moments from throughout the year in our Hungary section.
This year was the 200th anniversary for classic composer Ferenc Liszt (Franz Liszt) but there were also some big anniversaries in electronic music too. Budapest’s underground electronic music community celebrated pioneer DJ and godfather of the scene Palotai‘s 50th birthday through the year on several occasions and Chi Recordings also had reason for celebration as they released a compilation for their 10th anniversary. We interviewed a lot of musicians this year, you liked the most Yonderboi on his return, 9b0 on his work processes, Jaffa Surfa on organic house music, ICR on his milestone double album, Sena on her solo project and emerging talent Mongoose on his career story.
It’s interesting in Budapest that there are only a few good club spaces but several cool nights. Decknology by TEST completed their mission of pioneering the local electronic music scene with the project surviving for only one year. Not like the other future music-oriented night Space Is Called which was started by DJ Cadik and A38 Ship or the new hipster-magnet Selected Sounds by NVC with live acts such as Caribou, Gold Panda, Nosaj Thing. Electronic Beats had also three very successful sold-out gigs, a Live Special Launch Party and a Festival, followed by an EB Presents party. There were so many other highlights that made this year, gigs to remember by Lamb, Jamie Woon, Darkstar and Shigeto on A38 Ship, Kink in Merlin, Eskmo at Balaton Sound, Crystal Castles at Sziget, Xeno & Oaklander in Roham Bar and so on.
And so many other things like the new Blind Musician EP by the continuously changing abstract hip hop formation Realistic Crew, or My Rorschach by Occam, the electronic solo project of drummer of Zagar. There was another great solo debut of eclectic singer Judie Jay with her Harmony LP. Our new discovery is Berlin based Hungarian producer Dnte with his beautiful wonky debut EP Wake Me Up (listen here).
Two more scenes were growing up and started to establish in Budapest’s underground, the lo-fi bedroom producers might have got more attention but there is a ghetto-tech community going strong, too. We’re looking forward to seeing 2012, it will be great!