alice mange son coeur is barely out of its infancy and it already has a 16-track compilation under its belt. The Prague imprint’s roster is not geo-specific, rather sourced from the limitless sonic hatchery that is the internet. Spice Mouse, an Estonian songstress with a penchant for fragile melodies, industrial pop flavoured Doe Eyes from Canada, a British singer/songwriter KEEL HER and distorted American electronician Feel Flesh all contribute with four tracks each. The four producers differ not only in origin but also in stylistic expression yet together carve out a specific aural aesthetics that is the heart and soul of this label.
You’re In My Blood by _alice mange son cœur
It was raining when I arrived in the small Czech city of Kutná Hora for the Creepy Teepee festival. This was to be a weekend-long theme, but fortunately the damp-ass gloom stayed off my mood. Despite the name, the only thing creepy about this festival was how damn good it was. From the moment I walked into the outdoor arena, I was greeted with good vibes and the pure punk DIY spirit that these sort of events depend on. You feel a real connection, not just with the crowd but with the musicians and artists present too. Sharing drinks with Sean Bowie of TEAMS and Sara Cross of the avant-garde Czech label alice mange son coeur, lurking in bone-covered crypts, watching the festival promoters dancing to your DJ set….these are the true memories that stay with you long after the music fades.
As I first entered the abandoned brewery venue that would be my spiritual home for the next three days, Tropical Ooze were just kicking off. This Brooklyn group have a jam-heavy flavor and bouncy, noisy energy that right away had my feet moving. It was just a warm-up, however, for my personal favorites (and my favorite show of the whole festival) Foot Village. With people crowding toward the front and the rain still steadily falling, the band took their places behind their drums. I’ve seen these kids make massive racket-riots inside a multitude of converted warehouses and art spaces, but never on a large stage above their audience. It gave them a new level of depth, perhaps….certainly their energy was off the scale, pounding drums beating out tribal no wave chaos. As Brian Miller yelped into a megaphone, Grace Lee bounced around, happily out of control as she shrieked out the groups half-decipherable vocals. It was a privilege to watch them perform, and by the end I was soaked with rain and sweat, mind and body wonderfully exhausted.
Fellow friends and noisemakers AIDS Wolf took the stage next. This is the first time I’ve caught them as a three-piece, and while the monstrous racket was perhaps less feet-moving than Foot Village’s, it was no less powerful. Someone was passing around a drink that tasted a lot like mangos; not entirely sure what else was in it but it left my limbs buzzing and wanting to touch everything. Amped on this and the sonic evil, the crowd was soon shifting and rocking their bodies in a synchronized wave of ecstatic rhythm. I wasn’t sure what to expect from R. Stevie Moore; after such a rush of unbridled hate the atmosphere was a bit diesel for a lo-fi legend of advanced years. In fact, however, check this out: sike. If you think a long-time mutant like Moore can’t manipulate vibes to his own end, you’re out of the loop. With a performance that was somewhere between a psychedelic jam party and a deranged old uncle’s secret Youtube uploads, the energy shifted back into the realm of love (even if it was the mad sort.)
The constant rain combined with the constant energy rush began to take its toll on the crowd. There was a need to relax as a group, to just chill the heck out for a bit. With his R&B-tinged combination of discohouse and chilledwave, TEAMS was the perfect choice. An effort was made toward dancing, but for the most part everyone was content to nod their heads and just let the sounds flow over them. After a few hints at glitched-out rave, he finished to wild applause and hopped off the stage. He spun a similar set for his DJ spot during the afterparty, but the day just felt ready to end and I wandered back to the hostel. I heard that Anti-Pop Consortium made multiple references to being happy to be in ‘Prague’ and ‘the former Czech Republic’, which is fairly entertaining.
Day two started a lot like day one: wet. Thankfully I had Cvlts to brighten the mood, their jammy, slow-burning instrumentals and improvs trickling through the air as I arrived. While still obviously young, the midwest band use youthfulness to their advantage with their willingness to experiment. Creepy Teepee’s aesthetic and social connections with the much-maligned genre witch house seems strong, but Dream Boat were the first obvious WH group of the festival (not counting Thursday’s performance by Drugs For Drunks, who I missed anyway) and as we all know by now, this is not a genre that translates well on a big, outdoor stage. In the daytime. With no fog and minimal lighting. Promoters, please keep your witches in the dark; it just works better. Jef Barbara‘s music doesn’t need any additions: it brings enough light on its own. Emerging on stage in a flashy jacket like some bizzaro Canadian SSION, his queer-positive, French-flavored synthpop made hearts flutter.
I confess that the next half-hour or so is a bit of a blur; someone handed me something, I ate it, everything exploded. You know how it is. Next thing I know I’m inside the merch bar, myself and a crowd of people holding a black parachute over our heads as the air filled with noise and flashing colored lights. Sean later told me that this was Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt, but to me it was pure condensed fun. We ducked out for some air and something greasy and savory, arriving back just in time for the rain to finally stop right as Yacht took the stage. This was a drastically different show from the one I’d seen in 2007, with a full band and Claire Evans taking the forefront as they whipped up a maelstrom of post-punkfunk reminiscent of the days of Delta 5 and Bush Tetras. It was almost an overdose of energy, every song sending basslines down the spine, electrifying minds and hearts.
We thought we couldn’t handle anymore, but this was no time to rest because nugoths Light Asylum were setting up. Black and blue were the colors they showed us, and black and blue is what my arms and legs were after the pummeling I gave them from dancing. The NYC darkwave duo played a short but strong set, Shannon Funchess belting out “Nail me to a cross in a darkened alley” like a sinister combo of Martin Gore and Grace Jones. As the last crystallized synthline faded, everyone headed inside for the afterparty. After the intense mental struggle to survive three different hardcore bands playing essentially the same song, my friend Polina Y and I spun a set of future bass, experimental noise, pounding synthpunk and reworked hip-hop that washed away the violence while still keeping the mood heavy. There was a dude doing his best ‘Jack from SALEM‘ impression; when I dropped ‘Hound’ off King Night he got really excited and shook my hand. It was pretty adorable.
The final day was initially the most relaxed. The rain was a bit lighter now, so myself, my girlfriend and Cory (of the experimental project Kohwi) headed off to see the famous Sedlec Ossuary, which everyone refers to as the Bone Church. On the way we ran into Terror Pigeon at the official festival hotel. He described the Bone Church as being “just okay; not that many bones.“ That guy must be spoiled for bones, living in a bone house and he brushes his teeth with a bone toothbrush and he’s married to bones. I can’t really explain his statement any other way because that church had mad bones in it. We arrived back at the venue just in time for Cory to take the stage. His collection of self-made instruments and electronics arrayed in front of him, he slowly unraveled a steady stream of abstract beats, glitchy chillwave and the occasional burst of altered vocalizing. It was the perfect combination of relaxed semi-improv with just enough dance flavor to keep heads nodding. This energy was soon amped to maximum thanks to The Thermals. It’s not often that I crave the bouncy, singalong pop-punk of my youth, but sometimes you just wanna be 14 again. I didn’t join in the crowd-surfing, though; I was wearing my Zana Bayne harness and I was being a big baby about it getting messed up.
Being an adult is hard work sometimes, but I was able to focus more on the music and less on random elbows and feet passing overhead once Dirty Beaches took the stage. Alex Hungtai brought a drunken energy you don’t always see in one-man bands, his Elvis-meets-Suicide sound taking the teenage vibe from exhuberant to moody in the best way possible. All pretense to emotional apathy vanished when Xiu Xiu set up; people were flipping OUT. I saw a girl next to me crying because she was so happy. I myself was pretty pumped; the last time I saw Xiu Xiu was one of the loudest experiences of my life. As with Yacht, however, the beast was evolved. From pulsing industrial dance to transcendent ballads puncuated by rare screams and bursts of noise, Jamie Stewart and Angela Seo left me hanging on the precipice of emotional breakdown and the raw-nerve throb of muscle exhaustion.
After such an intense finish, I couldn’t really handle whatever amateur computer-punk thing was going on inside, so we enjoyed the relative dryness of the outdoor patio until it was announced that there’d be a surprise performance. Remember when I said that Dream Boat would translate better indoors and in the dark? I was right. Illuminated only by a large glass case filled with electronics and lights, the duo layed down blistering tracks of the now-familiar witch house sound combined with a pulsating rave influence. As they finished their set and began DJing (the sped-up Physical Therapy remix making me very happy) memory began to fade into flashes of light and bass. The perfect end to a party that capered merrily between the extreme highs and lows of the emotional/audio spectrum, and one that will be impossible to forget. You can keep your giant festivals with Big Indie Names; give me the rawness of independent weirdness any day.
The Czech Republic is probably not the first place that comes to mind when talking about modern off-kilter music. Yet the unassuming Central European country gave the world one of the most prominent indie labels of late, as well as a festival that attracts the crème of the crop of the Brooklyn-neo-psychedelic-post-witch-anything scenes. It must be said, however, that this is due to the collective efforts of a handful of individuals spearheaded by the brother-sister artist duo Jakub and Anežka Hošek and their fiercely independent AM180 Collective. Their activities span the whole decade and encompass concerts (with gigs by anyone who’s anyone in the contemporary underground indie scene – from Liars through Fucked Up, Xiu Xiu, Xeno & Oaklander and HEALTH), a respected record label AMDiscs with a roster that features Teams, Railcars and Tearist on their roster, curation of the annual Creepy Teepee festival, and running the Prague art gallery Utopia. A less visible but equally important consequence of their tireless activities in the realm of underground music and art is buttressing the local scene and subsequently encouraging others to follow suit.
One such example is the recently established Prague-based imprint alice mange son coeur, run from the bedroom of student Sara Cross. Similarly to AMDiscs, most of its artists hail from the more established hubs of current sonic avant-garde such as the US, thus unwittingly proving that the Cold War divisions between the East and the West no longer matter – at least in music. “I’ve been always interested in music. Last year I spent many hours listening to bands on Last.fm and Soundcloud that had just few followers; and I felt sad about the fact that nobody really cares about their sometimes breathtaking talents,” says Sara in a recent interview. “With some of them I started to talk and we became friends, and the more I knew how much they love making art the more I wished they were appreciated. And one day it just came to my mind – when nobody else does it, then I can do as much as I can to show the music I love to the rest of the world.”
Following the mantra of the current revivalists of post-punk/new-wave/synthwave/acid house and their DIY ethos, the current generation doesn’t waste time pondering and instead pursues their dreams in an instant. Sara’s A&R scouting, faithful to the zeitgeist, heavily relies on social media. The soundclouds, last.fms and myspaces (of yore) constantly provide an ample supply of musicians many of whose ouvre never sees the light of the day apart from a few fortuitous listeners. And what about amsc’s sonic signature? A quick glance at their last.fm page might give a hint of what to expect, with Pictureplane, Xiu Xiu and Former Ghosts ranking high on the list. “I mainly want bands to have some sort of punk attitude. It is hard for me to specifically say the “type” of music, but I mainly have asked and will ask to join performers connected to the experimental noise scene, riot grrrls or witch house,” explains the label boss.
At the moment, the imprint has five projects on its portfolio. Among them is Estonian songstress Spice Mouse, a sort of Baltic Kria Brekkan; noiresque witch-house-inspired project Doe Eyes from Canada; UK lo-fi princess keelher or the haunting noise/wave experimentalists cyndies and Feel Flesh from the US. In spite of the fact that the label launch party only took place in the dingy but divine Final Club on July 2nd in Sara Cross’ home town of Prague, she’s already carved out the visual aesthetics of the imprint as well, commissioning the Boston-based artist Stephanie Piccirilli.
Only time will tell whether alice mange son coeur can make it in the label game. Ultimately, however, they’ve remained faithful to the DIY maxim and gave it a try, and that’s what matters.
Cyndies – I-Scream
Keelher – Cutie Baby
Spice Mouse – Tunde tiivul