Eastern Haze: November 2013

In her monthly report, Lucia Udvardyova tracks the movements in and from the best of the Central and Eastern European sonic underground, distilling the best of her Easterndaze blog.

 

As the weather gradually turns from pretty and sunny to rainy and miserable, the latest happenings in this region are equally dismal. In Hungary, a new party has been established in anticipation of the upcoming elections, due in 2014. The party is called Magyar Hajnal, which means “Hungarian Dawn”. Modelled after the Greek party bearing a very similar name—the Golden Dawn—it was established by the radical wing of the already far right Hungarian party Jobbik. In Slovakia, where I come from, the municipal elections took place over the weekend. Usually these don’t elicit much interest outside the borders of the country, but this time the alarming success of an extremist candidate, a high school teacher who you could see walking around in a replica black uniform of the Slovak WWII-era Nazi puppet state, means it has to. A friend of mine from Bulgaria tells me about the omnipresent protests in her country, which have become almost invisible for the powers-that-be sat in their ivory towers while the rest of the country survives on two hundred euros a month salaries. Amid all this doom and gloom which, perhaps, we’ve become so used to that it doesn’t really shock us anymore, music gets produced, art gets created, books are written. The correlation between external forces and the creation of art are of not straightforward, particularly in these global times when artists tend to, or want to, be inspired by the global, not local. Nevertheless, this month I have come across the more introspective, solemn and psychotropic.

Bálint Zalkai is one of the integral parts of the fledgling Budapest electronic scene. He co-owns the Farbwechsel label, which is one of the driving forces, alongside Martin Mikolai aka Opal Tapes’ S Olbricht, with whom he also has a vintage house project called SILF. In his solo work under the moniker Alpár, Zalkai favours offbeat compositions, more kraut and kosmische than 4/4. When I asked him about Budapest, he said that the collaborative nature of the producers’ work in the city reminds him of the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, the legendary West Berlin music hub frequented by the likes of Conrad Schnitzler. Alpár will soon release a split album on the German label SicSic Tapes.

 

The London-based Slovak musician Daniel Kordík makes analog electronics. In contrast to the raw and unrelenting nature of his experimental oeuvre released under the Jamka name, his new solo work is perhaps more refined and subtle but equally haunting, which considering its title and place of origin of the sonics, is understandable. [Sy][ria] consists of five compositions primarily revolving around field recordings which he made between April and May 2011 in various locations across Syria, including Damascus, Maaloula, Deir ez-Zur, Aleppo and Hama. “Based on the ongoing events in Syria that would eventually break the country down into pieces, I cut my initial field recordings into small fragments and rearranged them into new compositions. At the end I decided to add two more tracks made on Vostok synthesiser,” says Kordík.

 

Nava Spatiala describe themselves as noisenautics. Much like psychonauts with their mind-altering substances, Nava Spatiala  experiment with mind-altering sonics, delivering a haunting, disembodied world devoid of any hope or solace. The drone-tastic tracks are a journey—both figuratively and literally—ranging from six to eighteen minutes.

 

The new Slovak project .soundscapes has emerged from the vibrant Bratislava techno and underground electronic scene of late. Their new EP Tides of Voltage is hypnotic and drone-y, echoing the likes of Raime, Haxan Cloak or Shackleton. The band’s name is unobtrusive which in a way mirrors the music itself, preferring to blend into the environment rather than stand out, operating within the liminal zones of consciousness. ~

 

You can read previous editions of Eastern Haze here.

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Eastern Haze: October 2013

In her monthly report, Lucia Udvardyova tracks the movements in and from the best of the Central and Eastern European sonic underground, distilling the best of her Easterndaze blog.

 

I’m freshly returned from another Central European trek—literally, since I’ve coincidentally hung out with my friends who played a couple of gigs in the ex-Austro-Hungarian empire. I’m using this rather anachronistic imperialistic expression deliberately since Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava are just soaked in monarchist nostalgia, each in their own way. Touring with a band is great, even if the band in question doesn’t indulge in too much Spinal Tap-style debauchery. The on-the-road camaraderie—cemented by gallons of beer, incessant travelling, random half-naked backstage dancing, sleeping at various random places which range from the club you’ve just played at to small town snobby hotels—is surely a godsend for any band. My role largely revolved around taking crappy compact camera photos or moaning because I got sick.

Imre Kiss, mentioned in the previous installment of the column, is a Hungarian producer who’s lived in London and now, presumably, Budapest and one of the rising stars of the Farbwechsel label. His dreamlike compositions are mellow, coated in a characteristically lo-fi haze and range from ambient to house. The remixes of his new record Midnight Wave have been provided, fittingly, by Best Available Technology.

 

 

Hot on the heels of mentioning the remix in Eastern Haze’s September dispatch comes the full-length from the Romanian duo Somnoroase Pasarele. Writing about music is like dancing about architecture, apparently, so we might as well be inane here: “All around, musical dunes for Fata Morgana, Yeti in a chairlift, Sisyphus pushing Prometheus in a convertible, Gili does ‘pataphysics technoulipo for the gymnastics of heavenly bodies in the sky and other macrotonal didascalia that remain to be demonstrated”. A wonderfully apt description courtesy of Bandcamp. You can listen to the full album below:

 

 

The nineties are a terra incognita when it comes to Eastern Europe and electronic music—not that it’s much different now. The post-communist, so-called “transition” period, hasn’t been documented so well, relegated largely to fleeting oral histories hampered by temporary drug-induced amnesia. Porridge Bullet is a label, based in Estonia, oriented towards releasing noteworthy electronic and dance music from this Baltic country, including the likes of Maria Minerva. One of their latest remarkable releases, which also contains a remix by Hieroglyphic Being, is an unearthed nineties gem: an Estonian techno project called Hypnosaurus. “The picture on the 12-inch B-side is actually taken at the party attended by the late and great John Peel. Visiting Tallinn thanks to a BBC World Service happening, he came to check out some Estonian underground acts. It was the third live performance of Hypnosaurus,” says Siim Nestor of Porridge Bullet.  You can read the whole interview with the label owners here. ~

 

 

You can read previous editions of Eastern Haze here

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Eastern Haze: June 2013

In her monthly report, Lucia Udvardyova tracks the movements in and from the best of the Central and Eastern European sonic underground, distilling the best of her Easterndaze blog.

Another month has flown by, with yet more Central European happenings to report. As I write this, we’ve been hit by floods in Prague, but despite the rather cataclysmic images and media scaremongering, it hasn’t actually reached the momentum of 2002 when half of the city was swimming in water. Still, the hundred-tower town had frantically prepared itself for the potential apocalypse, which has best been experienced through nocturnal trips to streets hidden under water and cloaked in an omnipresent fog, police sirens providing the soundtrack—as well some other sounds, of course. Speaking of which…

Alley Catss is a precocious Hungarian producer whose countless activities makes me feel uncomfortably lazy—particularly as I’m twice his age. His portfolio includes running a label, graphic design work, various musical projects and school, of course. His latest endeavour, Withdwr, sees him embrace a more experimental guise and also proves that these days music production has truly become an ageless experience, a thing-in-itself, which can be made from anywhere, by (almost) anyone.

Another Hungarian producer, the Budapest-based S Olbricht has a new tape on Opal Tapes. A soon-to-be graduate of the Faculty of Music and Arts in Pécs in southern Hungary, he has a diverse musical stamp, which ranges from the experimental to straight 4/4. One of the most active personalities on the Budapest underground scene, he also co-runs the Farbwechsel imprint. Check out the video for his track off the Opal Tapes release and his label’s latest venture, the new album by the improv project 12z.

Střed Světa is a mysterious Czech producer, the archetypal genius who prefers to create his extraterrestrial compositions away from the spotlight and in his own mind and way. His eponymous debut release appeared earlier this year on Baba Vanga (full disclosure: I’m affiliated but the music is simply too good to omit); a psychedelic journey through recontextualisations of his last decade’s ouvre. The upcoming reinterpretations of the tape’s material retained the original material’s potency, with the likes of Basic House or the aforementioned S Olbricht.

Sangoplasmo has become one of the most important Central and Eastern European imprints, releasing predominantly Polish experimental electronic artists, as well as a few foreign ones such as Felicia Atkinson or Ensemble Economique. Their next release is a lush droney number by a mysterious project called DWUTYSIĘCZNY. Keep your ear to the ground. ~

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24 hours in Budapest: Zsuzsanna Bende (part three 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 third of a six-part series. Read the second part here, the fourth part hereAll 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.~

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24 hours in Budapest: Gábor Csabai (part two 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 second of a six-part series. Read our first part here, and the third hereAll photos by Rosalia Kullick.

Gábor Csabai, the godfather of Hungary’s independent radio community, continues to be a key figure in Budapest’s musical underground. 

 

12:00pm: Meeting Gábor Csabai AKA ‘Papo’ at Rádió Tilos Headquarters

The term tilos means “forbidden” in Hungarian, so Tilos Rádió literally means “forbidden radio”. Perhaps you’ve read the famous children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh and you remember Piglet’s house inside the beech tree? The tree has a wooden sign nailed to it that reads: “Trespassers w…”—some of the letters are missing but I could imagine that the original sign read, “Trespassers will be shot”. The famous Budapest underground pub Tilos az Á had named itself after that sign and was the station’s first location. When we started our program on August 21, 1991, we named it after that pub.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Hungarian government promised to give out radio frequencies to free radio stations. In reality the situation was slightly more chaotic because during the transitional period founding a radio station like Tilos was still consid- ered illegal. However, the owner of the pub was fearless; the guy had a lot of experience running an offshore pirate station in the Netherlands, which would send its signal from just beyond the fifteen-mile boundary into the country. What’s more, in the pub a young DJ named Zsolt Palotai had already earned a reputation for spinning the strangest and most obscure music to date. He soon became DJ Palotai and Tilos’ first musical director and editor. With his stunning mixes he informed a whole generation of young Hungarians, feeding into the creative mood that flourished in Budapest. Besides that, I would consider the Tilos az Á the first “ruin” bar in Budapest, which is pretty forward thinking, as well.

In its infancy, Tilos Rádió had to broadcast from a variety of different locations in order to outrun the authorities. I remember moderating a radio show from the rooftop of a building, the top of a ten-story tenement and even outside from the top of a hill. In hindsight I’m sure the authorities could have ended this cat-and-mouse game pretty quickly if they wanted to—after all, they were well equipped with detection equipment and experience. Still, you got the impression that the situation was somewhat ambivalent. Maybe they just had to report that they were trying to get us? I know from various sources that at least some of the people who were chasing us were actually enjoying our program! However, we were always careful and would always monitor their communication, as well. That’s how we remained secret.

Compared to the romantic and adventurous start-up days, we’re now facing serious threats by the government to destroy the genuine community radio stations such as Tilos. Establishing a quota that obliges us to play fifty percent Hungarian music in our program is nothing but a bad joke. I mean, how are we supposed to fulfill the quota from only a handful of Hungarian albums when we are doing, say, one of our regular reggae programs? Even worse is the newly implemented obligation to provide a daily news service which forces us to build up an entirely new editorial department, something which places great strain on a listener-supported station. The final insult is that religious radio stations—as well as certain commercial ones—are suddenly being assigned “community radio” status just like us, which is of great concern. It’s an affront to what we do because the European Union clearly defines community radio as non-commercial and volunteer based. It renders the intention of Hungary’s new media act painfully clear: by means of bureaucratic bullying they are trying to turn politically neutral and independent institutions like Tilos Rádió into conformist entities. Yet we refuse to be intimidated and have developed our own responses so we can meet them head on. For instance, we now claim Hungarian “authorship” for skillful DJ mixes to meet the quota, in the same way you could say that Kruder & Dorfmeister’s DJ Kicks album, which curates tracks from international artists, was a genuinely “Viennese” DJ statement. Of course the struggle continues but one thing is certain: we will never give up.~

 

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