Photo taken in Budapest by Marci Kristof
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.
A diary is a memory device, a personal narrative of a present that has irrevocably become the past. A deeply personal expression that usually remains private, a self-reflexive reminiscence of the development of the self. An audio diary shifts the rather self-centred nature of a written account into a more communal experience, or rather, diverts the attention onto others, or the environment. Captured by the recorder (“directed” by the one who is holding it) it selects aural situations and sounds that create a sort of sonic play. “In the first few minutes we just started to record noises, we continued by capturing audio phenomena using other sound equipment. We were brainstorming about the possible follow-ups and an overall conception,” says Marci Kristof of the 12z collective about his Budapest audio mixtape. “Also, we got stuck in conversations about the past and future of music, then we went out to different places in Budapest and met a lot of people.”
Lutto Lento is one of the most active figures on the Polish underground scene, running his acclaimed Sangoplasmo label for several years now, with the likes of Ensemble Economique, Aranos or Burial Hex under its belt. His own musical output increasingly focuses on—in contrast to his label—dancefloor friendly material, though of a cerebral rather than functionalist nature. The 4/4 tempo is injected with mangled samples and enough strangeness to suggest a sound emanating from speakers placed in a bucket full of lysergic acid.
And this brings us nicely to Piotr Kurek, with whom Lubomir Grzelak—Lutto Lento—is currently on European tour. Kurek doesn’t need to prove much more with his artistic creations, his acclaimed album Heat has appeared on Foxy Digitalis and he remains one of the most noteworthy characters of contemporary Polish music scene, with his idiosyncratic sound signature which varies from odd to the apparently more “customary”. His latest sonic incarnation is called ABRADA.
Triple Sun is a relatively new addition to the sprawling Bratislava electronic music scene, whose vibrancy is confirmed in release after release. When I attended a local festival in February, which featured approximately 16 (!) local live acts, mostly inaccessible to the “untrained” ear. Triple Sun is one of the staples of this community, its members being active in various outfits and collectives. Their latest release Overture is out now on the recently established Forum Absurdum label, associated with the haven of Bratislava’s underground scene, the Fuga club, located in an old industrial complex encircled by signs of merciless urban development. ~
In this special edition of our monthly column on the Central and Eastern European underground, Agata Pyzik—Polish cultural writer and author of the forthcoming book Poor But Sexy: Culture Clashes in Europe East and West—identifies some of the most intriguing artists currently operating in her home country.
There’s no doubt the Polish experimental music scene has recently become increasingly recognizable in the West, something partly due to the profuse promotion on the side of our official cultural institutions. Between one festival and the other, it may be hard to get one’s bearings. This edition of Eastern Haze is a personal choice of several contemporary acts that, despite being completely different in style, represent some of the most unique elements of what this scene has to offer. Also, on purpose, we’ll avoid focusing wholly on the capital, Warsaw—each act comes from a different Polish city.
1. Synthpunk-pop cold-wave revival heroes: Super Girl & Romantic Boys
Super Girl & Romantic Boys can boldly claim to be the most unlucky Polish group of the last decade or more. Only last year did they finally release material which had been recording in late nineties/early 2000s, which had been shelved due to an unfair contract. They formed in 1998 after a few years of participating in various punks squats and groups around Poland. The leader and composer Kostek Usenko founded his first band, The Leszczers, at the age of eleven. Coming from an interesting three-quarters Russian background, but growing up in Poland, he always kept one leg in a different country, and is familiar with punk scenes of both Leningrad and Warsaw. Yet the music of SGRB, though showing the influences of Neue Deutsche Welle, anglophone synthpop and cold wave, is definitely Polish in spirit. Their sound is chiefly inspired by the heroes of Polish eighties electronic music—Marek Bilinski, Romuald Lipko, or Andrzej Korzynski—recently popular due to Finders Keepers re-releases.
While decidedly electronic in sound, their lyrics are less arch or obscure than the synthpop norm—usually a gritty, daily realism, more suitable for punk/post-punk bands like Magazine or even Prefab Sprout or the Smiths, full of stories about broken relationships or psychogeographic drifting through a misty, grey Warsaw. There’s also a good deal of social critique of the still-fresh-to-capitalism Polish society: aspirational middle classes wanting only new kitchen devices or the propagandistic manipulations of the Polish right wing authorities over historical events. While cold wave/synthpop bands are nearly universally a male affair, where female members could be counted on one hand, SGRB have a gender and emotional balance—vocalist Ewik has equally strong presence as Kostek.
2. Is this music or is it war? BNNT
BNNT is the brainchild of Konrad Smolenski, a visual artist and performer from Poznan, known for his activity in experimental art-music group KOT, or in countless music projects (such as NGNP, Sixa, Radar, Kristen, or the hip-hop act Czykita). Here, he ‘plays’ his self-constructed instrument—a Gagarin era missile-shaped rocket with hidden strings, a home-cobbled guitar-machine. With his partner on drums, they create a curious mayhem—rarely do you see an audience so obviously ill at ease as during their concerts. Some music journalists dismiss it, as to them ‘this is not really music anymore’ – they see it as artistic curiosity, without proper knowledge of music. Yet BNNT obviously figured it out musically: the frantic drumming is structured and so is Konrad’s missile-playing. Yet it’s all about presence and performance. Their music may appear macho and hooligan on the surface (two menacing, half-naked men in a tribal get-up, wearing balaclavas), but the actual sound has more to do with punk/hardcore/mathrock DC bands, from Don Caballero to Shudder to Think. Some also draw comparisons to Lightning Bolt. Their apparent facelessness (Konrad wears a woven ‘totem’ of cassette tapes on his face) and anonymity holds a paradox—this increases their visibility. The gigs, hosted both in galleries and music venues last from fifteen minutes to over a hour, and in general, remain wildly unpredictable.
3. Slavonic forest’s positive cliché: Stara Rzeka
Photo by Marcin Szymczak
I’m in two minds about Stara Rzeka (translates as ‘old river’). On one hand, he’s the Polish musician to have caused the greatest furore on the anglophone portals in the last year. On the other, the usual comparisons he gets—to drone, to experimental metal—may indicate he owes this popularity to some misunderstanding.
Multi-instrumentalist Kuba Ziolek (he also appears in bands like Alameda, Hokei ad T’ien Lai), residing in the city of Bydgoszcz (and sometimes in a desolate village in Tuchola Forest, a vast national park in northern Poland) proves that with today’s globalism, even the most geographically obscure music can become quite universal. Its appeal is its great intensity. Ziolek is extremely serious in what he’s doing and doesn’t really fit any of the clichés he’s being put into. It’s neither avant-metal, nor is it folk, even if the folksy cut-out on the tin box of his record has a skull in the middle, suggesting both. It’s more a curious, noise-driven take on prog rock, akin to Robert Fripp’s guitar-driven Frippertronics or the morbidity of Nico’s solo albums. Intense guitar riffs suggest the vastness of nature, and in his lyrics Ziolek even quotes Heidegger and Nietzsche on the ‘sublime’. Live performances prove the constructed nature of this music—Ziolek plays guitar and synth, splicing everything together in real time with the help of a heap of effects pedals. ~
Big news for festival fans of a more left-field persuasion. We can exclusively announce that the LittleBig Agency is taking over a stage at Tauron Nowa Muzyka, the award-winning music festival located in a disused coal mine in Katowice. As you might expect, the agency has curated a head-popping line-up which is led by pioneering ’90s electronic act LFO—now wholly Mark Bell’s project—who’s been coaxed out of seclusion to perform a set accompanied by, what promises to be, some truly impressive visuals. He’ll be flanked by the always divisive purveyor of anguished sonics Venetian Snares and EB’s favorite avant-techno composer Holly Herndon. Completing the the lineup are JETS, the always fun collaborative project of Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar, Dawn Day Night, and LittleBig artist Jon Hopkins, whose 2013 album Immunity has surely seen him book his place in the year end lists.
The festival takes place across August 22-25th in Katowice, part of the Upper Silesia Region of Poland. Other highlights include showcases from Numbers and Kompakt, Zebra Katz, Skream, Thundercat, London Grammar and Vladislav Delay. Find out more, including the full bill and set times, by heading to their website here. For tickets, including one-day, two-day and three-day tickets and travel packages head here.
UPDATE: This competition is now closed.
Poland’s festival scene seems to be leading the charge when it comes to interesting electronic music line-ups, and we’re not just saying that because the EB Festival is apt to make the odd trip across the border. One of the hottest European tickets for summer 2013 is Tauron Nowa Muzyka, a small festival with a pioneering attitude to electronic music. Taking place across August 22-25th in a disused coal mine in Katowice, part of the Upper Silesia Region of Poland, it boasts a number of mouthwatering prospects for your not-so-average discerning music fan. Our picks include a Numbers label showcase with Jackmaster, SOPHIE, Redinho, Deadboy and special guest Syrian star Omar Souleyman, a 20th Anniversary showcase from the evergreen German label Kompakt, plus those who like their music perched on the cutting edge might want to look up the new band on the up London Grammar, brush up their vogue moves for Zebra Katz and Njena Reddd Foxxx, feel the burn with heavy dub techno upstart Darling Farah or get cerebral with RVNG International’s Holly Herndon. Other artists on the diverse bill include Vladislav Delay, LFO, Venetian Snares, Squarepusher, JETS (that’s Jimmy Edgar and Travis Stewart’s collaborative baby), Jon Hopkins, Adrian Sherwood and Darkstar.
We wouldn’t talk all this up without giving you an opportunity to attend for free, so we’re giving away one pair of tickets for Friday and Saturday, which is when the main part of the festival takes place, plus camping. Travel, however, is not included.
All you have to do is sign up to our newsletter before 11:59 CET on Sunday July 14th—don’t forget to write “TNM” in the Festival field below so we know you want to be considered for this competition. We’ll notify the winner by email the next day.
Photo by Radoslaw Kazmierczak
Eva and Philipp Milner are the sibling duo from Hamburg called Hundreds. Philipp plays piano, computer, synths, and contributes backing vocals while Eva sings and plays autoharp and percussion. Together they create evocative, song-based music with electronics, creating a hybrid of emotive pop and sleek technology. You can download their free EP Under the Icicles here, and catch them live at our festival in Poznań supporting Dizzee Rascal, A-Trak, and Modeselektor. We asked them ten questions, which Eva kindly answered for us.
Your most memorable show?
That was actually at Kulturalna, Warsaw, November 2011. It was in the middle of a six-week tour and brought the power back to all of us. 30 minutes before we started, the club was empty, but then all of a sudden 100 people showed up. And sold it out. The audience was very excited. I couldn’t dance as much as I wanted to on the small stage, so I jumped into the crowd and they started dancing wildly with me. Philipp was alone on stage and played a kind of rave part, he was smiling the whole time. The people screamed at him and gave him props for making them dance so hard.
If you were still in high school, which clique would you belong to?
I think I still would belong to the nerds. But I wouldn’t be unhappy about it. After school ended, I found out that being an outsider is much better for your personal development than being popular. Teenagers are cruel, but you learn a lot while struggling.
What’s your spirit animal?
Horse, because of the meat scandal.
Should music be free?
No. End of story.
What’s one important lesson you learned from your parents?
That love makes the difference.
Latest find on Soundcloud or Bandcamp?
Miss Kenichi, she is a great singer-songwriter from Berlin, sounds a tiny bit like the early PJ Harvey. I really like her way of singing and the darkness in her songs. I love “River”—the lyrics, the choir and the roughness.
Name three essential artists and what makes them essential.
Björk—for writing and singing the unsingable.
Fiona Apple—for grooving like a beast.
Radiohead—for being the best band in the world, especially live.
Your current favorite song and what you like about it?
It’s a song from 2004 on the unreleased version of Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple. The song has the same title. I really like the lyrics, her way of spitting the words. While we are working on our new album, I do a lot of ad-libbing and this song is one of my favorites to sing along and improvise.
“If there was a better way to go then it would find me
I can’t help it, the road just rolls out behind me
Be kind to me, or treat me mean
I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine”
Tell us something nobody else knows about you.
I peed in that elevator, when I was five.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
Maybe I would work on a tomato farm in the south. Or I would be a dog breeder.~