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“After the success I wanted to erase everything, I will always be the Rat King.” Vojtík on his work, the periphery and the mainstream.

Published April, 2024
by Easterndaze

He discovered his musical role models on TV Očko when he was thirteen years old. He grew up listening to alternative pop by Ethel Cain and Lana del Rey, and developed his own musical expression in the folklore ensemble Romka. We spoke to Vojtík – last year’s musical discovery from Detva – about the unlikely transcultural connections, the gendered looseness of Romani folklore, and the dirty aesthetic of homegrown pop at the intersection of mainstream and underground.

After the launch of your track “Detviansky sen” (Detvian Dream) in May this year, a lot of people saw you as a miracle that came from an unlikely place. Why didn’t we imagine someone like you until now? 

It’s probably because most of the time people like me don’t feature in our media. There are plenty of them in Slovakia, but as long as the media shows us in that parody portrayal, you don’t see us as real people. We definitely lack representation. I don’t know if I am bringing it correctly, but I am bringing it.

Czech music journalist Miloš Hroch defined your work as bedroom pop, a term that mainly describes the intimate atmosphere of the music and a certain DIY aesthetic. The intimacy of sound and lyrical confessions is also related to the production side of music in an era when wide groups of people have access to quality recording. Are young creators and filmmakers currently in a good position in terms of access to technical equipment and presentation on streaming platforms? 

They certainly do. In the pre-Internet era, musicians had to go through a lot of things and be edited by a lot of people to be able to record something. But now that anyone can buy a microphone and record themselves, like I did, it’s much easier. I come from such a background myself that it had to be DIY. Anything is possible if you really want to. At least in this day and age, as far as music is concerned.

Have streaming platforms and Instagram helped your visibility? 

They have helped, although I’m rather old-fashioned when it comes to social media. I like my privacy, which is why I don’t post a lot on Instagram. Sometimes that’s a negative thing, according to my manager, because people have been conditioned to think that when someone starts making music, their Instagram is going to be the available place to share and connect. For me, it definitely was and is that way, but not to such a large extent. If a person wants to get to know and understand me, it’s definitely not through social media, it’s through my music.

This probably also has to do with the intimacy of the songs…

I like to work with intimacy, but I don’t like to show it. A lot of the songs were difficult for me to release at first because they are very personal things that I don’t want other people to hear. I was wondering if I should put it out. Then someone always had to talk me into posting something. And now here we are, and I’m singing them on the stage. So it’s hard to tell. The intimate approach has a very positive effect on my work because my aesthetic is all so domestic, so real, it doesn’t have that glamour behind it. My music shows dirt, poverty and themes that are very intimate and private.

Speaking of bedroom pop… you’ve gotten a lot of support from the Slovak underground scene, you’ve sung with bands like Berlin Manson, Shallov and Fotbal. Is the alternative scene and the underground where you feel at home, or do you aspire more to the mainstream (pop) music world? 

To be honest, I’ve always aspired to be more or less mainstream. Genre-wise, I fit in quite well there too. But after Detviansky Dream came out and I felt a tiny bit of a sense of being popular, I immediately stopped liking it. I wanted to erase everything. I started to tell myself that no, I don’t want it, but then other people changed my mind.

The underground scene probably understands my lyrics more, they understand me more as a musician and a person. I feel a lot better among them than, say, those mainstream pop artists who are used to people constantly looking up to them and then expecting it from everyone. And I’m just not like that, it’s just not my space. A lot of times there’s been some controversy, and I’ve only been musically active for a little while.

So I can promise that I will always remain the Rat King.

You consider Lana del Rey and Marina Diamandis to be some of your role models or influences, characterized by, among other things, a kind of nostalgic and shabby sheen. Something similar can be felt on your track Detviansky sen too- an atmosphere of nostalgia for something vaguely lost. It’s strange, but with this atmosphere of loss and sadness comes something comforting. Did you create Detviansky sen with the intention that it would have a therapeutic effect? 

I made Detviansky sen as therapy for me, because of who I am and the region I grew up in. I really didn’t expect how many people it would resonate with, but at the same time, I’m freaking out and I don’t know what to do about it. All that music reflects my story and is more or less for me.

And do you think of others when you do it? 

It’s still going to be about me. That’s how I understand all art – as an expression of the individual. I like to write not only about myself, but my work draws only from my experiences. It would be hard for me to create with the idea that I’m writing about someone else. I know there is a dimension of inspiration for others (after all, I am inspired too), but I try to ignore that. If I didn’t ignore it, my work would suddenly change and it would probably be something completely different.

On your YouTube channel we can also find a great cover of Lana del Rey’s TV in Black & White, which you even sing in your own version in Slovak. TV in Black & White is one of the songs that Lana recorded under a different name in 2011 and which were never officially released. They were leaked to the public in 2013 and to this day it’s still not easy to track them down. In what ways does this period of hers speak to you? Are you also hiding any work from the public? 

I hide a lot of things. But I also plan to gradually reveal them… 

In 2013, when I was ten years old, I listened to Lana mainly on Óčko (Óčko TV). The song Video Games was very popular then. And then later, when I was fifteen, I discovered this whole subculture – Tumblr, unreleased tracks… and that’s when I got into it. My whole aesthetic is inspired by Tumblr from 2015. That’s where I stumbled upon Ethel Cain and TV in Black & White, and it’s been one of my favorite Lana tracks ever since. I’ve always wanted to do this cover. I actually did the original version of it when I was about fifteen, but then I deleted it. It was bad. I ended up rewriting the whole thing in Slovak. The theme of hidden love really resonated with me.

The song TV in Black & White is about hiding, about a secret relationship. You put this hiding into a queer context in your translation into Slovak. We are interested to know if Slovak is the language for you in which you can articulate what you need to articulate. You have already sung songs in English at a concert in Tabačka in Košice.

I wrote my first lyrics in English when I was thirteen. Thirteen and fifteen were my breakthrough years – cursed years, you could say. At fifteen I started writing in Slovak. If you ask young people if they listen to contemporary Slovak music, they will never tell you that they do. I think it’s just because Slovak is sonorous in the older stuff, like [Slovak pop singer] Žbirka and stuff like that. But when you move it into newer works, it doesn’t translate that articulation and it doesn’t fit into the contemporary language. At least that’s my feeling. And what I liked about Slovak is the fiddling with it. I would say I’m a bit of a minor Shakespeare – I make up a lot of words, I soften existing words and change the articulation completely. Some people get the impression that I can’t articulate, which may be partly true, but mostly it’s intentional. 

You often use national symbols in the visuals for your music – at concerts you wrap yourself in the Slovak flag and before concerts you invite the audience to bring their own. On the album cover you wear a DETVA jersey. It’s ironic and nice, but you can also feel the commitment. Don’t you ever have a desire to break free from these frames of patriotic engagement? 

To be honest, I love Slovakia, but I absolutely love [a town in central Slovakia] Detva. This is my city. A lot of people, because of the Detviansky sen, think that I want to run away from Detva, that I don’t feel comfortable there, but Detva for me is the place where I want to die and be buried, where I want to have a family and grow old. In Detva everything was created and probably everything will end. I want to travel a lot and create in other languages, but I would never want to leave the place where I was born even in that linguistic context.  

Although you have a new EP out at the moment, you also have some very notable older songs that predate Detviansky sen. KRV (BLOOD), for example, which carries themes of heredity and lineage, quite overtly from a queer perspective and to intense effect: “I don’t want to tarnish the dust of our family tree” , “Mommy are you here? Daddy are you here? You’re still ashamed when you see the boys blooming near me.” In the song RAT KINGZ, which is part of the new EP Kvety Podpoľania (Flowers of Podpoľania), we again find the words “Exiled children of Podpoľania, we are looking for a home in the arms of strangers.” Are these lyrics about the importance of “chosen family” in the lives of queer people? 

I am very privileged in the kind of family I have. The KRV song was written from poems I wrote when I was thirteen. I then somehow frankenstained those poems and wrote the chorus. The whole song comes from such a childlike, broken perspective, because I felt like my parents weren’t ok with the way I was, even though it later turned out that they were.
These later lyrics like RAT KINGZ are about that “other” family, the chosen one, my group of friends. We were extremely trashy. And even though I really liked that vibe, it was too toxic. It was directly linked to various narcotics and it was all very negative. I left that group, but it was my youth.

You have often mentioned the American singer Ethel Cain as an important inspiration. You placed a motto in the video clip of Detviansky sen in the form of an excerpt from her song American Teenager, which is key to how Detviansky sen reads, and also refers us to her video clip for that song, which uses similar VHS effects and locations (an empty playground) as Detviansky sen. Ethel Cain hails from Alabama, USA, and her themes tend to be related to Southern Gothic, which typically concerns poverty and intergenerational trauma. Not to draw overly simplistic parallels, but many former slave states in the American South and the contemporary Slovakian periphery may be linked by a paradoxical combination of poverty and dominant ethnic and gender identity – in the sense that those who don’t have much themselves relate intensely to at least being white and heteronormative. Also, do you think there are any similarities between central Slovakia and rural America? Despite the Detviansky sen, do you see hope for Detva? 

When I discovered Ethel Cain, something woke up in me. I cried with every song, which had never happened to me before. It shocked my whole body. It was the exact music that made me say to myself: this is what she wrote about me! She speaks of the conservative America she grew up in, and it’s very similar to small towns and villages in Slovakia.

I certainly feel hope for Detva. Mainly because of the internet and the fact that we are all becoming more connected because of it. My parents and grandparents, before the internet, many times didn’t have that opportunity to see anything more than poverty and generational unhappiness. And in both cases, I think the dysfunctional state is to blame. Even with Ethel Cain, even in my context. And that’s why I’m so passionate about Ethel Cain.

Your grandmother Marie Oláhová runs the Romka folklore ensemble, your mother is active in it, and you’ve been through it too. Was folklore important to you in your search for expression? 

Folklore has been extremely important. It’s where I learned to sing, to do vocal harmonies, it’s where I learned to dance, to have some rhythm in my body, and overall the Romani culture inspired me to do my own work.

Jakub Spevák, now a well-known Slovak ballroom dancer and writer, was also a long time devotee of folkloric dance. In an interview with Denník N, where he also mentions how he met you at QueerTime in Banská Bystrica, he explains the reasons why he quit folklore. Specifically, he wrote that although he loved folklore, he could no longer represent “the ideas that are sown in it”, i.e. heteronormativity and a certain notion of masculinity. Is folklore performance still possible for you? Do you think folklore can be queer too? 

I am a particular case because I found my queer identity in that Roma culture. Ever since I was about four years old I didn’t want to be around boys, I always wanted to be with girls. I put on a traditional Roma skirt, I put on glitter, a scarf, and I always danced with the girls. Of course, when I got older, I switched to boys, but that Roma culture is why I’m so open about my identity and I’m okay with it.

My dream is to start a place for queer Roma youth and people like me. I would like to one day become the leader of the Romka ensemble after my mother, I would be very happy.

Can you imagine getting rid of folklore from its thematic anchoring in the past and bringing in themes that today’s generation is raising? 

All these folk cultures that originated in the context of the Christian religion are different from our Romani one, which comes from India. The difference is that femininity and masculinity, as far as the Roma are concerned, is less clarified in our culture. Even though the Roma are now often strongly religious Christians, you can still feel that gender ambiguity in Roma culture. This makes the Roma traditional culture much freer for me, and therefore you can insert those questions of identity there. Your folk culture is really strict.

You’ve been performing at queer and drag events for a long time in your drag identity Kassandra. Does drag performance differ for you from a singing show, does drag require a different type of performance from you? Does Kassandra also do things that Vojtík wouldn’t do? 

Kassandra only does things that Vojtik wouldn’t do. I invented the whole Kassandra thing with the idea of doing the complete opposite of who I am. Kassandra is more or less that stereotype of a Roma woman. A kind of degenerate. I’m doing drag again just for myself, for my own fun. I have this specific humor that I have a hard time incorporating into my music. That’s why Kassandra was created, which is an expression of that humour. I love bringing it out, but sometimes people don’t get it. 

Let it stay where it is.

You’ve had to talk a lot lately about your identity, relationships and roots. Do you feel the burden of having to represent the voice of two minorities to the public in some capacity? How do you guard your autonomy? 

I feel it, but I try to ignore it. Representing two minorities that are so hated is a big responsibility. I try not to think about it. The Detviansky sen had no queer intention or Roma intention. It was about showing who I am and how I live. All my work is like that. I try not to be like I represent everybody. It’s difficult.

What do you think about the current state of queer art in Slovakia and its threat in the context of contemporary society and government? 

I was pleasantly surprised and didn’t expect the Detviansky sen to explode like this, just because queer art has always been very much swept under the carpet. I am a sign that queer people and art can work and take hold in Slovakia. I hope that the Detviansky sen has pushed that idea forward.

It’s probably the case that queer art exists in spite of the state, not because of it, so political power can’t completely eliminate it even by stopping financial support. 

It doesn’t matter anymore. I’ll always be here.

TEXT: Dominika Moravčíková | Laura Kristína Priatková

PIC Andrea Bláhová | Karina Golisová | Dora Jedináková, Vojtík’s archive

This article is brought to you as part of the EM GUIDE project – an initiative dedicated to empowering independent music magazines and strengthen the underground music scene in Europe. Read more about the project at

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.