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Anti-music: the Czech and Slovak Bandzone scene

Published November, 2013
by Easterndaze

The internet made it possible for every user to distribute his or hers music in quite a democratic way, while the development of mobile phones, computers and all of those cross-overs made it possible for everyone to make his or hers own musical recording – even if it’s recorded with poor microphones on a cellphone by someone who doesn’t know shit about music. Take these two things together, and what you have is a sort of minor music revolution.

In Czech Republic and Slovakia, the situation was quite specific. Of course, the music scene began to spread via MySpace, as in the rest of the world, but soon it found its home on the new Czech server (founded in 2006), which was much more user and community-friendly compared to its big American brother. Soon it gained popularity spawning a new wave of young Czech and Slovak anti-musicians.

This area of music has very few fans – more people are interested in playing such music than listening to it. It hasn’t got a common name – the small number of fans ensured that nobody is even interested in naming it. It’s partly because what we are talking about is not a new musical genre, but rather a sort of scene, or new attitude to producing music and delivering it to the audience. Anyway, the term “abandoned music” (aka music where the creator does not care whether anybody will hear it) fits relatively well. Punky, member of such band Ztělesněná zoufalost from Brno, coined a term “New alternative” (in sense of “alternative for what has been considered to be alternative”) for it. When I refer to such music, I use the terms “sub-underground” or “anti-music” or “dark side of the music”.

Nobody wants to listen to such music – it is quite difficult to endure the low-fidelity recordings of some random youngsters just having fun, and if you want to start, you will have to dig through lots of junk to find some real gems. But even at its weaker points, such music has some indisputable qualities. First: it is often purely experimental from the creator’s point of view – he or she does not play the instrument or the music, but rather is playing with it and is trying, what he or she can make of it. Second: it mostly avoids clichés and remains unpredictable, and in most cases also unrepeatable – the work of the moment. Third: it is an absolutely authentic and genuine artistic expression, created only for the joy of creation, and nothing else.

This does not mean, that such music can be created only by complete musical diletantes – in fact, lot of people creating it are musicians, they can play their instruments at least on some basic level, they also play in more “serious” bands, and these are their side projects made only for fun. A very good example could be the band Zle (=Bad) from Topoľčany, Slovakia which consists of skilled musicians (one of them even runs a professional recording studio), whose aim is to play bad. They use old and broken music instruments, mostly out of tune, and their album was recorded in a forest cabin on a cellphone, and the result is authentically amateurish.

Depressive Directions

There are also musicians, who play this style of music who take it
relatively seriously, and they even do some live gigs for friends or sell their CDs. One of the most interesting examples is Depressive Directions from Prievidza – who consists of two guitarists playing Captain Beefheart feat. Jandek-like riffs on heavily undertuned guitars, and one inimitable vocalist, who is reading the lyrics (not singing) and has an obvious difficulty with pronouncing the letter “r”. They have released plenty of albums: while their older recordings sound too raw, their newer ones also contain interesting work with samples, plunderphonics and child-like manually played synth rhythms. However, their only live gig took the place at the summer house in Partizánske with about five friends in the audience.

Particularly interesting in this context is hip-hop – you can find a lot of really young cool gangstaz – about ten years old – and in case you can understand the lyrics, it gets pretty funny, in a comical way, of course. An eight-year-old rapper named CT from Rychnov nad Kněžnou sounds really cool: “I bought myself a beer, it cost almost thirty crowns. This is my end, I don’t play football, I play rap!”. Tracks by the twelve-year-old MC Bunny from Štětí became legendary in some circles: “I am gangster. I destroy the legends and create new ones. I know, this diss hurts you. You are so lame, that you call yourself MC Molly. But I call myself Bunny. Do you know, how to spell it? B-U-N-N-Y, you redneck sucker”.

But not all juvenile hip-hop tracks are funny only in an embarassing way, of course: maybe the biggest hit ever on Bandzone with over 300.000 plays was made by Chlapiksxichtemwlka from Pilsen, called “Plná taška hulení” (The bag full of weed). The thirteen years old boy created the music on a PlayStation music tracker software, recorded it on tape recorder, made edits between verses and choruses by pressing the “pause” button, and talked or “sang” some improvised lyrics over it. The result was unexpectedly catchy, and the song became quite a controversial hit – some people enjoyed the catchy tune, funny lyrics and the genuine lo-fi sound design, however, the more conservative listeners found it amateurish and silly.

In Slovakia, the biggest such success story was achieved without the knowledge of its author. While the recordings of Ladislav Meliško from Prievidza could be considered more in a vein of a “stand-up comedy”, the fans were treating them as if they were music recordings. Somebody secretly recorded their non-stop drunk neighbour, and these recordings then quickly spread through internet and became legendary. The success was not only due to very rude drunk voice uttering the most inventive swear words you will ever hear, while beating his woman, but also, because everything around it was an unintentional secret – nobody knew the name of the author, where he lived or how he looked like nor the source of the recordings. The fans were then disclosing these things by precious, almost detective investigative work. When Meliško found out about his popularity, he got himself a manager, and started performing live.

Nowadays, it happens often that such amateurish recordings go viral – especially those “so bad, that it is in fact good” ones. But most of such creations still remain undiscovered, even though they are much better in terms of artistic quality. One of my personal favourites is the “living-room noise” project Dycky se můžem přejmenovat (=We can still change our name later) from Prague. They make very intense noises only with the use of things they could find in their flat (such as a PC processor cooler, through slamming the door, newspaper or “hitting with iron things”), combined with traditional instruments and then distorted by unintentional digital audio clipping and use of cheap computer microphone.

The aforementioned band Ztělesněná zoufalost actually sounds like a college-folk version of some old Czech alternative band – for example their song “O Marušce” about a legendary Brno buffet (closed since then) reminds of some songs by the Czech freak-folk(lore) legend Dagmar Andrtová-Voňková, while retaining originality. They were also interesting for their use of multi-part harmonies. It is a shame they had some of their best song removed off Bandzone due to limited capacity (the limit used to be 4 songs per profile, it has increased to 50 since then), but I have archived them anyway. Vysušené embryá (Dried Embryos) is freak-folk one-man project from Nová Dubnica city (a city built in 1950’s in socialistic realist style), his songs are very short folk miniatures with one or two-verse lyrics (sometimes the lyrics consists only of one or two words without any repetition) – just what a good folk song needs and nothing more. The Slovak experimental jam-band “Psychodelikum Alkoholikum from Ružomberok can be viewed as another example of really skilled musicians playing only for fun – in fact it sounds close to professional, with great guitar playing, creative use of effects and expressive singer, singing/shouting random articles from magazines – but it is still just a bunch of guys having great fun, and playing weird atonal jams mostly for the sake of playing.

Another experimental one-man project Okamžitý odjezd mixes, in his own words, "unrepeatable” atonal acoustic songs with a manic use of various samples. If you understand Czech, you can also enjoy his intriguing essay on making music by amateurs. “Imagine a little child, who was allowed to play a drum kit at big wedding for a while, while the band was on break” or “To hesitate with making music is a waste of time”. This principle fits well to bands such as Uschlej bažant – an acapella project, where half-randomly sung atonal multi-part vocals are accompanied by hitting on various things. This neo-primitivist approach is quite popular among such bands. A much more extreme version of this genre is represented by the eastern-Slovak band Jebem-Trepem (roughly translatable as “I hit, I bang”, though in Slovak it sounds a bit more extreme), where vocalists are roaring and hitting on various things with full passion.

It looks like the biggest boom of such a music is now over – probably, because is no longer a widely used community server. Five years ago, it used to be an all-purpose social network (similarly to MySpace), today it is used mostly by active musicians, and thus among newly registered bands you can rarely find anything unconventionally sounding. Todays much more successful successor of this musical scene – the so called, “bad youtube pop”, is in most cases much more dull, boring and less creative – and that’s what happens with any scene, if it becomes too mainstream. But it can be temporary: nowadays everybody is a photographer, because Instagram is used as a social network, and not only a photo-sharing service. Thus, we are now waiting for another social-network-like music sharing server, and then you will see things blow up!

by Samčo Brat Dáždoviek (you can listen to an interview with Samčo, who is also a musician, on our Wednesdays radio show on Radio Wave here.)

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