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inside bratislava’s sonics

Published August, 2010
by Easterndaze

RBNX performing live on Listening Lectures in Radost.

Bratislava is an epitome of the historical ruptures that shook the Central and Eastern European region over the course of the last century. The ethnic composition of the city changed drastically in the course of just 30 years between the start of the WW I. and end of the WW II as well as the subsequent communist take-over. Before the wars, the majority of the population was of Hungarian and German origin, the Slovak population making up approximately 15%. After the two world wars, the German population became almost non-existent as did the Jewish one, with the Hungarians becoming an insignificant minority and the Slovaks, moving from rural regions and villages to the city became a 90% majority according to the 1962 census. Although the ethnic and demographic dynamics were much more complicated, with the bi- or tri-lingual population shifting ethnical identities to fit the dominant political discourse, Bratislava became a homogeneous and amnesiac place, a city, that metaphorically exists only for three generations.

Most Slovak electronic music producers are situated in the capital forming a tightly-knit and interconnected group of individuals who are often involved in several different projects. The city’s population of half a million is much smaller than in Prague or Bucharest, yet the size and the involvement of the electronic music community in the Slovak capital easily beats any of these larger cities.

Looking for an explanation, one could possibly come up with several different reasons – Slovakia was closer to the “West” than Bucharest sharing a border with Austria, as well as being influenced by the culture that soaked into the “Ostblok” via Bohemia from Germany, laying a foundation for a context from which the contemporary producers could draw their inspirations. Prague on the other hand, might not be considered a hot-spot for electronic music, but has thriving film, literature and theatre scenes.

Daniel Toth aka ::.: is a member of several Slovak experimental electronics projects such as Poo, 1/x or Angakkut. His affinity for electronic music production was spurred on by his early access to computers and his father’s love of electronics (he built his own synths). Poo is a project of ::.: and Rentip, both of whom have grown up in Bratislava’s large concrete block council estates of Petržalka. Their sound can be ascribed not only to the harshness of the early 90’s post-communist reality, but also to the sounds of the likes of Skinny Puppy, Download, Coil, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. Poo’s first release dates back to 2001. ::.: and Rentip gradually improved and developed their complex, psychedelic and mesmerizing signature sound that peaked with the release of their seminal LP Fluorescent in 2005, out on the Czech-Slovak label 11fingers records. Poo are currently working on a new record, their latest track is Paris Quadrifolia.

Poo – Paris Quadrifolia by Vychodiska @@ Radio Wave

1/x – CHEMOgNoises by Vychodiska @@ Radio Wave

Poo – Emulsion II by Vychodiska @@ Radio Wave

Another project simultaneously active in Bratislava, this time a creative collective composed of four members and their individual projects, is Urbsounds collective, a sonic umbrella for RBNX – a DIY electronica enthusiast, Urbanfailure whose mutant glitch beat-based production owes much to early techno and now London-based Jamka producing arythmical mashups of cut-up beats and bleeps. The roots of Urbsounds go back to early 90’s, with the members of the collective being active in the local punk and metal scenes. A characteristic DIY ethos, community-based approach and a somewhat punk-like attitude is not only a trademark of their sonic explorations, but also of their other activities. Apart from their aforementioned projects, members of Urbsounds are also active as promoters, running Ears Chewing Satisfunction, a series of shows with Slovak and foreign experimentalists that take place in Bratislava. Their last joint output is Mirror EP, composed of four tracks that were started by different members of the collective and subsequently finished by the others.

Urbsounds – Personal Interference by Vychodiska @@ Radio Wave

The strong feeling of community that the experimental electronica producers in Bratislava share was fostered by the annual Next Festival whose first edition took place in 1999. Next is a brainchild of Slávo Krekovič and Oliver Rehák, both of whom run the Bratislava-based NGO Atrakt Art, which apart from organizing the Next Festival, also releases audio compilations and records, publishes a semi-periodic magazine ¾ Revue and is also involved in organizing the Multiplace network culture festival as well as in running the A4 Zero Space – Bratislava’s only contemporary art venue. The last edition of Next Festival, the event’s tenth anniversary, took place in December 2009 boasting names such as Globe Unity Orchestra, Z’ev, Mika Vainio or Bj Nilsen. Slavo and Oliver are also part of the experimental plunderphonics project Voice Over Noise. Also worth checking is their online guide to Slovak experimental/avantgarde music Kraa.

Typical Petržalka landscape

Apart from purely electronic sounds, Bratislava can also offer improv-based acoustic music. The recent years have seen the rise of two important improvisational ensembles that are composed of students of the local music conservatory and other like-minded musicians. Started by the creative personalities of the contemporary composers Marek Piaček and Miro Toth, Musica Falsa et Ficta and Frutti di Mare are loose groups of collective improvisators that push the boundaries of what is accepted as classical music and contemporary composition by local music schools and audiences. Often playing as orchestras without score, but with a conductor, both of the projects create theme-based projects either performing live scores to movies (in a somewhat post-modern deconstructivist way) or take part in performances verging on the edges of socio-critical (a performance built around the life of Štefan Harabin, the controversial Slovak Minister of Justice with close mafia ties) or engage in theatre/opera productions.

Also worth mentioning is the singular production of Marek Piaček. Even though it would be hard to brand him as a  "young producer", his music is still pretty under-the-radar not only within the whole region but also in Slovakia itself. Marek Piaček is one of the few notable Slovak contemporary composers that emerged shortly after the fall of communism. His creative output is a syncretic exchange between the new and the classical, high and the low, a reflection of the typical old-time Bratislava melancholy imbued with an almost ironic playfulness and humour that can be also felt in Piaček’s last symphony “Of All Midi People”. Inspired by the Czech electro-pop band Midi Lidi, Piaček initially decided to reinterpret their music within a context of a symphony – ending up with a different work, that is at once striking, funny and beautiful.

Marek Piaček – Symfonie všech Midi Lidi (movement 4, Dekonstrukce) by Vychodiska @@ Radio Wave

The younger generation of Bratislava’s producers is mostly focused on beat-driven and dance-oriented electronics influenced by a plethora of genres that range from drum&bass through dubstep and wonky to grime. Polyjoy/Femoxema is a collaborative project of three young musicians Stroon, Stratasoul and Pjoni, the latter being a 17 year old “wunderkind” of the Pjoni & Ink Midget duo. The fourth member of Polyjoy is the visual artist Amalia Roxana Filip, a Romanian expat living in Bratislava. Polyjoy is the most notable manifestation of what’s so exciting about today’s Bratislava electronics scene: the people involved meet at impromptu creative sessions, play games, produce music and throw shows in their flats creating an overtly creative and open DIY environment.

Polyjoy – Eyes Burnin Wide by easterndaze

Pjoni & Ink Midget – Nerd by Pjoni & Ink Midget

Seahorse wedding massacre by stroon

Also a part of the new wave of local producers is the project Batcha de Mental, courtesy of the graphic designer Alex Gutrai. His sound is a special blend of mutant-electronics based on retarded deconstructions of the Slovak national identity, brimming with popcultural allusions and a heavy mixing of various genres. Batcha de Mental’s first LP Rawbit Shitout was released in 2009 on the Czech-Slovak weirdo-mystification netlabel Chernobyl Musick.

Raw raw Petržalka GHETTO by Batcha De Mental

Mad world (bdm kalafuna smell mix) by Batcha de Mental

Not being steeped in as much in the Bratislava’s scene (living in Trnava, a quiet town in the vicinity of the capital), albeit equally important in terms of leftfield music production, is the Ukrainian expat Viktor Tverdochlibov who releases under the moniker Karaoke Tundra. His creative output ranges from honky-tonky beat cut-ups to alt-hiphop on collaborations with Slovak rappers such as Bene (under his alter-ego Peťo Tázok). Karaoke Tundra also runs the Slovak Creative Commons-licensed netlabel Surreal Madrid.

Peťo Tázok & Karaoke Tundra “Chodby” by karaoketundra

Peťo Tázok & Karaoke Tundra “Gerhard” by karaoketundra

Sound-wise interesting is the up-coming lo-fi noise collective Psychoindustrial which stands behind the compilation series Noize Konspiracy. The project involves a plethora of start-up noise and hardcore electronics producers with a special interest in binge drinking, bad taste, irony and musical satire. Another underdog and a peculiar personality of Bratislava’s underground music scene is Marian Meravý aka VooDooMan, a geekish long-time ambient and noise producer, who develops his own software and hardware and whose creative output and personality could be described as both weird and excentric. He runs the label Oshipanah Records as an output for his own records that come out in limited editions of 33 CDR’s.

0N0 – Malfunkcia / Avoided “Braincell Loss” Remix by uchylord

From sonic standpoint, Bratislava is a vibrant and exciting city. Its tight creative community incorporates graphic designers, electronic music producers, film and theatre creators, new-media theorists and curators and a small but strong community of fans. Being a fat turbo-capitalist whore obsessed with quick-to-build urban development exposing its glass & steel multipurpose ribs on the shores of Danube, it also struggles with lots of problems concerning its cultural domain, with a blend of typical post-communist amnesia, small-town mentality and xenophobia manifest in the rise of extreme nationalism over the last decade. Nevertheless, its non-mainstream creative industry, even when malnourished and forced into underground, is a strong and inspiring phenomenon.