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Raze de Soare debut under the Ailanthus grove… [July 2015, Bucharest]

Published November, 2015
by Easterndaze


Raze de Soare (Ion din Dorobanti, Matteo islandezu’ and red velvet queen Cosima Opertan) made their debut in the summer of 2015 – but they’re actually a time-traveling 90s mania combo hit, with a special tribute to Albatros from Bucharest.
Back to the Future of the Romanian early 1990s when styles weren’t yet nailed down, when pretty much everybody was still listening and trading with illegally-copied cassettes and kinky but faded yoga brochures.

Before I jump into the cultural atmospherics of the Romanian resuscitated 90s, I would like to add that the presence of this blog’s totemic invasive – the TOH – right at the start of this first Raze de Soare concert (here first offical video) made it all happen. What is the fleeting background of our continuing night-life-ife-fe-e in Bucharest? More and more terraces are using Ailanthus trees as their local palm grove. From the still remaining, brave cheapo block-backyard terraces – to the new center-city export beer hipster-luxury lounge clubs and terraces, this invasive tree has somehow marked the hide-and-seek of formerly empty lots, in-between-use, “waiting spaces”. Abandoned construction sites or dumping grounds are being sometimes transformed into nightlife haunts, also because they already have the ghetto palm bringing shade to scorching Bucharest summers. This species is perfectly poised for this ambiguous stance, since it can never grow openly in parks but then is somehow rapidly transforming empty lots (*clear sign of gentrification, disaffection or delayed investment) into hidden gardens. It marks not-so-empty lots that fall outside the interest of real estate mafia, but also signals the possibility that some new, future locale might jump in and derive some profits from the fallow land. A symptom&effect both in one, and such a good foreground/background to everything.

And then what best to remember the 90s for than the Ailanthus – the tree that has somehow prepared conveniently the present, almost secretively accompanying all the promises and lies of that era. The 1990s gave us Wild Palms TV mini-series (1993), that got somehow drowned under the Twin Peaks & X-files tsunami. Set in the future 2007, and originally released on VHS we had to wait the current retro-mania to rediscover a digitized Wild Palms, probably the last knee jerk reflex of older dystopian cyberpunk times & the entry into the new bubble gum reality TV of videocracy- land. Our version of Wild Palms would include the ghetto palms as that reality- FX in the background, a retouched US of $$ exchange booths where you don’t care if the Raze de Soare band is really singing in front of a blue/green screen, in a photo salon for your passport visa for Germany/Schengen or the original Ailanthus 90s.  

The time when we had a wonder healer plastic shaman (Mudava phenomenon) as a presidential candidate in the run for elections (*he lost as most of us did). When pirate classical, heavy metal, industrial, indie, goth, grunge, folk, rave xerox-covers cassettes and then pirate CDs, from the oldest to the latest releases could be sold for  a small sum on temporary stands right midst city (yeah one was right at Piata Romana). People had corny, ungainly, unpolished, cheesy dressing codes. When normcore- manifesto just wasn’t needed, because everybody was somehow indifferent to styles, shy to stand out in the crowd or getting too much (unwanted) attention. It was vacuous, volatile times – but also very much emotionally charged. Everybody seemed to be involved in some sort of street protest & street racket, still wearing their mullet and having anti-sex horrible white socks and pre-washed denim (blugi prespălați). Pants who were still part of that Blue-Jeans Silk Road coming right from Turkey/Istanbul across the Balkans. It was the TRANSITION – era, a very distinct, mythical, much talked about (in mostly pejorative terms), prophetic period, distinct say from the German Ostalgie – the nostalgia for all the collectibles, the Communist artifacts (mostly design & daily life) from before the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The 90s turbo-capitalist “Transition era” with tear-gas in the air, a period of repeated “mineriade” (the last of the miner syndicates) being shipped to Bucharest as reinforcements to the police to smash the students ‘hooligan’ protest and be themselves crushed in the end. It was a time of incredible unabashed naiveté, but also of first time improvisational turbo-capitalism (that hasn’t stopped since) when everybody tried to outwit, to outsmart and reinvent himself as a small entrepreneur & overnight millionaire – that model of the self-made-men/women that sprung into limelight, exacerbated by a vicious competitive environment. We as true Turbo Kids associated TURBO (at least in my generation) with the namesake Turkish chewing gum inserts with of all sorts of cars (when everybody started dreaming speedy flashy cars), collectibles that paved the way for all others: from art collections to Magic trading cards to Game of Thrones. Like in the Thalassa, Thalassa Return to the Sea(1994) we were those rapidly maturing kids almost young adults aiming for some magnificent seaside, hijacking cars from mobster trafficants to discover Pandora’s box inside and figure out what to do with it. At nearly the same time a bunch of German school kids were doing their own self- scripted, self- edited bizarre VHS ecological horror & surreal thriller in the man-eating forests surrounding Otopeni, a satellite town of Bucharest near the airport. That was also the heyday of boutique era – not what you might call boutique (as in Parisian expensive, upper end shops of famous brands) but the improvised, hand-made DIY metallic huts that would sell everything (memorialized as portable kiosks/boutiques by artist Mircea Nicolae), mushrooming everywhere in the bus stations, in btw blocks, selling everything they could get their hands on. The ‘happy 90s’ (as it was called in an old project by Ideea Art & Society and Cosmin Costinas) was an environment before the great ‘clean-up’, before they were transformed into an example of ‘bad capitalism’, a bad example of unaesthetic capitalistic excess that had to disappear and make way for the streamlined maturity with the fast food chain, the official brands, the malls, the plazas and the showrooms of the post 2000s. Thus the happy 90s were transformed (amplified?) into the MEGAFUN 2000s (aka the Cotroceni Afi Palace Mall motto).

Transition meant just that, basically the notion that some people (in the East) were living in a sort of haze, a limbo – a poor-men’s antechamber to success, prosperity and around-the-corner jackpot luck. But before getting there, one needed to suffer, to buckle-up, endure various ignominies and endless penury with everything just in reach and settle finally for the scraps. It had to amplify spending power, sell the house & invest in pyramid schemes, destroy the black market, eradicate rampant corruption, inflation, call the old king back, trim down the political Babel Tower of hundreds of new parties and give free reign to the unbridled market forces & total privatization. Transition meant that we were living in very real millennial times, waiting for the Millennium to bring material salvation to the eager masses (or its now individualistic mass-produced consumer units called private citizen). It was prosperity theology with a specific Ponzi scheme taste & Eastern kind of vengeance.  

Consumerism was itself just as faulty as the promises of protection from the worst of capitalism(massive layoffs & factory sell-outs). It was not the smooth command line we have today, with bad-services for the poor, good-services for the rich, Black Fridays and free coupons. It had a much more egalitarian (Adrian Schiop “badness for everybody/sa ne fie la toti la fel de rau”?!) air – when all were more or less exposed to the same universal bad standards, pressures, bad deodorants, bad lipstick, but also more willing to try modifying or exploit those limits in very down-to-strange-earth ways.  

It was a space of big (SOROS foundation) & low budget (netcafe’s, student IT networks, pop self-produced materials) environment who’s potentialities (non-actualized but so very real instances) became in time lost/gained possibilities, fixed games, fixed pathways and missed opportunities only in retrospect. Musically the 90s established the foundations of Romanian hip hop and of manele. Manele was the local scourge/blessing of the pop universe able on its own to distillate the most venomous characteristics of daily life and respond in exemplary way to the new political affects, economic terror, erotic fantasies and failure curses of the Romanian Dream. Many lyrics took the call for privatisation – as a butt joke, and at the end of that butt joke were we! In this “proto-” echo chamber, all was already there and yet nothing was yet happening. We were tumbling down the futuristic rabbit hole, already weaned on a plethora of 1995 movies such as The Net, Johnny Mnemonic, Hackers, Judge Dredd and Virtuosity(it’s been 10 years this year!) that dabbled in VR predictions, yet the dotcom booms and the busting new economy were mostly Californian ideology Silicon Valley fairytales and bad jokes for the average Romanian.

The Virtual was lived in another very direct way. It was not The Virtual of VR goggles and headsets, it was very pulse and ebb of those times – caught in perpetual transitionality. What was felt then, and even more now, was the no-yet- the nearly-never happening – the reality that wasn’t just going to pass, that this living in between wasn’t going to give way to the next certitude; it WAS the NEXT. Virtual life as felt trough the fluctuations of foreign currency (”valuta”) exchange rates. Being in transition became our state of being as if caught in a larval stage, all cocooned & prepared for an almost molecular level nutritional change(remember microwave sandwiches near ASE?) & macro-waves of IMF restructuring. It’s finality was maybe more and more transitions as the underlying logic of global capitalism in the eve of creative destruction, the boom & bust of constant unmaking. At the same time the early 90s allowed another kind of dreaming  – something captured be Chantal Ackerman in D’Est – that of the longue durée, a time of indefinite waiting, inside waiting rooms, waiting at the bus stations, a penguin-huddling-together-in-Antarctica kind of feeling, a respiro preceding the breakneck pace of today. 

I am not entering into the details, because others(Paul Breazu, Adi Schiop) have done it much better and more extensively than I could ever do it regarding this reviled culture and incredibly popular & long-standing local-variant of turbo-folk. Trail-blazing proto-manele bands such as ALBATROS, MEGATON, DAN ARMEANCA, NOVOMATIC, AZUR, CONDOR, TOMIS, NAZDRAVANII DIN GALATI, early ADRIAN COPILUL MINUNE, CANIBALII DIN PLOIESTI, FRATII GRUIA si PESTE DAMIAN, ZORILE, INGERII NEGRI, ODEON SI COSTEL GEAMBASU and many others used to mix of ‘muzica lautareasca’ (mainstay of rroma music-derived styles), rough electronic, instrumental hard disco, folkloric, eurodance- even acid house- or rave inflected, pan-oriental rhythms and vocals. They were breaking genre borders, mixing, remixing, building with infinite irony & jest a constant brash dialogue and provocative lyrics in response and in tune with daily concerns, sheer joie de vivre with an increasing disaffection & rapid symbiosis with multichannel TV politics in the dog-eats-dog Romanian brave new world. Their demo-tapes are being rediscovered by a (still mostly middle class) generation that has been avidly digging into fleamarket treasures and dusty cassette bags to restart, digitize and popularize what was once (in our distant youth) considered mostly low pop trash and cultural pollution…

Even with their re-circulation inside the coolness- pipes, these distorted magnetic tapes, reel-to-reel, badly recorded, dirty lo-fi tracks are much more than just cheap audio-effects & shortening nostalia loops. They are our entry into the perpetual present of timeless time (Manuel Castells) They are transporting the sort of emotional signature of a period were pre-washed jeans were not only trashy chic street ware. Pre-washed was the dreaming itself, the baptismal gesture and action of pre-washing and bleaching yourself and putting on a new look, a new face, a touch of FA spray, of teasing out maximum effects and impact from the minimum of technologies and available equipment.