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The music scene of Eastern Slovakia

Published November, 2014
by Easterndaze

Slovakia is not only a small, but also quite an isolated country. Due to its mountainous terrain, it takes a lot of time to travel inside the country, and the biggest towns (Košice, Bratislava) are located on periphery. Košice itself is somewhere “at the end of the EU”, and center of Eastern Slovakia (or “Wild East”), the area quite isolated from the rest of Slovakia. That’s one of the reasons, why music scenes here (as in the most of Slovakia) are quite isolated, very small and very diverse with lots of bizarre local stars never known outside the region, often using the Eastern-Slovak dialect or accent which not everyone is comfortable with.

Košice used to be the fastest growing city in the socialist era. In 80’s-90’s, it was probably the very high birth rate and large child population (including overcrowded schools with evening lessons), which led to the bizarre kinder-pop music scene, probably the biggest in Slovakia. In 1980’s, Czechoslovak Television Studio in Košice started to make the childen’s song programme Zlatá brána (Golden Gate) with synthpop or sometimes new-wave songs, some of them using really psychedelic synth sounds for the time (musical backgrounds were recorded in the Czech city Ostrava, though). It run until early 90’s, but soon, a new wave of musicians came – such as the fresh-faced teen swagger Martin Madej, Martin Krausz or Barbara Haščáková).

The scene had a strong base for quite a long time – a relatively large portion of children’s programmes in Slovakia were broadcast from Košice, and specifically the music ones, for instance the talent TV show Talentárium, or Rádio Špunt, children’s broadcast of the Slovak Radio. It was then replaced by Twistík, broadcast from the Košice studio of Rádio Twist, a quite music-oriented children’s programme successfully kept the scene alive by playing the newest kinder-pop songs every week. At the beginning of 2000’s, a new version of Zlatá Brána called “Pesničky z hviezdičky” came, though this time songs had not more than five chords and were created and presented by Vlado Železňák, again from Košice. Some of todays adult pop musicians in Košice grew up from this scene, and Košice to this day have a rich tradition of bad pop and funny bad pop music, especially electropop, as it was a dominating genre of kinder-pop.

One of the most successful producers of kinder-pop of the time, Peter Nagy, though, was from the nearby city of Prešov, and apart from his project “Peter Nagy And Children”, he also produced some of the stars of the scene, like Michaela Pašteková, popular in the middle of 90’s with her hits like Never Do Drugs or Sprayer Frajer, or the aforementioned Martin Madej. Also, the tradition of bad pop is since then also held in other places of Eastern Slovakia, and the most bizarre (and quite contemporary, though pure 90’s sounding) example of it originates in the very east of Slovakia, (probably) Veľké Kapušany. In fact, music, image and presentation of Miroslav Martin a Drahomírova Masaryková DUO is so bizarre, it is in fact unclear, whether they really exist – they refuse to play live, though in their lo-fi studio, they are pretty productive, their communication is pretty bizarre, they break up and get together again every time, and the lyrics are also interesting. “Chessboard full of black and white spheres. I walk like a figurine on the earth. And I am the horse of hearts. Horse of hearts, for love”.

While in Košice there was mainly bad electro-pop present, nearby Prešov was one of the cities, which gave the sound to traditional Slovak pop-rock (because of the big number of guitar-based bands, Prešov is sometimes nicknamed “The Slovak Seattle”, but others find it similarly funny as the nickname “Athens on Torysa river” because the city has one university), but also some interesting alternative-rock bands (the legendary Ali Ibn Rachid , which later moved to Bratislava). Other, smaller towns, did have their local scenes on a much smaller, but sometimes quite weird and interesting level, though often not very known outside their towns – such as the quite specific alternative rock communities in Sabinov or Svidník/Stropkov, or present-day noise scene in Spišská Nová Ves (I was told, one of the local noise bands did break a glass with their intense music when playing behind the shop window at a city-organized event. Check out bands Supraphon Family, Sedem Minút Strachu or Ničiteľ (literally “destroyer”)).

In Eastern Slovakia, the tradition of alternative and/or experimental music started only in the second half of 80’s and to this day, such music is quite rare in this area or exists in absolute secret. One of the first examples could be the Košice band Liter Geňa (Liter Of Jizz, though “geňo” in the Košice slang sounds much more vulgar), led by Agda Bavi Pain (now a writer and storyliner), recording very extreme and vulgar songs and mixtapes secretly in their home studio. Even after the end of socialist era, recordings of Liter Geňa were only circulating on home-copied MC tapes, and in every school class there was somebody with a walkman and Liter Geňa tapes. They also played a few concerts, though some of them were cancelled during shows and the band was probably banned for some time. Their recordings are legendary, but still very rare and almost unavailable.

liter geňa: zvuky z pelechu (1982) / full mixtape for download here.

Here are some examples of today’s Eastern-Slovak alternative, experimental or weird music of my choice.

Džumelec (or Erik Sikora) and his site-specific “land-rap” from hills above Košice:

Pankpoper (or Moski) sings Eastern-Slovak folklore-like punk-folk in a dialect:

BIOS, drone/noise audiovisual project from Košice:

Turbosampler, hypearcitve audiovisual plunderphonics from Ružomberok, currently residing in Košice:

Peter Stašák, turbofolk star, TV presenter. This is his advertisement song for a company providing dining and sleeping carriages for Slovak Railways.

Žena or Abuol, home-made sound poetry folk from Prešov/Brno:
Pas Mech Aliby or Brainbow, home-made multitrack psychedelic collages from Humenné
Ručne Hlučne, older electronic song project from Džumelec and friends
Jožova Teplá Filcka, in his own words “Underground project from children’s room”

By Samčo, brat Dážďoviek
This article was supported by the Intenda Foundation.