by Piotrek Czarnecki
Last month Polish people celebrated 30 years of democratic freedom. On the 4th of June, 1989 Poland held its first semi-democratic parliamentary elections. The date symbolically marks the fall of communism in Poland. That event had kickstarted a ripple effect throughout rest of the Eastern Block, injecting democracy into that region in the following years. During the anniversary celebrations the word “freedom” has appeared countless times in the media, state and social, printed and digital . Turns out the idea of freedom has a different meaning to different people. But politics aside, we are here for the music.
For the purpose of this introduction, I am going to generalize by saying that in the communist times in Poland popular music had served two main purposes. First, pure entertainment, second, a form of rebellion. After 1989 the artists were finally able to fully express themselves without the watchful surveillance of the state censorship and the fear of possible prosecution. Although the new situation made their voices unoppressed and able to be more direct and aggressive, but one might argue that some of the biting subtlety was lost. There was no need for the political innuendos nor hidden meanings between the lines. Something gained, something lost. New found freedom also meant changes, new challenges, new concerns. And the one of the main aspects that came into play was money. Free market economy, as well as the freedom of expression affected musicians and music fans in various ways.
My teen years overlapped with the 90’s and I had witnessed the changes brought by the transformation through the angsty eyes of a teenager. The songs and tapes had helped to ease “the growing pains”, to create fond memories and make re reality less bleak. Therefore the main concern for a music obsessive like myself was finding the sources of new music. Early 90’s was the time when the first commercial radio stations and local record labels started popping up in Poland, which helped in a way. The lucky owners of satellite dishes were able to access MTV. It was kind of a big deal.
In the pre-internet era, music piracy was blooming on city bazars. Buying counterfeit cassettes, and later CDs, has been the only option of getting new music for some time. But after introducing copyright laws in 1994 the situation eventually shifted towards more legal ways of obtaining music and the real music industry had been founded. Some of the albums bought back then remain serious treasures as there is still a grand amount of the recorded material from that period that isn’t yet digitally available on the streaming platforms.
Let’s fast forward to last year, when we have presented you with our first playlist featuring exclusively Polish artists accompanied by a speedy history lesson (link here) This is part two. A report on the current polish music scene. Apart from the timeframe, as most of the tracks have been released within last 2 months, the other unifying theme here is the fact that majority of the artists featured here were born after 1989. There are few exceptions to that rule as some of the artists who started their musical careers around the time of the transition (KAYAH, BIG CYC) or way beforehand (MUNIEK, LECH JANERKA, JOHN PORTER). Listening to their new material clearly shows that they are still eager to try something new and fresh. The majority though haven’t reached their 30’s and grown up with the sense of artistic freedom. It is truly astonishing to hear them as musically confident and stylistically developed as their peers from other parts of the world, especially UK and US. Gdańsk’s alternative trio, TRUPA TRUPA is a recent example of an international success by a Polish artist. The band’s first single from their upcoming LP has been released by the legendary SUB POP Records, the label that gave us Nirvana and Soundgarden in the 90’s and is now the home of such indie giants as Father John Misty, Beach House and Low. Their upcoming new album, “Of The Sun”, is tipped as one of the hottest indie releases this autumn. The LP drops on 13th of September, so keep your ears open.
“What’s That Sound, Poland? Vol. 2” collects the best of the fresh and the new. With the tools available for musicians, record labels on the constant search for new talent and sophisticated audiences ready to be entertained the music scene is thriving and expanding. KAYAX MUSIC, a mammoth on the scene, has launched “My Name Is New” initiative last year. The idea behind the project is to give the debuting artists a much needed platform to present themselves to a wider audience. On the other side of the spectrum we’ve got TRZY SZÓSTKI, a one man operation from Warsaw, successfully digging out the most interesting and independent homegrown sounds (ADONIS, PAMOWIE). Some of the artist self-release their music with an aid of Bandcamp (BAŁTYK). A special shout-outs are in order to some of the best independent labels in Poland: SESZELE RECORDS, TRANSATLANTYK, INSTANT CLASSIC and recently revived THE VERY POLISH CUT-OUTS. Find and follow them on social media for keep up to date with what’s in right now.
Pop’s two main incarnations, electronic (HENRIETTA, BOYSWITHTOYS, COALS, GYPSY AND THE ACID QUEEN, XXANAXX, THE DUMPLINGS) as well as indie (KONIEC LATA, ENCHANTED HUNTERS, FAIR WEATHER FRIENDS, KRÓL) seem to be the “go to” genre these days. But there is room for more than laptops and synthesizers. Classically trained musicians (HANIA RANI, SŁAWEK JASKUŁKE) manage to bring artful yet accessible modern classical music to indie fans. The young musicians also do not shy away mining the past for inspiration; whether it is from the traditional folk music and folklore (KAPELA MALISZÓW, TEGIE CHŁOPY, EABS, KWIAT JABŁONI, WĘDROWIEC, PROVINZ POSEN) and the neon-lit 80’s (ADONIS, CUDOWNE LATA, ENCHANTED HUNTERS). To be retro is to be cool.
Jazz (EABS, KUBA WIECEK TRIO) and hip hop (BISZ/RADEX, DONO, KARTKY) run strongly through the veins of the music scene over there. Sometimes entwining together in the spirit of fusion (BITAMINA, TOMEK NOWAK QUARTER). Elsewhere, CINEMON proposes another hybrid, hard rock with a dash of jazz. Singer songwriters (DAVE KOWALSKI, PHILLIP BRACKEN, TACHER as well as r’n’b, soul and funk artists (CLOCK MACHINE, EWA EKWA, ENVEE, KROKI) add even more diversity to the mix. Judging by the material by the electronic producers such as BARTOSZ KRUSZYNSKI, DAS KOMPLEX, JACEK SIENKIEWICZ, MCHY I POROSTY, NAPHTA, PIOTR BEJNAR, TAMTEN, ZEGZULA, the Polish dancefloor is quite sophisticated and chill. Finally, there are flashes of queer representation from electro duo DUNAYEV//SOPPEL and radical views via the punk art project, CZERWONE ŚWINIE.
The question remains, what is there to raise your against when you live and create in a free country. The main concerns of this generation include the ugliness of the omnipresent consumerism, the lethargic state of the middle classes looking for constant amusement, the emergence of the far-right ideology, Catholic church’s influence on Polish society and many faces of everyday hate be it homophobia, xenophobia or sexism. Add loneliness in the digital world, the search of identity in a globalized world or the need of authenticity and we’ve got a full list of modern anxieties. But the universal themes of love, betrayal, friendship, family, complicated idea of patriotism and politics also prevail, both lyrically and sonically.
Some artists, including musicians, have found themselves on the frontiers of the society creating an alternative vision of the world, others take on the role of commentators, capturing the spirit of their contemporary times. Listening through this playlist it appears that the current state of Polish reality appears to be a complex, diverse, creative, partly glossy and entertaining, partly raw, dark and angry mosaic. An interesting mosaic nonetheless.
Here’s to freedom!
This has been Piotrek reporting. (NoSnobsAllowed)