Tag Archives: Poland

Eight Artists Keeping The Polish Jazz/Avant-Garde Tradition Moving Forward

Polish Jazz

It may be the 100th anniversary of Poland’s restoration as the Second Polish Republic this November 11, but this year also marked a culturally important round-number anniversary for the nation: 60 years ago, in 1958, Dave Brubeck became the first American jazz musician to perform behind the Iron Curtain, acting as a cultural ambassador who would ultimately have a profound effect on Poland’s musical culture. Shortly afterward, he wrote an open letter addressed to “my dear friends in Poland,” thanking them for their hospitality and predicting that, “I believe that the future for jazz in Poland is a bright one. Wherever you find such a group of young, eager, and talented musicians as I have heard in Warsaw and Krakow and other cities, you know there is a vital force which must be and will be expressed.”  Continue reading

Ffrancis’ Misia Furtak and Piotr Kaliński Have Learned to Love Change

Ffrances

Polish duo Ffrancis—comprised of Misia Furtak (vocals/bass) and Piotr Kaliński (programming)—share the kind of friendship where they’ve seen each other in pretty much every unflattering emotional state. (Aware they’re on the record, both members playfully refuse to provide specifics.) It’s a dynamic that plays out across their debut album Off the Grid, a collection of songs that integrates Furtak’s rock sensibilities with the escapism of Kaliński’s Baltic pop/house/dub ambient project Hatti Vatti. But even so, they can’t agree on how they met. Continue reading

Surly Artfully Blends Polish Jazz and Chicago Footwork

Surly

At first glance, Polish jazz and Chicago footwork aren’t two genres that go hand-in-hand. One is an improvised art form forbidden under Stalinist rule and recorded as part political protest, part experimental exploration; the other is the frenetic electronic patterning of rhythms and dubby bass produced to inspire dancers to move. Yet, for New Zealand-based producer Scott Ludvigson, aka Surly, the connections are apparent. His latest EP, Trip to Warsaw, is a collection of jazz-influenced footwork; its songs feature eerie horn samples, rattling basslines, and pensive melodies that inspire both movement and introspection.

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An Introduction to the DIY Underground in Poland

Lotto

Lotto by Dawid Gasiorek.

In 2013, the astounding and deeply original album Cień Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem by Stara Rzeka seemed to come out of nowhere. The record, released by the tiny Krakow-based indie label Instant Classic, was a bewitching blend of black metal, Takoma-style guitar work, cosmic synth, and neo-folk. It initially seemed like it must be some kind of anomaly; that the person who made this near-perfect sonic statement, Kuba Ziołek, must be a mercurial, once-in-a-generation outlier in his scene. This was not the case. In the years that have elapsed since, there have been so many other outstanding Polish independent records released, it’s become clear that the country’s DIY scene is actually one of the strongest in the world.

Since the death of Stalin in 1953 and the subsequent relaxation of state censorship, Poland has nurtured a vanguard movement of avant-garde cinema and experimental music. This spirit of inventiveness has carried on as a continuum—taking in everything from techno, extreme metal, and post-punk along the way. Above and beyond this, it is clear that something very special has been going on in Polish music over the last five years. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to a tradition of government support for the underground arts, as well as a level of respect shown to underground music from the mainstream media that simply doesn’t happen in most other countries. But this is still not the full picture. In 2015, the right-wing Law and Justice Party won the general election, and government support for challenging music has now all but dried up. And yet, such amazing labels as Mik.Musik.!, Instant Classic, Monotype, and Zoharum continue to release boundary-pushing, genre-defying records despite the grim political climate.

The fringes of Polish music are so fertile that it would take many features such as this to even begin to map out the territory they cover in full. There’s the avant-garde electronics corner, if you’re a fan of techno, noise, and IDM. Those with a more focused idea of what constitutes formally experimental or avant-garde music can explore the music offered by the Bocian or Pawlacz Perski labels. This list concentrates specifically on the DIY underground, the loosely-affiliated countrywide scene that exists around independent labels and performance spaces, populated by musicians who have little to do with academia or any kind of corporate sponsorship, no matter how benign. This is the underground that exists outside of beats-driven electronic music and noise—especially concerning the intersection of avant-rock with jazz, dub, minimalism, folk, post-punk, and extreme metal.

According to turntablist, writer, and promoter Filip Kalinowski, the vigor of his scene can be partially explained by the fact that musicians aren’t necessarily hung up on genre: “They operate using the same ethics and approaches when they produce, release, and distribute music. Most of them support each other, collaborate with each other, and buy each other’s releases.”

Wojciech Kucharczyk, who runs Mik.Musik.!, one of the country’s oldest independent labels, says that the near unrelenting severity of the Polish political landscape since WWII, in regards to culture, has been important. Referring obliquely to the 2015 election of the hardline Law and Justice Party, he says: “Under communism, the system of the production of culture was hard; it has been hard during the capitalist times, as well. It was harsh under the Labour government but it has become much harder now.”

He goes on to say that small labels such as his own and the others mentioned above are not interested in the whims of fashion: “It is about wanting to build something that is important for all time and not just important for [a current] season, like a fashion label.”

Here’s a sampling of the robust Polish underground.

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An Introduction to Avant-Garde Electronic Music in Poland

RSS B0YS

RSS B0YS by Natalia Kabanow.

In recent years, there has been a steady increase in the reach of Polish underground music, in terms of both sonics and audience. That development didn’t come out nowhere; the country’s rich history of experimental cinema and animation fuelled a tradition of avant-garde music in the mid-20th century, deploying pioneering tape sampling methods alongside early synths to soundtrack many experimental short films. Warsaw-based audiovisual duo (and sisters) WIDT offer up a short history lesson: “In 1957, the Studio Eksperymentalne Polskiego Radia (Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio) was found by composer Józef Patkowski,” they explain. “This was the place where the soundtracks were produced and [where the] most significant creators came from.”

Since Poland was still deeply under Soviet pressure at the time, it was only possible for this outpost of experimental electronic music to emerge during the détente in Russian influence that followed Stalin’s death in 1953. By 1956, Poland had became noticeably more autonomous, and censorship’s reach gradually declined. In the 1980s, groups like Germany’s Tangerine Dream were hugely popular, and homegrown Polish pioneers like Marek Biliński were starting to experiment with electronics, finally outside of the context of soundtrack work.

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From Pop to House and Back: A Starter Guide to Polish Electro

polish-electronic-1244-b

Nicole Ginelli

Its capital city, Warsaw, inspired both David Bowie’s most haunting instrumental and Joy Division’s original name. But as far as original work goes, the international community outside of Poland seems to be largely in the dark about the country’s exceptional musical output. Given the interconnectivity of life in the digital age, we acknowledge that this statement is both absurd and (hopefully) soon to be voided.

Even though an international musical ambassador has yet to emerge, the work being done on the ground at home is strong. Like any other country, Poland’s musical offerings span genre and style, from Polish Pop Idol winner Monika Brodka’s unique blend of scuzzy rock and orchestral pop, to the heavy bass work of indie rocker Misia Furtak, to Dog Whistle’s disco-flavored multi-lingual lo-fi pop—and beyond. But even with the overwhelming amount of fascinating music coming out of this corner of the world at the moment, it’s hard to deny the power of Poland’s electronic scene. From mashup masters to electro-pop kings and queens, here are ten acts that have made the ones and zeroes work in their favor.

Better Person

Polish by birth, Berliner by choice, Adam Byczowski makes dance floor downers that unspool like an aural last call. Similar to his Canadian counterpart and previous tourmate Sean Nicholas Savage, Byczowski neatly toes the line between sexy and sleazy; his falsetto, drum machines, and Korg keyboard are all tuned to the key of Sade. The ideal afterparty soundtrack for when you’re more in the mood for a careless whisper than an outright wham.

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