Thursday, 15 September 2011
[first published in The Wire #330 August 2011]
Virgin Mary does the splits – the world falls in!/The communion of holy white wafers of snow covers her eyes and face/ The world of white altars – cemeteries of paradise. This is not, surprisingly, from any Norwegian Black Metal band, but a song called Snow Queen by the Polish new wave group Wielkanoc (Easter, or Great Night, to render its double meaning) from a small Polish industrial town of Lubin, in Lower Silesia, who lasted less than 3 years and were killed, alongside with so much of what was interesting in the Polish alternative scene, just after the collapse of communism around 1990.
Dziewczyny Karabiny (Girlscarbines) was never actually released, and compiles live recordings from the festivals where the group wowed the public and critics, such as Jarocin in 1988, or from the Rozgłośnia Harcerska radio (known for its support of progressive groups in People's Poland) the same year. No wonder they did – live Wielkanoc was a knockdown combination of the moody and the unpolished. Even today it is amazing, how such sophisticated groups were possible in the suicidally grey Poland of the 1980s. As young people from a small industrial town, they knew they had to invent a world around them to have anything on their own. Pretty much, you could say, as did the post punk bands of British industrial areas, but they certainly didn’t have the Citizen Militia running at them with truncheons after the gigs.
What is greatest in Wielkanoc is probably the originality and real provocation in the lyrics. Kasia Jarosz was a truly charismatic vocalist and lyricist, introducing to the nearly all-male Polish scene a rare, assured yet raw female presence, and giving the censors lots of work. Regular meals/Warm checked blankets/Speedy sidewalks/Slit-eyed spiders/Rainy alleys/Train station open/public toilets/female male copulate/The promised protein/no-mans protein. Nobody at that point dared to sing about grim sexuality in communist Poland like this, and there’s definitely no sadder elegy for a spared sperm on the toilet door in any music.
The album’s publication after so many years comes as a part of a wider retrieving of the lost legacy of the Polish punk scene by the same people who were engaged in the volume Generacja (The Wire Feb ‘11). Along with the booklet (sadly, only in Polish) which gathers unique pictures of the band and festivals and (translated) lyrics, Dziewczyny Karabiny tells a fascinating story of the functioning of the new music under the decaying socialist regime. Mainstream and alternative meant something completely different in this economy, where every small dom kultury had a certain budget they had to spend, and frequently supported young rock bands, running alongside the first attempts to capitalize on the music by the more commercial bands of the era. And the fact 1990 destroyed such a rich musical culture only adds another fascinatingly ambivalent layer