Saturday, 5 January 2013

Avant-garde from the Bloc(k)

[this was written for a certain website that then saw some obscure Polish music, got scared and changed their mind]

[I wrote on other Polish punk groups in English before, on Wielkanoc and on several included in the book Generation]

Kontrola W, Bossa Nova, on: Porzucona generacja (Deserted Generation, compilation, Noise Pop, 1998)

"Kontrola W is the best and most modern band in Poland today” – wrote Chris Bohn in the New Musical Express from 23.06.1983. Bohn or rather Biba Kopf, was going around communist countries in the early 80s looking for interesting music – having had spent some time in Germany, he went further east, stopping among other places, in Poznan, where there was held a Rock Arena (festival of otherwise big rock bands like Republika, Lady Pank, TSA, Lombard), before heading further to Russia. The band never released a record, the six tracks on "Abandoned generation" comp were registered in 1982 in Radio Łódź: “Manekiny", "Bossa Nova", "Ciągle w ruchu", "Centrum Przemysłu", "Radioaktywne", "To będzie koniec”.

Kontrola W (from Zduńska Wola, in industrial area of Poland) originally was named “Kontrola Władzy” (Control of Power), but probably because the group didn’t want to get in trouble, they decided to shorten it – at some gig when they were announced, someone from the crowd said: "but you cant control the power!" – "but it’s about us being controlled by the power" – the band replied (telling later that 'W' stands for Wrażenia (Impressions)). Still, the music, in its lyrics and militant, pugnacious (though having lots of new wave classiness) retro rockabilly elegance and postpunk erudition, brought to mind Burroughsesque topics of the control from the state, communist newspeak, atomic war, nuclear crisis, hiding in bunkers, imagining the end of the world, fear of pollution and radioactivity, state-controlled media brainwashing the society, erasure of the self by the mass culture, personality crisis – sound familiar?

All the typical disillusioned mindset of the punk and post punk idiom. On the top of that, they provocatively dressed with simplicity of hunky workers, with their 50s hair and shirts, as if they runned away from a construction site. But we must remember what was actually happening in Poland around the time the band came into existence: shortly after they got together, Martial Law broke in December 1981, which to many people in its first phase was like a real war: tanks, food crisis and rationing, curfew, people arrested, more or less accidental deaths on the streets, terror. Many people of the previous punk scene emigrated from Poland then (you can read interviews and testimonies from that era in a beautifully illustrated bilingual book with punk photos of Michal Wasaznik, Generacja (Ha!art 2011)). In this atmosphere Kontrola W took parts in still occurring from 1982 youth festivals, and a year later, when the war was over, foreign journalists like Bohn could hear them.

Says the leader Darek Kulda in an interview from 1984: "I wanted to make an ugly music. It was a period, when in Polish radio there was nothing apart from hard rock, which I was sick of. I decided to cerate a band whose music would be unclassifiable, neither rock, nor jazz, nor nothing. We failed, cos they put us under a label: new wave." It’s hard not to think of new wave/post-punk idiom though, listening to those 6 salvaged Kontrola W’s tracks, despite their poor recording quality, possessing instantly recognizable originality: precise and smooth as hell rhythm section (drummer Wojtek Jagielski in the ‘free’ Poland, funnily enough become a talk-show celebrity) drives the motorik of Bossa Nova, which starts from a few seconds of compulsive scratching guitar’s strings. Then the sexy drums and bass get us into the warped “Bossa Nova”, having little to do with the style itself, but much rather resembling the assured passages from Wire or Gang of Four.

Like an out-of-tune, sick, broken rockandroll, the song progresses in angular groans and whines of guitar, accompanied with a very assured, very capricious screech of Kasia Kulda, in which she’s trying to get rid of an importunate lover: When there’s nothing to talk about/ you persecute me at every step/ Crawling upon my feet (…)/ and if this doesn’t bring effect/ you can only sing this old tune: Bossa Nova!”. Kulda sings with sharpness and panache which Siouxie Sioux should be jealous of, if she knew about it. but it’s not Siouxie we should think of, but rather Altered States, where the singer is not a predatory dominatrix, but when the song doesn’t lean on the charisma of one member, but is an effect of a group effort.

In complicated ways of development of popular music in the Soviet Bloc it’s easy to classify bands immediately as some sorts of poor, oppressed oppositionists – I’d rather say, that in the case of Polish punks it was the same impulse as the one of their cold war peers from the other side of the curtain. Both felt that the current political order is wrong, that there’s no opportunities for people like them. The music rising everywhere in the punk era, regardless, eastern or western was directed by a similar impulse of disillusionment, of taking things in ones hands and ability to express anger and dissatisfaction. On both sides it was a manifestation of the dispossessed: the fact the western youth was rejecting yuppie lifestyle of baby boomers, and Poles had nothing to lose doesn’t change it.

The song was released 16 years after its registration at a ephemereal 1-person managed Pop Noise records in Poznań. Aborted for political reasons (martial law) and then put to a halt, when the band dissoluted in autumn 1983, when the 19 year old members chosen to study in Warsaw. They reemerged 3 years later in different personnel, as Cosmetics of Mrs Pinki, but never they regained the sharpness and acidic humour of the Kontrola W.

[in the next episode other memorable bands of Polish punk/new wave: Made in Poland, Śmierc Kliniczna, Kryzys, Wielkanoc, queens of pop synth and electro, disco divas and many many more!!!!]

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