File under (un)popular*

As I write these words, one of the very best music club in Warsaw – Pogłos – is closing down.

The co-operatives in Pogłos have decided to keep going until the bulldozers arrive and f@*k everything up.

I’ve been there many times for concerts and it’s always been a cool experience. Not even because of the music, although it was rarely poor, but because every person in Pogłos was welcome, regardless of age, clothes, background. It happened to me that I would drop in to their concerts after business negotiations in a suit. Despite this, I never felt inappropriate there. It was always free time well spent !

I had a similar impression when I went just once to a concert at CRK (Centre for Cultural Reactivation) in Wrocław.

The CRK is a place – a music rehearsal room for several bands which later mix together, maybe some come too early for rehearsals and others do not want to leave, hence the creation of Atol, Atol, Atol in which the guitarist Kurws and two musicians from the band Uryte Zalety Systemu – Łukasz Plata and Artur Soszynski and the aforementioned vocalist Agata Horwat.
In Przepych play bassist Kuba Majchrzak (also Kurws) , Ewa Głowacka and Łukasz Plata, probably employed at CRK as a night watchman.

Now, I divide my free time between going to Pogłos and listening to the three latest great albums by musicians from CRK.
The occasion is the release by three groups associated with this Centre. CDs – Kurws (“Powięż”/Gusstaff Records), Atol Atol Atol (“Koniec Sosu Tysiąca Wysp”/Gusstaff Records), Przepych (“i inne zabawne rzeczy”/Fonoradar Records).

Atol, Atol Atol, Foto: Maciek Bielawski

First extra-musical note(and impression) -each of these CDs is simply beautifully wrapped in phenomenal graphics.
I don’t know the people who are responsible for the graphic part, but you can see already from this first element that it is a real “labor of love” and something that reflects the nature of this music (which I call “new feat. old” and not some crappy trendy thing).

Reviews of these three CDs are (and probably still will be) full of tropes tossed around in the album descriptions made sometimes even by the performers themselves. We will probably read that this is “the Polish Minutemen” or “the Polish answer to No Wave” or similar useless shits!
All these opinions are as attractive and catchy as they are utterly ridiculous.
After all, what is to be gained from the fact that Kurws or Atol,Atol, Atol sound like No Wave? Is it really important to know that ???
We are in the year 2022 and we have people who have created their own unique style, which, due to its originality (with a whole lot of comparisons), distinctiveness of language and, above all, novelty of ideas, is of vital importance for contemporary musical culture.
The entire output of the trio (and occasionally quartet) Kurws, when viewed in these stylistic categories (and references), brings together the most important currents in (post)rock music of the last 40 years!
Thanks to Kurws’ use of repetitive elements, ‘strange’ stumbles, unexpected leaps and electronic accents (Hubert Kostkiewicz’s guitar), works are created which could not otherwise exist.
The example of the guitarist I mentioned above (Kurws but also Atol, Atol, Atol) shows best that, despite a certain faithfulness to the idea(?) of post-punk aesthetics, this guitarist constantly renews (and expands) the means he uses – the guitar effects I mentioned are omnipresent on Kurws and Atol, Atol, Atol which, in the case of the latter group, add to the overall “industrial massive sound”.
Here, it is worth mentioning his duet Spoons and Bones, with saxophonist Piotr Łyszkiewicz, which required more craziness and open improvisation due to the even more minimalist instrumentation.
At the opposite end of that free improv-noise spectrum, with the sax’n’guitar duo, which demanded a lot of freedom, Hubert Kostkiewicz, played a concert tour with the Japanese group Kukengendai.
In this music, math rock precision and discipline were already important.
While listening to Kurws (this also applies to the new album “Powęż”), I have the same irresistible impression for several records that composing, math rock swirls comes extremely easily to this group and everything happens in a joyful atmosphere of fascination with the creative act and the group is still exploring new possibilities of the classic trio – bass, guitar, percussion (and what is most important, it is an equally pleasant experience for the group and for us, which is not a frequent phenomenon in the music that has the ambition to cross and break the conventions of the genre), then in the case of Atol, Atol, Atol and Przepych this matter, that I could even unequivocally say what the mood of this music is, is no longer so simple.
I find Atol’s music much more mysterious, sometimes even sinister. And both of these terms are not value-laden, it’s more about a certain aura and what these sounds do to me.
This is not only due to the fact that we get either debut albums (Atol, Atol, Atol) or albums like in the case of the group Przepych, which I have not listened to before.
As I said the sound of Atol, Atol, Atol is more massive rather than scattered as in the case of Kurws.
This is not only due to the aforementioned guitarist but also to the electronic , mysterious sounds for which I understand Szymon Szwarc is responsible. These electronic elements also cause a certain slowing down of the mad rushing machine that is Atol, Atol, Atol.
Throughout the album, the single synthesizer sounds of Agata Horwat are like “in opposition” to the disjointed and jittery rhythm section and provide a very interesting counterpoint for the guitarist.

These “electronic” interludes appear in often very strange places, e.g. in the middle of a track, which deepens the impression I wrote about above (e.g. in the track “Gdyby świat……” or looped final track).

In fact, each song on this album is like a separate world, you can enjoy the musical and vocal details.

Of course, there is no question of any outstanding virtuosity here, because it is not about that at all, but rather about ingenious vocal combinations (e.g. in the song “Koniec sosu tysiąca wysp”).

To be honest, the term outstanding or virtuosic does not fit any of these albums.
Rather, this music stands in opposition to the kind of monumental massive sounds that festivals often commission, or pieces written in praise of some famous person who died a hundred years ago.
I suppose that these musicians could easily do something like this, say “epic”, but it would be completely against them and their approach to the sound they play with and entertain us with.
The band’s album Przepych is the closest in the tradition of what might be called Rock in Opposition and which, years later anyway, doesn’t really matter any more, unless one is that 50 or older and likes to take things apart. In short, its is the closest to me.
The first track (‘Fusion cuisine’) is something like the plunderphonic punk. A cross between the beginning of Negativland’s first album and anything that recalls me The Ex.

Photo has taken from Przepych’s bandcamp.

There’s Polish absurdist cabaret Mumio, who present their entire programme in a fast-forward 1 minute version as an encore to their shows . It’s a very good and successful concept also for Przepych.
How to capture an entire album in less than a minute. Instead of intro. Yeah they did it perfectly!
Then the full-on ride begins – for me a fan of Fat, The Work, The Momes, Unrest Work & Play, the loping vocals of the first De Press album, Skeleton Crew or French Etron Fou Leloublan.
I literally soak up every minute here.
After two tracks, in the third track of this album (“Two Poles Kissing”) the music comes to a standstill for a while and the listener gets what could sound like the beginning of Renaldo and The Loaft with The Residents. Surprisingly, the track begins in much the same way as “Two Poles Kissing” and for a moment the listener feels as if the CD-player is jammed.
The pieces where Szymon Szwarc adds electronic & guitar or Piotr Łyszkiewicz plays the clarinet, sound very good. So these fragments after the raw pieces of the trio are listened to with even greater attention and concentration. Again, this is a very good concept.
When a “fierce” broken rhythm drills into our ears and all the instruments seem to follow it … suddenly there is a clarinet or surprising layers of electronics.
I think that, as in the case of Atol, Atol, Atol and Przepych, such “guest slots” with other instrumentalists will be very O.K..
This music has no space for improvisation, it is a kind of “controlled (and composed) chaos” – the same thing (in the instrumental part) was done by the British band The Work, I mentioned before (especially audible in the work “Out Of Nest” on the Przepych album, perhaps the best of the whole sound material collected here). I imagine that such electronics could be stretched out to longer lengths at concerts and act as a sonic counterpoint to the trio’s rhythmic harping.
The end of the album and pieces like the aforementioned ‘Out Of Nest’ or Dry pool and stingray (‘Dry pool and stingray’) are simply a real masterpiece of abstraction. Even if they sound a bit “too much” like from Thrill Jockey records of some Radian or other Isotope 217, in the context of the whole album it is simply a fantastic coda.
The only weak point of this album is that, on its own, after track 8 this music should drift into infinity and the album should remain slightly understated.

I won’t say anything about the lyrics because I don’t know anything about lyrics. Dunno, whether they evoke the atmosphere of Wojtek Bąkowski or Marcin Pryt, or maybe they are in some other style. I would say they are very concise, sometimes jagged, giving the whole thing an even more rhythmic (and jagged) feel.
I hope to listen to them in concert as soon as possible. In the new Pogłos, of course.
However, the music on these records is neither local nor hermetic. Its language is very universal, just as Rock In Opposition music once was.

*The title of the post is a reference to Chris Cutler’s book:” File Under Popular’, which presents the cultural codes of the Rock in Opposition movement. A music that grew out of opposition to the official policies of the big record companies and the dictates of the media promoting American culture.


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