Sometimes being a music journalist has its plus points. Attending out-of-the-way foreign festivals for one. Recently this has meant going to events that have little to do with the old, established “Anglo-American” circuit. Festies such as Estonia’s Tallinn Music Week, MENT in Slovenia, Lithuania’s What Next In Music? and OFF in Poland. The great thing about going is that you can see some of the mindbendingly good music coming out of East-Central Europe at the moment. I’ve bored many recently about my new idea about “where it’s at” (daddy-oh); what I call “the Balkans to Baltic fault line”. And now I’m going to bore you, too.
Sadly a number of these bands can’t tour the UK given (in the case of Serbia) weird visa restrictions stopping artists touring, or crippling costs; which is a shame as Repetitor are possibly the best, most exciting rock band I’ve seen live in 20 years. Still you can dig the records – not quite the same adrenaline rush – but we Mags know that (just like our impoverished owner) beggars can’t be choosers. One thought that keeps coming back to me over and over is the fact that this is another world outside of our traditional “British” pop world, one that is just as creative and often far more exciting.
One other thing; when listening to music in a foreign language, you can often hear when an artist really really means what they sing. That is maybe why some of these bands are making such exciting music at the moment, they don’t want to ponce about with clever-clever zeitgeisty memes or the like, what they say matters to them, it shapes their sound, and you “feel” it. Consequently there is a freshness and punchiness to their approach. Without coming across like some “Rupert Record Reviewer” on the Guardian, the socio-cultural and political situation in many of the places is “tense” and these acts grab the chance to get their point across accordingly. Again I could easily add an extra 15-20 names or so. But these are the ones that literally blew me away when I’ve seen them live, and ones that have translated it to their records.
Belgrade’s high octane rockers and angry denouncers of all uncool politics and ungroovy squares. It’s a crying shame no-one can get them to the UK due to some ludicrous visa restrictions (done in the best British tradition of fucking things up for the bureaucratic thrill of it all). I’m not alone in thinking this is one of the greatest rock bands on the planet. Membranes front man and the UK’s spokesman on all things punk and cool, John Robb, said: “They are the 21st Century Nirvana who have come to save rock”. And he should know. A three-piece built on a fabulous female rhythm section (Milena is the greatest drummer I’ve seen, alongside Stephen Morris and Pete deFreitas) their last two records are angry, metallic rock beasts that tell you all you need to know about their homeland; even if you don’t understand the lyrics. An amazing band.
A brilliant alternative pop band from Moscow; and one of many from what seems a great scene there; check out Spasibo, Fanny Kaplan and Lucidvox, too. They sing in Russian about (in their words), “the absurdity of Russian existence”, and make a brilliant mix of jazzy post-punk and C21st pop. Again I implore you, if they tour, go and see them as singer Ekaterina Shilonosova is one of the most engaging live performers I’ve seen in a long while. The band, for their part, are tighter than Ashley’s war chest. Imagine a Russian BowWowWow or Maximum Joy, or modern acts like Chastity Belt and you’re there.
Bernays Propaganda (PR Macedônia)
Macedônia’s most Righteous band? Very likely. The main guy Vasko) is a loon (they did a good interview that sums them up pretty well with yours truly in Louder than War recently INSERT LINK http://louderthanwar.com/bernays-propaganda-interviewed/) and the girl (Tina) is a philosopher and a poet. Vasko’s stories are legendary, stopping planes by ringing presidents, digging tennis hooligan fashions, and seemingly knowing every rocker and punk in the Balkans peninsula. The music is a sparky mix of electro pop and rock with the accent on Banshees / Bauhaus post-punk. Vasko runs a mental label [INSERT LINK https://balkanveliki.bandcamp.com/] which (if you dig crazy Macedônian folk and electro experiments) can throw up some real gems amongst the indecipherable turbo folk jams.
Maarja Nüüt (Estonia)
A mesmerising fiddler whose live shows are a wonder. Currently experimenting with more electronics and loops, Maarja Nüüt’s work is an otherworldly mix of dreams, scary stories and weird experiments, all processed through the most brilliant demonstrations of fiddling. This girl (one of many great artists in Estonia at the moment) will be a star, you have been warned.
One of many great Polish bands this last decade (Inner City Ensemble and Trupa Trupa should also be on your list), Baaba make the maddest chamber jazz and folky triphop imaginable. ALL their LPs are nuts and wondrous things in their own right, but 2014’s EasterChristmas is a classic.
Sheep Got Waxed
Those Central Europeans sure love their quirky musickes. Another brilliant fusion band, Lithuania’s Sheep Got Waxed mix jazz and Beefheart and some raucous guitar to make a mad post-rock sound that I’ve not really heard elsewhere. They’re not easy, but somehow tracks like ‘Woolless’ (below) stick in your head in a good way. A brilliant, brilliant live band, too.
RICHARD FOSTER – Follow Richard on @incendiarymagazine
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