Art Raves, Dogs & Club Ekwador: The Curious World of Polish Techno
default, Techno party, Hala Torwar, 1997, photo: Sławomir Kamiński / Agencja Gazeta, center, techno_torwar_fot_slawek_kaminski_ag_sk6020_007.jpg
Looking back at the Polish techno scene over the last 30 years, it's evident that it has a diverse and unique history. From events as different as artsy raves in the 1990s, immensely popular clubs in the countryside in the early 2000s and the current parties that raise awareness of dog homelessness, techno is immensely vibrant in Poland.
The optimism of ‘disco-oxen’
The techno scene in Poland bloomed in the 1990s. The first techno gigs usually took place in industrial spaces – private properties, squats, bunkers and other rather unconventional locations. The music was often played from cassette tapes. Records appeared sometime later.
Techno was celebrated not only in the bigger cities like Warsaw or Kraków. New clubs appeared in Szczecin, Zielona Góra, Łódź, Bielsko-Biała and Poznań. Parties were even organised in train compartments. Festivals, often sponsored by alcohol or tobacco companies, were doing well too.
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At that time, rock was much more popular – electronic music was labelled as ‘rąbanka’ (chopping), and its listeners were often deemed as 'dyskomuły' (disco-oxen). However, techno positioned itself in opposition to rock music. It brought unparalleled optimism and hedonism into music subcultures that fitted well with the synthetic, neon clothes, plastic, latex and specific industrial style of the clubs.
In the early ’90s, the Filtry club ( open from 1992 to 1994) was the most popular. It was located in a Warsaw basement, covered with graffiti and full of artistic installations. Filtry seduced not only young clubgoers but also artists like Grzegorz Ciechowski and Kora. Jacek Sienkiewicz, one of the most legendary polish DJs, started his career there.
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Forty-eight-hour rave parties also started at Filtry. When mentioning raves from the 90s, however, the most prominent were those held in the New Alcatraz club in Łódź. The club owners also organised the first Parada Wolności (Freedom Parade) in Poland.
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Freedom Parade started after the club New Alcatraz was closed down. Its owners, Robert Jakubowski and Sławek Żak, established the New Alcatraz Mega Party Organization (NAMPO). In 1996, as NAMPO, they organised a techno festival called New Alcatraz Welcome Back Party. It was to become the oldest and largest festival of electronic music in Poland.
At first, parties were held in a sports hall and preceded by a march through Piotrkowska Street. As a whole, the event was called Parada Wolności @ Centrum – Łódź (Freedom Parade Łódź City Centre). It started to gain notoriety when it organised a free street party, which functioned as a long techno parade with sound trucks featuring local and foreign DJs.
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Freedom Parade attendees were quite imaginative in terms of clothing (or lack thereof) and appearance. The queer collective Transmode organised their fashion shows there too. The items most in vogue included capes, fur rompers, devil horns, gas masks, pipes and whistles. The parade attracted quite huge crowds – as many as 25 thousand people attended in 2002.. In the end, the Freedom Parade was cancelled in 2003 due to a conflict with Jerzy Konwicki, the then-president of Łódź.
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Politics, technology & Andy Warhol as a raver
The techno music subculture that emerged after the 1980s punk movement was the next big inspiration for Polish visual artists. The ’90s techno scene was most definitely optimistic and at moments naive. At the same time, parts of the movement were quite intellectual and centred around protesting neoliberalism, privatisation and hierarchisation. In contrast to critical art, it revolved around community building and inclusivity. Often, galleries also functioned as dance clubs, where exhibition openings led to rave parties.
The art was also heavily centred around the DJs and VJs, interpreted as creative, yet anonymous; it was a contestation of glorifying artists as irreplaceable geniuses. Techno was abstract and avant-garde, mixing raves and cyber-like aesthetics. At that time, technology played a more and more important role – computers became artists’ work tools or at the very least inspired new artworks.
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Wiktoria Cukt (Centralny Urząd Kultury Technicznej/The Central Bureau of Technical Culture), virtual presidential candidate, photo; Arkadiusz Bartosiak / Forum
Amongst artists heavily inspired by technology was a group called CUKT (Centralny Urząd Kultury Technicznej/The Central Bureau of Technical Culture), who organised mock political events which were also rave parties. To demonstrate their opposition to post-1989 politics, they even created a virtual candidate for presidential elections in 2001. On the other hand, artists like Marta Deskur were more focused on the politics of friendship and relationships with others. The parties in Kraków that she organised had a more family-like atmosphere and were centred around symbols and allegories of her own making.
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There were also exciting pieces alluding to techno culture like Marek Kijewski and Małgorzata Malinowska's Portret Konny Andy Warhola (The Equestrian Statue of Andy Warhol). The sculpture depicted a centaur-like Andy Warhol dressed as a raver in a faux fur coat.
Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!
Manieczki is a Polish genre of techno which was popular in the early 2000s. It owes its name to a village, Manieczki, where a legendary techno club – Ekwador – was located. Enormous techno parties that attracted a lot of attention, the so-called wiksy (derived from the German Wichser, meaning ‘jerk-off’) took place in a small, quiet village. Specifically, the club was located in a former PGR (State Agricultural Farm).
Ekwador was established in 1998 and gained notoriety two years later. Wiksy became a road to fame for DJs like DJ Hazel and DJ-Kris, who popularised party shout outs like "Jazda! Jazda! Jazda!" (Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!). Ekwador’s style was distinct also for the presence of fluorescent clothing, UV gloves and glowsticks.
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On the one hand, Ekwador undoubtedly owes its popularity to cheap uppers like ecstasy, mephedrone and amphetamine. On the other, the DJs who played there were enamoured with integrating the clubgoers as well as creating a peaceful atmosphere at the parties. In a film about Ekwador, two dressed up club goers talk about the parties and how Ekwador is a loving family. What proves this statement, they say in unison, is their daughter. Later on, the clubgoers organise a trip from Manieczki to Berlin to participate in the Love Parade.
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Gabber & hope for paws
Besides minimalist techno, the more contemporary Polish techno scene offers things like ‘gabber’ extravaganza or collectives more focused on Eurodance and charity work.
In the first category is Wixapol, a techno collective which brings back old-school gabber-style techno. Their motto is: ‘It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice.’ As one of the party-goers sums up:
For my generation part of contesting the rules is attending gabber parties. It gives us a voice; it's a space for growing up, a place where one can feel emancipated.
During the 2019 Unsound festival, Wixapol decided to musically reinterpret a popular philosophical book by Andrzej Leder, Prześniona Rewolucja (The Dreamt-Through Revolution).
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Piesapol, photo: facebook.com/piesapol
polish artists of the 1990s
On the other side of the spectrum are the internet meme makers – members of the collective Piesapol (Dogpol), Aleksander (the creator of the Dogecore fan page), Kamil (who runs the Piesapol Facebook page) and Monika (the founder of the fan page Matka Boska Kapslokowa). This group started with playing music from their laptop showcasing Scooter or Gigi D'Agostino's biggest hits. Now, this formula has changed, and the organisers showcase more obscure music. Their charity project is no joke – with only 15 techno parties, they managed to raise over 60,000 złotys for animal shelters and charities in Poland.
Just like that, with a barrage of hardcore drum and bass, dogs and gabber lovers propel Polish techno forward to new prospects.
Written by Olga Tyszkiewicz, Apr 2020
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