After a brief lapse in the 1990s, Poland's independent music scene has been enjoying an electrifying revival over the past decade, spreading a diversity of styles and sounds all over the festival circuit.
Polish bands of the '80s knew the gritty meaning of the punk-rock slogan touted by the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones better than anyone. Even in the '60s, when Party Secretary Edward Gierek tried his hardest to flatten ounce of independent thought in Poland, bands like Czerwono-Czarni, Czerwone Gitary, Czesław Niemen, Breakout and SBB rebelled against the oppressive system. In effect, the pressures of the system created a cauldron of creative activity that rose in proportion to the obstacles set by the communist regime. By the time Martial Law was instated in 1981, these bands were seething with a passionate anger and a burning desire to make music. In 1989 the people won. Solidarity hero Lech Wałęsa brought democracy and a new day to Poland. The standard of living steadily improved across all levels of society. But what happened to the music? The truth is that once the pressure cooker of angst created by political oppression was capped, it appeared that no one was making music anymore. At least not any good music, anyway.
For most of the '90s, the Polish music scene was relatively unremarkable. Most records were merely unoriginal facsimiles of western music, with mostly factory-produced pop songs, deafening heavy metal or trite hip-hope tracks. The lack of a functional structure for compensating artists for records sold, the industry avoided risk and stuck to sure-fire mainstream money-makers. But as the Strokes proved to the world in 2001 with Is This It, rock was not dead after all - and neither was disco, techno, electro and everything else outside of the bubble gum mainstream. Then evolution of the Internet made all types of music readily available to anyone with a laptop. Kids didn't just want to listen, they wanted to create their own music and soon enough Poland joined the global movement towards independent music. Over the past five years the Polish music scene has been experiencing a steady revival. Dozens of bands have sprung up out of the woodwork, demonstrating a surprising musical sophistication coupled with raw talent.
The trend for alter/avant pop has only trickled over to a wider audience over the past year, shaping a genre that can boast breakthrough talents like Monika Brodka and Gaba Kulka. These two young musicians demonstrate a similar styling and enthusiasm as the young Gwen Stefani. Brodka herself is one of those rare beasts who managed to shrug off the shackles of Pop Idol success and become an original, independent artist in her own right. Her sounds combine interesting instrumental variations inspired by fun pop songs of the '60s, punched through with an original, neo-folk vocal styling. Encouraged by these first few debuts, musicians have begun pursuing their own sound and striding confidently towards the forefront of the European scene. Indie-pop vocalists like Julia Marcell, Iza Lach and Kari Amirian, with their breathy, ethereal sound reminiscent of the style of Lykke Li and other hot Scandinavian acts, are making an indelible mark on the festival circuit in 2012 and even breaking into the relatively airtight American record industry. Earlier this year Iza Lach reached a pinnacle of mainstream success when Snoop Dogg himself singled her out for a collaboration on his record Set it Off.
The indie music scene is young, but determined. The mélange of styles makes for a highly variegated playlist. Starting with alternative rock bands that play the sort of post garage-rock that folks all over the world really want to listen to right now, such as Pustki, Bubble Pie, Broken Betty, The Black Tapes, The Lollipops, Kim Nowak and Shiny Beats. Shiny Beats manages to capture a bit of that essence of the original Polish rock bands, putting a more gentlemanly take on a sound drawn from the power of the Sex Pistols. At the top of the indie rock game is definitely Kamp! - a new incarnation of a sound that marries The Cure's Robert Smith to New Order's Bernard Sumner, set against rock and electro instrumentals that sport hints of The Maccabees, Arctic Monkeys and Metronomy. The result is a brand new sound that can clearly run with the best. A fan comment on the band's Myspace page says it all - "Kamp! fucking rules".
Neo-folk is another big movement here. The revival comes from the union between traditional melodies and new electronic sounds and rythms pioneered by bands like Kapela ze Wsi Warszawa, Gooral and Pchełki. Bands like Paula & Karol and Très. B manage to blend rock, folk and electronica - and look really cool doing it. There's also the fun, quirky tracks that mix pop with electro and a dash of psychedelic cabaret produced by the likes of Oszibarack, D4D, Igor Boxx and Rebeka. And then there are the true experimentalists - ParisTetris, Michell Phunk, Rubber Dots and Last Blush, who create the raging current that drives the electro scene. These bands deliver everything from rough digital bangers to eerie futuristic harmonies, bringing on a smorgasbord of sounds that whips together the styles of Robyn, Crystal Castles, Sebastian Tellier, Santigold and Justice - and make it their very own.
Author: Agnes Monod-Gayraud, July 2012