Iceland has long been the uncontested trailblazer of indie music, but Poland is soon to rise as a fair contender for the title. We interviewed a man who has been behind the scenes since the very beginning, discovering one prodigy after another: Leszek Biolik
He started his career as a professional musician in 1980, and when the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, he was already a well-known bass player performing with a legendary rock band – Republika. Two decades into his career, Leszek has established himself as one of the most successful and active musicians, producers and promoters. In 2012, together with his friend Robert Tyska – eminent film director and producer – and Maciej Pilarczyk from Chaos Management Group, they run OtwArta Scena (Open Stage Foundation) which aims to promote the most talented young Polish musicians.
Iza Lach 'Painkiller' / otwARTa scena Live
As for 1989, it was the beginning of huge transformation that was to happen to every field of people’s activity in Poland – obviously including the music market. Going from everything being state-owned to a free market with international major labels dealing the cards, and then the Internet smashing this ancien régime, was an eventful process that resulted in a very uncommon and promising situation.
WO: You have witnessed all of the 25 years of history of the free music market in Poland as a successful musician and producer, but you have simultaneously become one of the most respected experts on young talents. To start with, can you give us your opinion on how the Polish market works, compared to developed markets? Is the transformational period over?
LB: I think that the way the music is promoted has radically changed and that it immediately affected the music market. It happened in few phases:
First, there was the moment when we moved from analogue vinyl records and magnetic tapes to digital CDs. Some of the artists were not ‘translated’ to the new, digital language and simply disappeared.
Then, the Internet came and turned the music world on its head, such as superseding the biggest record companies (called ‘majors’) from their position as the only ones able to effectively promote music, i.e., organising huge marketing campaigns on the radio, television and in the press. Before the Internet era, that was the only way you could reach your audience, your ‘clients’. This majors’ monopoly fell to pieces in the few years after the Internet became a common thing. Even if they still remained important, they were no longer a ‘to be or not to be’ factor.
In addition, the process of the commercialization of the music market advanced remarkably, which is an obvious thing, but in Poland even the so-called ‘public media’ (owned by the state) is dependent on the income generated by advertisements. In many countries, it has worked this way for years, but for us this is a brand-new situation: the choice of the music broadcast on the radio or television is closely related to the advertiser’s demands.
The result of the above-mentioned fact is that a vast part of music and musicians is not being presented in the mainstream media at all. As it is popularity that makes one ‘eligible’ to appear on a TV show or radio channel and all the others, those who look for something new and fresh ran away to the only safe area left – the Internet! All of the most creative artists, all those who do not fear to take the biggest risks, those who do not think of music as a source of money only – they create and experiment on the Internet. This caused radical changes in the functioning and promotion of present-day alternative bands.
Wovoka 'Nobody's fault but mine' / otwARTa scena Live
WO: You said that the Internet is ‘the only safe area left’. To me, the Internet seems to be an opportunity and a threat at the same time. The common availability of music from all around the world floods us everyday with a myriad of new albums, new artists… Do you think that Polish artists are strong enough and good enough to get into the spotlight?
LB: Let me put it this way: before the Internet era, a Polish artist was promoted only by the Polish media and worked with Polish record labels in order to get to the certain group of Polish listeners who listened to a specific Polish radio or watched Polish television. Nowadays, every artist is able to record an album without any help from a record label. There is no need to pay thousands of dollars for the studio, for the marketing campaign. Everybody can record an album, so there is no supervision, no rules that decide whether something will be published or not. This is why things such as the nationality of the author and the place of the album's production became more and more tangential, in a way that no one is no longer doomed to failure just because of their place of birth.
That means that the doors are wide open now – for everybody, as well as for Polish artists. Meanwhile, I find it supremely interesting what Polish young artists have in their heads. We were always eager to imbibe western culture, to learn from diversity of world music and to stay tuned to the newest trends from all over the world, and we accumulated all this influences, but also translated them into our own Slavic language. This is how our style was born. On one hand, it is very up-to-date, on the other, it respects the classics and comprises the Polish weapon of choice – the melodies… we have a truly amazing approach to the melody in music and this is what makes our music stand out a little bit. Maybe it's because we’ve been listening to western music for ages, often not understanding the words, thereby concentrating more on the melodies? This is why we absorb things so easily, with a great sense of tolerance.
Last but not least, because our music market is medium-sized and still undergoing major refurbishment, we are not shaped by the strict economic criteria of ‘what will be top grossing and what will be an economic flop’. There is no big money involved so you can take a lot of risk, you can stay unrestrictedly creative and free. All these factors result in a fascinating phase of ‘incubation’ of what is coming soon in Poland – a broad and coherent market of great independent music: young rock ’n’ roll and pop music, slightly different from that which you can hear in the mainstream media. Poland will be the next Iceland! Soon ‘Polish’, in the world of independent music, will be a well-known trademark certifying the finest quality and originality, no doubt!
Olivier Heim 'Ocean' / otwARTa scena Live
WO: Do you see any trailblazers ready to start the assault of Polish music? Any predictions?
LB: Ooh… no idea, seriously, what a hard question… there are so many artists ready to amaze the audience! For example, we’ve recently recorded a session for OtwArta Scena with four bands and the effects were simply stunning! Iza Lach was absolutely amazing, so was Olivier Heim, Coldair did a great job and Paula i Karol just stole our hearts! Each of them was completely different from the others and still at the highest level. Most fascinating of all, I realise that it was only our latest session!
To be honest, when we started OtwArta Scena I was afraid that we would quickly run short of ideas of artists to record, meanwhile, nowadays we try to figure out how to get money to record this whole wonderful abundance of great music! I am truly delighted with this fact! Every year there are more and more bands, the standard constantly goes up and artists are more aware of their goals and identity. I’ll say it loud and clear – I am thrilled with Polish alternative music!
Coldair 'Perfect Son' / otwARTa scena Live
WO: You spoke earlier about Polish independent music being in the ‘incubation phase’. Would you compare it to anything else? Do you see the end of this phase on the horizon? What does Polish music need to launch?
LB: That reminds me of the time that we lived in Poland in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During the communist period, no one had a chance to independently start a career or record an album, so we would practice in the rehearsal rooms for years before we were allowed to perform publicly for the first time. Imagine this tension, this desire to play live! In every little city there were a lot of bands playing rock, punk, reggae or whatever, rehearsing non-stop for a non-existent gig. One day, when we got rid of the communist system and organising a concert was suddenly possible, it would turn out that there was a huge group of fully developed bands and artists, ready to instantly come out and play great music.
I would compare this to what’s going on now. There are a lot of extraordinary artists but the market is not ready to let all of them play a lot or sell albums and earn reasonable money. This is why they are developing their ideas, composing music without even thinking of the business aspect – they concentrate on the artistic side only. This phase of incubation, where nothing's promised at the end of the road, is truly priceless. The temperature rises and we’ve got more and more to offer. It is a wonderful tendency!
WO: Last but not least, please tell us what OtwArta Scena is all about.
LB: OtwArta Scena registers the live sessions of Polish alternative bands in superior sound and image quality. These are 100% live sessions and aim to present artists the way they would perform at a live concert. We find it very important because it is live performance that reveals the true identity of an artist and in the present day, when the possibilities of editing your material in the studio are unlimited, playing live has become the most challenging test: are you already a professional or not? In addition, in these videos you can see the interaction between musicians; see them play from close range – something you wouldn’t experience listening to the album. In short, OtwArta Scena goes about searching for and recording the best young Polish indie musicians in high quality!
Interviewed by Wojciech Oleksiak on 8th of July, 2014.