psychogeography#1: Rafal Grobel talks poland
With the interconnecting power of the internet, is geographic location still important in the development of culture and scenes? Is the idea of locality still relevant in music now that 'Detroit Techno' is being crafted in Luton bedsits and 'Chicago House' created in Bangalore? In a new series of articles, we explore these ideas, talking to various label bosses, producers, Djs and musicians across the globe and finding out the history and health of their local scenes and whether the old sense of place is becoming a thing of the past.
First up in the series, we caught up with label boss/dj & promoter Rafal Grobel, in Warsaw who also gifted us an exclusive mix and free d/l of Eltron John's Bomby (SLG Edit) here…
Please introduce yourself and describe what you do within the Polish DJing scene?
My name is Rafa? Grobel, I'm a DJ, promoter, record collector & S1 Warsaw record label co-owner with a short episode as a host in contemporary music TV show, based in Warsaw, Poland. On my own or with my crew I had a pleasure to bring to our country such artists as Moodymann, Dez Andres, DM-Funk, Ron Morelli, Beautiful Swimmers, John Heckle, Eric Duncan, Lone, Pariah, Tiger & Woods, Deep Space Orchestra, Francis Inferno Orchestra & few others. Two years ago we brought Record Store Day to Warsaw & around that moment we decided that it's time to release some music on our own. We started with two local beat-tapes, followed by a compilation CD from Red Bull Music Academy workshop. We're closing 2013 with two vinyl EPs by Cracov's very own Eltron John & Upper Silesian talent Chino with remixes from Linkwood, Murphy Jax & XAMIGA.
In terms of electronic music, I suppose Poland started to appear on people's radars with the minimal scene and the recognition of 3 Channels (aka Catz N Dogz), Jacek Sienkiewicz, Marcin Czubala and Seliga (aka SLG) in the 00s. But is there a deeper history of electronic music in Poland that we might not be aware of?
To be honest, not much was going on before that. 90s were still pretty tough in terms of gear availability & affordability. Huge gap in access to popculture after the communism was slowly decreasing thanks to satellite TV broadcast & legendary Viva Zwei channel from Germany, few radio shows & club DJ pioneers literally driving & smuggling records from Vienna & Berlin. Obviously there was a community of producers, heads & magazines about the growing club culture but I don't think it gained any awareness outside the country.
I guess mid 80s was a much more interesting period. Joy Division & The Cure inspired cold wave bands like Siekiera, synthesizer experiments by W?adys?aw Komendarek (one of Legowelt's favs), Andrzej Korzy?ski's film music (recently re-issued by Finders Keepers) or Marek Bili?ski's electro-minimalish tracks are worth digging.
Where are the primary centres for the scene in Poland? And do they have different sounds, like some cities in the UK (such as Bristol's combination of house, dub & bass, Glasgow's devotion to Detroit techno, Manchester's acid house history, Nottingham's massive influence on British deep house)?
In my opinion there never was bigger disparity between Warsaw and other places than it is at the moment. Most of the cities that used to be busy few years ago now only have one or two proper venues left. Im talking about Krakw, Wroc?aw, ?d?, Pozna?, Gda?sk or Katowice. Non of them have record stores with new records any more and only few can afford any import nights. It's really a big shame because it kills the enthusiasm and hinders the local scene growth. With no spots like record stores or a good venue with weekly events it's hard to interact with other DJs & producers and influence each other. I guess he main factor to blame is economics and the fact that most talented people move to Berlin, London or at least Warsaw. Our capitol city changed a lot though and in completely opposite way. Quality and intensity of night life in Warsaw is now easily comparable to many western cities around Europe. On every weekend there is at least 4-5 big names playing in town and the community is pretty big and quite strong. Many DJ collectives and promoters are doing their thing in different genres from disco, boogie, house, future garage to proper techno.
Coming back to the question, I think few years ago you could tell that drum'n'bass is very strong in ?d?, Gda?sk or Wroc?aw, and Warsaw is big with minimal and tech-house. Now it's rather an oasis in a desert with bits of everything inside. Obviously it's not a melting pot like Berlin or London and the audience is much smaller. There is not too many producers around in general so it'd be hard to create local unique style or sub-genre. It might be funny for some people reading this but since decade the most popular urban music style in Poland is hip-hop. And I'm not talking about East or West Coast, it's Polish rappers with songs in Polish and the forth biggest hip-hop community and industry around the globe after USA, France and Germany. Warsaw is it's center for years. On the other hand I don't want to make a statement that nothing is going on around. I have many great friends who are doing their best and are successful with their music and parties in Krakw, Wroc?aw, Pozna? oraz Bia?ystok. Many wonderful people still live there. Eltron John and Chino – producers who released on our label S1 Warsaw are actually both living in Krakw.
What are the highlights of the musical calendar in Poland?
First thing that comes to my mind is Unsound Festival in Krakow. Every year the city changes for one week in October to become music freaks and nerds Mecca. From classical and contemporary music, noise, drone, IDM, house, dub techno to techno. Shows take place in cathedrals, tram yards, Japanese art & tech centre and huge abandoned hotel by the river. I guess this is the only culture event in the country where more then half participants are non-Polish speaking. Many of the acts become hyped and get recognition one season after they already played in Krakw. And they love to come back.
Another good festival is Tauron Nowa Muzyka in Katowice. It used to be located in the old coal mine area in the city. Really good combination of music and postindustrial experience in the heart of Upper Silesia – mining and heavy industry heritage.
If you're into Berghain/Panorama Bar sound and you love to dance in open air on warm night – Audioriver in P?ock is for you. Located in an amazing valley by the river and below a historical market square creates remarkable memories. In my opinion it could be a bit more diverse music-wise but still I have to admit it's one of the best underground dance music events in the country.
When it comes to club night lineups, 1500m2 in Warsaw is no doubt country's number one. Biggest names (Carl Craig, Moodymann, Dettmann, DJ Koze, Kassem Mosse, Mala etc.) and different styles. Located in a former printing plant, with various floors it can handle more than 1000 people in 3 rooms. There are many different venues around the town and some are getting better recently but most of the nights take place in random locations where as a promoter you have to deal with manager's expectance. Promising new spots worth checking are Brzozowa 37 (Huerco S., Beautiful Swimmers etc.) and Nowa Jerozolima (Legowelt, TLR etc.). Legendary spots that still remain from analogue times are Sfinks in Gda?sk and Metro in Bia?ystok. Worth checking if you appear in the area. At this point I have to mention three venues that unfortunately don't exist any more. Club 55 in Warsaw, Rozrywki 3 and Radar in Krakw were places with the remarkable vibe & attitude in the biz.
Do you feel that Poland is forging it's own identity, or is it overshadowed by its proximity to the industry centre of Berlin?
There certainly are influences from Berlin but Poles have much closer mindset to the Brits who travel here massively. In the past Germany was the only link with western culture and most of the cities located near the border like Wroc?aw, Pozna? or Szczecin were strongly connected with it. People traveled to work, buy records, equipment or spray cans. When you look at the history of Polish street art and graffiti you can clearly tell it moved from western part to the east. Minimal techno and electro spreaded the same way strenghten by German music TV stations. Meanwhile, a group of people started to look what's going on in the UK. Drum'n'bass and breakbeat spread quickly and stayed for a long time.
Now it's as fast and cheap to fly RyanAir to London as to take EuroCity train to Berlin so many people moved to both places and are very successful there. Like our friend Gosia – head of production in Boiler Room or Zambon – co-founder of The Very Polish Cut-Outs records in Berlin. The label releases edits of Polish dance music, psychedelic rock and easy listening from past decades. Reworks by duo Ptaki and Maciek Sienkiewicz are extraordinary and desired around the world. So if I'd have to name the uncommon factor that makes music from my country special, I'd say it's the slavic flavour.
For more info on S1 Warsaw, check out their FB.
Eltron John's Bomby is available on vinyl here.
Interview conducted by Joe Bonez