Monday, January 3, 2011

Here Be Dogs

by Drew Martin

When I arrived in Prague in the winter of 1992, it became immediately obvious that Czechs love music: they bathed in it. On my first night in Prague, a friend took me around to a handful of clubs, all blaring rock music, which included a lot of American grunge. What surprised me the most was that when some of the partying Czechs got tired, they just fell asleep right there in the club, on the floor, behind the stage speakers or at a pub table. I was impressed.

One reason for this was that they were simply resting until the normal public transportation kicked in at 5 a.m. when the metro and day-schedule trams came alive. But I also witnessed this at a big music festival in Moravia. I went to the main square early one morning, where the bands had played the night before, and found about a hundred Czechs and Slovaks sleeping on the pavement without any kind of bedding, using the curbs as headrests. It looked as if a bomb had gone off leaving these youthful casualties littered about. It was a carefree, fantastic summer and the fans did not want to miss a minute of it.

At this time there was a healthy domestic music scene as well as a great interest in foreign bands. The smaller groups from the UK and other parts of Europe were enthusiastic about touring Czechoslovakia and playing for an audience that seemed insatiable. I did not follow the music scene too closely but on subsequent visits (after I returned to the States in 1997) I sensed that the local bands were fading out as the world opened up and more and more to the Bohemians. Instead of meeting up with friends to see the Czechs perform, I was being invited to amateur reggae and Latin music shows. Not that I would dismiss these kinds of music but I just don't want to see second-rate versions of them farther from their source.

So when I was asked at the end of this past summer to help out with a music book project, covering Czech bands and the image each embodies (including the presentation of their performances, merchandizing, packaging, marketing, fashion and the reflection of all this by the fans themselves), I was pleased to find that the Czech scene is alive and well, anchored with a few old timers, such at The Plastic People of the Universe, and refreshed with many newer bands, such as Kill the Dandies!.

The fashion interest of the project was no surprise to me because every time I visited Czech it became harder and harder to tell the Czechs apart from the expats and tourists. In the early 1990s, tight black jeans, a keffiyeh around the neck and a pair of ankle-high suede shoes with gummy soles would comprise a cool Czech look. Many of the young men grew their hair long and the young female club-kids wore thigh-high black stockings with mini skirts. In the summer, both the men and women wore short-shorts and thin leather sandals or simple, old-school sneakers. Another staple accessory for the men, was a black or dark-brown leather pouch worn on the hip, which contained their wallets and identification.

Now, the young Czechs would fit in with any international hipster crowd. Each time I go to Prague, I swear its my last time, but something always pulls me back. I think it is really exciting to see how Czechs changed in two decades. Hardly anyone spoke English when I first arrived and now everyone speaks well. The younger artists and musicians are more worldly, less cynical and fun to be around.

The book I have mentioned, which captures the current Czech music scene with all of its visual aspects, is Zde Jsou Psi (translated to the slangy, Here Be Dogs). Its format is over 9x12 inches (23 x 31 x 3 cm). With 262 thick pages, it is loaded with photos, drawings, graphics and articles about 32 Czech bands.

Zde Jsou Psi is the result of dozens of contributors, from writers to photographers. Michal Nanoru edited the project from New York, where he is currently living, while Martina Overstreet produced it in Prague. The bands were selected by Nanoru, Overstreet and Marie Hladíková. I am credited as one of three anglické korektury ("English correctors" a.k.a English proof readers). I merely cleaned up several of the articles, which required some re-translating and invention. I have not actually looked at my efforts in the book for fear of seeing a mistake but while thumbing through it again I saw an opening quote for the band 1a2v1 that made me laugh because of the back-and-forth I had with Nanoru and the English translator, Irena Tománková:

"Do you wear long-hair plush? Better drink some Slurpee slush!"

I am not even going to attempt to explain this here; you'll have to get the book >>>

The bands covered include:
Marius konvoj, Like She, Schwarzprior, 1a2v1, Midi Lidi, Kazety, Mateřídouška, Čokovoko, The Models, Poxxoxo, Indie Twins, Tvyks, Table, Eost, Prince of Tennis, Sporto, Magnetik, Dné, Fiordmoss, Dva, Please the Trees, Kill the Dandies!, Priessnitz, Scissorhands, Sunshine, Night, Root, Master’s Hammer, 518, Smack, WWW, Plastic People of the Universe.

Shown here, respectively, are photos of Eost, Fiordmoss and Mateřídouška, from top to bottom (all shot by Adam Holý).