Miskolc 1

One day I went to go see Hiroshima Rocks Around, an excellent Italian noise band that had been booked in Budapest. I got talking to the guy who booked the show, and he eventually asked me what my favorite Hungarian band was, and I told him Büdösök , a band that plays hilarious, psychotic, shitpunk music.

This was apparently the right thing to say. The singer and drummer from Büdösök were in the crowd, and in fact the drummer was in Kerdojel, the opening band. Kerdojel played shrill noise punk and wore weird masks and costumes and shit. They were great. Besides Büdösök, it was the best band I’d seen in Hungary. They were 100% fun.

It turned out that these bands weren’t from Budapest, but from Miskolc—a city about two hours from the capital. This explained why I hadn’t seen anything like them in Hungary. Watching these guys, I understood that I’d been looking in all the wrong places for music like this. It turns out that Mikolc, an economically depressed city of about 200,000, was/is home to a completely sick, experimental punk/poetry/noise scene that is totally remarkable.

There’s a lot of Miskolc music to write about, which is what I’ll be doing over the next few weeks. I’ll be posting what are going to be essentially rough drafts of something larger here at The Little Black Egg.

To start with, many of the bands and individuals that form the nucleus of the Miskolc music scene were somehow connected to a band called Ápolók, which is Hungarian for “The Nurses.”

They formed in 1982, and from what I can tell, they were the lynchpin of the Miskolc music scene, spawning a bunch of other bands. Ápolók started sounding like a fairly weird punk band in the early 80s. Only demos and live recordings of this material seems to have survived. The fidelity isn’t always great on these recordings but it isn’t completely horrible, either. Honestly, the fact that a digital record of this stuff even exists nearly 30 years on is remarkable, and I feel lucky to hear it.

Their early stuff is striking. Everyone sounds as though they haven’t been playing for that long; still, they aren’t laying down by-the-numbers punk at all—all the songs strain at their edges and follow strange paths. Who knows how this stuff actually sounded—the lo-fi tapes that remain give everything a blown-out, keening edge

Ápolók have keyboards and weird instrumentation at times, not unlike contemporaries such as A.E. Bizottság, who they played some shows with back in the day. Whatever Ápolók might have ingested from those guys, however, was excreted as something far stranger and more intense. (Interesting side-note: the song “Da da da” contains the same keyboard rhythm track that prompts Mark E. Smith to yell “turn that bloody, blimey space invader off-uh!” during the Fall’s “The Man Whose Head Expanded.”) I don’t know what was in the water supply in Hungary at this time, but it did its job. At this stage in their life-cycle, Ápolók are vibrating with potential, and were about to transform into a something else.

After a couple of years, Ápolók entered a period of dormancy as its members took care of real life concerns. During this time, Ápolók’s sound transformed, advancing them to a weird new plane. No recordings were issued during this period, so it’s anyone’s guess what happened with these guys, biologically-speaking. They didn’t “mature,” which as we all know is about the shittiest thing that a band can do. Instead, they mutated to a more virulent and efficient life form. Ápolók’s true character extruded from its old form; their new physical manifestation sounded like a spastic Beefheart/Zappa mutant, punchy and hilarious, crossbred with Hungarian film soundtracks and god knows what else, performed by musicians with surprisingly sick chops.

I don’t think you could call this post-punk, or at least, it sounds nothing like what people generally identify as being a post-punk sound. The nearest touchstone might be the Dog-Faced Hermans, maybe. Most of the songs are somehow intricate and off-kilter. You get the feeling that a couple of these guys might have come to this band after being expelled from the conservatory or something.

During the 1990s, Ápolók made a ton of music videos and little movies, all of which are still available. These are perhaps the coolest thing that these guys ever did. Shot on no budget in Miskolc, it shows the band members and their friends creating surreal and hilarious scenes.

For instance, the video for their song “Fegyver Tusa” shows one of the band members ostensibly taking a shit in an outhouse while singing. He then grabs a rifle, rolls around on the ground, sharpens the rifle on a grindstone, worms around on his stomach, and then joins his friends (who are performing a kick-line whilst dressed in Hungarian winter gear) for a waltz as the song morphs into the Hall of the Mountain King. It’s hard to explain the charm of these films but it’s easy to appreciate them.

I consulted a friend from Budapest about the meaning of this song. Here is what she said: “He says it is better to lie on the ground, which is why he is always lying on the ground, and there is a Hungarian saying that is like ‘It is always better to be lying down, because you can’t be going any lower.’ And do you see where he is sitting in this video? He is sitting on a toilet. It is very funny, actually.”

During this time, Ápolók began playing shows outside of Hungary. Barangó, former Ápolók member and current friend/co-collaborator/secret weapon/man-on-the-scene, told me this story about the time that Ápolók got booked to play a show in Amsterdam. This show happened prior to the Berlin Wall falling, so the band had to cross into West Germany to get to Amsterdam. They’d loaded all their members, weird instruments, etc. into an old Soviet model van, and drove through the snow to the checkpoint. The West German border guards wouldn’t let the band drive their van, which was a piece of shit, on West German roads. So they abandoned it, and everyone decided to hitchhike to Amsterdam. In January. They somehow pulled it off and played the show. Then they hitchhiked back.

Ápolók’s also met resistance from numerous venue owners, who didn’t feel like having to mix sound for all of the weird instruments that they employed. Also, it’s important to note that Ápolók are from Miskolc, not Budapest. That’s an important distinction.

Miskolc birthed a music scene that’s pretty singular in terms of weird avant-punk stuff. The fact that this happened in a small, dying industrial town hours from the Hungary’s largest city might seem counter-intuitive, but I think something about the relative isolation of Miskolc allowed bands like Ápolók to grown into something completely original. Like how fucked-up looking fish evolve at the bottom of the ocean. Unemployment is rampant in the city, a fact which doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. As one member of Ápolók told me, “People used to get up early and go to the factory. Now they get up early and go drink.” This decline isn’t a new thing either—the city’s economy shit the bed about two decades ago. Although this comparison doesn’t really work, Miskolc is not unlike parts of the American rust belt, where the economy has collapsed but the art scene is still vibrant.

Goszi, the drummer for Ápolók and Digep, put it this way: “People in Miskolc are more like cartoon people.”

Barangó was more blunt. He described the music scene in Budapest back in the day as having too many “people who are really pretentious, as though they wanted to be like Lou Reed or something, and did not have a sense of humor.”

Ápolók would splinter off into a number of groups. It seems that many of the members had side projects going all the time. I'd hesitate to call the Miskolc crew a collective, but from what I can tell, they all appeared on each others' projects. Ápolók itself never really stopped either—recently, they came out with new material that is another leap from their old style into something different.

And so, Dear Reader, wraps up the first part of our series on Miskolc music. There is more to come, and much work to do. I am still trying to extract more Miskolc music from the ether. There is more to come about Ápolók and others over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

Now, some Ápolók:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello (from FRANCE), I met one member of this band one night in Miskolc in the 90's. Spending with him a delicious and surreal night. Very interesting band a mix of Bartok, Kodaly, Zappa, The Residents, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Kraftwerk, Man Ray, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Cobra and of course : Jules Verne !... ;-)