KURWS: THE WELL-READ HOOLIGANS

Translation of an article I did in Polish for the Polish culture magazine Dwutygodnik about the Wrocław based punk/jazz group Kurws.

Under the simple and vulgar name of Kurws (literally: Whors) hides one of the more intelligent and well-thought out band of the last few years.

Despite the Wrocław based band is often compared to jazz groups, they say that punk rock is more important to their work. The subversive, rebellious nature of the band can be found in the band name itself. Jakub Majchrzak, the bassist of the band, admits: “My assumption after the first rehearsals with Kurws was enhancing for my own use the definition of the word punk”. There’s a clear reason why a voice says in the beginning of “Tanz Mit Kommune I”: “Poor youngsters play punk rock and they’re happy with that”. Kurws have also collaborated with Maciej Salamon from the Gdańsk based punk unit Gówno (Polish for “shit”), with whom they have made a cassette entitled “2012” with as Pustostany.

After the 2011 debut release “A Hole in the Ghetto” (Polish title: “Dziura w getcie”), Kurws are back with a new release “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air” (Polish: “Wszystko co stałe, rozpływa się w powietrzu”) via Gusstaff Records. It can be said that at the beginning of their career their image was tongue-in-cheek and quite humorous. Now it seems that they have gotten more serious and their music got a more concise sound. These suspicions are confirmed by Majchrzak: “There’s definitely less stupid fun, less pastiche and less funfair-like style juggling. There is, however, a whole caleidoscope – conscious or not – inspiration, the enjoyment of the stuff we play and I think it can be seen live. This new material unveiled its depressive potential, which makes me very happy, because I don’t see the band’s image as too “hooray” optimistic”.

An important information about the output of Kurws is the fact that the leave lots of hints to the educated and well-read listeners, as exemplified by the track titles. Many of them may sound funny or absurd at the first glance, but upon closer inspection one can find references to philosophers, famous figures, works of literature or historical facts. The title of the newest album is a quote from the “Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx. Hubert Kostkiewicz, the bassist of the band, points out in the direction of the work of Marshall Berman under the same title. He also admits that he does not want to fully expain the title, because “he likes understatements”. However, as we will find out, the text of Berman’s book – describing different forms of modernist pursuit of destroying and rebuilding (from Goethe’s “Faust” to the oeuvre of New York architect Robert Moses) – is surprisingly coincident with the music of this Wrocław group.

There are many more references such as Berman’s on the album. Under the musical layer of energetic pieces, combining punk fury and the freedom of improvisation, there are references to the Italian marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci (“Gramsci’s Nightmare” from the debut album) or the concepts of George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (new album’s opener “Weltgeist”). “Colossus on the Feet of Clay” refers to the term coined by the French writer Denis Diderot to describe Russia, taken from the Biblical Book of Daniel. “There Was no Wheel in the Inca Empire” refers to the curious fact of one of the biggest pre-Colombian civilization not knowing the invention of wheel. “Escape from Freedom” is an obvious nod to Erich Fromm. The band does not stay indifferent to current issues – dedicating one of the tracks on the previous album to Lech Wałęsa and making a composition about the Euro Zone on the new release. It can be said that each of titles has some sort of a second layer and the Kurws invite the listeners to explore the labyrinth not only of sounds, but also of ideas.

A certain toning down in the playful image of Kurws can be seen in the cover of “All That is Solid Melts Into Air” by Karolina Pietrzyk. The artwork is radically different from the parodistic cover of “A Hole in the Ghetto” by Janek Koza. On the cover the debut album we can see the fake, plastic-like pop star and… a pig. It works both as a funny contrast as well as an analogy (both are seen as products ready for consumption). Pietrzyk’s illustrations for the new album, depicting earthworks (and not digging of the grave, however the band members were aware of the comparison when choosing the picture) are sketchy, simple and seemingly made without much care and effort. Hubert Kostkiewicz explains the genesis of the cover: “The starting point when working on the new album’s cover was the renewal of the Nadodrze district a in Wrocław. Karolina Pietrzyk was exploring the area with a camera and a sketchbook and prepared an impressive documentation of endless renovations, excavations and metamorphoses. The material on the new album was recorded during many changes that we were experiencing. It was a very wide spectrum: from some prosaic changes to the awareness of an end of a certain period”. The metaphor, seen on the cover, refers not only to the process of recording of the second album and the changes in members’ personal lives, but also to the music itself. Anyone who has ever observed a construction process over a period of time, knows the feeling of chaos transforming into order – one gets the similar feeling when listenings to Kurws. With successive listens the seemingly mixed-up and messy music unveil the rigorous structure, showing the discipline in the band as well as the skill and the musical horizons of the band’s members.

The changes can be clearly heard on the new release: the sound of the band is still rowdy and rough, but there is more fluidity. Sometimes the rhythm and the melody can change several times over the course of one track, there is also more space for pure improvisation – however, Kurws consistently cut themselves off from jazz, often associated with improvised music. “If you treat jazz more as a philosophy, a pursuit of open forms, then I’m OK with this”, says Kostkiewicz, “But at the same time I really like the feeling of not knowing at all what is going to happen. Apart from that, to be honest, I don’t know much about jazz. This is how I imagine jazz”. Majchrzak too points out that the album is devoid of any “jazz-punk pretensions”. It is easiest to say that Kurws do not like to pigeonholed and labeled, like the case of often describing them as a noise rock band. “When it comes to noise rock and math rock, I don’t find myself in those traditions at all”, Jakub Majchrzak continues. “I don’t see any praise for mathematical beauty in our music – a few breaks in the 4/4 signature are not enough”. Kostkiewicz is also against the noise rock tag: “I was really tired and bored by the distortion, the amplification, the wall of sound. I was looking for a different dynamic. I was listening to a lot of garage, beat music and surf rock stuff from the mid 60’s, but also to Minutemen and Wire. Hell! I even listened passionately to Queens of the Stone Age and The Hives”.

I already wrote before about how Kurws tip their hat to the well-read, intelligent listeners. But that is not all. The members also treat their foreign listeners with special respect, translating the Polish titles of the tracks into English, Russian and even Spanish (with the American release of “A Hole in the Ghetto”). On the band’s Bandcamp page the English titles exist right next to the Polish originals in harmony. Apart from widening their fanbase with foreign language titles, the Kurws also have a rich history of touring across Europe. Jakub Majchrzak recalls: “the best reception is either in places where the people listen to a lot of music and have wide horizons or where the people are very open for new experiences and hungry for new music. There are two such extremes: Slovenia on one end and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other”. He remembers the great reception of the Swedish fans, especially in Stockholm, where they are welcomed with bigger enthusiasm every time they visit the Swedish capital. Maybe it is now time to translate the titles into Swedish?

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2347205594/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=none/transparent=true/

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