It seems that if you’ve been around musicians for long enough, organizing concerts, curating events and generally being at the epicenter of a certain music scene, starting to make music by yourself is only a matter of time – it’s simply going to happen, sooner or later. Such was the case with the free-jazz-noise-math-rock unit The Kurws, hailing from Wrocław, one of the major Polish metropolises, located conveniently close to German and Czech borders, a city that mixed various peoples, cultures and customs in their turbulent history. This eclectic mix, as well as Wrocław’s openness to new cultures and experiences explains why it was in this city that one of the most ecletic and energetic bands was formed. The Kurws is four curators and all-around music scene activists: Dawid Bargenda (drums and vocals), Kuba Majchrzak (bass guitar, clarinet, vocals), Hubert Kostkiewicz (electric guitar, vocals) and Tokar Tokarski (saxophone, clarinet).
What sets them apart from most other experimental jazz units is their twisted (juvenile, even) sense of humor and their rowdy, somewhat uncaring attitude. Even the name of the band is carefully constructed to appear offensive to Polish language speakers (which can be translated as “The Whors”, with the last vowel purposefully removed), as if the very core of their work was blocking any chance of gaining mainstream attention (can you really imagine TV executives inviting a band with the name like “The Whors” to play during daytime on national television?), restraining their music to a close-knit underground community of energetic music lovers. There is not a mention of the word “jazz” in their official biography, and they cite punk rock as the major influence before all other genres. “The Kurws is punk”, their bio states. But punk is just one element of this dangerous cocktail: among others, they also cite krautrock, late 70’s NYC no wave scene, 60’s surf/garage rock and post-punk. The Kurws are punk in their central idea of playing without any proper musicianship, for themselves only, being indifferent to criticism and the risk of embarrassment or discredit. They are jazz in their penchant for improvisation, and creating songs in a spontaneous, non-songwriting way. But what else can you expect from a band that was suddenly formed in 2008 during a ping-pong session?
Despite using big words like “postmodernism” or “deconstruction” when describing their music, The Kurws are far from the academic stiffness or pretentiousness (another big word that springs to mind when seeing a band throw academic terms around). When listening to their sounds, one can imagine a wasted guy in torn jeans and dirty t-shirt thrashing his head and trying to finish his 9th beer rather than a row of silent jazz aficionados sitting in carefully studied poses. Their debut release, entitled Dziura w Getcie (which translates to “A Hole in the Ghetto”), is just as tongue-in-cheek and consciously immature as the band itself: the cassette version especially, with hilarious artwork by Polish illustrator Janek Koza, famed for his lopsided, misshapen drawings of people, satirizing the ideals of beauty and style conveyed in endless advertisements. The cassette’s cover (pictured above) is no exception, bearing the depiction of a woman with a microphone (probably yet another cookie cutter pop singer) and a pig. The inside cover expands on the ideas of satire and ruthless parody, showing a stereotypical house party (complete with a couple kissing, girls smoking cigarettes and a guy puking) and a hilariously un-alluring women in alluring poses – which reminds me of the last time I’ve tried to write a porn story. Thankfully I stopped at “he inserted his throbbing obelisk into her meat vault”. But the cassette is not the only format on which Dziura w Getcie was released – in fact, it was released on pretty much every mainstream format: vinyl, cassette, CD and, of course, digital download. Looks like the guys from The Kurws put the contacts they’ve amassed over the years while organizing concerts and events to a good use, releasing on many labels at once.
The music on Dziura w Getcie is the document of applying deconstruction to both jazz and punk rock. The elements of genres are shifted, separated and put together again in a completely different order, bringing sudden rhythm changes, stops and starts and unexpected guitar solos which bring The Kurws closer to the world of math rock than punk, often bringing to mind New York based experimentalists from Zs. The band’s sense of humor is reflected both in the track titles, like “The Kurws Dzieciom” (“The Kurws for the children”) and the music itself, like the deadpan collective moan at the very opening of “Ani Lepiej Ani Gorzej” (“Neither better nor worse”). What is definitely a head-turner here (or maybe “an ear-turner” would be a better expression) is how incredibly tightly the bass lines are constructed around the precise, mathematical drumming. The jangly guitar changes its role between being merely a tool for creating corresponding melodies and becoming a freewhelin’ tool of sonic destruction. The stripped down, minimalist sound of The Kurws and the satirical, black humor-tinged approach to the creative process might bring the back-to-the-roots rock of Shellac, but while Shellac were often bitter and pissed off in a serious, destructive way, The Kurws come through as lighthearted and even whimsical. They love to make a lot of racket, but they’re not trying to bury anyone in this racket. Dziura w Getcie goes through mesmerizing rhythmical changes, like the album’s highlight, “Tanz Mit Kommune 1”, where the slow, lethargic main theme gradually turns into Neu! on amphetamines.
What’s to come for The Kurws? According to their website, after they’ve gained underground cult status in Poland, they’re ready for the world. American label Bat Shit Records is about to release their debut album, mainly Dziura w Getcie, on vinyl in spring or summer of 2012. It’s a great chance to open American (and international) listeners to the sound of this Wrocław-based unit. Apart from that, they’re preparing to record a 7” split with “some known band”, in their own words. The single’s going to be recorded “before the snow thaws” (their own words again), which means they will be entering the studio any day now.
“Dziura w Getcie” / “A hole in the ghetto” is licensed on a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0). In short it means that you can copy, distribute, transmit and adapt the work. You can download it here :
The Kurws – “Dziura w Getcie” / “A hole in the ghetto” (right click/ save as)
You can also buy it on MP3/FLAC for a free donation on their Bandcamp, or get a physical version on their website.