Photo: Press (Krisztián Puskár)
“It’s just like Berlin in the 1990s” is a thing that people who have not actually been to Berlin in the 1990s about whatever Eastern European city they have just visited for a long weekend. It is the kind of well-meant statement that exposes a rather bleak truth about the German capital’s near-hegemony on the world’s subcultural and especially clubcultural life. In this way, it not only shapes the perception of those from the city going to other places, but has also led to Berlin being accepted as the ultimate benchmark for electronic music culture elsewhere.
This is why I felt incredibly stupid when boarding a plane to Budapest some time last fall. Booked to speak on a panel about both cities’ respective rave scenes, I felt like I could not possibly tell anyone there anything that they had not already read about in the countless books about Berlin’s history or the constant flow of journalistic pieces dedicated to what’s happening in the now. I also knew that I had an incredibly limited idea of what had happened after my last long weekend in Budapest some years before, during which I went out once to see a German DJ play and after which, who knows, I might haven even told some people that it reminded me of Berlin in the 1990s. (I have not been to Berlin in the 1990s.)
Luckily, on that panel I was joined by Krisztián Puskár, who also DJs under the moniker Splatter or a combination of his real name and his alias, and has also worked as a music journalist and under the name Küss Mich organises leftfield club nights around the city while also co-curating the UH Fest and hosting radio shows. Puskár seemed deeply involved in the local scene to me but also like someone who felt most at home on its margins. This also becomes apparent when listening to his mix for our Groove podcast, a sprawling selection of tunes that mirrors Puskár’s psychological state anticipating the turnout of the Hungarian 2022 parliamentary election in which Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party received the majority of the votes, allowing them to make further constitutional changes, while trains full of war refugees from neighbouring Ukraine kept arriving.
The mix is accompanied by an in-depth interview that picks up on the key topics we discussed on our panel that was scheduled to roughly last an hour, but which came to an end after about three in the company of a dozen audience members who were eagerly sharing their perspective on the status quo of Budapest’s club culture which exists and thrives very much on its own terms. As such, the interview sheds some light on recent developments in a vibrant scene while also highlighting Puskár’s multi-faceted activities therein or adjacent to it.
You have been involved in the Hungarian scene for quite a while now as a DJ, event organiser and curator, but also as a music journalist. How would you characterise the current status quo of music writing in Hungary, especially in regards to electronic music?
I think it’s mostly promotional; there is no real discourse on music in and through journalism right now. It’s partly a global phenomenon boosted by technological reasons – the channels and measures of how information is distributed. And that’s fine, or at least it can be handled in certain economic environment. In Hungary though, the problem is that independent media’s financial autonomy is generally weakened so much that it definitely doesn’t help to maintain new or various channels for debate, at least not about music. It’s also a small country with a pretty isolated language. Therefore, there is only a limited market and reach which makes it more difficult to create financially sustainable media platforms for peripheral issues. It’s not good, but certainly it could be worse. All grassroot and DIY discourses are still rich however. But again, these are not necessarily the platfoms of traditional journalism.
Starting in the early to mid-2010s, the country’s electronic music scene has drawn some international attention to it thanks to producers like S Olbricht or Route 8 as well as labels like Farbwechsel. What are young local labels and producers currently pushing the envelope?
With the more experimental-oriented perspective of mine, Új Bála is definitely the most boundary-pushing, original, authentic, and still fun act that emerged from Budapest’s electronic scene recently. He has at least 30 releases out through local and international labels, but is actually pretty outsider. It’s not easy to put him in a box, though his free-spirited polyrhythmic abstract tech-noise language is immediately recognisable when you hear it. He’s a fantastic live performer as well with and has trans-subcultural connections to Brussels and certain French-speaking microscenes for mutant electronics. There is an unreleased track from him in my mix for Groove. Another, maybe much more known, but still very special example is Gábor Lázár, who also developed a unique language of sonics. Or Alley Catss. Or Thea Soti. Or Anna Makay. Or Ábris Gryllus. Or LAU, if you are more into club-oriented stuff. My personal favourites are Norms, a totally unique noise-punk-avant-hardcore band. Actually, there are a lot of talented and wonderful artists around, so making a list feels pointless, or like it would miss the point. As for labels and the aforementioned S Olbricht and Route 8, that wave started around ten years ago. They are alive and well, just like the Farbwechsel label, even if it’s less active now. Its legacy is mostly continued by the more dance- and club-oriented Dalmata Daniel label, also through its visual identity that has been created by the same Dániel Jani who worked for Farbwechsel before. Exiles is the label – or rather a network or agency for electronic artists – that dominates a certain part of the forward-looking scene right now, an important point of reference for sure. If you go through the releases of these labels, that’ll be a good starting point. But obviously, there are other starting points as well. Brvtal for example for techno. And if you go to the Southern city of Pécs, they have a fantastic small community backed by the electronic music and media art department of the local university. So many starting points and stories or narratives, plenty of organisers. And we are still just talking about a certain part of electronic music while for example Budapest has an incredibly innovative and autonomous punk scene right now and a strong free improv culture as well. I am mentoning these not just randomly and not just because I am even more inspired by them, but because they are also connected to various forms of electronic music culture here or there.
Also in the 2010s, clubs like Toldi and Lärm opened in Budapest. Since then, a slew of clubs had to close in recent years for different reasons. What are the main challenges Hungarian clubs have to put up with these days?
This topic is very broad and complex, but we are definitely in a transitional period of post- or interim-COVID. To cut it short, I think remodelling is the main challenge, and I am not talking about only economics and sustainability, but also about values. It’s still a very vague thing to say, I know, but I don’t run a club. For me the most inspirational remodelling was Gólya’s at the eighth district. It is a co-op, a real community centre with rich music programming and a strong social perspective. The other, partly connected to Gólya, is Kripta, which is a punk spot also built up with the bare hands of its own community. There are a lot of new clubs and venues emerging right now for techno and club music as well, like Grid, Flashback, Aether, or Arzenál. Lärm is closed at the moment and will be reopening at a new spot. Turbina opened last September and while it certainly has a well-curated music programme, it also offers a broader frame of cultural activities. The blood is circulating.
You have been critical of some of the younger clubs for modelling their overall concept and programming around a Berlin-centric idea of clubbing. Which clubs make a difference in that regard and have carved out a niche for themselves?
Well, I am pretty sure it wasn’t about just “younger” clubs when we talked about it, and to be honest I also don’t think it’s that relevant right now, especially not in the current context. Still, I think it’s always about having a vision or following a model. Berlin is a fantastic city and has been inspirational for me as well with its wonderfully autonomous culture of music, not just club music. But as club music reached economic autonomy, a cultural status and its own “civil rights” in Berlin, the city and Berghain definitely became symbols and models. And we know symbols and models tend to walk hand in hand with strict aesthetics. Sounds tend to be normalised, “fit to purpose”. I don’t think it’s a Budapest speciality that a new club tries to import something from Berlin. And that’s fine, you can always choose freely and have the right at the same time to question things. The tricky thing is that the local scenes all have different contexts, sociocultural and urban backgrounds, so the “Berlin model” often ends up to be just formalism, surface, looks, sound, or without real base and content. Just marketing. On the other hand, generally when you read an article on Electronic Beats or some Red Bull site about Exotic Eastern European Techno Scenes, those are mostly trying to follow a similar Berlin example in a more hostile environment in order to find autonomy through clubbing. So after all it’s all about fighting for a free society on a micro level. And that’s the point. Another question is what happens when you find yourself in power.
Unlike in some Central European countries where clubs were eligible for financial compensation after they were forced to close, Hungary’s club scene was left to its own devices once the pandemic started. Which impact did that have on the scene?
I think clubs and scenes are two different things in this case. It definitely had a serious impact on clubs and it also gave certain clubs time to re-evaluate and remodel, and those clubs that succeeded could survive, I guess. What is more important though is how the scenes – not just enterprise units – found their new or new-old ways, autonomous spaces to survive and exist.
Club closures led to a proliferation of so-called freetek parties in the Hungarian countryside. How did you perceive this development and do you see any potential in it for the future?
Raves and freetek parties have been present for decades and also had a big renewal in the last couple of years through crews and micro-communities, but certainly regained their meaning during the crisis and the aforementioned transitional period of institutionalised clubs. In the meanwhile, these autonomous events were also introduced for the first time to a new younger generation who was searching for their own spaces to exist in. New perspectives are always a healthy thing. Questioning authority – also your own – is essential.
Under the name Küss Mich, you and Gördön have been organising events around Budapest since 2008. How would you describe the concept behind Küss Mich?
Küss Mich started as a DJ duo and a small club night that we created for ourselves. I had a certain industrial-wave-goth-noise-whatever background, but was also a music journalist during those years and the subcultural scene felt too strict and conservative for me, not really adventurous. Gördön came from a more club-oriented scene and I guess he also felt it was too strict and boring for him. We met, became friends and decided to do some parties together in a dark smelly lovely little bar, basicly combining these music styles we loved the way we liked it, creating our own audience. Two years later it became pretty naturally the next step to invite live acts, both local ones and some from abroad. I started to organise live events of the weird trans-local wave underground, inviting more than a hundred acts from the international scene during those years. That was connected to the post-wave-synth-industrial-punk-electronics club culture, but I guess we never fit into one specific box, so we were always kind of outsiders – too goth for techno clubs, too out-of-the-box for darkwavers, too trashy for experimental music lovers. That’s why we never had one resident club behind us, but were wandering and shifting from venue to venue as Budapest’s clubbing map continuously changed. We were collaborating with other organisers from the very beginning though, trying to connect the dots and to communicate between the scenes. It was very inspiring for example how five to six years ago young and forward thinking punks got interested more in what we were doing than the “clubbers” who just started to embrace EBM. There were definitely various periods, collaborations, ups and downs during these fourteen years. To be honest it’s a big question how to go on, personally I feel Küss Mich is nowmore outsider than ever. Maybe sometimes you just need to let things go. There are plenty of young and talented organisers around. We’ll see, there was never any pressure on us to do a regular night.
You’re also a co-curator for the UH Fest which since 2001 focuses on music and scenes “left uncovered by the domestic media and bypassed by the organisers of large-scale festivals.” What is your approach to curating the festival?
I think that description is pretty old and vague, but still accurate, so we did not care to change it. I joined the festival ten years ago, the founder is a very close friend of mine, András Nun. There has been other friends around as well, in and out, but let’s say we are the regulars. UH Fest has a similar DIY approach and a grassroot modus operandi, still it’s part of a bigger European festival community along CTM, among others, just to name the Berlin-based one, and therefore we work with more funds. We are founders and members of the SHAPE Platform as well. Still, we are small in comparison, and that’s how we like it. We run a one-week long festival in October with around 35-40 artists or bands from usually circa 15 countries each year, so it’s a celebration of the communication between scenes and music languages, and of the joy you get from strange sounds. We stage what we like. It’s usually categorised as experimental, but I prefer to call it free music from the genre peripheries, music with a critical approach. For years we were running a series called UH Demo as well that focused on introducing local talents and aimed to provide them with the possibility to perform in front of an audience for mostly the first time. Several now locally and internationally active and acclaimed artists had their first gigs there. I guess UH Fest has also pretty much of an outsider approach, but it’s more organised and backed by a stronger community comprising the audience and devoted volunteers which gives us freedom in curation.
Besides this, you also have a semi-regular show on Prague’s Radio Punctum. How did that come about?
Yes, I do a show called Hybrid SS every second month there. We live an age of community radios, which is great, and I have to add that personally I am more attached to the Budapest based Lahmacun Radio’s community where I have also a monthly show with two friends of mine – one of them is actually Gördön from Küss Mich, the other one is Zefyr, a great experi-techno DJ. I also recorded this mix in that studio. Anyway, before the Punctum venture I did two guest shows for Noods in Bristol, both of which showcased Budapest’s contemporary acts, but in a trans-local context. Then I was invited to do a regular show for Punctum to also present adventurous Hungarian artists, but trying to do it in a broader context – not just name-dropping with sound, and obviously filtered through a personal perspective. I think the big challenge of the global or semi-global network of community radios is whether or not they can avoid to cannibalise each other. It’s a media industry after all.
You have said that you do not consider yourself to be a “club DJ.” What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
I don’t consider myself a club DJ, that’s true. I feel pretty awkward and dumb to talk and being asked about BPMs, so when I am asked which tempo I am starting or finishing my set with, I just can’t respond. But from another point of view I am just probably not good enough for or interested in certain aspects of playing in a club context. There are so many better DJs than me. I am an anti-DJ in a way, but I’ve been doing it for more than 15 years and Küss Mich is also a club, a small one. I think I can work with a more dedicated and smaller audience, that’s all. Talking about BPMs is just sad, because fun can take on so many forms. That’s what I enjoy, the noise, and I definitely never pursued a DJ career. This mix, similar to my sets, is moved by free association. Sometimes immersive on four channels, sometimes sloppy and noisy. It was recorded live in one take like most of my mixes. I did not edit it afterwards. It doesn’t have a theme or a specific concept, but I think what characterises it is the current crises, the sadness and being-in-pieces, all that I’ve been experiencing on a personal level as well as around myself recently. I live in a country under a hybrid regime for more than a decade now and it had never affected me emotionally and existentially as hard during the last twelve years as it does now. I live next to a train station where refugees from bombed Ukraine arrive day by day and then are being taken care of by Hungarian civil communities, ordinary and devoted citizens, and not by the anti-civil government which has been reigning for twelve years now and is more focused on its shameful tactics and non-stop disinformation campaign to “win” its fourth election in a row. When this mix and interview is out, we’ll have the results and the full stop of this sentence. Or more like an ever-evolving question mark. The recurring train sound I used in the mix is a locked groove from a cult NDW record. Then I just let it go throughout to carry my anger and anxiety. I’d also like to dedicate this mix to my friend Endre Szkárosi, teacher and poet, who passed away the day after I recorded this.
Stream: Krisztián Puskár Splatter – Groove Podcast 332
01. Freundliche Kreisel – Spiegelbild
02. Sun City Girls – Come Maddalena
03. Azurazia – Walter Hamid Ventilaspasm Antonov 242
04. Lunapark – locked groove (Gefangene Vögel)
05. Daphne X – First The Thirst
06. Új Bála – Kacsatánc
07. Carlos Peron – The Winner
08. The Bugger – C4r4m3l
09. Air LQD – Social Distance
10. Psyche – Wrench
11. Legion 808 – Cigarette Greatest Hits
12. Menzi – Minimal Surge
13. AG Geige – Maximale Gier
14. Vanity 6 – Make-up
15. Mutant Beat Dance – Sinister
16. Attrition – Dead of Night
17. Anarch Peak – Alpha In Dissent
18. Ambulance vs Ambulance – Duet For Harmonica & Raven
19. Miguel Prado – Geomancy At Temple Way
20. Nicola Kazimir – Possessed by the Spirits
21. Middex – Italic Wait
22. SRS – Growing
23. Julian Sartorius – Locked Groove no. ?/??/???
24. Lunapark – locked groove (Gefangene Vögel)
25. Art Fleury – Ghost’s/cultura
26. Szintis Kati Band – Nincs olyan, hogy hangos zene
27. Heta Bilaletdin – Sataa
28. Lunapark – locked groove (Gefangene Vögel)
29. Daphne X – Now Either
30. Chermaine Lee – Residual Pulse
31. Modern Witch – Cold Blue
32. HLM38 – Rockers
33. Sial – Kita Dilahirkan Untuk Mati