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Sveiki
. (That’s how to say hi in Latvian) This is my second Latvian scene report. This one has some contemplations on life here as well, as what’s going on with music.

Clubs/ Festivals / Organizations

In Latvia there still is not really one underground music club. Currently in Riga there might be a place "DZINTARPILS" starting. I don't know what will happen with it, but in Autumn 1998 two Czech bands played there. Taking everything in total, there is a large problem with getting places to put on shows for underground groups here. Connected to that in November of 1998 the yearly D.I.Y. festival we have in Kuldiga didn't happen (it would have been the sixth in a row). But don't just look at that, in 1998 in Latvia lots of other good concerts happened.

Valmiera (A city in the North of Latvia with about 30,000 residents) has become Latvia's hardcore center, where at any time there could be a couple local H.C./punk bands playing a concert. They also often get bands from elsewhere in Latvia and once in a while foreign bands make it there to play a show. An active participant in show organizing is Simon Butcher. In Riga (Latvia's capital, population of almost 1 million) there are two yearly concerts. The Odekolons cassette release concert (which Dambis from Inokentijs Marpls organizes) and the underground music festival Pagrimusais Laikmets. Latvian and Lithuanian bands turn out to play these shows. Occasionally (but too rarely) other small concerts happen too, where mostly Riga bands play. In Livani (a small city in the East with 10,000 people) there's a very good place called Baseins for D.I.Y. concerts. It's located in a functioning kindergarden's basement, in a real swimming pool's space. When I was there there wasn't any water in the pool, but the groups played on the edges of the pool! It's a really awesome spot. Shows there happen off and on with local groups and also bands from elsewhere.

Speaking of foreign groups playing in Latvia, here's played here in 1998: Invazija and Dr. Green (Both Lithuanian), Zabloudil and Telefon (both Czech), Oheisvasara (Finnland), Operation (Sweden) and Detestation (USA). Bands from Estonia, Byelorussia, Russia and elsewhere also wanted to play here, the trouble is local organizers don't have the money to pay bands for traveling here because it all gets used in paying for p.a. equipment and the venue. We hope this year will be more successful.

In the second half of 1998 two legal non-governmental organizations were founded: Musicians' Society Tornis (http://www.tornis.lv and tornis@tornis.lv,  for more on them look at the Riga scene report) and The Development Center Of Non-Commercial Culture (in Latvian it's abbreviated NEKAC) in Kuldiga (kurzeme@arcus.lv ). NEKAC is currently attempting to organize a non-commercial cultural center with a concert hall, rest space, an alternative literature library, a practice space for local bands, etc. We're still having problems with getting a place because those with power here have incredibly negative attitudes towards our organization. 1999 will show if this organization will be able to give the Latvian stage something new, or also, maybe not. We'll live and see.

 

Punk / Hardcore / Music / Bands

Latvian punk bands pay very little attention to putting out music. Last year only two or three demos were released and these werel really questionable quality-wise.

Professional studios are very expensive and people don't have the money to use them. Of course, there are a couple smaller studios where you can record really cheaply - 3Ls./hour and not too bad. Really, I think the most guilty are Latvian punks and harcore people who have an attitude problem with this - money gets saved for alcohol and marijuana, not for putting out music. That’s, well, what we are, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any bands here. There are, and many of those as you've already guessed come from Valmiera. Valmiera is the most active Latvian city in hardcore music’s sphere. A lot of good concerts happen there and there also are a lot of great bands. Non-Skid are the oldest H.C. group from Valmiera and more or less take their influences from the N.Y.H.C. style of music. Earlier when they were using distorted bass I liked them bettter, but they're still not bad. The band only has live tapes and a few studio recorded songs. This year they hope to release their first cassette. They've played a lot in Latvia and also once in Lithuania. D.O.D. (Danger Of Death) in my opinion are a very good band, who play original "fast with breaks" hardcore. They've released one demo called Smisl Zhiznji in 1998, they sing mostly in Russian and Latvian. Tihij Daun is a Russian alternative/ punk/ core band. Simon Butcher sometimes sings with them. They released one demo in 1997, they're great live. Molotoff's Cocktail are yet another Russian punk band, who also put out a demo in 1997. They rarely play live. Red Bikes is a new band who play something similar to N.Y.H.C. for lack of better adjectives. Bez Saimona is a project that plays live once in a while, the vocalist is a co-opted ex-Dihlofooz member, whose singing is simply awesome. The words are in English, done by none other than Simon Butcher, their music is great over the top punk.

Smiltene is a small city also in Northern part of Latvia. There was a really good positive H.C, band from here called Kuru Ksetra, who wrote 'socially active' style lyrics. The band has lots of live tapes and a few studio songs. They've broken up, but a new group has been started from it’s members, under the name Cita Attieksme. Their style is the ever popular NY/HC. They sing in Latvian and English where Kuru Ksetra sung only in Latvian. Trauma, another Smiltene band, has a quite Nirvanaesque style and sing in Latvian only.

In Cesis, (Northern Latvia) there's a good hardcore group called Show It (earlier they played under the name Take Up Arm) who sing only in English. They rarely play any kind of d.i.y. shows and people say their goal might be to sign a deal with some major label …. sad. Also in Cesis is the pseudo punk band Kas Tev Par Dalu?, I haven't heard them.

In Eastern Latvia I know there's action in the H,C, sphere in two cities. In tiny Livani (about 10,000 people) there are four groups: Gurarana-who play jerky hardcore, long songs, words in Russian and English; Burbuli -an interesting Brit-pop style group, whose members are active concert organizers here; Furious Liver- a new band who still haven't figured out their style, but currently are still punk rock and Grindstones - grindcore. In Latvia's second biggest city, Daugavpils, (120,000 people) there are several groups but I only know about a few. Daugavpils' bands rarely play concerts outside of Daugavils. M.Spirit is possibly the oldest Daugavpils band, I don't know if they still exist. It's said that they're a typical Russian punk rock band, but they had a real melodic instrumental song on last years' Odekolons compilation, it was neither punk nor hardcore. Also in Daugavipils is the thrash band Carpe Diem, a new hardcore band called Crossfire and a black metal band called Desease. Unfortunately I still haven't heard any of these groups. Get in contact with these groups through the band Guaranas adress.

Now we've come to Latvia's capital city, Riga. In Riga I know of three really good bands. Inokentijs Marpls the oldest Latvian DIY group, they've been around since 1985. At the end of last year they stabilized their membership and played in a lot of Latvias non-underground festivals, while also playing almost all possible DIY concerts. At the end of the year they started working in a professional studio on the release of their first album (!) A cassette and also possibly a CD should be coming out in the near future. I.M. also would like to release their record on vinyl but that's definitely not a possibility in Latvia, and they also don't have the money to release the album in foreign countries. Perhaps some label would like to help this band? If so then definitely write to Dambis if you have some kind of suggestion or idea. Inokentijs Marpls' music is amazing, dynamic, melodic Latvian punk (nothing like the Epitaph mold of melodic punk) with great lyrics and an anti-capitalist slant. Dambis, the band's leader, also releases a professionally done compilation of Latvian independent music on his Hubb label. This cassette comes out once a year and is called Odekolons. Rybamech Svolochobiknovennaya is a band who didn't play one concert in 1998, but instead worked on their new set. Earlier they played cannabis inspired hardcore or 'hempcore,' and they have two split cassettes, one with 33 Letnij Podonok (Velo Records) and the other with Alahadupaks (De La Muitnieks Tapes). I still haven't heard from them at all this year, but I can safely say their music is very interesting and listenable, and their vocalist Otets writes really good lyrics in Russian. Nothing political, but really individual. A totally new band is One Voice ( http://www.tornis.lv/OneVoice ). The vocalist in this group is Viesturs Irbe (ex L.M., Dilonis, Drazza) he also writes their lyrics, in English, but I think they are smart and very personal with SxE attitude. Musically the band plays good hardcore with influences from Sick Of it All and similar stuff. They've done a couple of seriously good shows.

In Salaspils, a city close to Riga, there's a rich tradition of Russian punk 'n roll, currently I know of two groups: Termopsis Kapitana Granta - typical Russian punk rock, there's a demo (‘97) called Daun out. Spils Band, more than a year ago they played interesting instrumental music, since then I haven't heard them, but the word is that they may have a new set: half instro/half with vocals. They've recorded a lot of songs and soon their first demo could be coming out.

DIY style events began happening in Southern Latvia for the first time ever last year. The band N.A.B. (Nepatiksanas Annas Brigade) from Bauska released their first four song demo last year.The music is simple three-chord punk/rock, they sing in Latvian. Their guitarist also has his own noise project called Vini Koz (They Bite), he's also got a demo out. The group's bassist also plays in an indie band in Riga called Kadikis Aizkaros. A totally new group or project have begun in small town of Iecava. The band's name is Veders (Belly) and they've put out a two-song single cassette, that sounds like primitive punk with Latvian words.

In Kuldiga (a city in the West of Latvia with about 15,000 people) I know of four bands. Vonosonoloppus, the oldest band from Kuldiga, play really diverse and interesting music (neither punk or hardcore) but haven't played a concert in a year or more. The band's practices happen very, very rarely because the groups members are really busy with their jobs. The band endures crises. D.U.R.A.K. is a group that always is having problems with weak make up, because of this, in two years of existence they've only played two (!) concerts. Right now their membership has stabilized and they've restarted regular practices. They have a seven song cassette EP from 1997. Durak's style is punk/hardcore with dual basses, one distorted one clean, and Latvian words. Hugo still hasn't played a serious show, but have essentially finished cementing their style together, which is punk/hardcore with very original vocals and Latvian singing. There's still one band in Gegen who play something similar to punk rock.

Zines / Labels /

As far as zines go, I think Latvia is really fucked. Miera Tors doesn't come out any more and Agdams Mjuzik has become just like a project. On the other hand Torna Organs, the newsletter/zine put out by Tornis Rec. (nowdays by NGO "TORNIS") was back in full form. It comes out every few months, is full of interviews, news and reviews (in Latvian) and can be either gotten through Tornis' internet web page or the much more complete paper version through the mail for the the cost of postage plus about $1 (USD). It's not really hardcore but it's well done, looks good and is totally DIY.

Another zine that appears regularly is called Gaze Into A Gloom (don't ask why it's a gloom..) and is in English and Russian. It's basically a zine about industrial music, without any information about what's happening in Latvia. You can get #6 for $5 (USD), it's 36 pages of high quality zine. I was surprised to find an interview in this zine with the non-idustrial band Airfresh. I think over time this zine will become more open to other underground musical styles. Recently under the same name some newsletters have come out with GIAG news, reviews, info and etc. They print (1500 copies in English and 1500 in Russian) a new issue every two months.

Irregularly I also put out zines and newsletters under the name of Trattratratarat. They are basically dedicated to punk and hardcore music. Right now #5 is available (Nov. '98) for $2 (USD), and newsletters: #1 (in Latvian) and #2 (Latvian Scene Report '97 - '98) only postage, necessaary.

The Beard Is Weird - Simon Butcher's record label. Last year BIW put out a 7" compilation called Let Them Eat Butterflies, which features nine bands from nine countries on the Baltic Sea. Still available from BIW is the Baltic punk/hardcore compilation LP, Peasants With Pitchforks. Simon does a distro and has lots more cheap vinyl, cassettes and zines. Very soon an all-Latvian 7" should be coming out with American label, Beer City. O Produkcija is a distro that carries a lot of international DIY punk/hardcore compilations. Edgars’ last project was called Samtrest and was a cassette with ex-USSR countries bands, it’s got 48 bands and 53 songs. It’s 90 minutes of different kind of music and noise. Right now Edgars is working on the video version of his first Latvian compilation release. This cassette will have all different musical styles, not just punk and hardcore. E.PO. Tapes for the time being is the newest DIY punk studio in Latvia. This label has released two international compilation tapes under the name Kruncina Piedurkne. Currently Einars is working on his third compilation of punk/h.c./crust and power violence groups. Send him two songs along with artwork and lyrics for the next compilations. De La Muitnieks Tapes and Distro, this is my DIY studio and my last project was Trattratratarat, a four-way tape being released in a series. You can order #1 and #2 from this series with groups like Invazija, Marradjori, Enemy Soil, D.O.D., Detestation, Picismo, D.U.R.A.K. and Kravavi Mandat (prices+ Europe $3/World $4) I also do a100% DIY disto, based in punk/ hardcore, with a lot of bands from former USSR countries. Write and ask for a free list.

Politics/Life/Non-Musical

In 1991 after the collapse of the government coalition, the Republic of Latvia was renewed (Latvia was also independent and self-governing from 1920-1940). People were tired of the fear, lies and oppression of the Communist regime and hoped for a miracle (that counted me too): the establishing of a free Latvia, a place where where peace, harmony and equality would rule. What kind of place is Latvia then after eight years of independence? I’ve got to bitterly admit that Latvia is a typical Eastern European, surrogate-capitalist country.

After the reestablishing of independence everywhere you look theres a pack of swindling former Communists who've fucked over the peoples dreams. In the first years of independence they successfully, remorslessly and without reproach looted and plundered our already poor country and swindled those who trusted them out of their money. Most of them now are successfull politicians and businessmen here. Through these recent years there have been many financial scandals in which we've lost millions, but nobody is guilty! And won't be, because laws are only to be followed by the simple people, not the politicians, the rich or other high-society idiots! Most interesting is how press and TV criticize political and governmental crime but everything keeps on going. There's not one political power that is able to change anything. In the political professions here money beats out honesty fairness and reliablity.

In the Fall of 1998 elections were held for parliament (Saeima), six parties were involved. Latvijas Cels (Latvia's Way) the party which has been in power all these years making promises of raising our living standards. L.Cels is the party whose leaders have treacherously lied all through independence, paradoxically it's also the party that got the second highest number of votes in the last election. Lots of people couldn't decide who to vote for in the last election so they voted for Latvijas Cels only because A. Gorbunovs (a person who's ready to throw his lot in with any regime so long as he holds his seat in politics) was a member and only because he's what you might call a likeable and charming man (!!!?!!!). What counted for that was a lot of Latvian women from age forty to sixty. The right oriented, though undeclared, Tautas Partija (People's Party) recieved the highest number of votes. To my mind this is the party of the capitalist rich. Also in the Saeima is Tevzemei un Brivibai (For Fatherland and Freedom) a declared rightwing, nationalist hypocracy party and Socialdemokratu Apvieniba (Social Democrats Union) a party made up of lots of former Communists and modern social Democrats, which participated in the election for the first time ever. They were elected into the Saeima with the hope that this political grouping would be for the time being the only political power that would more or less stand for the peoples interests. The current problem is that politics interferes. The Saeima is a place where people begin to forget their promises to their people. Jauna Partija (The New Party) is a typical toady, bootlick party, ready to please everybody, which many count as a branch of Latvijas Cels. Tautas Saskanas Party (People's Harmony Party) is the prevalent Russian speaking party. Most of there platform is admirable enough (equality, non-citizen's advocacy..) but I'm scared that this party's activists (of course former Communists) would favor totalitarian Communist rule. Their main support comes from Russian speaking pensioners who live in nostalgia for the communist period. Personally I boycotted voting because I didn't want give my vote to traitors and lies.

Our government's politics are, at any price, for the European Union and Nato, because from these things some bennefits will come. They (politicians, not the people) are especially uninterested in the low standard of living the people have. Latvia has approximately 2.6 million residents, almost 1 million live and work in Riga or it's subburbs. The national unemployment statistics show that only 6% are jobless, but 70% of Latvia's residents make less than 50 Lats (about $90) a month, the national minimum monthly salary. People have got to support their families pay for all utilities, etc. on this money, yet life is becoming expensiver here, and many aren't or are just barely able to get by. Eastern Latvia in terms of employment is a catastropy situation, the economy there is totally fucked, the worst off are those from 50-60 years old. For Young people finding work is easier, you just need to want to. In the county finding work is much harder than in our capital, Riga, and you won't always be at peace with your will - but there are practically no choices.

I'm lucky because I have a job with a national enterprise so I get paid on time, but there are people who work in prevalent private sector jobs who go unpaid for months. For example I have a friend who works at a radio station and she hasn't been paid since September. This problem is shared by many who peacefully work almost for free, just so they can get a little bit of money to sustain themselves. In the country these problems are especially acute.

Of course we've also got the mafia. I know clearly myself that our government is corrupt and I think a large number of political jobs are filled by the mafia. Almost every store or business, small and large, is pushed to pay 10% of their monthly income to the mafia and then national tax too. Only the big and rich firms which have more or less "national protection" are free of this. Everyone knows that the mafia exists and many would rather pay 10% to the mafia than to the government, because no country can offer 100% protection for anyone. That's our mafia.

In Latvia there's an incredibly confusing national question. Almost half of Latvia's residents are non-Latvian, the Communist regime's intentional after-effects. Latvians were sent away from Latvia to the far East of Russia and a Russian workforce was flooded in. The Latvian language became advertised as undesireable, Latvian celebrations became forbidden, etc. But even with fifty years of Communist leadership Latvians survived. As you've already guessed the situation that took shape and which we're left with is incredibley confusing.

Thank god there's been no ethnic conflicts here like in the former Yugoslavia, and I hope that nothing like that ever happens. That's basically all I'd like to write about this topic, because it's incredibly hard to only write a couple of words about this problem. It's a wide and confusing theme and maybe I'll write about it another time. I just want to say that on this issue politics has been criminal because we've still not resolved the non-citizen question. For example my friend is a Russian, he was born and raised here, speaks Latvian and he doesn't have Latvian citezenship. For him to leave the country he's got to buy fucking visas, while I don't. Is that equality? His one privelege is that he doesn't have to serve in Latvia's army. In relation to work the non-citizen has all the same problems as everyone else. As you've already guessed the government and parliament are occupied with their own problems so they've got little interest in the fate of the people, it's not important to them whether we're talking Latvians of non-Latvians.

To my mind one more large societal problem here is alcoholism. Everyone drinks here, starting from kids at around 10-12 and ending with the grey-haired. People drink abnormal quantities here. I've seen how this is deliberate systemic politics, because a people who are sinking with booze and drugs are easier to govern and push than a people who are clever thinking and clear headed. I know from my own practices, you've got to be strong in order to hold on without drinking because it's easier to drink not to think about anything, simply exist. Alcohol rinses away stress, cares, troubles and helps you forget problems. But does alcohol really solve any of that? Alcohol is very cheap here, for example 0.5 litre bottle of Latvian vodka's mid-range price is about 2Ls., a 0.5 litre bottle of Latvian brandy costs about 2.50 Ls.

That, in short, should about be everything for non-musical life in Latvia. At the end I'd like to say just that in the new Latvia all power structure jobs are held by the same beaurocrats and functionaries from the times of the USSR. We've got to go at least another ten years until there will be any serious changes. Right now all that's changed is the signboard and what's been written on it, but not the people. As one of my coworkers says "truth will rule here only when the manager or company boss cleans his own office, and when the priest picks his potato crop with his own hands!" I'll leave this message for you, whether you agree or disagree with it.

Information

Currency in Latvija is the Lats (Ls) 1 Ls = 100 santimi
0.59 Ls.= $1 USD
A loaf of bread = 0.22 - 0.35 Ls
0.5L Vodka = 2 Ls
0.5L Brandy = 2.50 Ls
Marlboro cigarettes = 0.65 Ls
1.5L Mineral water = 0.40 Ls
0.5L Latvian beer = 0.35 Ls

That’s all for now folks, If you want to find out anymore about activities in Latvia that write to the contact adresses below. Take care.

De La Muitnieks

box 208
Kuldiga
Lv-3300
LATVIA

(january 1999 / kurzeme@arcus.lv )


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