November 5, 2014
Following our look at the best of the Iranian underground, we introduce a selection of stunning Romanian new wave records from behind the Iron Curtain.
For a war that never directly escalated into violent confrontation, the Cold War, caused an awful lot of collateral damage. Like many of the embattled satellite states whose autonomy was drawn behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain, Romania was a country driven to distraction by ideological occupation and an ugly, claustrophobic dictatorship.
And as was also the case across the region, when the state played the role of cultural puppet master, there tended not to be an awful lot of dancing going on. A state controlled music industry meant that experimental music was often relegated to the underground and resistance was often complicated and dangerous. It’s a story most recently and vividly told by “the father of Romanian New Wave” Rodion Ladislau Rosca, whose psych rock outfit Rodion G.A. have only now been given official releases courtesy of the ever conscientious diggers’ reissue label Strut Records.
That said, many records were officially released, finding a home on the country’s only sanctioned record label Electrecord, an imprint tasked with maintaining an impossible balance between state demands and those of both its musicians and listeners. Context is everything here and the benefit of hindsight has helped reframe a lot of the music featured in this mix as worthy of more than to be tarnished with the tag of “state-approval”.
The fact of the matter was, standing up to Ceausescu’s stifling regime was no laughing matter and as a result many of era’s most interesting and experimental musicians were left with the option to either dilute their output or be frozen out completely.
Purely on musical level however, there are tracks released during the Electrecord period that are more than worth a second look. With a show at London’s Café Oto tonight and sack full of acclaim to boot, Rodion and his compatriots are even beginning to find their way onto the want lists of diligent and open-minded records collectors and fans of music with a story to tell.
Psych, new wave, synth pop, cosmic disco and even the odd bit of traditional vocal music all find a home in this melting pot, with the records in this mix all coming from the mid ’70s up to an including the year of Ceausescu’s bloody overthrow in December 1989.
This mix, and the track by track below has been put together by London based Romanian DJ and designer Dragos Munteanu.
Words: Dragos Munteanu
This is a song about past love and the emotional significance ‘Love Letters’, the translation of the song’s title, still holds for this guy. Although ‘Celelalte Cuvinte’ was always considered a heavy metal band, this is one of their more experimental songs, with a strong folk influence.
(1975 – Reissued by Strut Records, 2013)
Romania’s best kept musical secret Rodion GA was founded by Rodion Rosca in the late 1960s using reel-to-reel tape recorders and DIY synthesisers made out of electric guitars to make the best out of the de-synchronisations and background noise, to create some of the most radical musical compositions. This track in particular has an extremely futuristic and space age feel to it, while still keeping a raw edge.
‘Cuvinte Incrucisate (Crosswords)’
Another pioneer of Romanian electronic music, Adrian Enescu incorporated a lot of synth based sounds into his compositions, which were mainly used for movie soundtracks in the 1970s and 1980s. He was also a very successful producer for various pop and disco Romanian artists.
‘Stai, Nu Pleca!’
Mirabela is considered by many music critics to be the best female voice in the Romanian pop scene. I love this track in particular for that fantastic electronic drum beat and funky synths.
‘Vino Iubire, Napoi’
Another celebrated female pop artists, Corina Chiriac signs about love in this beautiful romance poem. What I love most about this song are the lyrics, she is addressing her lost love, asking him to come back, take a seat and confront their love; she is ready and she is not afraid.
Rosu si Negru
A highly appreciated rock band in its time, ‘Rosu si Negru’, named after Stendhal’s famous novel ‘The Red and The Black’, went through many different genres, from beat to progressive rock, glam rock to pop rock. This specific song features a strong synth bass line which I think is great.
This is such a great song combining elements of folk, traditional Romanian music and that beautiful psychedelic keyboard.
As during the communist era in Romania it was extremely difficult to get western music in the country, and there was strictly none on the radio, unless you would illegally tap broadcasts from abroad. As a result there were many bands and orchestras that would do covers and interpretations of famous western tracks and this is one of them. However, they still managed to put through the music their own style and influences. And I love that thick accent as well.
Another from the electronic pioneer Adrian Enescu, this time with a more groovy beat but with the same enthusiasm on the synthesizers.
This pop classic from the turn of an era for Romania, hits the spot. Silvia Dumitrescu another significant voice in Romanian pop culture.
This has to be one of the best synth pop bands to ever come out of Romania, although they are rarely mentioned anywhere in Romania or especially abroad, mostly due to their short active time. Their sound is nonetheless proper.
‘Buna Seara, Iubito!’
This is one of the most famous Romanian love song, extremely emotional while perfectly capturing the 1980s sound.
‘In Linistea Noptii’
This beautiful minimalist track manages to best capture the political and cultural struggle most people and in particular artists were subjected to during the dark times of communism in Romania.
Main image: Strut Records / Rodion G.A.