Ask a stranger in London what their favourite Polish musician is and you’d be hard pressed to get an answer. It’s even more unlikely, then, that they’d know what type of music was being played on Polish radio during the 1970s or 80s, when the country was still behind the Iron Curtain, and beyond the reach of major record labels.
Enter the Very Polish Cut Outs, a home-grown imprint based originally in Poznań and now Berlin, that’s gained a stellar reputation for taking disco, jazz, rock, psychedelic and funk records — that might otherwise have been gathering dust in parents’ vinyl collections — editing them, and giving them a new groove. So far the label has released limited-edition cuts from Polish producers like Eltron John and Old Spice, as well as internationally respected musicians like Telephones and Eddie C.
To some collectors, one of these beautifully produced objects, with sleeves designed by Bartosz Szymkiewicz, might be just another release to slip into their extensive vinyl collection, or mix into an eclectic set (the Slavic lyrics are after all sensational). But, the Very Polish Cut Outs isn’t just celebrating Poland’s unheard musical heritage, it’s also paving the way for new emerging Polish musicians and encouraging people inside and outside the country to dig deeper into their local record store’s boxes when searching for new sounds.
The label has already won acclaim from industry heavyweights like producers Jamie XX and Andrew Weatherall, had a guest spot on New York’s cult radio show Beats In Space and taken over music video channel Boiler Room. Co-founder Zambon has gone from cutting edits to running nights at Wosk, a highly-successful nightclub in Poznań catering to art students and music nerds, and launching Transatlantyk – a record label that promises to scout out and showcase talent from across Eastern Europe.
The Calvert Journal: What do you think is unique about Polish music?
Zambon: It has its own unique Slavic flavour to my ears, especially when we didn’t try to copy western patterns. A good example is the Arp Life Band; it’s disco/funk, but it has this Slavic naivety and cheesiness to it that I’ve only heard in eastern European music. I would say Polish jazz or psychedelia has the same uniqueness. Also, when you listen to the first Polish reggae band Izrael — it’s reggae, but it has its own unique cold guitar sound.
TCJ: Can you remember the first time you thought you should create the Very Polish Cut Outs?
Z: Yes, it was shortly after record label Bumrocks put out my Polish Edits on vinyl. It was then I thought that together with Kacper [Kapsa, co-founder] we should try to establish a label on our own.
TCJ: What inspired the record sleeve design for Very Polish Cut Outs?
Z: The record sleeves pay homage to the design of old Polish record sleeves, but reference a present-day context. The cockerel was first the logo of Cepelia, the Polish folklore shops where you can buy everything associated with rural Poland, like Polish paper cut-outs. Second, a cockerel was also used for the logo of a Polish children’s programme called Teleranek. Everybody who was born in the 1970s or 1980s in Poland knows this show. So our logo is also a reference to the past, like the music we put out. Old music in a new context.
TCJ: Did you grow up listening to Polish records?
Z: To be honest, not so much. It’s hard to tell what the music of my childhood was. My family was never that into music, except for my father who was really into Barry White and blues music. There were almost no records at my grandparents’ home where I grew up (my parents spent most of their time working in West Berlin). The radio was on mostly for just the news and Sunday mass.
TCJ: Did the Communist Party have control over the Polish record industry at that point?
Z: Yes, all record labels were owned by the state, and of course they in some way censored what was allowed and what not, but I think they weren’t too strict towards the end of the 1970s and in the 1980s.
TCJ: At what point do you remember more western music coming in?
Z: I was born in 1982 so by the time I was around eight or nine years old, western music was all over the radio as the Iron Curtain had fallen. I also got in touch with it while spending time in Berlin with my parents. I remember being fascinated by MTV when it arrived in Poland via Cable TV. I totally loved that channel and in some way I think it got me interested in music. One of my first memories is the clip to Laid Back’s track Bakerman.
TCJ: Where are your favourite places to hunt for these records today?
Z: Flea markets in Berlin, undiscovered ‘1001 and one thing’ shops all over the world that have some records lying around, and generally second-hand stores. I’m more the €1 to €5 digger so all those boutique shops where you have all those super-expensive rare records for a high prices aren’t too appealing to me, although I love to hang out at Red Light Records and browse their cheap sections.
TCJ: How important is Wosk as a club for you? Who do you find coming in?
Z: It’s a bit like my second home. It’s the club I’ve played most of my gigs in during the last year as I’m the resident DJ there and I also do bookings and promote my own parties. It’s also run by some of my best friends, which makes it even more important, and very personal and familiar at the same time. The place is small and cosy, has a great sound system and mostly a good crowd that is a mix of music nerds, over 30s boozers (yes, the crew loves to drink), art academy students and other lost souls craving good music.
TCJ: What is your mission for Transatlantyk?
Z: The label will only release music from eastern European producers, mostly from Poland in the first year, but I already have some producers from Russia, Belarus and Romania on my list. The mission is to get good music that is made in the east some exposure in the west. The electronic music world is totally dominated by the west and I would like to change that a bit by maintaining a good professional label that will be synonymous with quality.