Singer Karel Buriánek on the state of the Czech pop scene

15-09-2008

My guest for One on One this week is Karel Buriánek, the frontman of Czech indie rock band Sunshine. Karel, or Kay as he is known to his fans, has worked in graphic design and fashion in Los Angeles, that’s before settling back in the Czech Republic and focusing on music. Karel has a weekly new music show on Radio Wave, and has just finished a hectic summer’s touring with his band. When I met him on a sunny Prague café terrace, he told me how playing all of this summer’s Czech festivals had been:

Karel Buriánek, photo: CTKKarel Buriánek, photo: CTK “It’s kind of boring, but in a good way boring. I can’t complain, because we are happy to be involved. It’s not easy for anyone to get access to play the major festivals all over the Czech Republic. But the quality goes up and down. There are plenty of festivals which aren’t very well set up, and at which there are always technical problems, but you just have to go through that anyway.

“But on the other hand, it’s kind of fun, because you’re out every Friday and Saturday, sometimes we did two festivals in one day, which is rather tiring, but kind of fun. And it is good for us because we are keeping together, we are still like a little family, and we still have a lot of things in common. So we spend a lot of time together in the van chatting, fighting, listening to music, partying together this way, which is cool.”

And which of the festivals you played at this summer was your favourite? Did any really stand out?

“Well, I can tell you which festival is my favourite which we didn’t play at. I mean, ultimately the best festival in this area is Pohoda in Slovakia. It’s a festival which is growing and growing every year; they have a perfect line-up, it is always nice weather, nice people, the hospitality is just perfect. But aside from that there are also a couple of good Czech festivals. There’s Planet – I have to say that, because the guy who’s behind it is our friend. But it’s not a lobby thing, I think it is a good festival. They weren’t successful this year, because the competition was huge and the weather sucked. But I think it was a good start, they will definitely go for it next year, even if they lost money on it this year. And I’m expecting that, if they are quite tight about the organization of it next year, then it will be one of the best festivals in the Czech Republic. I really hope so, at least.”

And what about the bands that you were playing alongside? What do you think about the kind of music being made by Czech bands at the moment?

“It’s really a tough question, because I am well known for being critical of the Czech music scene, and I don’t want to be that anymore. You know, we ourselves make a lot of mistakes, we’re not perfect, we’re just a band who are trying to make it, and make music which entertains us first of all, and then the people who follow us.

“I think it is just a mirror of the whole culture that we are sort of living behind what is happening in the rest of the world right now. And that is definitely even affecting our music scene. So, at this moment, I don’t think there are that many good bands in this country. And I hope that will change in the next couple of years.”

But there are Czechs taking on modern types of music like hip-hop, for example…

“Well, first of all, it is really hard to do hip-hop if you’re not black. But, I’m sure there are lots of exceptions – there are a lot of white rappers who are perfect. And for Czechs to make good hip-hop it is really hard. There are two reasons why. Firstly, the Czech language is not really made for rapping, and then there’s another thing: technology and experience. A lot of people who have been making hip-hop for years, they grew up on stuff that young hip-hoppers today just don’t know. If you go to a party here where they are spinning hip-hop and ask the young people bouncing there if they know Run DMC or early Public Enemy, they will probably just look at you and have no idea who those names are.”

You have said before, and I think you just hinted at it there, that there are these big strong traditions here, of singer-songwriters and so on, and that Czechs are maybe still focusing especially on that. Do you see that changing? Do you think that in five, ten years, the Czech music scene will have moved elsewhere?

“I don’t think it is that bad. You can tell in the last couple of years, maybe the last four or five, that a lot of acts have popped up which are comparable to what is going on outside of this country. Especially, now that you mention it, with those singer-songwriters, and with easy-listening bands. There is lots of that stuff which can compete with the equivalent coming from England and so on.

“I think it is going to be better, and it’s getting better every year. It’s just that the whole of society’s support isn’t quite right. I’m talking about radio stations, I’m talking about the fact that there is no network of small indie labels here like there is everywhere else. And we are not that small a country. We could have five, six small indie labels based in Prague alone, which could play that tricky game of finding artists and putting out their records - even if it is harder today with the internet taking over. It’s not necessarily impossible, to support the scene in that way.”

Do you think that a helpful thing would be to have a music quota like they have in France – so for example, 70 percent of all music played on Czech radio would have to be Czech? Do you think that would make Czech music up its game?

“No I don’t think so. Because we have been through the years when crappy Czech music took over the airwaves and the TV. And that is another thing I am really happy to criticize, because I think here there is huge support for artists who are already gone, who are fossils. It doesn’t make any sense for them to continue to make music, because they have nothing to say to the new generation. They are stuck in what they have been doing for years, it is just a mechanism; they are just doing it because they are making money from it. And the labels are still supporting them, even the radio stations are more than happy to play their songs because people seem to be hungry for them. But I don’t think it is true, it is just something which perpetuates itself. And I think it is time to change that, because there are a lot of young people hungry to see some change.”

15-09-2008