Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Czech music scene, in general, is not something that has impressed me greatly in the time I’ve been living here, overpopulated as it is by “revival bands” churning out turgid old blues covers. There are however notable exceptions, one of which is the legendary Dg. 307. The group took its name from a psychiatrist’s drug prescription (Dg. an abbreviation for diagnosis), carrying with it the suggestion that dissidents such as themselves were liable to be classified as mentally ill by the regime of the time, and their early work in particular is indeed really quite psychologically disturbing stuff. Along with their more celebrated sister band the Plastic People of the Universe, a group whose impact here was so immense that they merit an entire separate treatise (an excellent one of which can be found at www.furious.com/perfect/pulnoc.html), they formed at a particularly bleak period in Czechoslovak history: the period known here as “normalisation”, following the Soviet occupation which crushed the Prague Spring in 68.

This political context is absolutely critical – the squalling noise of Dg. 307 is the sound of a generation gasping for air in an environment where all creativity has been forcibly stifled, the sound of humanity creaking under the weight of a dismally stagnant and oppressive regime. In the mid-60s the optimism of the flower children had taken hold forcefully in liberalised Czechoslovakia, with the Beatles in particular becoming huge. I can’t pretend to be a Beatles fan, but their social significance here transcended their music and they became a symbol of liberation, of things to come. More hip, Western influences followed and a generation of beatniks was allowed to flourish, within limits, under Dubček’s “socialism with a human face”. The death of the hippy dream was thus felt all the more acutely here. It didn’t decay and fall apart from within, it was extinguished from outside by a foreign, occupying power. Sure, in the States there may have been Altamont and Nixon, but here there were Soviet tanks on the street. For a brief period anything had seemed possible, now nothing was permitted, and it is this annihilated optimism that gives Dg. 307 their twisted vitality.

On stage the band have an enormous presence, fronted by the towering figure of Pavel Zajíček, also a part-time member of the Plastic People and one of the greatest rock n roll stars imaginable – a preposterously talented musician, sculptor and poet of enviably chiselled features, who oozes charisma and dignity. A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet the great man after a concert, and in addition to all his aforementioned qualities he was also a perfect gentleman. Their influences are difficult if not impossible to pick out. The most commonly mentioned reference points for the Plastic People are the Velvet Underground, Beefheart and Zappa, from whom the Plastics took their name. In the case of Dg. 307, however, any influences they might have are warped by their disgust with the political and social environment in which they live, up to the point where they are unrecognisable, and to my ears they sound much more like Throbbing Gristle or Neubauten (this is back in 1973 – the first industrial rock band?). Their early recordings, for understandable reasons, are not of the best sound quality, but their desperate rage is very much in evidence in their shouted vocals and pulverising, tuneless din. The lyrics are characterised by vulgarism and intentionally inept rhymes, conveying exquisitely the atmosphere of banal stupidity that pervaded in the cultural living death of 1970s Czechoslovakia.

Unsurprisingly, they were far from popular with the powers that be, and were certainly felt to constitute a genuine threat to the status quo. Any happenings they held were illegal, risking infiltration by the secret police or violent disbanding by the riot police. Zajíček was eventually imprisoned for a year on a trumped up charge of disturbing the peace. Afterwards he went to live in Sweden and then the USA, but is now back here with a revived Dg. 307, these days somewhat more tuneful than in their dissident heyday and still thoroughly engaging.

Their lyrics are not easy to translate, based as they often are on naïve rhyme and wordplay. However, the following translation, imperfect as it is, can give some impression of what their early work was about.

Dg. 307

Utopenec (1974)

topim se ve sračkách
svýho přemejšlení
topim se vobden
nic se nemění

chci s někým mluvit
každej je z gumy
nebudu je rušit
mastěj vlastní struny

sežral sem všechnu moudrost
v podobě hovna
nemám velkou radost
z toho hovna zrovna

holky se svlíkaj
je právě jaro
ptáci zpívají
něco se stalo

peníz se ztratil v pivu
penis se válí v klidu
dlouho sem nečet knihu
zbožňuju pohled klínu
noha se lepí v klihu
netěším se na zimu

je mi 23
a mám špatný sny
sem slepec
žádnej světec

třesu se když se vzbudim
sem tam chodim
piju 10 piv
je mně špatně z nich

vim co je to nuda
nevim co je to filosofie
vim co je to onanie
vim že život neni zrůda

Drowning Man (1974)

I drown in the shit
of my thoughts
I drown every other day
nothing changes

I want to talk to someone
everyone's made of rubber
I won't bother them
they're looking after their own

I've swallowed all wisdom
in the form of shit
I don't feel any great
satisfaction from it

girls are undressing
spring is here
birds are singing
something has happened


money's lost in beer
my cock swings freely
I haven't read a book for a long time
I worship the view of a crotch
my foot is stuck down with glue
I'm not looking forward to winter

I'm 23 years old
and I have bad dreams
I'm a blind man
no saint

I shiver when I awake
I wander from here to there
I drink 10 beers
then I feel ill

I know what boredom is
I don't know what philosophy is
I know what masturbation is
I know life is no monstrosity



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