Krakow’s foreigners make their musical presence felt
On July 17, 1994, Bob Dylan came to Krakow to play a concert at the Cracovia football stadium. Several songs into the show the rain started to fall and only a handful of people were left when lightning struck the soundboard and promoter Andrzej Marzec took the stage to announce that the show was being canceled.
These days, the Rolling Stones visit Warsaw and Pearl Jam play in Katowice. The world of rock and roll seems to have left Krakow by the wayside, and jazz reigns king. But the clouds that have hung over Krakow are now, 13 long years later, finally starting to dissipate.
Dylan certainly has not returned, but among the many foreigners who flock to what is often referred to as the ?cultural capital of Poland,? there is a fair number of musicians who are beginning to make some noise. When Liam MacMurrhay moved to Krakow in 2001, there was little opportunity to see any live music other than jazz. Invited by local musicians to form the band LAPD, MacMurrhay was something of an anomaly: a foreign guitar slinger with a powerful voice and plenty of enthusiasm. He channeled that enthusiasm from running an ?open-mic? night to teaching music and managing local talent. He now runs ?HQ Productions,? a rehearsal space and recording studio, along with Jarek Wyka.
?The scene is very healthy,? MacMurrhay claims. ?I call it the post-jazz era of Krakow.?
MacMurrhay puts the change down to the influx of foreigners.
?Lots of people come out and teach English. Some of them are also good musicians,? he says. ?Though the standard of technique is not what it was, the standard of music has improved greatly. And Krakow is returning to its rightful place as one of the most important European cities. A real scene exists here for the first time ever.?
Within the last two years in particular, the number of hands required to count local acts has increased from one to three or four. Fox Gang, The Midnight Reverie Trio, New Century Classics, Cro-Dad and 100 Years, Gasoline, The Urban-Jellen Test, Simeon Lenoir, Elucktrick, and Headache are just some of the acts with a large foreign presence, to say nothing of the all-Polish bands such as Andy, White Rabbit?s Trip and Bloody Mary — to name but a few.
The foreign presence has generated several web logs. One notable log is dedicated to promoting music from Poland and Portugal. Another attempts to satirize it. And though the satire is rather weak, the mere fact that someone is trying to do it is a measure of a certain degree of success.
Simeon Lenoir originally hails from Brittany in France and now travels to such disparate locations as Berlin and the Ivory Coast. He first came to Krakow because he was curious about his family history, as one of his grandparents was Polish. Impressed by what he saw, he now makes Krakow a regular stop on his peregrinations.
?It?s crazy. There?s something happening every night,? he says. ?And unlike many other places in Europe, the pubs have no closing time.?
Lenoir, who plays African-influenced rhythms on his acoustic guitar and characteristically swings his head from side to side, sees plenty of creativity but also some obstacles.
?There is almost no music industry here,? he laments. ?But it could be a great spot for music.?
Like most music scenes, the element of cooperation weaves a complex web. Krzysztof Bodzon, who plays with Lenoir, also plays with Urban-Jellen Test, Liam MacMurrhay and Casey Crosby, who in turn plays with Liam MacMurrhay, Gasoline, and Simeon Lenoir.
The creative force behind Urban-Jellen Test, which has incorporated projections and unique instrumentations including strings and even a French horn, goes by the moniker Blue 7. He is optimistic about what is happening.
?There are great musicians working in this scene and they?re making good music,? he says. ?There?s an interesting variety, it?s not all one type of music. In that way it?s pretty exciting. Variety is power.?
Being a foreigner though can be a double-edged sword.
?There are disadvantages sometimes with certain venue owners,? claims Blue 7, ?but there?s just as much curiosity about being an expat. There?s a novelty factor that works in our favor,? he says before qualifying it with a ?sometimes.?
?The Krakow scene is just starting to percolate,? Blue maintains. ?The world?s attention is turning to Krakow,? he claims, citing a recent article in the New York Times. ?Once the media moves in then things start happening.?
Where to hear the music
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it is easy to get a sampling of music before heading out to one of the local clubs such as B-Side, Tytus i Koka, or Stary Port to see a show.
CroDad and 100 Years
Soul Bro (Liam Macmurrhay)
New Century Classics
The Midnight Reverie Trio