The Plastic People of the Universe

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For the Frank Zappa and the Mothers song, see Plastic People.
The Plastic People of the Universe
Plastic People of the Universe (2010) - večer.JPG
Background information
Origin Prague, Czechoslovakia
Genres Rock, Experimental rock, Prague underground
Years active 1968–1988, 1997–present
Labels Globus, Guerilla
Associated acts Půlnoc, Fiction, DG 307, Velvet Underground Revival, Garage
Website Plastic People
Members Vratislav Brabenec
Josef Janíček
Jiří Kabeš
Eva Turnová
Josef Karafiát
Jaroslav Kvasnička
Past members Milan "Mejla" Hlavsa
Paul Wilson
Jan Brabec
Ivan Bierhanzl
Pavel Zeman
Ludvík "Eman" Kandl

The Plastic People of the Universe (PPU) is a rock band from Prague, Czech Republic. It was the foremost representative of Prague's underground culture (1968–1989). This avant-garde group went against the grain of the Communist regime and due to its non-conformism often suffered serious problems such as arrests. The group continues to perform even after the death of the founder, main composer and bass player, Milan "Mejla" Hlavsa.

History[edit]

From January into August 1968, under the rule of Communist Party leader Alexander Dubček, Czechoslovakians experienced the Prague Spring. In August, Soviet and other Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. This led to the overthrow of Dubček and to what came to be known as the normalization process. Less than a month after the invasion, Plastic People of the Universe was formed.[1]

Bassist Milan Hlavsa formed the band in 1968 and was heavily influenced by Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground (Zappa's band, the Mothers of Invention, had a song called "Plastic People" from their 1967 album Absolutely Free).[2] Czech art historian and cultural critic Ivan Jirous became their manager/artistic director in the following year,[1] fulfilling a role similar to the one Andy Warhol had with the Velvet Underground. Jirous introduced Hlavsa to guitarist Josef Janíček,[1] and viola player Jiří Kabeš. The consolidated Czech communist government revoked the band's musicians license in 1970.[3]

Because Ivan Jirous believed that English was the lingua franca of rock music, he employed Paul Wilson, a Canadian who had been teaching in Prague, to teach the band the lyrics of the American songs they covered and to translate their original Czech lyrics into English. Wilson served as lead singer for "the Plastics" from 1970 to 1972, and during this time, the band's repertoire drew heavily on songs by the Velvet Underground and the Fugs. The only two songs sung in Czech in this period were "Na sosnové větvi" and "Růže a mrtví", lyrics of both being written by Czech poet Jiří Kolář. Wilson encouraged them to sing in Czech. After he left, saxophonist Vratislav Brabenec joined the band and they began to draw upon Egon Bondy[2] whose work had been banned by the government. In the following three years, Bondy's lyrics nearly completely dominated PPU's music. In December 1974, the band recorded their first "studio" album, Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned (the title being a play on The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band), which was released in France in 1978.

In 1974, thousands of people traveled from Prague to the town of České Budějovice to visit the Plastics' performance. Stopped by police, they were sent back to Prague, and several students were arrested.[1] The band was forced underground until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Unable to perform openly, an entire underground cultural movement formed around the band during the 1970s. The sympathizers of the movement were often called máničky, mainly due to their long hair.

In 1976, the Plastics and other people from the underground scene were arrested and put on trial (after performing at the Third festival of the second culture) by the Communist government to make an example. They were convicted of "organized disturbance of the peace" and sentenced to terms in prison ranging from 8 to 18 months.[1] Paul Wilson was deported[3] even though he had left the band in 1972. It was in protest of these arrests and prosecution that led playwright Václav Havel and others to write the Charter 77.[3]

In 1978, the PPU recorded Pašijové hry velikonoční (released in Canada as "The Passion Play" at Paul Wilson's company Boží mlýn). The lyrics were written earlier by Vratislav Brabenec. In 1979, followed Jak bude po smrti, being influenced by a Czech philosopher and writer from the first half of the 20th century, Ladislav Klíma. In 1980, they rehearsed and performed a new record, recorded one year later, Co znamená vésti koně (released in Canada as "Leading Horses"). In 1982, Vratislav Brabenec was forced by the police to leave and emigrate to Canada. After he left, the band released its next record Hovězí porážka (1983) and Půlnoční myš (1986, Midnight Mouse). Czech record label GLOBUS INTERNATIONAL has collected the original work of the Plastic People as 10 CDs, and released them in various forms several times between 1992 and 2004, with various liner notes and photos, and also as a limited edition box set. They have also released other PPU live and solo albums, and related work such as DG 307.

Despite their clashes with the government, the musicians never considered themselves activists and always claimed that they wanted only to play their music.[2] The band broke up in 1988, with some members forming the group Půlnoc (meaning "midnight" in Czech), which recorded briefly for Arista Records.[1] At President Havel's suggestion, they reunited in 1997 in honor of the 20th anniversary of Charter 77,[2][3] and have performed regularly since then.

Milan Hlavsa died in 2001[1] of lung cancer.[2] He was replaced by a new member Eva Turnová from the group Půlnoc.[2]

Paul Wilson later went on to become one of the major translators into English of Václav Havel's work. Currently he is working on a new translation of The Memorandum for the Havel Festival, which also features two other of his translations.[4]

Interest in the band was rekindled in 2006 thanks to a new play, Rock 'n' Roll by Tom Stoppard,[2] in which two of their recordings are featured. They are also playing a few songs live in Czech performances in the Czech National Theatre.[2] The play's characters also discuss at length the music of the Plastics and its effects on Czech society. The Plastics performed in London for the first time in January 2007 with Turnová on bass.

In December 2009 was released new studio album Maska za maskou. It's their first studio album since Líně s tebou spím (2001) and first without Milan Hlavsa.

Personnel[edit]

Vratislav Brabenec (on the left) and Jiří Kabeš (2010)
Josef Janíček (2010)
Josef Karafiát (2010)
Paul Wilson, Prague, 2012

Current members[edit]

  • Josef Janíček – keyboards, vocals (1969–1988, 1997–present)
  • Jiří Kabeš – electric violin, theremin, vocals (1970–1988, 1997–present)
  • Vratislav Brabenec – saxophone, clarinet, vocals, composition, lyrics (1972–1982, 1997–present)
  • Joe Karafiát – guitar, vocals, composition (1997–present)
  • Eva Turnová – bass, vocals, composition (2001–present)[2]
  • Jaroslav Kvasnička – drums (2009–present)

Former members[edit]

  • Milan "Mejla" Hlavsa (deceased) – bass, vocals, composition, lyrics (1968–1988, 1997–2001)
  • Michal Jernek – saxophone, clarinet, vocals (1968–1970)
  • Jiří Števich – guitar, vocals (1968–1970, 1972)
  • Josef Brabec – drums (1968–1969)
  • Pavel Zeman – drums (1969–1973, 1977)
  • Paul Wilson – guitar, vocals (1970–1972)
  • Jan Jílek – trumpet (1972)
  • Jiří Šula – drums (1973–1974)
  • Jaroslav Vožniak – drums (1974–1977)
  • Otakar Michl – guitar (1977)
  • Jan Brabec – drums (1977–1988, 1997–1999)
  • Pavel Zajíček – vocals (1978)
  • Jaroslav Unger – vocals (1978)
  • Ladislav Leština – electric violin, theremin (1978, 1980–1986)
  • Ivan Bierhanzl – contrabass (1978–1979, 2001–2009)
  • Jan Schneider – percussion (1978)
  • Josef Rössler – clarinet (1980)
  • Petr Placák – clarinet (1983)
  • Václav Stádník – clarinet (1983)
  • Jan Macháček – guitar (1984)
  • Vladimír Dědek – trombone (1984–1986)
  • Milan Schelinger – guitar (1986–1987)
  • Michaela Pohanková – vocals (1986–1988)
  • Tomáš Schilla – cello (1986–1988)
  • Ludvík Kandl – drums (1999–2009)

Non-performing collaborators[edit]

Managers
Additional lyricists

Discography[edit]

  1. Muž bez uší (live recordings 1969-72)
  2. Vožralej jak slíva (live recordings 1973-75)
  3. Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned (1974)
  4. Ach to státu hanobení (live recordings 1976-77)
  5. Pašijové hry velikonoční (1978)
  6. Jak bude po smrti (1979)
  7. Co znamená vésti koně (1981)
  8. Kolejnice duní (1977–82)
  9. Hovězí porážka (1983–84)
  10. Půlnoční myš (1985–86)
  11. Bez ohňů je underground (1992–93)
  12. The Plastic People of the Universe (1997)
  13. For Kosovo (1997)
  14. 10 let Globusu aneb underground v kostce (2000)
  15. Milan Hlavsa - Než je dnes člověku 50 - poslední dekáda (2001)
  16. Líně s tebou spím - Lazy Love/ In Memoriam Mejla Hlavsa (2001)
  17. Pašijové hry/ Passion Play (with Agon Orchestra) (2004)
  18. Do lesíčka na čekanou (2007)
  19. Magor's Shem (40 Year Anniversary Tour PPU 1968-2008) (2008)
  20. Maska za maskou (2009)
  21. Non Stop Opera (2011)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Yanosik, Joseph (March 1996). "The Plastic People of the Universe". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stoppard, Tom (2009-12-19). "Tom Stoppard: Did Plastic People of the Universe topple communism?". Times Online. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  3. ^ a b c d Unterberger, Richie. "The Plastic People of the Universe". Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  4. ^ http://www.untitledtheater.com/havel/plays/the-memorandum.html

External links[edit]