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Rafal Grobel is a long time supporter of UV and got a close friend of us. We first met him when touring through Poland, payed him twice a visit in Warsaw for some gigs and invited him once to Dresden too. Albrecht asked him questions to find out more about the music scene in Poland.

Q: Rafal, you’ve always been such a busy man with music and intercultural projects. I know you are deeply connected to every known spot in the electronic (music) scene in Poland for example throwing parties, holding interdisciplinary events, RBMA, Boiler Room, S1 Warsaw label – just to name a few. Tell us how you got into all this and is there a consistent thread in all your work?

As a 90s kid in Poland I grew up on a mixure of hip-hop movement massively flooding the country on one side and druggy clubbing scene on the other. Living in a small town two hours from Warsaw, years before Internet, left me only TV and older friends to get into music. I never figured out why, but German TV channels were very popular in Poland ever since we’ve got the cable. So I was lucky to learn about electronic music from Viva Zwei. French house, UK breakbeat and German techno – it was all there. VHS tapes with Technics DMC Championship finals got me into DJing. Meanwhile my hip-hop crew switched for faster breaks like breakbeat and drum’n’bass which worked great with industrial atmosphere of our hometown. It also became music of my choice for years.

Most of my family lived in Warsaw so I knew it’s only a matter of time to move there. When I went to the university I instantly started to dig for clubs and parties. After I met some DJs I invited them to play in my hometown and finally I bought myself a pair of decks. I didn’t feel like someone would ever book me so I put my first Warsaw gig in university campus. The more gigs I did, the closer to the center I got. Finally a club called Powiększenie opened and I got a monthly slot for over five years. The place turned out to be one of the busiest in town so I could afford booking artists from around the world. On my most recent night called Since Way Back I focused on underground house acts like ASOK, Murphy Jax, John Heckle and Ron Morelli. Over the years, along with other promoters, we’ve introduced to Polish audience such artists as Moodymann, Andres, DaM-Funk, Jimmy Edgar, James Pants, Onra, Slum Village, Elzhi, Oddisee, Tokimonsta, Pariah and Lone to name a few.

Although, throwing parties for me was never the main goal. What I really care about is exposing music on various fields. That’s why I ran a short-lasted TV show about contemporary music and worked with Red Bull Music Academy on various sessions and workshops i.e. with you guys. Travelling around the country as a DJ gave me great friendships with other DJs, club owners, festival organisers and recently brought me to co-running Boiler Room in Poland.

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Q: What preceded the start of the label S1? Like was there any change in the scene, many artists evolving or maybe a vacuum that brought you to this decision? And what role did the record store in Warsaw played in all this?

I always thought that if you’re missing something in your life, don’t wait for it, go create it. The lack of independent music labels in Poland pushed me with a group of friends to start one on our own. The abstract name is short from Side One record store in Warsaw, the only one that lasted in the city and is a unique place for gathering and discussion. Our idea was to work for music community, just like the store, and increase the quality of events and releases in the country. First thing we did under S1 Warsaw name was Record Store Day fair and party in cooperation with Side One store. Once we’ve brought it to Warsaw, it won a prize for ‘cultural achivement of the year’ voted by citizens. Musicwise, we’ve released hip-hop retrospective beat tape that gained mainstream recognition and produced a compilation after Red Bull workshop. With vinyl we always wanted to go global and never be connected with poor quality of eastern European goods. We thought that Polish artists deserve greater attention so we invested in grahic design and remixes for each release. We got Linkwood and Legowelt to work with us and we’re the first Polish label distrubuted by Clone.

Q: One of the most fascinating things in the polish scene for me to experience was that there are promoters throwing parties not only in the cities where they live but also in other towns like 400km away. For me it seemed like there was or is no effort too much in promoting good music all over the country! How do you explain that and what is the current state of that?

Well I guess the main reason is that, despite the size of the country, independent music scene in Poland is rather small and people got to know each other over the years. Practically, there are no more than ten cities you can visit and each of them is run by one or two promoters. It’s also typical Polish hospitality. People always greet you and treat very well which I believe help getting more personal relations. On the other hand, the salaries are still much lower than anywhere in the West so it’s often impossible to afford booking popular artists without splitting the costs with other cities. People have to cooparate to achive their goals so promoters work together on daily basis. Usually when you think of any artists you can link places where it would work. The rest is just to make a call and match the dates. With Internet it doesn’t really change much if it’s outside your town. Obviously, the situation changes over the years, with clubs popping up and closing each city gains or looses its possition. Funny that whenever I think it’s dying something else blossoms unexpectedly. I guess it proves people can’t live without music.

Q: Warsaw is the capital of Poland and the biggest city in the country, is it the musical capital too? How is it different or the same compared to other cites like Poznan, Wroclaw or Krakow? (This question seems to be silly but as I experienced everybody all over the country being so connected it’s quiet interesting for me)

With its all flaws Warsaw remains the major force on Polish music market. It’s just simply twice bigger than any other city and most ambicious people sooner or later decide to move there. Big companties are also located here and if you want to do serious event production you can’t go without sponsorship. Again, scene is too small and audience won’t cover the expenses. That’s why we work with energy drinks, whiskey and clothing brands to get money for bookings. In Warsaw it’s just easier as brand managers and agency creatives come to your gigs after work anyway 😉

To be perfectly honest I don’t see any style or remarkable ideas for music in each of the cities. Most producers and DJs usually come from smaller towns to live in metropolis so instead of a movement it’s rather a matter of personal choice. Warsaw is for sure strongest in hip-hop and techno but I guess the shares are more or less the same anywhere else.

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Q: Is there an identity in the electronic music scene in Poland or are there maybe many of them? How did it develop?

That is actually a very good question. I’ve been recently working on a documentary film for Boiler Room Stay True series about Polish electronic music pioneers and their contemporary successors. What I’ve learned after research and interviews is that the main change in our society is the free access to global sources of information and equipment. Practically, this means now everyone can be inspired with whatever they want and also music created here these days simply sounds like anywhere else. Due to isolation and technical limitations in the past it had the unique feel but I doubt anyone would like to bring it back when the cost it took.

Still, our music history is a great inspiration and amazing source of samples. From The Alchemist to Ptaki, huge range of Polish rare grooves had been frequently used for making new hits. I guess the duo’s work along with whole The Very Polish Cut-Outs catalogue, which brings 70s funk, disco-not-disco and prog rock back to life in updated versions, is the recent highlight of Polish sound.

PS. German Stay True Documentary was out just last week, you should check it out.

Q: What do you hope to see in the future of the music scene in Poland?

Hopefully it will get more diverse and advanced. Most producers these days are focused on delivering club tracks. Can’t blame them, for most it’s the only chance to gain recognition. I wish some day they achive position and experience that will let them write music for listening rather than dancing. I’m looking forward for someone doing a step ahead like MCDE with Vermont LP. Actually it’s even simplier than that. I wish they just start releasing albums. I know some are on the way and this will be a milestone in Polish electronic music in 21st century.

Q And where do you see yourself?

I would release them! Seriously, It’s my big dream to become an executive producer of a complex studio album with live band, vocals recordings, sample clearing etc. I’m recently working on a vinyl compilation for Side One 10th anniversary and it’s fun time already. Being a project manager and producer is a great part of my day job, I love to merge it with music.

Q: Thanks again for this great mix (I’m listening while I am writing these questions). We asked you for a contribution because we know you bring so much diversity into your sets both in the club and in your mixes. What was your idea behind it and how did you approached it?

Hey, my pleasure! Yeah, well I must admit it took me a while to find a theme that would help me pick records for that mix. I didn’t want to make another club mix so I made a different key. I’ve been travelling a bit in last two years and wherever I went I bought few records. I decided I’m going to pick only tracks that I digged abroad. So you have old school house jams from A1 in NYC, afro-boogie from Superfly in Paris and some reggae from OYE in Berlin. Last but not least, I played two exclusive unreleased joints coming out this year on S1 Warsaw. First one is our common artist Eltron John with a historical acapella over a trippy beat and the other is the remix by WT Records honcho Willie Burns for Matat Professionals debut EP. Enjoy!

Tracklist

How & Little – Hold That Moment (Nu Groove, 1991)
DJ Mehdi – The Killer (Versatile, 2001)

Eltron John – Zadowolenie (S1 Warsaw, upcoming 2015)

The Naturals – Funky Rasta (Sunshine, 1985)
The Seducer – Morning Glory (Hit Bound, 1982)

Jah Batta – Informer (Wackie’s, 1983)

Roots Radics – Dub A Little Love (Jamaica, 1981)

Junior Delgado – Come Follow Me Version (Jammy’s Records, 1986)

Alex Band – The Sea Sun (Helicon, 1981)

Irvin Lee – I Need Your Lovin’ (Starplex, 1984)

Mr. Fingers – What About This Love (Dub Version) (Alleviated Records, 1989)
Matat Professionals – Quality Line (Willie Burns Remix) (S1 Warsaw, upcoming 2015)
Manu Dibango – Goro City (Disques Espérance, 1985)

Masany – Sabar (Eboni, circa 1980)

Super Diamono – Bene (Celluloid, 1988)

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