Robert Brylewski: Punk created great confusion

The first punk rock was so diverse that people sometimes said completely contradictory things. And that’s what was cool. It created a democratic agora. And later, when the fights with the skins started, there was a unification: army boots, jackets, uniforms like that. Music also basically melted into one,” recalled the late Robert Brylewski, who died on June 3, 2018. Robert Brylewski, considered one of the fathers of punk rock in Poland.

Read an excerpt from the book Crisis in Babylon by Rafał Księżyk and Robert Brylewski:

Rafał Księżyk: Do you remember your first contact with punk?

Robert Brylewski: – I read an article, probably in “Życie Warszawy”. It was quite an extensive article, although the guy didn’t really know what he was writing about. For example, I remember him saying that all punk rock songs last about one minute. He described the whole phenomenon as disgusting, in the context of the “rotten West”. Never mind. I was seventeen years old at the time. I was hungry for new experiences. It was still cool back in the hip days of the early seventies, and then everything got fucked up, shit was getting all over the place. Punk was a great confusion. It was like opening a gate through which something fresh comes in – music about what’s really happening, not the imaginary problems of rich celebrities. And it matched the rebellion in our communism, we were not as pressed as the Czechs and Hungarians. There was more ease here.

– I had a classmate, Robert Sobocinski, alias Baader. We went hard right away. To promote punk rock, we dressed exactly like the photos from London. Each of us had about fifty safety pins attached, some of us had razor blades hanging from them, our eyes were painted black – you couldn’t go any harder than that. We stood in front of the Rotunda, in the very center of Warsaw, so that they could see us. A man in a jacket comes up. Crouching down. We thought that this famous secret police officer had just come to arrest us. He unzipped his jacket, and there was a herringbone tie and about twenty safety pins in that tie: “Gentlemen! Me too!”. He said that they meet in Blek in Mokotowskie Fields, on Fridays at 5 p.m. That’s how the crew was formed.

– At the very beginning we recognized each other by our appearance. Curious situations happened. We were going to Blek in full gear, of course, and there was an incident on the bus. In the crowd someone cut his suit with our razor blades. There was a scandal. But they were afraid to move us. You know: “What are these guys hanging around with razor blades?”

Were there any instances before that when you expressed your fascinations in an equally expressive way?

– In elementary school I was more interested in soccer, for a while I wanted to be a goalkeeper. I wasn’t that specific before.

Did the clothes, the style, make the biggest impression on you in punk?

– The music was the most important, less the ideology. Anyway, the ideology was not really defined, it seemed more like mockery and provocation. That first punk rock was so diverse that people sometimes said completely contradictory things. And that’s what was cool. It created a democratic agora. And later, when the fights with the skins started, there was a unification: military boots, jackets, uniforms like that. The music also basically melted into one.

What music grabbed you then?

– Definitely the first records by The Clash and Sex Pistols. It was a rage. Then Buzzcocks, Only Ones. I remember when we went to a private party, a friend had a house on allotments near Warsaw. There, under the influence of rowanberries and a Pistols’ album, without taking off my suit, I rolled in a puddle. I made myself a pogo, later I didn’t do it anymore. It was a powerful way to unwind.

The legendary founding act of the Warsaw punk scene was a concert by an all-female band called The Raincoats, who came from London to perform at the Riviera Remont on April 1, 1978.

– Yes, I was there together with Baader. This action was connected with the older generation and the international performance festival organized at the Remont by Henryk Gajewski, who ran the Post Gallery at the club. An artist connected with the punk rock world came there and became famous for exhibiting her tampons. They lay in display cases, with descriptions: January, February. There was a buzz among the bohemians and we found out that there was going to be a concert. The Raincoats were making a huge impression. Suddenly I saw people who played without all these extras, lights, smoke, they just went on stage and played. The girls in general moved differently than the bands we had seen before, they had a chad in them. Especially the bass player. Sharp shot. We didn’t have a band yet, but it was already certain that it had to be created.

– The Raincoats’ performance only confirmed it. A year later I played my first gig with The Boors. The first attempt to form a band was unsuccessful, because the singer had no voice and the drummer no drums. The rehearsal was in a community center on Walecznych Street, I already had a guitar and an amp and I was the only one playing, and the guy explained that he forgot to bring drums. Then I found out that there was a strong crew at a high school in Wilanów, where Kamil Stoor and Paweł Rozwadowski – the Waiter, with whom I later played in Israel, attended. I heard that they were looking for a guitarist there. The meeting took place in the cultural house on Broniewskiego Street. Kamil, who played drums, made a deal with them – he could rehearse and on Sundays he would play drums for a firemen’s band. He hated it so much. As soon as I got there, I plugged in my guitar and he sat behind the drums. There was no discussion, it was clear right away that this was going to be a band.

– A few months we were without a singer, I started singing, but reluctantly. Like most people, when I heard my voice on tape, I couldn’t listen. Not because I was falsifying so much, I was just surprised that my voice sounded different than I thought it did. Markus, a boy from Kamil’s high school, played bass. Very musically gifted, only he was one of the classmates who definitely wouldn’t bet on music. Markus couldn’t go to concerts when high school graduation was coming up, he collapsed every third trip. And that was without warning. A few times we played without bass, once our friends from Rej went with us to Toruń, one pretended to play an unplugged instrument, and Kazik flew around with deodorant and sprayed the first rows as if he were playing on that deodorant. Kazik relaxed then, normally he didn’t behave like that.

– The charmingly funny thing is that I recently met Markus years later and again he is probably in a similar situation. He works at a big bank, he’d like to play, he’s even put together a nice band – I’ve seen them play – but I guess his wife won’t let him. Before, his parents did not allow him, now his wife does. Such a fate.

Stoor was more determined? The two of you were the pillars of The Boors.

– He was, but it was short-lived. Kamil also stuck to a real plan for life, played with Kelner in Deuter for a while and left for Scandinavia to study. The last news from him: he is the head of McDonald’s chain in Sweden. It’s a pity that he quit playing, we waited for another drummer like him for a long time, until the time of Jasio Rolt, who later joined Brygada Kryzys. Kamil made an impression even on drummers from professional bands like Exodus. He used punk techniques in such a way that he could play fast and precisely. Such a pace was not played in Poland at that time.

You also brought Ant into the line-up.

– At that time I liked not only Clashe and Pistols but also bands where the second guitar plays the riffs, like Buzzcocks. Above all, Mrowa was a friend. For two years we played together on vacations, in summer camps, while hitchhiking. We started doing our own compositions as a duo. By the way, Anin fell out of the sky. Mrwa’s mother was the director of the local community centre. In Anin we rehearsed and played our first concerts of The Boors and Kryzys. (. )

While playing with The Boors and Kryzys, you performed under the nickname Afa. What was that supposed to mean?

– That’s what they called my father in Silesia. When my crewmates found out, they started calling me that, too. I didn’t have a nickname, but there was such a need. Father was at my first concert, he had quite an adventure. He was the oldest one in the room, dressed differently, they thought he was an Ubeka. But I felt he was proud of the song I’m not a communist. It must have been a rage back then. At first he turned his nose up a bit, but when he saw that I was determined and carrying out my plan, he bought me a guitar. Framus Nashville, a very good Dutch guitar. I played it in the Brigade. Before that I had a Jola 1, with a flat neck, quite hard to handle. I remember how my old man surprised me: he brought a guitar from Germany, a small Voks stove the size of a woman’s handbag, rather for practising at home, and an awesome Talking Heads album, Remain in light. It’s hard to find a father like that.

And where did the term “crew” even come from?

– We don’t know. It seems to me that the term didn’t function abroad, I haven’t heard it said: punk crew. Maybe it was our borrowing from The Four Armoured, there it was always: “Get in the car!”. I don’t recall who first used that word. The same people started to meet at punk Thursdays at the Remont, about a hundred people who called themselves the crew.(. )

When starting the band, was it a typical rock’n’roll desire to impress girls that mattered to you?

– On a semi-serious note, yes. It started with the fact that when we played guitar in the summer camps, the girls would come over right away. On the other hand, things got more serious: the band was called Kryzys, and things started to get dense in the country. But I’m okay with that interpretation, because I’m a little disturbed when people try to show us as oppressed, censored. It’s a far cry from the realities of that time. We were operating at a time when there was already such a mess in the party, in the special forces, that they could no longer cope. They didn’t know how to call us, how to define us.

– Once, when they picked us up at Central Station, the whole crew dressed strangely, we heard: “I already know who you are, I read it in the newspaper. Those after the po. “. And the guy jammed. The famous dialogue was: “Faggot! You look like a fag!” “What are you insinuating?” “No slang here, shithead!” They were poorly prepared for what was happening. And when the workers started protesting, the militia lacked intelligent people who could deal with young people. So even though it was not only about girls, I like looking for such inspirations. Undoubtedly, we were young men at such an age that we wanted to impress girls. I am simply annoyed by the stories about the alleged martyrdom of musicians in those times. Even during martial law, despite all the trauma, we had great fun, adventures. The fact that we were sometimes beaten up badly and pelted with filthy words is nothing compared to the loss of Przemyk’s family, for example.

The explosion of punk in Great Britain was connected with the working class, while your example convinces us that it started in Poland with the artistic and intellectual circles. Your parents in “Slask”, “Mazowsze”. Kamil’s father was the popular actor Mieczysław Stoor, Magura’s father was a professor at the University of Warsaw, Tomek Lipiński was the son of the famous satirist Erik, and his mother was the artistic director of the exclusive magazine “Świat”.

– This is true, but only as far as the artistic department is concerned. In the beginning there were only a few people interested in art, authors. In Warsaw Lipinski, Magura, Kelner and me. From Tricity came Luter, Jacek Lenartowicz who played drums in Deadlock and wrote great lyrics. However, in the crew there were people from totally working-class Poland. For example Plastik Starszy, a boy from Bródno. You often mention this nickname in interviews.

What is the source of your fondness for Plastic the Elder?

– He was the first suicide I knew. I was still a kid, I didn’t know why it happened, I had no idea what schizophrenia was, the loss of control over your mind. There were two plastics. Both suicidal. Plastik the Younger appeared a while later, together with the bands Dexapolcort and TZN Xenna. In comparison with Plastik the Elder we looked much less experienced in life. I visited him only once in Bródno. He had such interests, to get a little out of this reality. He suggested sniffing the ether. It was the only time in my life when this happened to me. I had a feeling it wasn’t working on me.

– What was interesting and told me a lot about Plastic, he was going into travel at the time. He had a house full of postcards from all over the world, he’d smell the ether, he’d take a card from Paris, from Brazil, and he’d be in there. Complete escapism. He also had his own idea for a band called Brain Control and even a specific album title: Escape to USA, or something like that. He didn’t have enough logistical talent to organize it. I’ve never seen a man go insane before. When one time he came to the Restoration and started talking nonsense, I didn’t know what he was talking about. He said the Virgin Mary had tricked him, he had a bag of cannabis with him, the kind picked from the field, which is worthless. Later we found out that he jumped out of the block.

– There was a burst of shots. Maciek Brunet jumped out of a block of flats in Gdańsk. Jacek Olter jumped from a similar block many years later. Very sensitive guys who started to perceive reality differently. From what I heard, before the suicide Brunet played in the underground passages in Tricity. It was completely empty, and he was bowing to an invisible audience. He looked so happy, he could hear the applause. You know, it is difficult to achieve satisfaction in the artistic field. It was easier for me because I started early and immediately there was quite a buzz about me, rather they patted me on the back. I got a lot of artistic satisfaction.

You mentioned Maciek “Brunet” Wilinski. He, together with Luther and Rafał “Róża” Wydlarski constituted the core of the Tricity band Deadlock. Lipiński claims that they were the first punk rock spark in Poland.

– I don’t enter into such disputes. Because soon Magura will jump out with Walek Dzedzej and prove that Dzedzej was the first punk. I don’t consider such disputes to be crucial. I remember one time my friends from Gdañsk came to Blek: Róża, Luter, Brunet. They made a good impression, it turned out they had a band called Deadlock. And we met on the stage much later. With time guys moved to Warsaw for a while. Brunet was creating melodies, he was indispensable even though he played one finger on the guitar. He was arranging mainly bar tricks, he tuned everything to a chord and he had this gift of composing melodies – simple but such that everybody loved them at once. It was evident that his passion surpassed his technique, and Brunet believed in this passion so much that it worked. A very sensitive man, he had his world filled with music, and outwardly presented a great helplessness. Luther played drums and wrote lyrics. He was the smartest of the crew. The smartest guy. For a while Deadlock functioned well, they played gigs. Then Luther moved on to Tilt.

What backgrounds did they come from?

– I don’t know the details. Brunet was the son of the school principal, kind of a boy on a giant, as they used to say. Luther was raised by his mother. It was a Jewish family. Supposedly they had a chocolate factory before the war. I don’t know where their sensitivity came from. Imagine Luther, when he went to Berlin, walking down the street in a trench coat with an armband that said “Ausländer.” He would come up with cool provocations, with a great sense of humor. I lived with him for a while. It was very avant-garde. I have fond memories of that time. I remember how he charmed everyone by having sex at a streetcar stop in minus twenty degrees.(. )

How did it happen that you moved in with Luther?

– When he moved to Warsaw, beautiful and shockingly unpure girls from Gdańsk came with him – Ewka and Jolka. I got to know Ewka better then and for some time the four of us lived in the Old Town. At the same time, I had lessons in mathematics. I was still going to school then, it was a kind of a shitty escape from home, I was away for two weeks. Secondary school exams were approaching, and Luther and his girlfriends came to the school dressed up like aliens, they looked crazy. Such people were waiting for me, so the school suspected there would be no graduation. Luther sat all day long, listening to records, reading books, he didn’t give a shit about the material side of life, and the girls sometimes went out on the town. They said they were interested in the Japanese because they got things done quickly. There was a rumor that one of the fellows was doing some mining in their closet.

– You know: “Let me, beloved, hang up your jacket in the closet,” and there’s a miner with a flashlight penetrating the pockets. The girls were a little older than us. Each one different, they had their own stories. One from a good home, the other with troubles. The atmosphere was far from degenerate, rather a typical artistic approach to life. We listened to great records. That’s where I fell in love with Lou Reed. I played Transformer over and over again, for me it was perfection, and it wasn’t until later that I learned how much Bowie helped him on that record.

Luter made his mark on the Warsaw scene in 1979 when he, Tomek Lipinski and Tomek “Rastaman” Szczeciñski formed Tilt.

– Tilt was very precisely conceived. They had their design, their management. I don’t know why such a solid project fell apart so quickly. Tom Lipinski and Luther were two suns. Probably the suns quarreled. When they played in Warsaw, I always went to their concerts. But I didn’t stand in front of the stage because there was a fifteen-year-old Gruszka performing there in red tights, one shoe brown, the other white. He was the band’s mascot. I say mascot, but not to mock him in this way. On the contrary, he had a very specific function. He provoked the audience, usually by spitting. I remember that in the theater at Szajna’s it was mainly the audience that spit on him and he was all wet.

It was a famous concert at the Studio Theatre in December 1979. Apparently Jozef Szajna, who let Tilt onto the stage, got a bit scared when he realised what the punk concert was about?

– I don’t remember that. Perhaps they were used to a few extravagant artists and ladies in toilets, but the whole crew came here. A hundred lunatics suddenly burst into the hall. It was the Palace of Culture, after all. A one-off action.(. )

– Back then, in the Studio, I envied my friends from Tilt. The stage was awesome and they had their logo behind them, the word “Tilt” on a red background. Luther, Tomek and Rastek were impressive. They looked like originals.

Were they bigger originals than Kryzys?

It’s hard to compare, we didn’t have the same image, they lived in a hippie way and we were still at school.

Luter had another formation in Warsaw, the White Volcanoes, known mainly from stories.

– As far as I know, the White Volcanoes ended up with two or three songs. Apparently they were close to performing, but it didn’t happen. I don’t know why. Interestingly, they had Polish lyrics, which was a shock to the crew, because Luther was an enemy of singing in Polish. His girlfriend Pola sang in the band. Luther and Pola probably didn’t know whether they wanted to stay here or go to Berlin and travel the world. In communist Poland, however, you had to be immune to the power of the cutter, and Luther felt like a cosmopolitan. At some point, I think they all went to Berlin. That was my impression. Maybe there was a moment when they abolished visas. I don’t remember what it was about, but some opportunity must have opened up, because a lot of people left. They were coming back altered, mutilated.

– Plastic Younger killed himself on his return. I have a feeling that Brunet didn’t recover from Berlin either. There were no e-mails or cell phones back then. Contact was lost and then you met other people, a bit like zombies. Ant also came back in a strange way. His friends brought him to me like some kind of exorcist: “Take him show him something from this Bible.” The Bible probably helped, but most of all the environment, the guys managed to get him interested, they encouraged him: ‘Maybe you can play something, sing’. They were too young to know that he was experiencing a nervous breakdown and depression.(. )

Did Luther change after he left?

– Luther stayed himself, you can see he had a strong mental structure. He eventually settled permanently in Holland. I talked to him shortly before he died and it made me sad because I got the impression that he regretted not staying with us and doing what we did. He was perverse, always criticizing the activities of others, but in a way that to me was cool. It’s a shame that he wasn’t able to finish his business in Holland, he was already close to the success he had worked so many years for. He was going to get into the film industry, get paid well, for decent work, for his scripts. He had it right in front of his nose and cancer got him. Tragically, it ended.

– Luther died in 2004, Brunet died in the 1980s, and Rose died in Berlin in the 1990s. I don’t know what the official cause of his death was. I heard that he got into some sect, he and his girlfriend were channeling energy at a distance to their guru in India and they started dying in sight.

Excerpt from the book “Crisis in Babylon” by Rafał Księżyk and Robert Brylewski. Wydawnictwo Literackie. Premiere: May 2012.

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