Boomkat Product Review:
Stroom return to Latvia’s fertile ‘80s/‘90s avant-garde following their much-loved NSRD 12” + LP with a compilation of woozy, offbeat synth-pop and jazzy skronk partly made behind the Iron Curtain
Perhaps most covetable for the exquisite, futurist wave fancy of ‘Singapūras Vējš’, which appeared on 19 Gadi Pirms Sākuma’s debut tape in 1989 and more recently on the ‘Q/R’ compilation, the ’19 Years Before The Beginning’ compilation is peppered with slanted pop charms of a similar, etheric ilk and innocent urgency, such as the cubist electro-jazz scorn of ‘Nakts Ir Mana Zemapzina’, the YMO-esque glassy ‘tronics of ‘Die Wilde Frau’, and the swaggering, fruity electro of ‘Niknie Zvēri’.
““Sometimes our own creations surprised us,” says Inguna Rubene, flute player, guitarist, bassoonist and songwriter for 19 gadi pirms sākuma (19 Years Before the Beginning). Created with the idea of lasting for a single performance, 19 gadi pirms sākuma developed into one of the most delicate, intriguing groups in Latvia’s 1980s and early 1990s music scene. Formed in 1988, the band arrived at a time when the Soviet Union was showing the first signs of unravelling. Latvia remained an occupied country, but experimental audio and visual events organised by a generation of young artists started to challenge the boundaries of what could be allowed.
“We chose our instruments based on the emotions that we wanted to reflect and the instruments that were at hand. When recording a song, we usually borrowed the necessary ones from our colleagues. The general practice between the musicians was to share and help one another,” explains Rubene (Inguna Černova at the time). “19 gadi pirms sākuma started because we wanted to prepare a musical programme for an exhibition organised by Hardijs Lediņš, Juris Boiko [both from the band/performance collective NSRD] and other avant-garde artists at the Aizrobezu Art Museum [now the Art Museum of Riga Bourse]. “It could have remained as a one-time musical project if it were not for two journalists from West Berlin who were at the exhibition,” Rubene reveals. “They asked for the band’s album, but there was none.”
From there the project quickly picked up momentum. The band: Inguna (vocal, flute, bassoon, rhythm guitar) Daiga Mazversite (Daiga Mazvērsīte) (synthesizer), Ilgvars Riskis (Ilgvars Rišķis) (percussion) and Viesturs Slava (keyboards, guitar, programming, vocal); improvised a studio in Riskis’ apartment and with the modest equipment available to them set about recording. They laid down four tracks, one of which, Singapūras Vējš, appears on this compilation. Listening to it now, the frantic synths, percussion and Rubene’s vocal reveal the urgency of the time. The momentum of youth enlivened by the possibilities of the future. Fragility exists in the music, especially in the vocals, yet it is swept up in the energy of the moment.”