The 1990s saw the birth of a musical trend that wanted nothing less than to turn the established order of things to ash by the most drastic of means. This new trend was called yass. The recipe for artistic revolutions is built upon the critique of ancien régimes and the tossing of old masters off their pedestals. Yet, Yass took up this battle on an entirely different scale, rebelling against everything: the authorities, a slovenly society, the media, the consumerism of the early capitalist period, the canon, the lack of colour, language, and even the weather.
Closed in a cage
The last two years of the Polish People’s Republic were a period of gradual decay. The state’s condition had a dominating influence on art, which was under its power, just like everything else. The censorship and strict control over almost every public performance inevitably doomed the rebels and innovators to the underground.
Polish jazz, which was celebrating its triumphs in the 1950s and 60s, gradually became bogged down under the power of omnipresent and omnipotent institutions – the Polish Jazz Association, together with its magazine, the Jazz Forum, and the Polish Art Agency PAGART. As the only event agencies, they had absolute power when giving out passports to artists, and thus allowing them to travel and tour abroad. And they followed their own rules in this regard, which had nothing to do with the actual interest from international promoters. Among the bands to have painfully experienced this abuse of power was Tie Break, founded in 1979 in the south-western city of Cz?stochowa by trumpeter Antoni “Ziut” Gralak. Ever since the group stepped onto the threshold of the audacious and vigorous avant-garde, the Polish Jazz Association and PAGART refused to invite them to any international festivals (including Germany and Belgium), choosing instead to offer performances by “renowned jazz musicians”, which in fact barely stepped outside the academic canon.
The first breath of freedom came from Tricity (the combined urban area of Sopot, Gda?sk and Gdynia). In 1986, Zbigniew Sajnóg and Pawe? Konnak brought Totart to life. It was an artistic group whose shows (which were called transgressions and revelations) had the aim of awakening a numb society and stirring up ferment. The band’s second gig was described by Pawe? ”Konjo” Konnak in an interview with Sebastian Rerak:
”Our appearance on the stage in strange costumes incited quite a stir in the audience. Back then, little was in fact needed to fire up revolutionary emotions. The secret police agents were also there, and they became quite frightened when we started to throw flyers from the stage, which had the word “dupa” [the equivalent of vulgar 'ass' in Polish] written in the style of the Solidarity logo. But what really killed them was the banner with a [rhyme that meant] “the caretaker is on her period, it’s gonna be a tough winter”. We painted this slogan on a huge, six metre long banner that had served in the 1st of May parade [which was a huge Communist state celebration of International Workers' Day] which we stole from the Palace of Youth. They cut off the electricity and sent us home.”
From one ‘revealing’ to the next, the group’s actions became more and more radical, taking the quasi-theatrical idea of performance to its absurd limits. There was nudity, physiology (including passing a stool onto a golden tray), vulgarity (the screenings of porn films that always accompanied the show) and profanation (such as simulating intercourse with the national emblem of Poland). The goal was fulfilled – boundaries, once crossed, no longer frightened the new daredevils.
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