There’s consensus among music industry sorts we meet here in the dynamic, lively city of Bucharest that Romanian musicians’ confidence in a career in music is growing. More bands and artists are starting to make moves towards gaining global recognition.
It’s encouraging progress for a country whose artistic expression – among other things – was quashed by the bludgeoning fist of a communist regime for decades. Of course, ordinary people caught in the political transition can’t find themselves immediately assimilating with the expectations and potential set by a new power structure. A country which has nurtured freely expressive music for many more decades and crafted a well-oiled industry with government and private business backing does, ultimately, have a leg up when it comes to producing records, making tours, and the rest of it.
But with 30 years of democracy – albeit a corrupt one with some archaic attitudes to certain freedoms – the sense that the time has come to rival some of the big music export countries in Europe is developing. Of course, there are myriad of past successes, but there’s a thirst for growth and it’s an industry largely considered to be in its infancy.
One of the main indicators of this growth to us is the annual MMB (Mastering The Music Business): an international music conference and showcase festival, held at a hotel and live venue on a lakeside, a few miles from the heart Bucharest and currently in its fourth year. It’s not only our first chance to meet those working on the ground in developing a proper structure for Romanian music to thrive (the first Romanian music export office is announce here this year); but it’s the occasion for the first industry visit to the country for other senior music professionals, such as Warner’s head of digital Scott Cohen, Global PR’s Nikki McNeill, BureauxExport France’s Corinne Sadki. It’s a truly influential gathering and there’s the sense we’re stood on a rich vein of a scene which has so much to give and people are there ready to tap.
It doesn’t take much to see why the wider industry are like moths to a lightbulb and drawn to discover Romanian new music: being at the confluence of Balkan, Soviet and Oriental influence implies Romania’s a fascinating place to discover inventive acts who laden this into their music; knowing many of the best acts have Romanian 70s legend Rodion GA – an intrepid musician who made prog, pop and electronic experimentalism during communism – as an influence is encouraging. Plus, there’s a history of musical genius in their culture and DNA: From the gypsy folk virtuosos, to the Romanian-born Renaissance figure Dimitrie Cantemir who was exiled to Istanbul and immortalised in score a ton of music he learned under the Ottoman Empire – it truly is an epic music culture.
But who has the special spark for the next generation? Who is there who could play a vital role in being Romania’s next great success outside of the country?
Speaking with various managers, labels, and artists whilst at the MMB conference and following up with emails and phone interviews, we simmered down a broad list into this shortlist of a few but favourite acts we feel best represent Romania’s future as a hotbed of new talent. Dig through below:
New Wave-inspired newcomers from the Transylvanian city of Cluj-Napoca have only two tracks out so far. The best of the two is ‘Dog Heaven’. Their stylish, moody vocals, thought-provoking analog synth riffs, otherworldly textures and analog and electronic drums on this combine to an intoxicating whole.
This duo from Bucharest put out their latest EP In The Middle Of The Night on the mighty DFA Records (The Juan Maclean, LCD Soundsystem). It’s easy to see why they’ve been picked up by one of the best labels ever as there’s a truly gripping arrangements at play. The heavy beats aimed squarely at the feet coupled with Oriental melodies offer something bewitching and imaginative. It’s one to just leave on and let it flow over you in any situation: party or at home.
Karpov Not Kasparov
A perennial spin on the Gigwise stereo, the Bucharest duo’s album Soundtrack For A Game Of Chess started out as precisely that: a solely instrumental soundtrack commissioned for a chess game. But it’s the later vocal edits that are most compelling as singer Valerius Borcos provides unforgettable melodies over the top of their hybrid of 80s dancefloor music as well as Eastern infused melodies. Seriously strong stuff here.
This one’s all about the live show. It’s not often you see a one man orchestra with vibraphone, analog synths, digital synths, and acoustic drums. Toth was one of the live highlights of MMB and showed his strength with a complex, intelligently crafted sound capable of being compelling in a club or a seated amphitheatre. See the clip for ‘BABA’ below, performed at the city’s brilliant Expirat venue. There’s a beautiful weaving of foreboding industrial elements and a majestic dream-like touch at play.
On her Bandcamp page Cosima defines her sound as Widow pop - “melancholically reaching out to the past and the future in one gesture.” A trained architect, she works in the day time doing sonic treatments for venues and her audiophile expertise comes across here brilliantly. Co-composed with Ion Dumitrescu, the single streaming below is out on the Future Nuggets label who are a beacon of light with plenty more gems worth sifting through.
A Bucharest-based Garage rock band much like The Stooges, with their minds firmly on the past and proudly ignorant of the present. There’s something fun and carefree about plugging in to a band whose sole mission is to make absolute mayhem live and play guitars and drums hard enough until their fingers start to bleed.
Trip-hop indebted sounds here from a Bucharest trio who capture the essence of noisy, restless, dynamism of the Romanian capital and the feeling of unease that comes with being young and trying to figure the world out. Productionwise, their latest offering 'Segregate' is a massive achievement with a rabble-rousing distorted bass loop, haunting vocals, and inventive, layered percussion. You could imagine Tricky hiring them to open for him in a flash if he heard this.