‘Disabled by music’ – Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll on wheels

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“Sex, drugs and rock and roll – on wheels.” That’s the tagline for a newly released documentary about the Tap Tap, a Czech band formed two decades ago as a creative outlet for students at the Jedlička Institute, a renowned Prague school for the disabled. The film, shot over several years, promises a “politically incorrect” behind-the-scenes look at life on and off the road for the band.

The title of the new Tap Tap documentary in Czech is ‘Postiženi muzikou’, which translates into English as ‘Disabled by Music’, is being released internationally under the less provocative title of ‘Two Roads’.

Director Radovan Síbrt has made several music videos for the Tap Tap past decade and come to know band members well over the past four years of shooting. With ‘Disabled by Music’, he hoped to challenge stereotypes while avoiding maudlin representations and film clichés. But the often dark or “politically incorrect” humour permeating the film, Síbrt told Czech Radio, is entirely the band’s own.

“The ‘politically incorrect’ humour comes from members of the Tap Tap, not from me. The film certainly doesn’t make fun of disabled people, and I didn’t set out to make a politically incorrect film. There are certain stereotypes about how people with handicaps live. But they live much like the rest of us and don’t want to be pitied. In that sense, it could be seen as somewhat politically incorrect.”

Most of dozen or so regular members of the Tap Tap are in wheelchairs and have serious disabilities. But despite the difficulties of taking the show on the proverbial road, before the coronavirus pandemic, they often played some 60 concerts a year, and have performed in London, Madrid, Moscow, Jerusalem, New York, Washington and Chicago.

In the early years, the Tap Tap played mainly cover songs, but now compose originals that speak to the disabled world or their personal experiences. Such as ‘The Sad Optimist’, by singer and electronic percussionist Jana Augustinová, about playing the cards that fate has dealt you, with a smile – hopefully a “contagious” one – on your face.

The Tap Tap, photo: Šimon Ornest

That said, Augustinová, who has been in the band nearly since its inception and is among the central protagonists in the documentary, told Czech Radio that being filmed over so many years, in so many situations, was something of a mixed bag.

“It was definitely difficult – and the filmmakers had a hard time with me because sometimes I really didn’t want scenes to be shot. But I think we found a good compromise. Although a lot of great material wasn’t included, I think it’s a great film, and we enjoyed the premiere. I hope also people who maybe didn’t know us before will really enjoy it.”

The documentary ‘Disabled by Music’, which won the Audience Award at the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, is in Czech cinemas now.