Greats of US punk music interviewed in book by Czech music journalist Alex Švamberk
The Czech music journalist Alex Švamberk is the author of a book on American punk and hardcore music entitled Nenech se zas oblbnout, which translates as Won’t Get Fooled Again, as in the song by The Who. Among the many important and influential figures he interviewed are Ian Mackaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys, Henry Rollins and Iggy Pop. When Alex Švamberk stopped by at our studios, he explained how he himself got into punk music, American punk music in particular.
“There are a few reasons. One is I am of the same generation, I was born in the early ‘60s, I started to be an adult in the late ‘70s, at the time of the punk explosion. Another thing is that American hardcore punk exists for a longer time than English punk. English punk started in, I don’t know, ’77…here in something like ’78, ’79…but then it died away, without any changes.
“And in America, because punk wasn’t popular in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, the bands evolved. Classic American punk like The Ramones or political punk like DOA or Dead Kennedys is all the time very similar, but on the other hand there are bands like Minutemen or NOmeansno showed a different kind of punk, which is near to jazz, near to hardcore.”
Now of course it is extremely easy for Czechs to buy music by the likes of NOmeansno. But it was a rather different story in the mid to late 1970s, when the punk scene first exploded in the UK and America.
“It’s a little bit complicated. Of course officially it wasn’t possible to buy any foreign records…or sometimes Supraphon would license one or two rock albums a year – Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, but only one Pink Floyd. So it was impossible to buy albums officially.
“There was a black market, but the police came very often to the black market and caught the people and took the albums, and so on. So it was not so easy. But if somebody had an album recording was very easy on tape, and a lot of albums circulated.
“The Czech punk scene was at that time very small. Usually some alternative rock bands like Extempore and later MCH Band or Zikurat played some punk songs. Later came the Czech new wave, which was influenced by punk, for instance Letadlo or Jasná Páka.”
When did the American punk artists start coming to the Czech Republic? I’m assuming you interviewed them here in Prague – or did you travel to interview them?
“I used different ways. Some of them I interviewed in the Czech Republic, some of them were phoner interviews, some I did when I was in Berlin. And some in the last two or three years I did by email, but that is not a true interview, but if I need the answer to one more question I use email. And the first American hardcore band played in the Czech Republic on June 30, 1991. It was Murphy’s Law.”
Before we said goodbye, Alex Švamberk mentioned a couple of the interviewees featured in his book who had made a particularly strong impression on him.
“It was very interesting to talk to NOmeansno, because they said something more than, I’m punk, I’m political, I’m against some things in American society. Which is interesting to hear, but they went a little bit farther, in terms of what does rock’n’roll mean, what does it mean to play rock’n’roll for people, that people could change into animals – what usually they cover in daily life…
“It was quite interesting to talk to Iggy Pop, because he talked about the comparison of a rock concert and the rituals of Pacific Island tribes. What was really punkish was the US Bombs' Duane Peters, who talked about how everybody was on drugs, in jail, nobody had a place to live, including him, so he joined some groups sometimes only to be able to sleep in the rehearsal room.”