The Plastic People of the Universe - living their philosophy through music

The Plastic People of the Universe, photo: CTK

The sound of cult rock group, The Plastic People of the Universe, formed in Czechoslovakia in 1968, following the Soviet Invasion. The music scene in fact had flourished in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring; when first secretary of the communist party Dubcek had cleared all prisons of artists, one could say Czechoslovakia resembled San Francisco in the sixties. But once the Kremlin had initiated "normalization" to re-establish behavior befitting a communist country, musicians had to undergo a number of so called "re-qualifications" which made it difficult for artists to continue their craft. The Plastics played, which ticked off the communists. Their persecution by the authorities even played a role in the eventual fall of communism.

The Plastic People of the Universe,  photo: CTK
The legendary Plastic People of the Universe played the Archa theatre on Tuesday night. Though it was a restaging of past work, it was in collaboration with the contemporary Agon Orchestra. The crowd was a pleasant combination of young and old longhaired hippies wearing blue jeans, music intellectuals, and people who were just curious. One man I met was at the original concert in 1979, although he was only 9 years old at the time. Another woman was visiting from Italy who just learned about the Plastic People of the Universe at the Museum of Communism here in Prague. She said she was 18 in 1968 and was very touched by the musicians' history.

There was no rush to begin the concert. As you sauntered in with a beer in hand the stage was designed as pub-like as possible to re-create the effect of the performance in 1979. There was a table down stage right and a large hanging tavern lamp above it. Standing on the table, Agon Orchestra conductor, Petr Kofron seemed like a tipsy circus director wearing a slightly disheveled pinstriped suit. Smoking a cigar he asked entering audience members whether they are really, really looking forward to the show.

The show began. It was theatrical spectacle, poetic. Repetitive musical phrases were deconstructed. It almost felt like notes and words were tripping over one another. Some of the musicians had white paint on their faces while orchestra players wore tuxedos. I managed to speak with Vratislav Brabanec, one of the original sax players of the plastics, over a beer after the show. He said that they wanted to have a morbid feel to the concert, "it helps remind us that we're living". I suppose the Plastics truly follow the vision of Ladislav Klima, in that one should not limit philosophy to speaking or writing about it, one should live it.