‘Every time I get creative it either becomes a scandal or causes harm’ - Sándor Bernáthy on Quart
From Unearthing The Music
The following is the first English translation of an interview with Sándor Bernáthy, conducted by András Rónai and translated by Lóránt Bódi and originally published on Quart.hu in 2011. All photos by Zsófia Pályi.
‘Every time I get creative it either becomes a scandal or causes harm’
Sándor Bernáthy left the ’Bizottság’ band when no one noticed he was playing off-key on purpose. We talked about scandals and the similarities between folk and techno and found out how even the banned band ’Beatrice’ was able to have concert posters. This interview was originally published before the Sírba visztek exhibition commemorating Bizottság. This was the last interview conducted with Sándor Bernáthy before his death in January 2012.
About ten years ago I heard a story you told about a time when the FMK was being cleaned before a party and you wanted to pull out a nail from the wall, but someone told you not to do it because it had been there since the place’s golden age, and you had a big laugh about it because it had been you who nailed it to the wall during a performance in order to hang something from it.
Well, I don't remember that one. If a story is older than ten years, I won’t remember it. But there was a lot going on at the FMK. There were these huge pipe breaks... We did an exhibition with the band ‘Beatrice’ - we were not banned, we were not even shut down, there was just a pipe break - and the whole institution got closed down. Then it was reopened only when the photos were scheduled to be taken down.
I found the story interesting because it is a good example of how something that had no specific meaning at the moment can become quite important and even a cult thing with time.
Yes, ten years will pass, and after that, everyone will see it as a relevant thing.
How important is it for you to archive your works? I am sixty-two and there hasn’t been a catalogue made of me, about me or for me, I didn’t collect a portfolio. Only now is it being considered that a gallery might try to gather all kinds of fine art and graphic design pieces created by me and things about my, let’s call it my musical life. It’s a huge task.
I have millions of cardboard boxes full of photos, texts, everything, but they aren’t organized. I’ve tried a few times, but I don’t have the patience for it. I’m always interested in something new, and I find that new things are more interesting. Or I'm not doing anything. Because every time I get creative it either becomes a scandal or causes harm, and I don’t want that. And by painting I multiply the number of objects, and then I don’t know where to put them. So there are all these obstacles that should inspire art, but unfortunately they prevent me from creating.
What do you mean by “it will be a scandal or cause harm”?
I work with a gallerist with whom I have had a great relationship for a while. He recently had this large exhibition about Ferenc Liszt, for which he invited several artists. He told me face to face that he didn’t invite me because I was considered a scandalous artist and this time he was very afraid of scandals; he did not want a piece about Ferenc Liszt to be selected which the press, the scene or anyone might make any scandalous remark about.
From this kind of feedback, and recalling my own stories, I think there were quite a few events and performances that just became scandalous. I have never been praised for them. Or maybe now I have: I just received, on March 15, the Munkácsy Prize: if that’s praise, then I got it. But all my previous exhibitions, zines, concerts, they all were considered scandalous somehow. Which wouldn’t be a problem, because we’re living in the age of scandals anyway, our entire age is a scandal - but here (in Hungary) ‘scandal’ has a negative interpretation. In Western Europe, a scandal means a career for artists, and here it stands for a complete extermination, a total annihilation. I don’t want to compare myself with them, but let’s just consider this: The Beatles have always been scandalous from the moment of their formation, and every one of them has become a billionaire. Their scandals were nice scandals: they were all philanthropists, they spoke in favor of peace and art. In our country they don’t make that distinction: being in a scandal means being wiped out, set aside, not forgiven, and never in their damned life should it be talked about or written about - until the next (similar) case. I do not know why that is the case, whether it is in the souls of Hungarians or a local tradition. I couldn't figure that out.
Before the regime change, wasn’t it the case that those who annoyed the authority was the ‘cool guy’ - one of us?
Within the inner circles that really was what happened, but it didn’t earn you a living. An artist’s performance, if noticed, is a valuable thing. It should not be labelled, like nowadays, as anti-regime or anti-social, or fascist, anti-semitic, racist. I don’t even know what the current labels are that came up due to the regime change. It’s pure dread all around us. You can’t exhibit, you can’t perform, you can’t go there, you can’t introduce yourself - you can’t do anything that would affect the whole of society. But then there is no point in making art because it only makes sense if it has an impact on society. Is it an exhibition after all if there are just two visitors? Can we call it a concert at all if only five people poke their noses? - it is nothing worth mentioning. And this is happening: it’s either a handful of people standing at a concert or 39 million screaming, yelling. It is that extreme. This is no good for art or for society.
People don’t know which is good: if there are many people, or if there are just a few. This is not related to regime changes, democracies, dictatorships. Anyway, the two are the same: democracy, dictatorship, it does not matter, power itself and money matter in this moment, in the West as well as in the East. There is no regime change, eras are coming and going. If it’s something fifty million people watch on YouTube, it still has no effect on society. It has and effect on YouTube, but not on society. Because then you watch another one with fifty or thirty million views, and talk about that for two minutes. Now humanity is so individualized that it has no need for community. Our youth was still communal. Even if we quarrelled, even if we were constant rivals, even if we were only saying bad things about colleagues, friends - we still loved each other. Now I don’t see love or hate mattering anymore, the question is only: is there talk about it or not, and that’s all. Now I don’t see any impact, artistic or non-artistic, that could make society change and in a good direction. The world is now under the influence of technology and money.
Gépszava’s motto was that "now it’s only music that holds the world together." [Gépszava was Sándor Bernáthy's magazine about electronic music, which made it through a few issues. The title is a pun: Népszava (meaning People’s Voice) is a Hungarian newspaper founded in 1877; Gépszava means Machine’s Voice.]
This quote might have been in Gépszava, but we need to go further back. There was a record in 1987 titled “Kapolcs riadó - Támad a szél” [Kapolcs alarm, the wind is attacking], which was edited by István Márta and pushed the record label to publish it. It was way ahead of its time; it was even a green vinyl. It was created by Pista [István’s nickname – ed.]: he had an estate in Kapolcs, where he invited artists with the consent and the contracts of the record company, thus the record was made in this beautiful environment of the Balaton Uplands. I don’t want to list how many artists featured on it. It was published in a small edition but still became world-famous. In Hungary, there was no news on this record, but through our foreign network of friends and artists, it became well-known in all the significant places dealing with art and music, and it all happened without the Internet. It had an inner sleeve, and my sentence that you quoted was printed there; that was how I thought back then, in 1987. Even then, I could see that the world would be completely shattered to pieces. It sounded like a prophecy, though I meant it as a joke. But since then, it has been proven. We may have quoted it in Gépszava as well.
As I remember it was written in a stripe at the bottom of the newspaper.
Yes, it was a large format newspaper, in total only four came out, and then it ran out of money. We did it all on our own, there was no support behind it. The Gépszava was also ahead of its time, because I intended it as a techno art magazine, and in Hungary at that time techno music was familiar to only a small circle of hippie friends, and the press immediately connected it to drugs. Techno and drugs are one and the same. It was only later that became so fashionable that tens of thousands of people go to a completely insignificant star-DJ on Balaton Sound – that’s incredible. Here again, I can only quote myself; because who am I to quote, I can only be sure if I quote myself. Until 1997 or 1998, I organized a techno tent on the Sziget Fesztivál called Love Barricade; that was the time when Karcsi [Károly Gerendai] allowed in outside promoters. At that time, I had a conversation with Peter Müller - he had influence there at the time - I told him I wouldn’t give it 2 or 3 years before electronic music would be played in every tent. It will be squabbling and rattling from every small and big deck. There won’t be bands with guitars, hair shaking, growling, and alternative redemptions - their time is up. It will last for another hundred years, but besides rock music there will be this new thing. Peter said that when he was in Amsterdam, he had gone through that, and realized this wouldn’t last long. And now go out to the Sziget and listen to what they are squabbling and rattling in those small tents or on big stages, go to Balaton Sound, go anywhere. A decade and a half had passed, and now it is possible to let go of the incredibly fundamentalist alternative nonsense glued to Budapest forever, which can only imagine rock and roll with guitar and drums, nothing else. It may not be such a sensation now, but believe me, a few years ago techno music was the black devil.
In the 1990s, there were - in many cases explicit - utopian overtones to techno: humanity is reunited and the shattered society finds itself again in the ancient dance, and so on. Now a lot of people say it’s over, it turned out to be a dream just like the hippie ideology; from a more or less illegal movement techno became a billion-dollar business. How do you see that today?
First of all, nothing has ceased, nothing has ended. The alternative scene and rock music will go on, but new scenes are also coming. Techno is a textless thing, isn't it? Completely international: you don’t need language skills, you don’t need the cultural hegemony that a language expresses. It is a cosmic thing; the normal A note is the same everywhere. It is a physical reality that man has happily tried to use as an ideological reinforcement to give the movement a right to exist, to convince the power, the officials, that techno should not be persecuted, it exists, it can form communities. This ideology has not been overturned, it has not ceased, but it has become general. In fact, since it’s a fast-paced genre, it has crushed itself. Of course, drugs also play a role in this: speed, a variety of fast substances; but the music itself is fast. Nothing can develop so fast without running out of steam in two to three, up to five to ten years. Rock music developed for twenty years, from which point only repetitions could be produced in it. Techno has come this way in five years. In five years, all of its subgenres were created. This is also natural, as you don’t have to go to an academy for sixteen years, you don’t even have to understand musical notation: if they have a good ear and they are inventive, everyone can play music. From this point of view, I have always considered techno to be folk music performed by technical means. If we go to Transylvania, it’s fantastic to see [folk] musicians playing the same instruments [as their ancestors] - but if you look at recordings from twenty years ago, the same songs sound completely different. Techno is like that too: you have a groove, only five years later others use it, and it sounds different. Therefore, it is viable. The ideology must be removed from this, and very rightly it has disappeared. And the dance – there is no necessary connection to techno, if I get drunk, I can dance alone here at home,. And since the magical four-to-the-floor is there, right away the chicks are shaking it, we go dancing, it’s clear.
This ideology was also present at Gépszava.
Of course. Even if there are no lyrics in techno, when you write about it, when you interpret it, you create texts; and of you don’t write on the literary level, then you will produce a dilettante, uninteresting text, or something that is bound to an ideology. When I talk about my own age, it’s always an ideology, like it or not.
You said techno got rid of this ideology. How about you yourself?
It didn’t cease, you always need some kind of ideology. Only we are no longer articulating this ideology, but performing it; with my son Zsiga [in the duo Bernáthy & Son]. We didn’t break up with it, we’re there, it is written on us. I'm the party secretary, he's the president. We don’t talk, we are twiddling and grinding, and then either they understand it or they don’t, either they dance to it or get bored, either they believe it or do not. It's that simple. You don't have to write about it anymore. In 94-96, we had to write about it, people didn’t know what it was. "There are no lyrics. Nothing happens on stage. Where's the drummer? I still hear the drums." I had a band in the mid-eighties, Matuska Silver Sound: it was the first band in Hungary that used a computer. There were seven or eight concerts in total. The concerts of my previous band, which doesn’t matter now, were attended by thousands. It was impossible to fit in Almássy Square when we were on stage, the windows were broken. When we switched to electronic music (gépzene) with two friends, the band failed so badly that there were only nine people at the last concert at the Lágymányosi Community House. People didn't understand it. There was no drummer, they did not see the drummer, they did not believe it: what or who is drumming? It was unbelievable. Of course, it didn’t help that the Esti Hírlap [Evening News] wrote an article about our music in two huge columns saying that nobody should listen to this, they shouldn't go to our concerts, it was antihuman, only machines played music there, and furthermore, that we couldn’t have a name like that - it's an anti-social thing. That was in 87, 88.
That was the time when the computer suddenly arrived. But it wasn’t like today, it was like this little ZX Spectrum that you can see here on the shelf. Only after that one came the Commodore. But that was the real revelation: it had a MIDI system, which meant that different machines could be interconnected in one system. Before that, they were out of sync: it was not possible to create sound from these machines and instruments at the same time. The manufacturers made an agreement, and the choice fell on the MIDI player: with this little machine many others could be kept in sync. This is how it the drum machine became the drummer, the strings came from a synthesizer, the wind instruments from another synthesizer – all this had programmed one by one. That was the real revelation that people didn’t understand: “well, we don’t see violinists,” but they heard it the same way. And that’s what we started here in Hungary: Matuska Silver Sound was the first to put the computer on stage. We also toured in England with this setup; the concept was not so strange there, in Western Europe there was a smoother transition from one era to another; nonetheless some people looked at us as though we were the strange Hungarians who brought a computer instead of a drummer. A few years later, technology accelerated incredibly, and black people invented techno in America.
In the nineties, you mentioned in several interviews that there was a shift, a great revelation for you at the Love Parade.
Yes, that was the event where I first saw the impact of this music on society. In 1993, I ended up there by accident. It was an incredible demonstration. Interestingly, there were punks with mohawks too, but the music played from their tape recorder was different from anything we had heard before. In 1996, when we played there on a truck from Heidelberg, this event was still unknown in Hungary. There were a million people there. [Wikipedia states that it was 750,000.] That’s a number you can’t really comprehend, even in the war there weren't one million people in one place at the same time. And there were a total of four cavalry and five police cars, they were on the side street and ambulances were on standby, but there was no need for them. The regime change took place, the Berlin Wall was torn down - it was impossible to move on with the music that came before it, metal music, rock music, punk music. If there is a regime change – even though I said earlier that I do not believe in a regime change - then you can’t go on with the same people. And in Germany, they didn’t. That is why architecture, fashion, everything became different and new. There was an incredible rising energy in the nineties, a great desire for freedom. All over Europe, where we went, we only saw happy people everywhere. Luckily, we were invited to many places, and we met smiling, cheerful people everywhere. It's all techno music.
There was a story: we played at a party in a big hall, and we had just checked in the place early. There were about thirty people, and some guys about my age were playing guitar and headbanging. They looked familiar to me, who are they? It was Motörhead. Ten years earlier they played in stadiums. That era has brought such a change. Of course, the band didn’t split, but it was not valid in the nineties anymore. Only in Budapest: alternative music was pushed here, bands reformed and gave farewell concerts. If there is a band, it should be an alternative one. I do not say this in disapproval. I've operated a club in Óbuda for thirteen years, now called Red Yuk and Blue Yuk, once called Supersonic. Every weekend, five or six bands play in each of them. I listened to what two generations could offer in thirteen years, and I can't find five bands that would have been good. Unfortunately. Imitations, copies. They had learned to play the guitar so well that an injector with water should be placed in the guitarist’s hand so that the guitar would not ignite. They can play the drums incredibly well, they know everything. But I only hear reminiscences brought from the past: copies, no originality, nothing at all. I ask them: what do you think, how many people understood the English lyrics? They want to pursue a career abroad. With this knowledge of English? And with that, all is said. A disaster. I go to Western Europe - I rarely go now - the whole thing is different. Here in Pest, Hungary, they do not want to change, they do not believe that this is another age, they cannot accept the fact that they are getting old, we are getting older.
For some time, your Supersonic Technikum and the Love Barricade played a pioneering role in the electronic music life of Budapest, and then it seemed to be over. Why?
It was not pioneering. It was just of his time. A pioneer is ahead of his time. I wasn’t ahead of my time, I was in my time, I saw what is up to date, and I did it myself. I didn’t know at that time that there was such a thing as electronic music, yet I was already playing with machines. It may have been groundbreaking there, but it wasn’t. That’s ideology itself: to say that this thing is traditional, that thing is groundbreaking - we put labels on it right away. I'll telling you an anecdote. Going back 25 years, when A.E. Bizottság was not as incredibly famous as it later became; imagine that we played in front of five or six people. We played everywhere where they called us. There was this bloke, he was the first to come, the last to go. He was holding on to his bottle of Kinizsi beer, stood there swaying in front of the stage, and when it was over, he came over and said, "Guys, stop this! Stop it right away! There is nothing worse than this music. I beg you to play something else, it's unbearable. " And even while we were packing up, he came after us, "Please, kids, don't torture me anymore, will you?" And yet he was there at the next concert and said the same thing. So here in Pest, snobbery is above all else. It can’t be that simple that you’re doing something, someone sees that and likes it. Fantastically expert opinions are formed immediately. This may be a good thing or not, but it sure makes people sad. I can't see cheerful people here - why would they be cheerful?
You said that the audience did not understand machine music. What did your fellow musicians and artists say?
They said: Bernáthy went crazy, what an idiot - look what he is doing. I organized an ambient festival at FMK where we played with machines and I invited a lot of colleagues who played traditional instruments. I was told to my face that I was written off, I should not deal with such things, it’s not serious, it’s inhuman, anti-art. I think even now there are some people who have the same opinion. But that opinion isn’t well-founded, because time has not proved that this should be stopped. The interesting thing, however, is that for many years and decades, I didn’t know what to do with the guitar in this music, but now it’s starting to come back. I picked up the guitar and it can fit in very well. So it’s constantly changing, I say, like folk music. So you shouldn’t make an irrevocable statement about anything: it’s over, it’s done, this has to be stopped, it’s a brand new thing. I couldn’t call anything “brand new” right now. Everything is available, thank God; there is such a musical life in Budapest and festival life in Hungary that are unique. Sure, every festival is making a loss... but wherever you go, all of them are full. And all kinds of styles, from “national rock”- which is a novelty - to blues, rock, jazz, world music. Back then, we fought for this exact thing. So it’s a lie to say this era is wrong. It’s true that there is so much competition that one act kills the other, but still, that’s what we wanted, and we made it through.
You recently posted a track on the web that also includes a voice sample from Bizottság. Was this the first of its kind?
We have done this before, but we do not record anything, we only play live. So I can’t bring back what we played this last year or the year before. For some reason, Zsiga got the urge to do this, and he posted it on YouTube, I think, but we’ve played it at parties before. If I take something out from someone else’s track, it is theft and it has very very serious legal consequences. A sample has to be bought: it can be used, sold, traded, but it costs money. If I wanted to take a portion of the Shadows, I would have to pay; I'd rather play it myself. But Bizottság is mine. At most, my partners might sue me for theft. [Laughs] So that’s the reason behind the sample, that I don’t need to pay for it. On the other hand, these are very good, the parts Zsiga took out, so the voice of Kokó, Laca, Öcsike, András carries on into the ears of the younger generations as samples.
Did they hear that?
I don't know whether they heard it. I think we sent it to András. Anyway, young people did hear it at a party. At most don't know what it is, but they hear it.
When Kalandra fel! [Up for Adventure!] appeared, you were no longer a member of Bizottság, but you were still playing in a few tracks. How did this happen?
I quit in early 1983. I was in the band from 1980 for two and a half years. Kalandra fel! was sold as a concert record, but it is a scam all over. Andras pressured the record label company to have a record. It was his decision, and it was not discussed with us, he went in, and agreed with Imre Wilpert on how it should be. Before that occasion, everything was done democratically, we discussed everything. But Andras came with this idea, here it is. I objected. I told them not to release a record at that moment and wait for another year or so, and sign an exclusive deal with the record label. This deal meant at that time that we had to make a record every year, not just a single one. I was the only one in the band with that opinion. Everyone voted to make that one record. After that, I had to leave the band, so I quit, it’s not that we fought, but we had a disagreement. So this one record turned into a reality, and unfortunately around four records’ worth of music were lost like this: we went to each performance with new material, and nothing of it was left. Only the tracks chosen by the band and the label could appear on the record. It was a public recording at a concert in Gödöllő which was so crappy, the band was so drunk that it became useless. I only attended it as part of the audience. I couldn't bear to stay till the end, it was horrible. So the whole thing had to be repeated in the studio. This is basically a fake record. The sound of the audience, the stage banter, the jokes could remain because they could be cut off, but the musical parts all had to be re-recorded: the drums, the guitars, everything. So I played my parts. If the concert could have gone well, I wouldn’t have been on it, but since it was recorded in the studio, there are a few scraps of me that can be heard on the record.
The other record is the music of the film Ice Cream Ballet. Those songs were written for the film. I don’t play on the record, I’m only in a couple of scenes in the film that were created later. That is the time when the band began to run the gauntlet. After me, ten or fifteen new members came in, Andras invited anyone he could find, but they could not replace me anymore, I was irreplaceable, unfortunately. [Laughing] The band is gone, but the friendship and collegiality remained, thank God. Poor Johnny is dead, but the rest of us are still there, sometimes we meet, talk. It's just a thing of the past. Even though there will be an exhibition now an exhibition entitled “SÍRBA VISZTEK" A Bizottság a Műcsarnokba megy [“Killing us”, Bizottság Goes to Kunsthalle], this must be acknowledged. It is a story or history, or adventure, however you might want to call it.
When Bizottság was over, I didn’t want to play music anymore. I didn’t think I was going to form a new band; I didn’t look for new members, I didn’t apply to be a member anywhere, this thing ended for me and I started doing fine art. Then suddenly someone invited me to a band of friends to play the guitar. I told them first that I didn’t want to play music anymore. But they kept inviting me, we’re good company, they said. It became Doktor Újhajnal [Doctor New Dawn], Matuska Silver Sound, and later it became the techno thing. And then I was no longer interested in alternative rock anymore. For me Nirvana was the last rock band that could rock and that could produce something new. Nirvana was full of energy, sweeping everything away. Three members played with an energy like Jimi Hendrix and similar epochal bands. After that, maybe there was something original in Pantera, but since then I haven't heard anything but paraphrasing, imitations, repetitions of these bands.
What did the Fekete Bárányok [Black Lambs] concert look like from the stage?
That was frightening. Two people from the band had musical experience, Öcsi and me: we had played in bands before. It wasn’t announced in advance, no one knew we were going to play. That was the secret plan. Only Beatrice, P. Mobil, Hobo Blues Band were advertised. That's what the audience came for. Gyuri Czippán from Ifjúsági Magazin [Youth Magazine] organized the whole thing, we agreed with him to appear as the opening act. Everything, from beer bottles to sneakers and carrots came on stage. Howls, “Ricse, Ricse, rickshaws, Beatrice” - you could hear everything but what we were playing. Andras stood beside me with a saxophone, leaning on a Hammond organ and his legs trembled. "I can't blow a single sound, let's stop, let's get out of here!" I told him, "No, let’s do it, let’s get through this." Miracle of miracles, when we were about halfway through our repertoire there was silence. We also had a trick: two acquaintances of András, two young guys were inside men in the audience. Andras made a ten-meter-long banner that had our name, Bizottság on it. At one point, the two guys had to push this up in the middle of the audience. No one knew what kind of band was playing, clinking, rattling, painted and dressed incredibly in masquerades - and no one understood the inscription ‘Bizottság’ that was pushed up there. That’s how our career started, followed by many invitations: we toured all over the country, especially the university clubs.
The last concert in which I took part was at Közgáz [the University of Economics]. We were already two hours late; so many people were there that the entrance of the building could be not approached from the Szabadság bridge. Furthermore, Kokó [[[Erzsébet Kukta]], the singer] was not allowed in. The security guards were college students. This little shy girl [Kokó] would have gone in, but she was pushed against the door. "Where are you going?" "I'm Kokó." "Of course." Andras had to go out and bring her in. Outside the crowd reached the bridge, the venue was fully packed. This concert was recorded by Zsuzsa Göczey, I think she may still have it somewhere else. We played in the university’s auditorium, which can accommodate maybe 4-500 people. If there weren’t 3,000 people there, there were none. It was all so incredibly depressing; it was simply not possible to understand what they were coming for? A year before, we played in front of four or six people! At that time, we didn't have any press, we didn't have a record yet, but the news spread, and the band became fashionable. Before this concert, I completely detuned my guitar, and I played that way. For that, the band wanted to kill me, especially Öcsi who is a professional musician. Next to Johnny’s normally tuned guitar, there was my incredibly detuned and downtuned guitar - and no one said: “Hey kids, stop it, it’s unbearable”. And it was so shocking that they shouted, applauded, screamed, but the fact that I was playing on off-key – that my guitar was not just a little bit, but completely detuned – went unnoticed, no one told me tune it please properly. And then I said: guys, this is what we have become, thank you very much. And then I left the band.
So there was the first disagreement, whether to have a record or not, but it still could have been resolved somehow; but the fact that no one noticed this [tuning] - I said, we can even kill a pig on stage, everyone will still think it is a wedding. And there was a lot of work involved. Most of the people do not know that we had rehearsals for hundreds of hours; so we didn’t just go up on stage and play something. We rehearsed three, sometimes five times a week for ten hours. These tracks had to be created, they didn’t sound like anything else, they had to be put together, they had to be practised, they had to be played. There was a lot of work, a lot of energy in it. And when we were performing, we think that it is a serious and important business, for us and others as well. At the very least, pay attention to the lyrics and those interesting musical twists that you do not hear anywhere else. But they were not interested in anything other than what is in fashion. And that is what I'm saying, what is not going away from Budapest is this incredible snobbery. Well, you can't play fake guitar in a band. If you do so, that’s not okay. If someone is doing this on purpose, there should be at least one critical voice: I noticed, I heard! But no-one said anything.
On the other hand, I think this is how the band has had an impact that may seem completely unlikely: songs like Szerelem [Love] became unlikely hits, and some of Bizottság’s lyrics have become catchphrases.
It is true because as a band, Bizottság was full of bad music. If you put bands next to each other and compared them musically, it was very bad. But it was the most interesting band in the world. No one can refute this; you can say bad things about it, but it was interesting for sure. That included Laca’s ingenious performances, the lyrics, the incredible associations, the personality of Öcsike, of András and of the others – all of which resulted in music so characteristic of the age. It explains why after twenty-five years it still has an impact, it is still being addressed. There will be an exhibition, and stuff like that. No one cares about what we have done ever since. Fifteen, sixteen-year-old girls are coming up to me, saying, "You were in the Bizottság band? We didn't even know that! Well, my mom and my pop have one of your records." There was a time when I was afraid to go to a club or a pub — I didn’t go out much anyway — because I was always recognized by a madman or two who sat down and started to ask me questions: “it’s time to tell the real and honest story of Bizottság”. I didn't like that; I would have had found the time to tell them what I was doing now, but it didn’t interest anyone. So it is very interesting that some of the songs became catchphrases that spread, it got into the culture of Pest, of Hungary – from a band that was not even a band.
Once Ádám Török, from the band Mini, was sitting in the Fészek Klub with some musicians, I remember Frenreisz Karesz, and maybe Lóri Schuster, I don't know who else was there. I came from behind, and everyone saw me, except Adam. He said in a loud voice, "They don't know anything. It's awful. It's not even worth paying attention to." I was standing behind him, and he was criticizing Bizottság. The others were laughing, and Adam thought it was because of his performance. I said “Hi”, Adam looked up and said, "It's good that you're coming, we were talking about you. I was out in Szentendre and it’s quite incredible what you guys are doing. I couldn’t understand that I went out there three times - we played at a place called Hordó [Barrel] every fortnight - and I thought you were playing all sorts of stupid nonsense, it's all out of tune, it's all a scam. And when I heard it for the third time and noticed that all the breaks came exactly at the same time, in the same way, then I started to think that there is something to this after all. “
So the professional musicians - whom we only met much later, because we weren't colleagues, only so much later did personal acquaintances, friendships, dislikes, etc. develop - they did not talk about anything other than Bizottság.
You said there was material for roughly four records. What happened to that?
Lost. We did not put it on record; at the time we could play them, but we wouldn’t be able to today. They selected some of these songs, a record was made, and the rest were lost, completely. There are bootleg recordings, concerts and rehearsals recorded with tape recorders, but that's not the real repertoire. I think Bizottság could have been even more interesting if those songs would have survived. Laca’s lyrics were unlike anything else; they were unique, unprecedented. What we do have still is a serious amount of documents. At the time, I was the leader of the band. This did not mean a status of power, in that sense everyone was a bandleader; it just meant that I was only one who lived in Pest and had a phone. So all the invitations were sent to me, and I was the one to deal with all the official documents from the police to the KISZ; all the fines for putting out posters, etc. came to my address. It's all in this briefcase. Here is everything, police reports, summons to Baracska, threats of punishment. But no one wanted to see them yet.
The concerts had titles, right?
Yes. Anywhere we went, we brought a new programme. There were 12-13 new tracks every time, there were also stage sets, these were also art performances, each with a different title. One or two tracks from each were recorded on the album.
For example, the song Békásmegyer was not on the record, but it also reached me on cassette.
Yes, it was distributed by András. There were hits like that, we just called them anti-hits, but still, they existed. Nevertheless I’ve never heard Bizottság on the radio. The postman brings 35 forints as royalties; I need to give him that and another 370 for bringing it up to the fourth floor.
There were rumors in the 1990s about a possible reunion, probably set for 13 August 1993 [the date is mentioned in the song ázé on the album, that Bizottság would meet at least once for a reunion. How was that?
Géza Riskó, who was the editor-in-chief of Mai Nap at the time, once called me in the mid-1990s saying that he raised an incredible amount of money, millions from sponsors - that was a lot in the 1990s. He kept bugging me to get the band back together (everyone was still alive) and do two performances at the Budapest Sports Hall. But I told him that this band could no longer be assembled. It is not like Európa Kiadó, giving three hundred more farewell concerts after the first twenty-four farewell concerts. Európa Kiadó was a professional band, had musicians in it, it should have done its work. But we wouldn't even be able to play the songs. I didn't remember one chord from them. Sure, it could be learned back from the records, but what’s the point of that? Not to mention that not a single woman would be in the audience; only old women at most. Young people don’t care about old people like us. At most, they listen to the music at home as a curio, as we watched the tapir at the zoo.
Are you still connected to music as an artist, are you still designing posters or covers?
I don't do that anymore, I completely gave up advertising graphic design. The graphic studio is already 100 percent run by Zsiga.
What did you do for Beatrice?
Everything. Record covers, posters, I also photographed them. I made all the material that exists about them. These were semi-legal materials. The band was banned, they could not perform. But there was the so-called “lectorat” [proofing committee] up in the Buda Castle, where all the materials to be printed had to be taken – be it a book cover, a record cover, or a poster. Book covers could be judged by the publisher under its authority by a professional jury. But everything destined for the streets had to be taken to the lectorat that was also called professional, but they had other things to consider too. So no one understood that if Beatrice was banned, how could their posters be printed. It could, because I designed it and took it to the Castle and presented it as a work of fine art, and thus it got reviewed with a professional eye. "What will it be? A street poster? Very good." The press did it under-the-counter, but the poster got the required seal on it, so the police couldn’t pick a quarrel with us. They were fuming because we outsmarted them, but we were able to make our posters that way.
How long an article will you write from this, one page, two?
No one will be interested in these anecdotes.
I hope there will be quite a few.
Nobody cares about anecdotes anymore. Because — perhaps it’s only me who sees it this way because I am old — the world is finished. Everything is out there. We are no longer waiting for something to happen, to surprise us. I was born in the fifties, in an era when if a car came to our village, everybody came out to the streets to watch it. Then another one wouldn’t come for half a year. There were only two radios in the village. Now I have a flat-screen TV. I have no urge to travel to the Amazonas. I wouldn't see anything there, at most just water. I would go and when I would come back: "So what did you see?" "I saw the water." "Crocodiles?" "Crocodiles, no." "So what did you see, black people, natives?" "No, there was some kind of TV recording, and they didn't come to where I was." I turn on the TV and see everything that is happening in the Amazonas. I get to know every African tribe personally. I am there inside the pyramid, under the ground, looking in and looking down from twenty-four perspectives. So the world is completely done, you don’t have to explore anything anymore, everything is here. So I ask, are the anecdotes still interesting? If someone starts talking nonsense - does anyone care?