Plastic People of the Universe
Over the last couple of years, the British imprint, Moved By Sound, has come out of nowhere to deliver some of the most jaw dropping, unexpected, and beautifully produced reissues that we can call to mind. First came one of the great holy grails of 1970 private press free jazz, Jeanne Lee’s “Conspiracy”. Then there was Sirone’s “Artistry” and Malik's Emerging Force Art Trio’s “Time & Condition”, both of which blew our doors off. Now the label returns with a surprising turn into the left field of European avant-garde rock, with the first ever vinyl reissue of Plastic People of the Universe’s legendary 1978 LP “Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned”. A raucous explosion of playful and politically urgent sound - made in secret under authoritarian rule - that splits the different prog, punk, noise, and jazz. Moved By Sound’s brand new pressing is issued in two very special limited editions, a black vinyl edition of 700 copies, and a transparent/ black marbled vinyl edition of 300 copies, both housed in reverse board printed sleeve - perfectly reproducing the original 1978 cover - with printed inner sleeve, lyric booklet, poster and postcard inserts. Stunning on every count!
Initially drawing on the fertile ground laid by bands like the Velvet Underground, the Fugs, and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, Plastic People of the Universe were founded in Prague by the seventeen-year-old bassist, Milan Hlavsa, in 1968, immediately following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Joined by Josef Janíček, Vratislav Brabenec, Jaroslav Kvasnička, Johnny Judl Jr, and David Babka, they would rapidly become regarded as one of the most important projects in Prague underground culture between 1968 and 1989, weaving a proto-punk blend of prog, psychedelia, and noise that would prove to be radically ahead of its time in any context, let alone one beset by so many social and political constraints.
Despite considering themselves nonconformist, rather than explicitly political, Plastic People of the Universe constantly found themselves under attack from the Soviet regime. In 1970 their music license was revoked, forcing them underground. It was during this period that an entire underground cultural movement formed around the band, with their followers referred to as máničky, a term referring to men with long hair. In 1976, following a performance at the Druhý festival druhé kultury event, the band and other members of their scene were arrested, put on trial, and subsequently jailed for sustained periods under the conviction of "organized disturbance of the peace”. Remarkably, this didn’t stop them and they continued to perform and record until the fall of communism in 1989, and well beyond.
Regardless all the challenges that they faced, Plastic People of the Universe managed to record and release four albums prior to 1989, albeit on labels outside of Czechoslovakia, which gained them a significant following across the globe among fans of experimental music, prog, punk, and noise. The first of these was “Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned”, recorded in 1974 but not released until 1978 when it reached the hands of the French imprints LTM and Invisible Records.
Out of print on vinyl for nearly half a century, with a huge cult following developing over that period, it is this marvel that Moved By Sound has brought back into our hands. Named for the banned poet, Egon Bondy, whose lyrics took a central place in Plastic People of the Universe’s music for a number of years, and presenting a play on the Beatles' “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”, the album it is a marvel of renegade rock by any standard or era.
Comprising ten tracks of ordered chaos, “Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned” is imbued with a raw sense of immediacy that’s incredible rare to encounter in studio recordings. It feels like it emerged with urgency fully formed in a single go. The album’s sound, while difficult to pin down, and why would you want it, splits the difference between irreverent prog of Zappa and Beefheart, British post punk, and a touch of jazz. Similar to their English contemporaries, Hawkwind, saxophone (and clarinet) lines, delivered by Vratislav Brabenec, play an equal counterpart to vocals, spinning the music endlessly into surprising realms.
Raucous and irreverent, “Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned” is document of artistic defiance and perseverance; a radical music pushed toward further radicalism and urgency by the stringent political environment within which the band attempted to exist and express. Even more remarkably, beyond persevering, what’s most present is the playfulness and humor that runs throughout the album. This is serious music that isn’t afraid to laugh in the face of adversity, and thus it carries an increasingly prescient message into the present day and remains vital 45 years after it was laid to tape. Absolutely fantastic on every count, Moved by Sound has done the world a great service by bringing this one back.
Issued in two very special limited editions, a black vinyl edition of 700 copies, and a transparent/ black marbled vinyl edition of 300 copies, both housed in reverse board printed sleeve - perfectly reproducing the original 1978 cover - with printed inner sleeve, lyric booklet, poster and postcard inserts. A historical marvel that can’t be missed.