Source: Prague TV / https://prague.tv / By Michaela Dehning /
“It is better not to play at all than to play what the establishment demands,” once said Ivan Martin Jirous, the Czech dissident, poet and the artistic director of The Plastic People of the Universe.
It would be difficult to find a Czech who is not familiar with The Plastic People of the Universe, and with good reason. For the past 50 years, no other Czech band has maintained such a cultural importance in the Czech underground music scene and other rock bands could not even dream of such a status.
For their 50th anniversary, the legendary Plastic People of the Universe will be performing at the Palác Akropolis on Saturday, December 1st.
In 1968, Milan “Mejla” Hlavsa, Michal Jernek, Jiří Števich, and Josef Brabec came together in Prague to create The Plastic People of the Universe. The band was born from the subculture of the Czech underground music scene, and it was also strongly influenced by American rock groups like The Fugs, The Velvet Underground, and Frank Zappa. In Zappa’s case, so much so, that the band itself is named after the Zappa song, “Plastic People.”
The Plastics began in the same year as the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia. Unsurprisingly, rock music was severely repressed during this time. For most Czech Rock ‘n’ Roll bands, the new, stricter Communist regime meant their days of performing were over. During this time, bands with English names and songs sung in English were banned; however, this did not stop The Plastic People of the Universe. Instead of cracking under the pressure of the establishment, they stayed true to who they were.
This fight against the establishment gained The Plastic People of the Universe a reputation and fan base that would lead to their arrests and imprisonment. The dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel, along with other prominent supporters, organized the group that helped release the band members. Vaclav Havel was strongly motivated by the band, and The Plastic People of the Universe have been given credit for helping with the inspiration of Charter 77, which ultimately led to the Velvet Revolution.
This sort of inspiration is a large part of The Plastic People’s identity. It is not enough to simply call them a psychedelic rock band. With over 20 albums, not only have they largely experimented with their music, but The Plastic People of the Universe were also theatrical performers. They understood and lived by the idea that the Czech underground music scene is not only about music. It was a community and a group of intellectuals constantly struggling to find their place in the world and battling the rules of the establishment.
The Plastic People of the Universe have lived by these values because they were never focused on only creating music; they are focused on creating emotion. In an interview with Faust Fest, band member Jiří Kabeš, who also goes by the alias ‘Kaba’ said, “…The music basically gave such internal images. Things we played a long time ago were actually pictures, processed into tones…”
For their 50th anniversary, the Plastic People of the Universe will be performing with long-time members Josef Janíček (keyboards and vocals), and Vratislav Brabenec (saxophone, clarinet, and vocals), along with Jaroslav Kvasnička (drums and vocals), Johnny Judt Jr (bass and vocals), and David Babek (guitar), and other guest performers.
While we may never be able to go back to the time of the revolutionary Czech underground music scene, you can experience at least a taste of it again with their performance of both Czech underground classics and some newer compositions.