It’s a wonderful thing to find kindred spirits. It doesn’t matter if they look like you, if you share a gender or an age, or if they come from down the street or around the globe.
And that’s the experience a lot of people have had when coming in contact with Bastl Instruments and the underground music and instrument enclave of Brno, Czech. Bastl are known for their cute compact desktop synth hardware and quirky modular line. And small builders are themselves tight-knit, but there’s more to it than just what Bastl Instruments as a maker provides. There’s a sense that this is a platform, a collective – a family. And that family can broaden and encompass all kinds of other makers and artists.
The prolific YouTuber Cuckoo took a trip in February to Brno in the Czech Republic to go behind-the-scenes with Bastl. It’s an expansive video, sprawling in the same way that Bastl itself does. There’s founder Václav Peloušek, artist HRTL, builder Pete Edwards, and many more:
I think it’s worth considering how much younger – and how much, you know, more Czech – this gang are, relative to what had bee norms in the synth creation business. Bastl are then a link, between a new generation and the old, between Czech Republic and the rest of the world, and in doing their own research into Czechoslovakia’s own music technology legacy, one that had previously been hidden behind the Iron Curtain and Cold War bias.
synthPop makes a sneak appearance: Pay particular attention to the appearance by Pete, because sneaked in at around the 34-minute mark is a revelation of his new synth prototype, dubbed synthPop. That’s the first real glimpse we’ve gotten of that new creation; I’m suspecting we’ll get the full picture when the crew visit Berlin’s Superbooth synth gathering later this month.
The Thyme effects processor also makes a cameo in advance of its public Superbooth appearance.
Cuckoo also played a live set, at the cozy, hip venue in town, Kabinet Muz. Less you think this is all about showing off a lot of gear, just one Elektron Octatrack makes up the whole rig – but the jam is great:
Looking beyond the picture of the boxes they make, Bastl are branching out into starting a record label, dubbed Nona. (For an example of builders doing music releases on the side, see also: Koma Elektronik’s AMOK Tapes.)
Vaclev has told CDM a bit about the releases to check out on their label, Nona Rec.
From the mission statement:
Nona records is a label founded by the people from Bastl with a main focus on releasing music of people from Bastl and beyond. It is about establishing communication between the crew and musicians worldwide with the goal of making awesome music! The main interest is to bring all sorts of open minded electronic music/experiments to open minded people.
Vaclev elaborates on what they’re doing and why – the project is a little like an electronic music startup rendition of Google’s 20% time. It’s about achieving some creative life / work balance. Vaclev tells CDM:
What we actually do is that we pay people from Bastl for making releases on Nona – so they can take time off and they can make music. It is a way of providing security for the people to focus more on the music they want to make. The people already built their instruments, they started to perform on the Bastl Jam [live event] series, and now, the last missing piece is making releases. It’s a funny attempt to build the music scene from ground up.
Once we have the releases we want to promote the people to play abroad.
That is the plan, sort of. It really comes from the Bastl Jam series when we really saw that performing monthly gives the people so much push that the music got super interesting lately.
There are two new releases, too. Family Matter is a compilation of Bastl’s own crew and friends.
The boys and girls featured include three people from Bastl (Outin, Tom DJambo, and Paseka ) and more friends and musicians from around the world, including Myako, “a great DJ and producer from Paris,” and hiT͟Hərˈto͞o, Czech-born and Berlin-based producer (and as it happens, friend and collaborator of mine).
Also new is a collaborative album by two Sardinian musicians, Stefano Marconi and Emanual Balia, “who explore the abstract side of techno,” Vaclev explains. “They’re active in the field of experimental music and they recorded their first album 607f/s during their artistic residency at Bastl for the Nona label.”
There’s also Czech up-and-comer Kadaver:
Check out, as well, the EP of Hanz Tisch, who Vaclev describes as a “local bedroom producer who is exploring the childish universe through the style inspired by Aphex Twin.”
Superbooth is the banner event from legendary Berlin synth shop Schneidersladen, but the Bastl kids have their own event series going, too. Noise Kitchen Synth Fest will return to their hometown Brno, Czech, but will Europe tour, as well, reaching Berlin, Prague, and Vienna.
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