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Polish Space Program John Doran , May 1st, 2018 07:47

A pulsating synth-and-drum-machine odyssey - and another instant classic from Instant Classic

I’m not going to get carried away and say anything daft like, “Instant Classic are the greatest record label in the world”, but they’re certainly an outfit that everyone should be paying attention to. Not simply because of their incredible hit rate of releasing instant classics by the likes of Stara Rzeka, Innercity Ensemble, Zimpel/Ziołek, Lotto, BNNT, Merkabah, Saagaara and X-NaVI:et but for their business model as well. Despite what this week’s parade of depressing, point-missing features, written by goal-hanging, corporate lickspittle poptimists would disingenuously have you believe by suggestion, things are not looking that good. Having even more of the music industry’s obscenely massive revenues sucked up by an ever more minuscule percentage of people (tech company owners, globally famous pop stars, arena-touring bands and their management, etc) does not indicate rude creative health for music in general. IC is one of the new labels pointing the way forwards for people in the margins and the middle ground despite colossal odds stacked against them.

Only seven years old, the Krakow-based label is run by Maciek Stankiewicz and Arek Młyniec in their spare time. Half the profit from each release goes to the artist, while the other gets ploughed into the next release, almost as if it were an not-for-profit. Covering a dizzying array of genres, the guiding principles are fandom, trust, expertise, hard work and collaboration. Ironically it is their apparent lack of interest in foregrounding commercial interests that has helped establish them, not just in Poland but ever increasingly abroad as well. Not bad for a cottage industry.

This month sees the label release Polish Space Program, a dynamic synth-and-drum-machine odyssey from electronic trio Xenony. The project was born in 2014 when Piotr Bukowski produced the Xe album entirely from MIDI files using a computer as a way of exploring nostalgia for the 70s and 80s via glitch and chiptune music. He then drafted in Paweł Bebech Górski and Karol Koszniec to recreate the album live using analogue gear, which then laid the groundwork for this ace album.

Things start in a familiar yet very satisfying post-krautrock muscular Moog workout along the lines of Zombie Zombie or Emperor Machine before blasting off into lesser occupied space. A strong melodic instinct married with the booming synths of Gary Numan’s Pleasure Principle and, more recently, the modular ecstasy of James Holden And The Animal Spirits animate tracks such as ‘Sun’ which, in other hands, could be lifeless electronic experiments. Ania Iwanek adds celebratory vocals to a track reverberating with Tender Buttons-era Broadcast electronics. ‘Ziemia’ (featuring vocals by Bebech) is a slice of heartbroken cold wave delivered from the point of view of a homesick astronaut who is impossibly distanced from those he loves while the centrepiece of the record is the pulsating and clattering ‘Planet Brasil’.

Some may find the sequencing of tracks, massive interstellar synthesized whooshes and library samples of astronaut chatter, all representing some kind of imaginary space voyage, a touch gauche, but it is all seen through the filter of cult fiction and childhood fascination with space exploration contrasted with adult feelings of alienation and isolation. (One of the tracks is called ‘Phil K’ and the protagonist of ‘Ziemia’ calls to mind Kris Kelvin of Stanisław Lem’s Solaris. The tracks using samples sit somewhere between For All Mankind and Boards Of Canada. While Xenony aren’t doing anything radically different from Public Service Broadcasting in this respect, they have executed their ideas more successfully and efficiently.) But here’s the thing with Instant Classic. Don’t like space voyage themed analogue synth rock? Don’t worry, there will be some black metal-inspired cosmic free jazz, some Indian classical minimalism, some big-band jazz fusion or some techno-referencing post-rock along to satisfy your needs shortly.