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Gallery: Hungarian Underground Posters

February 2018

Bizottság at Bercsényi Club, 11 March 1983, designed by István Ocztos, a graphic artist and one of the singers in 2 Műsor (2nd Program), “a band from the playful side of the Hungarian new wave scene”, says Tamás Szőnyei.

Európa Kiadó and Balaton at Zichy Palace, 7 July 1987, designer unknown. The two groups played in the palace courtyard. A cassette recording of their concert was released on both cassette and CD in 1998, using this poster as its cover.

Three posters designed by graphic artist György Soós, of Hungarian industrial group Art Deco, who played alongside visiting West Berlin groups Die Tödliche Doris in 1984 and Einstürzende Neubauten in 1985. Indeed, Art Deco were responsible for inviting both Einstürzende Neubauten and UK group Test Department to Hungary. As to their own work, Art Deco’s only available recording is on the French compilation cassette Berlin Atonal 85, documenting their 1985 appearance at the West Berlin festival.

Test Department, Petőfi Hall, 15 October 1987, designed by György Soós.The UK industrial group played at Budapest’s Petőfi Hall in 1985 and 1987. Coincidentally, both shows fell on 15 October.

Skeleton Crew featuring Fred Frith and Tom Cora plus Hungarian group Bp Service at Bercsényi Klub, 1980s (exact year unknown), designed by István Ocztos. Skeleton Crew were among those Western artists – Einstürzende Neubauten, Die Tödliche Doris, Der Plan, Die Toten Hosen, Test Department, The Ex, David Thomas, Henry Rollins, Nico, Zazou-Bikaye, etc, as well as Laibach from non-aligned Yugoslavia – invited by Hungarian musicians acting independent of the state owned concert booking agency.

Ágnes Kamondy performing Dalok Közép-Nirvániából (Songs From Middle Nirvania), University Theatre, 20–21 November 1993. Photo by Dániel Garas. Kamondy started out in experimental folk and theatre. She joined Európa Kiadó in the early 80s and in 1986 she founded Orkesztra Luna. Here Kamondy performed modern cabaret adaptations for a chamber orchestra of 80s Hungarian underground songs by Spions, URH, Európa Kiadó, Balaton, Trabant, Sziámi and Orkesztra Luna, producing the live CD Dalok Közép-Nirvániából (1995) – the title referencing art punk provocateurs Spions’ song about an imaginary “fucking country”. Spions’ Gergely Molnár later fled said country to Paris when Spions’ song “Anna Frank” landed him in trouble.

Ágnes Kamondy as Solange in Zsuzsa Forgács’ theatre adaptation of Jean Genet’s The Maids at Budapest’s Young Artists’ Club, 1979. Photo by Lenke Szilágyi. She wore Solange’s “little black dress” at the 1993 Songs From Middle Nirvania shows just mentioned.

Kampec Dolores at Lágymányosi Community House, 2 November, ca 1989–92. Photo by Lenke Szilágyi. In 1984 guitarist Csaba Hajnóczy and singer Gabi Kenderesi formed Kampec Dolores from the ashes of Kontroll Csoport. Their first two LPs Kampec Dolores (1988) and Levitation (1991) were released in Western Europe by Konkurrel and ReR respectively. Szilágyi’s poster photo was also used on the cover of Levitation. Taken in the Netherlands, it shows the photographer's reflection in the water of a canal.

Front cover of An Infernal Golden Age: Hungarian New Wave Posters Of The 80s From The Collections Of György Bp Szabó And Tamás Szőnyei. The book features 600 posters, photos and images documenting Hungarian underground culture during the communist era. In October 2017 Budapest’s Kieselbach Gallery organised an exhibition to coincide with its publication. The book’s Infernal Golden Age title is lifted from a 1980 URH song, but its cover is a detail of György Soós’s poster for ETA based on Attila Vécsy’s photo of vocalist Péter Czeller. A first generation Hungarian punk band, ETA were active between 1982–84 but didn’t make any records until 2017, when their legendary Live 1982 Dead tape was remastered and released on blue vinyl by Trottel Records.

URH at Kassák Club, 1980 (from left): Péter Müller (vocals), László Kiss (bass), Jenő Menyhárt (vocals, guitar), András Salamon (drums). Photo by Attila Pácser.

Sziámi: Infernal Golden Age – Is There Life On Earth?, Freetime Centre at Almássy Square, designed by János Gasner. After Kontroll Csoport broke up in 1983, lead singers Péter Müller and Ágnes Bárdos Deák carried on as Sziámi-Sziámi (Siamese-Siamese). Deák later quit to start her own group Ági És A Fiúk (Ági And The Boys). Guitarist János Gasner (who also used to be in Európa Kiadó) designed this series of posters featuring alien figures in psychedelic bright colours. That’s Péter Müller in the background.

From left: Trabant and Európa Kiadó’s János Vető, Bizottság’s András Wahorn and journalist Ferenc Gerlóczy, 1986. Photo by Lenke Szilágyi. The trio are standing before a Lada, a popular Soviet car, with an East German Trabant behind it.

Vágtázó Halottkémek (VHK), Ganz-MÁVAG Cultural Centre, 28 April 1984, designed by Attila Grandpierre. An astrophysicist by profession, Grandpierre is also the driving force of VHK, one of Hungary’s earliest punk bands, who formed in 1975. Their name translates as Galloping Coroners, and Grandpierre’s poster design showing a piano player attacking his instrument with a hammer is indicative of their musical style. Ganz-MÁVAG is one of Hungary’s biggest heavy industry companies. VHK regularly played in the culture centre’s large upstairs hall.

Control In front Of The Committee, The Committee Under Control. Cultural Center, Gödöllő, 3 July 1982, designed by András Wahorn. The poster’s slogan puns on the names of its two featured groups: Kontroll Csoport (Control Group), who debuted on New Years Eve 1980 at a party thrown by painter András Wahorn, also of Bizottság (which translates as Committee. The group later prefixed their name with Albert Einstein’s initials, believing that AE Bizottság sounded less provocative). This particular concert was extra special for the way each group interfered with the other’s set as they played. Kontroll Csoport disbanded in 1983 but reunited in 2009 to play a New York festival commemorating the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

A new book of 1980s music and film ephemera documents the radical creativity of Hungary's 'Infernal Golden Age' in the shadow of communist rule

Drawn from the massive personal collections of journalist, author and curator Tamás Szőnyei and graphic artist and musician György Bp Szabó of industrial group Bp Service, among other outfits, Pokoli Aranykor: New Wave Koncertplakátok A80-as Évekből Bp Szabó György És Szőnyei Tamás Gyűjteményeiből (translating as An Infernal Golden Age: Hungarian New Wave Posters Of The 80s…) provides overwhelming documentary evidence of an extraordinarily vibrant underground scene. Containing more than 600 posters, photos and visuals, the book maps successive circles of overlapping and interlocking musicians, artists, film makers, photographers, designers, provocateurs and ne’er do wells operating below the radar during the last decade of the Hungarian People’s Republic.

By the 1980s Hungary had quietly developed a working communist model system that allowed its citizens far greater room to move than their Warsaw Pact comrades were permitted in the Soviet Union, German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, or even the usually more open Poland, then beset by martial law and heavy repression of the spreading popular protests in support of striking dockworkers and the Solidarnosc movement. That’s not to say the Hungarian state condoned those of its peoples setting out to rock the republic with noises some comrades might deem antisocial in the extreme.

But unlike in Czechoslovakia, for example, which had jailed members of Plastic People Of The Universe for defying their ban on making music, the Hungarian scene could more freely develop along its own lines, albeit with little official support. In 1987, however, Európa Kiadó released their first album through Hungary’s one state owned record label Hungaroton. This from the group founded by guitarist/vocalist Jenő Menyhárt after the break-up of URH, the tremendous late 1970s post-punk unit which once sang songs about “too many police, too few whores” and “too many whores, too few police”. Indeed, the poster book An Infernal Golden Age takes its title from a 1980 URH lyric written by their lead vocalist Peter Müller. As to Európa Kiadó, says Infernal Golden Age writer Tamás Szőnyei, they “went on to become one of the most important groups of the scene… They played at WOMAD and Glastonbury in England, and at Melkweg in Amsterdam. They’re still active today albeit with only Jenő Menyhárt remaining from their original line-up.”

Seeing that the 1980s Budapest and Hungary underground scene was made up of relatively small circles of enthused individuals, musicians often advanced and exchanged ideas by playing in or moving across different groups. Menyhárt, for instance, also played in Trabant, and the former 1970s folk singer, songwriter and multi instrumentalist Ágnes Kamondy was for a while a member of Európa Kiadó.

Other important 1980s groups included Balaton, Kampec Dolores and Kamondy's own future group Orkesztra Luna, songs by whom she later rearranged for chamber orchestra and performed modern cabaret style in 1993, “thus elevating them to a level where the artistic merits of that era just couldn’t be doubted anymore”, says Szőnyei. He adds that Kamondy was one of a number of women singers who fronted Hungarian underground groups, Ágnes Bárdos Deák (Kontroll Csoport), Kokó (Bizottság), Marietta Méhes (Trabant), Gabi Kenderesi (Kampec Dolores) among them. Finally, Kamondy’s 1993 revisiting of a Spions song served as a reminder that times weren’t always so easy in the Hungarian underground. The group were led by Gergely Molnár, who circa 1978 adopted a pre-Laibach style strategy of over-identification with authoritarian rule a little too soon, perhaps, causing him to flee into exile in Paris.

To coincide with the publication of An Infernal Golden Age, Budapest’s Kieselbach Gallery mounted a parallel exhibition of the same name in October 2017, also drawn from the personal collections of Tamás Szőnyei and György Bp Szabó. All visuals and extra information in The Wire’s Hungarian Underground Posters Gallery come courtesy of Tamás Szőnyei. Take a virtual tour of the Kieselbach Gallery exhibition.


With regard to the statement: "But unlike in Czechoslovakia, for example, which had jailed members of Plastic People Of the Universe for defying their ban on making music, the Hungarian scene could more freely develop along its own lines, albeit with little official support." in the article. This is a false claim, bands in Hungary were indeed jailed. Authorities brutally crushed the anti-communist Hungarian punk movement of the 80's. Punk band Aurora got suspended jail sentence in 1982, punk band Kozellenseg got two years for a single gig which got interrupted some twenty minutes into the set (!) and also in 1982, members of CPg also got two years in jail for playing punk rock music. Both Radio Free Europe and the NME covered their story at that point.

Thanks for the additional information regarding these punk groups and the state. The piece does point out that Spions were almost forced to leave Hungary. But other non-punk, industrial and alternative groups and musicians found ways of making and promoting and staging challenging music until relatively late outside the state’s entertainment system without suffering jail terms as a result.

The Skeleton Crew gig (pic #5) was in 83.

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