Polish punk has a long and impressive history, emerging under totalitarian Communism in the 1980s and seen as a threat by the government, it learnt to survive in hostile conditions. The end of State Communism made things easier for Polish punks but it was still viewed with suspicion by many and being a Polish punk in the 90s wasn’t an easy option as “Travelling to bigger places in Poland…a lot of people would like to hit you for looking different!”(1). Despite official and unofficial opposition Polish punk thrived in the 80s and 90s producing bands like Dezerter, Homomilitia, Siekiera and Apatia.
In 2003 a bunch of young punks formed Potluczony Kaloryfer (Smashed Radiator) in the Polish town of Namyslow, fast forward to 2013 and the assorted Smashed Radiators, now living in the UK, decided to reconstitute the band and give it another go playing their first British gigs in 2014. After a couple of gigs a change of name seemed like a good idea and Potluczony Kaloryfer became Radioactive Rats, a name chosen as “Rats are very cute and very smart but disliked and seen as a threat… a little bit like punk rockers!”(2) according to lead singer Ewa Zablocka. The next year or two saw a couple of personnel changes with new drummer Bartosz Gilewski, and additional guitarist Marek Stepien, previously of Snowball Ambush(2), joining Ewa, Josef Borach (guitar) and Kubczak Zablocki (bass).
Spending the last few years getting out and gigging-they played 14 shows in 2017- Radioactive Rats have developed their danceable riff laden sound, which has become harder and heavier, into an all encompassing experience as the twin guitarists wander into the crowd and the music infuses you with a sense of exhilaration, anger, hope and frustration. Which raise lots of questions as most of the lyrics are in Polish! How does the communication of those universal experiences and emotions work across language (and culture)? The intonation of a voice? The structure of the music? Is the person next to me sensing the same things?!
Over that time they’ve also been writing and recording and in December 2017 self released a mighty 8 track CD Nigdy się nie damy!-(We Will Never Give Up!)- consisting of 5 self penned tracks and 3 covers.
With all the guitars and vocals recorded at home on a very small budget Nigdy się nie damy! somehow manages to capture the sound of 5 piece Radioactive Rats in full flow so intrigued I asked Marek how they had pulled it off, about his academic background and whether it had come in handy and also asked Ewa to explain a bit more about the songs.
Marek: Yes, I have MEng in Electronics and Telecommunications majoring in Acoustics and my Master’s thesis was about Home Recording. Having a theoretical basis and already some experience in home recording (the demo of my previous band was recorded in the same way) helped a lot. Basically we used USB audio interface to connect guitars or microphone to a computer and recorded tracks through Reaper software. All the tracks were recorded as a DI (before signal is compressed or distored) to re-amp it later (raw tracks sounded very funny). It was all done in my living room. With guitars it was easy because everything was recorded quietly on headphones, but always when recording vocals I was worried that one of my neighbours would call the police reporting domestic violence as Ewa (or Joseph or Kuba when doing backing vocals) had to really scream to reflect the energy we hope we are showing live! Then I had to choose the best shots, cut, move, time-align etc. Because recording drums is most time consuming and costly we decided to program MIDI drums and process in drum software afterwards. After that we sent all the tracks to my friend 'Lotnik' from www.sound-online.pl (I cannot recommend him highly enough!) to do the aforementioned re-amping, drums processing and final Mix and Mastering. Because with DI tracks you can change sound almost 'in the fly' he sent us a few samples of guitar and drum sounds, we chose the ones we liked the most and ‘Voila!’
Q: Ewa, can you run us through the songs, what the titles mean and the subjects they engage with?
Ewa: The tracks 'Nigdy sie nie damy' (‘We Will Never Give Up’), 'Sprzeciw' (Protest) and 'Do bolu' (Till It Hurts) are all political(ish) about The System, politicians, corruption, lies, etc and that we do not agree with all that shit.
'Pojebany' (Fucked) is about a fake person who pretends to be the part of punk culture and 'Bog' (God) is about religion, that you don’t need any gods to prove yourself, to understand that you are your own god.
Q: We had a (drunken) chat once about the twin themes of hope and frustration running through Radioactive Rats lyrics and that I could sense that despite not speaking Polish-are they emotions you feel strongly when singing these songs?
Ewa: Yes, as per our conversation, I don’t think you need to understand all the lyrics to understand the meanings and feelings. In our music and lyrics there is a lot of anger, but it’s hard to say whether I feel anger on the stage. It’s more that I just feel the music and energy. Even if I didn’t write most of these songs, I do feel connection with most of them. All these old songs like 'Pojebany' or 'Nigdy sie nie damy' reminds me of when I was 15 and we started to play as a Potluczony Kaloryfer ‘angry, untalented kids against the world’. 'Sprzeciw' and 'Do bólu' reminds me about a very important part of my life when I started gigging with ZMT and growing up as a person and a vocalist. 'Cyrk' or 'Zero' are the songs of my favourite band from my hometown, Terra, Joseph’s and Jimmy’s (original RR drummer) previous band. I shared the stage or travelled with them numerous times (and would highly recommend their two CD’s on their Bandcamp page).
But to be honest most of my energy comes from the music itself and people around me during the gigs.
Q: You included three covers on the CD by Zielone Zabki, Homomilitia, and Apatia, are they songs that are special to you, were they part of your growing up in Poland, are they important songs in Polish punk? I noticed when you covered the Apatia song in London-the place went wild!
Ewa: Zielone Zabki, Apatia and Homomilitia are good, old, punk/hc punk Polish bands. I think everyone knows them. We started to play 'Młodzi faszyści' and 'Policja' because of the lyrics… 'So2' we chose because it’s very simple to play and it’s nice to sway for a change, also it was nice to drink some cheap wine before a gig when we were teenagers and the lyrics are about love to cheap wine!
Q: How do you feel about the CD being out, what has the response been like?
Marek: To be honest I feel a kind of relief that we managed to record these songs and we’ve also just released on our Bandcamp 14 tracks recorded live at BSV Studios in Nottingham in 2013. In some sense this closes the chapter titled ‘Potluczony Kalofyfer’. Hopefully now we can concentrate fully on writing new material - 100% Radioactive Rats! The response for 'Nigdy sie nie damy' is very positive. We were praised for the sound (all credits to Lotnik), recreating our live energy (to some extent), and even selection of cover songs, so ‘so far so good’. And all of that motivates us to work even harder on new stuff and give 110% on each gig...
I’ve been eagerly waiting for a Radioactive Rats CD and Nigdy się nie damy! does not disappoint, full on metal tinged punk that has successfully captured and transposed the energy of their live show. If you like your punk vibrant, modern and hardcore then do yourself a favour and get hold of a copy...and then go see them live!
Also referenced Hutchcraft, J. (2017) ‘There’s a Polish Punk Scene in London and it’s Thriving’. https://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/article/d7e89x/polish-punk-scene-london-anti-fascism