Warsaw’s radical party goes against the grain
It’s 3:35am in Warsaw, about an hour into Discwoman member UMFANG’s peak-time set. Suddenly, the dancing crowd picks up feminist and antiracism protest signs, waving them around like rave accessories.
Brutaż, the Polish party series and label that showcases techno and experimental electronic music, has invited the Brooklyn-based Discwoman collective back to the city. The event they’re co-hosting involves a free workshop, followed by a party at Pogłos, an important community space and club that opened this year.
Before the party, I meet with RRRKRTA – one of Brutaż’ leading organisers – and his friends in a nearby cafe, where they’re sharing a bottle of wine. The event, they explain, has already received pushback in the form of an aggrieved Facebook commenter. “They’re saying this workshop is sexist because it’s for girls,” says Brutaż regular Ania Rozwadowska. She’s visibly irritated.
Apparently Brutaż regularly have to fight off trolls. “Most of the parties aren’t too political here,” explains DJ Earth Trax. “They don’t take a stand.” He argues that a lot of people “prefer parties to be just about partying. But when you look closer, you get lots of sexism, racism [and] homophobic comments at parties.” Brutaż are actively opposed to these things, though openly discussing issues like gender diversity in club culture hasn’t been the only reason they’ve faced criticism from the outside.
Brutaż began in 2012 as a free-form night, hosted all over Poland but primarily at Eufemia, a now defunct bar located in the basement of Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts. “It wasn’t even primarily a dance party,” RRRKRTA recalls. Returning to Warsaw in 2015 after working at Berlin’s Recordloft for a few years, he now organises Brutaż alongside friends and collaborators such as Wiktor Milczarek, Ania, Kamil Abu Zeneh and Martyna Maja, who performs under the moniker VTSS and is set to release a record on the Brutaż label later this year. “In the last few years most of the club scene in Warsaw has been really into big room everything – big room techno, big room tech house,” Maja says. “Smaller, underground initiatives that focus more on distorted electro, weirder techno, underground house or even somefresh post-genre electronic soundsare still not appreciated enough by Polish audiences.”
Aside from the Discwoman night, Brutaż never advertises their line-up beforehand. “Even now [when I play] sometimes RRRKRTA won’t tell me his secret guest, which is a bit annoying,” Maja jokes. Generally speaking, club nights are marketed in a way which emphasises the most well-known artist as the headliner, establishing an unspoken but clear hierarchy between artists who share the bill. “Skirting around that was always the coolest achievement of Brutaż,” says Maja, “at a Brutaż event you’re not just showing up to club a 2am because ‘someone [in particular]’ is playing. It’s about the whole experience.” Or, as RRRKRTA puts it, “When the music is strange and so are you.”
There’s a strong sense of egalitarianism that acts as a common thread for everything they do, and Brutaż also provides a platform for Polish artists to experiment and hone their craft. “It wouldn’t be uncommon for [Brutaż] to invite a popular underground artist from Berlin or elsewhere and put them on with a newcomer who had just learnt how to play records,” Maja assures me. Unfortunately, such adventurous and inclusive programming provokes mean-spirited criticism. Maja says she still experiences “hate and complaints about Brutaż parties”, particularly online. “They ironically call [our] DJs and live acts ‘the musicians’, make jokes about us not beat matching tracks, using effects, needle crackles or some weird distorted live music that they don’t understand.”
In a time when socio-political issues are at risk of being shallowly appropriated for branding or woke marketing campaigns, it’s inspiring to realise that when it comes to equality, Brutaż walk the walk. To RRRKRTA, gender equality (every line-up includes at least one female-identifying artist) and economic equality are both important. The first ten parties were free of charge, and even now he makes a point to ensure that whoever wants to come to the party can come, regardless of their income. “He even pays for some guests if they can’t afford the cover fee,” says Jakub, a friend of the Brutaż collective.
Brutaż’ generosity even extends to hostile Facebook commenters, who RRRKRTA tries to engage in a conversation. “I’m coming to terms with a certain type of outspokenness that’s absolutely crucial if you want to be involved in the world of techno and to be able to look at yourself in the mirror,” he says. “I would like to show everyone attending that I’m ready to listen and interact and that others should be ready too. That’s why we’re trying to expose people to all kinds of odd music and why we’re doing various workshops around the party. But that’s also the ultimate, secret function of dancing in the club. To give others the comfort and invite them to feel vulnerable enough to move freely.”
"It wouldn't be uncommon for Brutaż to invite a popular underground artist from Berlin and put them on with a newcomer who had just learnt how to play" – VTSS
Though Brutaż doesn’t explicitly interact with the wider political climate in Poland, the context is hard to ignore, especially in recent years. On our way to Pogłos, we walk past a roundabout with a huge flag commemorating the Warsaw uprising, which has become appropriated by far-right nationalists as a place to march under the slogan “Poland for the Poles, Poles for Poland”. “We hate this thing”, Jakub says, referring to the so-called ‘Mast of Freedom’. Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s leading Law and Justice Party has emboldened ultranationalist, anti-immigrant sentiment and allowed it to spread from the margins into mainstream political consciousness.“The government won’t do anything because they are supported by these people,” Jakub explains.
With this polical backdrop, the Brutaż party feels particularly liberating. On the second dancefloor below Pogłos’ main room, everyone goes ballistic to hits like Eiffel 65’s I’m Blue or Fergie’s Glamourous. Fast-forward about an hour into UMFANG’s pounding techno set, the crowd is a mix of Varsovians of all ages, non-binary kids, mothers, and even members of the “żubrzyce” (she-bison) activist group, who represent the fight against turning Poland into a right-wing authoritarian state. They’re also the ones who brought the protest signs to the party. It’s a heartwarming sight.
Photography: Kasia Zacharko