Interview with Dambis, guitarist and singer of latvian HC/punk-rock band Inokentijs Mārpls.
The interview should to be published in Czech fanzine Hluboká Orba. But things have changed. So, it appears here on the blog.
Thanx to Edgars that he asked his question, then translated my questions into Russian and then back into English and thanx also to Pablo (Strongly Opposed Records) for his comment.
And off course big thanx to Dambis for willingness telling.
Interview was done 06.05.2015.
Logo of I.M.
E. Please introduce little bit yourself. Who are you, where are you living, what are you doing?
D. I’m Raimonds Lagimovs aka Dambis, I’m living in Riga, I’m deeply involved in all kind of alternative music activities, I play in my band Inokentijs Mārpls and also in my experimental improvisational project Amorālā Psihōze, I do a two hour radio show on local music at a local radio station, sometimes I play as a DJ as well. Also I make all kinds of merchandise, like pins or silk screened products. Sometimes I organize some gigs and make recordings and compilations. And that’s what I do. I don’t know if that’s who I am. I follow the cultural activities in Riga and think about all kind of events here in Latvia.
Dambis, year 1988
E. And how about anarchism? Do you go to vote at national elections or did you participate in the referendum about the Russian as the second national language?
D. Yes I did. Because we have a special situation here in Latvia, we’re living on a cultural border, and as soon as you stop defending your positions you will be forced to accept the opinion or rules of others. Especially having in mind that we have Russia nearby and that they will not leave Latvia in peace. Whenever they’ll get the change they’ll try to influence our situation. And that’s happening for almost 1000 years now.
E. How old are you?
D. I’m getting 47 this summer.
E. How is going I.M. after all those years? I read that you were one of the first (or very first hard core band in USSR), how did you found inspiration for your music back in the mid-80´s?
D. We’re doing good, playing concerts here and there, mostly in Latvia, but also somewhere abroad, to the neighbouring countries. We’re going to release a new album soon; it is recorded and mixed already, so we’re still active.
E. How many members do you have from the old line-up? Are you the only one left? And what is the „ old line-up” anyways? Skrips [the current bass player]?
D. We started to play with Skrips in 1990-91, so basically he’s not from the very beginning, but we also play in some gigs with Didzis Erra, which can be considered from the old line-up, we had the idea to involve him this year, with his percussions and all kind of electronic drums, samples and stuff like that, but it looks like it won’t be possible as he’s very busy in National guard... He has found a new calling, and basically he’s fed up working as a courier in Riga. Also, the patriotic feelings are there, because people react against the Russia’s aggression, each in his own way.
E. By the way, how many albums do you have?
D. Well, we don’t have too much, if we speak about albums with a booklet and design, then this album will be the fifth only. But in the second half of the 80ties and in the beginning of the 90ties we had two albums in tape format, one 45 min, another 90, and I’m planning to re-release at the first one of them some time.
E. And the LPs?
D. We have two LPs and one EP, and I’m thinking about the third LP, but it’s postponed to the autumn.
E. And can you call yourself / your music hard core?
D. I’d say that rather not, especially today. Of course, some of our songs are hardcore, but in general our music has very different genres in it.
E. As far as I remember, musically, you have always been quite colourful. Maybe in the very first recordings I can feel more hard core / metal influences.
D. Maybe, but at these times those concert recordings that you have heard didn’t fully reflect what we had wanted, as the quality usually was very low. And even now we sometimes take some old songs and record them anew.
E. How about this proud phrase about being the first hard core band in USSR?
D. It’s hard to tell myself. Of course, we had some hard core elements, but I don’t think that we were the first ones. During that time there should have been other similar bands somewhere, but one of the pioneers of that kind, yes, probably.
E. What years we are basically talking about? When exactly did you start?
D. Well, we started to play gigs in 1986.
E. And when you started to play, there was this question about the influences? Imagine mid 80ties, Riga, USSR. How old were you at that time?
D. I’ve born in 1968, so I was at my late teens. The thing with the music was that I was living in such an environment where music was all around. My dad was pirating recordings, so I had all kind of musical influences.
E. What kind of recordings he was pirating? Had he special orders from local audiophiles?
D. Of course, he had his preferences, oldschool rock’n’roll, but he followed the new Western music tendencies and recorded that for the people that were into it. He also got LPs, different people came here, they exchanged the recordings etc.
E. In this very flat?
D. Yes. And when the video era came, he moved to video recording copying, movies. They even got some movies from the Germany, and then some guys came and translated them on the spot.
E. OK, so I imagine that a person interested in rock music at that time finds some info about a band in Czech or German magazine, or maybe hears it on a foreign radio station, and comes to your dad? Where do people got these rock influences at that time? And where did they get the recording, was it with the help of the sailors?
D. In different ways. There were music recording shops in Riga, but of course they were not offering the music that local audiophiles would be interested in. They also had special meeting places, for example, an illegal market in a forest in Riga outskirts, where they met and exchanged their LPs and sold recordings. Also they ordered copies of these. So the next Sunday they came to the very forest „market” and got the copy.
E. And basically that’s the mid 80ties?
D. More like in the end of 80ties. But me myself I didn’t involve in all those activities, as I didn’t have this thirst for music, but I had my dad, I had many friends who were interested in music... And the music was rotating among these people, you couldn’t hear it on the radio or TV. Actually, it’s not that there was nothing on the TV, I remember in the beginnings of the 80ties, I was 13 years old – I had heard Kraftwerk before, but I saw them for the first time on TV, I think in the New Year’s Eve programme...
E. And yourself? What was the impulse? Did you hear a LP and decided to play something like that?
D. In the very beginning the first band that stood out from the others for me was Mungo Jerry, not the most popular song they had but many others, more with the rock’n’roll feeling. It was in the mid 70ties, I was a small kid, and I asked my dad to put their tracks on, and I played along them on my „drums” – bowls, kettles and plates. That was the first impulse. But also, it’s from my dad, as he also played instruments, we had the piano at our flat. After that, around 1983, a friend at the school Nils Īle, now an ethno-percussionist, was involved into a band called Tilts, his sister was playing in that band and the husband of his sister, and he got involved in that project as a percussionist at a very young age, so he was into the underground musician environment already. I had some contact with him, so we started to do something ourselves. Also one of those music fans was Māris Šverns [Baložu Pilni Pagalmi leader], so we started doing things together.
E. But underground gigs were not possible at that time, right?
D. Yeah, of course. In that situation we didn’t even hope that we could play somewhere on a stage. It was more for fun, at home, at friend’s flats.
E. And the equipment?
D. Nothing much, as you can imagine. Of course we even tried to record something at home. And in general, looking back from today’s perspective we were badly informed, there was nothing in the press or media, and we had this wish or impulse, but we didn’t know the direction as in a darkened room. The same goes about the instruments – we had to play with the pedals made by friends, for example, or DIY guitars and amps. However, some bands, that had existed previously, like Dzeltenie Pastnieki or NSRD, had succeeded in making their own recordings and making their own studio at home. But in general we were still quite young at the 80ties. However, we tried to make concerts for similar bands, like in 1987 and 1988 at Krāmu Pagrabs.
I.M. live 2007
E. How did these gigs look like?
D. These gigs were held up to five days in a row, with two or three bands in one evening. We tried to gather info about underground bands singing in Latvian, as the Russian bands at that time were playing at Riga Rock Club gigs.
E. And when Rock Club was created?
D. 1983. I was at the first gig there. Lots of bands played there, from Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Georgia. Like Kino, Akvarium. And the level there for alternative scene was quite good and interesting. But mostly Russian. However, in the 80ties it was almost the only place for alternative rock.
E. I wonder how KGB allowed such an alternative place?
D. I think they created this place to have a better control of this scene and see who’s doing what.
E. And there were no tariffication [a special verification show where the bands had to play in front of a government committee who decided if the band is apt for playing on the scene] there?
D. No, you could apply there and somebody evaluated you, but no tarification. We’ve also played there and we were not asked to submit any kind of recordings. But Latvians were the minority there.
E. When looking from a broader perspective at that time, I remember watching the movie from 1986 „Vai viegli būt jaunam” - the movie about youth that demolished one railway wagon after the concert of “ Pērkons” and their conviction – and the scenes with punks, with dyed hair and spikes and stuff like that. Was that for real?
D. I was on that train by the way, but I didn’t participate in that demolishing. So I got lucky that I was not denounced.
E. And if we talk about this „no future” feeling of the England’s working class where the punk came from, it looks like the local punks or youth in general in Latvia also had the same feeling of no future...
D. Yes, but the reasons were different. One aspect were the apparent lies of the system, but other was the extreme russification that was going on at that time. Lots of factory workers from the Soviet republics were sent to work here in factories or construction. You could ride a tram in Riga and couldn’t hear anybody speaking Latvian at all. Everything felt gloomy, hostile, and the feeling in the air in the mid and late 80ties was that of hopelessness.
And about that movie – yes, we had some feedback from the punk movement, the outfit and stuff like that, but that was more like fashion, especially for that movie. They could not walk like that every day. You’ll be at Militsiya station or psychiatric institution in a breeze. They did it as a preventive measure. Also, local bullies – urlas – were on every corner, and you could get your nose smashed easily.
E. And when did you hear those punk recordings yourself?
D. I recorded Sex Pistols from Maris Sverns, around mid 80ties. Also I saw The Clash on the video, but as I didn’t understand what they were singing about, they didn’t make any impression on me.
E. Do you remember of your first record ever which you bought?
D. Basically, as my dad was doing this recording pirating business, I didn’t have to buy anything. Also, we don’t speak about buying a recording in general here, as this music was illegal and it circulated through copying in magnetic tapes. We had copying sessions and stuff like that. If somebody got an LP, then it was transferred to audio tape, as the LPs were extremely expensive, for example, they could cost even 50 roubles, a one third of a monthly salary...
E. And what about the cheaper local „Μелодия” LPs? I remember they had Led Zeppelin etc.
D. Oh, no they started to issue Western music in late 80ties. When they issued the Кино LP, I bought that around 1988. Also, I bought some of the LPs from the Leningrad Rock Club bands. Interestingly, there were no LPs from the Riga Rock Club as maybe in the USSR the Russian bands didn’t seem so dangerous than those singing in other languages, like Latvian, so I think it was also a part of politics, a kind of russification in the rock scene as well. But of course, many Latvian pop-rock bands were being issued by „Μелодия”, and they were cheap at that time, some 2-3 roubles, but they were not considered of high value. But, as my dad had this music copying business, I was making compilations from what I heard.
Front cover of first Latvian LP punk vinyl
Back cover of first Latvian LP punk vinyl
E. OK, next question. I remember first time I ever heard I.M. It was when Pablo from records send me one copy of „Spēks no tētiem“ LP. It´s sounds so strange and funny to me. But good. Are you funny people? Are you strange people? Are you still in contact with Pablo?
D. Pablo didn’t use e-mail for communication for quite a long time, he was writing regular letters only, but recently he all of a sudden wrote an e-mail and we re-started to communicate. I’ve sent him our LP that was issued after the „Spēks no tētiem”, so we were exchanging some LPs.
If we speak about the musical content of IM, I have always liked music and compositions that are made with a touch of humour, I think that’s cool, so that there are some funny notes among the gloomy ones. And I think that this style can be felt in all our albums.
(I asked Pablo for short comment - ed. Mišo):
"The 90's were the busiest time at running a label in all those 31 years! We had a P.O.Box and every day we found 5-10 letters/parcels there! Plus everyone thought now that we just had a daughter Resistance Prod. would be over. But instead we got even more busy doing a monthly zine! It was in this time most probably the first punx from Latvia got in touch,and i am pretty sure Edgars Embergs of Vonosonloppus/Ö-Prod. got in touch and sent stuff for trade.There were others as well and on some of these tapes(K7's as i call them)were Inokentijs Marpls. I immediately fell in love with the band,since on some songs they used instruments not many used,probably the best comparison would be Hüvüdtvätt from Sweden who also used some unusual instruments.One of my trade partners then sent me the "Spēks No Tētiem" K7 and i was deeply impressed by the 14 songs and that each song was almost a different genre of music!
I then traded some copies of the "Bitit' Matos" 7'' with Einars of Eizis Per Soli Recs. and i must have said something about how i'd love to release the K7 on vinyl. Anyway,he then talked to the band and some months later i had all the stuff to go ahead and do the LP in 2003 on Strongly Opposed Records. Apparently it was the first latvian punk LP there ever was. But what makes this so special is the songs and of course my fave ones Tā Kā Pavasarī and America Fuck Off that i still love as much as back then!
Well,that's the story really.
As said many K7's&zines were traded back in the day and that resulted also in an
appearance of Inokentijs Marpls on the Bullshit Detector IV double LP on Resistance
Productions.Great to see the band is still going!
Oki then,have a nice day!
E. True. I can’t even think of an IM song that is purely melancholic, there’s always some self-irony out there.
D. Also, I’m not a professional musician, and there’s an influence from the rock’n’roll and the feeling of fun from that kind of music. What was about that question again, that was quite a long one?
E. Mišo also wanted to know about you as people, if you play funny music, how are you like people? How your artistic alchemy is made? Are you the one who puts your humour, crazy vocals and performances mostly in the music of IM?
D. In general the musical material is based on my ideas, so yeah, I try to make the mood of the song.
E. So you’re one of the postmodernists, haha. With your self-irony and citations from other styles...
D. Well, maybe. In a part I recognize that maybe I can’t sing or play 100% in tune, and that’s one of the reasons why we have this special style, but I do it the way I can. Of course, there needs to be some kind of gimmick to make the song exciting for myself. But nowadays it’s harder and harder to get the sound I like, as my sound is old-school, but today it’s a tough time to persuade the recording engineers in the studios to use magnetic tapes for recording, or use some tricks to make the sound oldschool. The sound is too clean.
E. Recording in magnetic tapes is a pain in the ass.
D. Yeah, but „Spēks no tētiem” is recorded in magnetic tapes, from A to Z. All the individual tracks in tapes and the master I think was on the DAT tape. And the EP „Bitīt Matos” is done in tapes both the tracks and the master.
E. I think nowadays almost everybody is overcompressing the masters and there’s no dynamic range left.
D. Yeah, and all the songs sound the same, and the vitality is gone. Also, each recording engineer has his own standards or cliché how they treat each instrument or sound in general. So that’s why bands choose the studios or engineers according to the sound they want to get.
ODEKOLONS compilation cover
E. When I was in Latvia I found a tape EAU DE COLOGNE no. 2. In some record shop in Riga. Great tape with lots of interesting music. Can you tell more about your label HUBB and about „ODEKOLONS phenomenon“? I think it is the longest based series of compilation with independent in Latvia? How many issues was released? I saw than in 2014 was released compilation ODEKOLON, no. 14. Are you planning making re-issues of old issues?
D. At the moment I have issued 13 ODEKOLONS comps, though the last one is no. 14. That’s because the no. 13 was prepared for issuing, but the guy who was making the club NABAKLAB also had a label, and we had arranged that he’ll issue the ODEKOLONS, but he wanted me to wait until his club is ready so that we could make the presentation gig there. However, the guy died a week after the opening of the club so it all was left as it was. Now, when after quite some years I decided to make another comp, I decided to skip that number, the 13th, haha. I tried to make ODEKOLONS each year like a summary of the musical activities of that year in Latvia, mostly from bands singing in Latvian, but then the internet age came and the impression was that you can get anything on the internet, and the feeling was that nobody wants to buy anything. Because you still have to invest time and money in that, so it came to a halt for some time. But now, I made a new compilation, and it turned out that people are still interested.
Also, I’m making other comps, like punk/hc compilations, and this year I’m issuing Latvian metal compilation. But as I’m not good in English and as I like the bands singing in Latvian, I’m making compilations with these.
ODEKOLONS compilation cover
E. Do you listen yourself to metal?
D. Basically, I rarely listen anything at all as I live in music anyways – I have a two hour radio show each Sunday about the local music, also I’m a DJ, then we’re playing ourselves as well. The last thing that I listened was yesterday – bird songs, you know, recorded in the nature. But, yeah, I like many different musical genres. I often listen to ethno music and stuff like that.
E. And what about re-issuing the old comps? The several first EAU DE COLOGNEs are still very interesting and powerful, and give a good insight into that period.
D. Well, there is some overview from that period, but the first three were made by TORNIS people, and they were mostly including bands from their friends and circles. But there were other bands in Latvia, maybe with better skills and sound quality that are not there but still represent an important part from that period. For example, Aurora or Parks. But anyway, the first ones are the most underground-ish. I had the idea to re-issue some of these, one guy offered to make a special collection box with several comps, but that was quite expensive in the end.
E. OK. Now, a very general question - How is scene in Latvia today compared of the 80s /90´s. What about bands? And what about venues / clubs in your country?
D. Well, the first thing was the possibilities to perform, as there were no venues in the 80s. There were a few gigs held in factory halls for cultural events or in schools as a part of disco. In the end of the 80s there were more possibilities, like in Krāmene (Krāmu street 4). In general, with Perestroika there came some freedom in making gigs possible. In the 90s, after the fall of USSR, a new subculture started to form, on a new basis, anew, with lots of underground bands and space for concerts. Usually they were like one night minifestivals with 10 or more bands. However, active club scene like nowadays was yet to arrive. Of course, there were some clubs like Mad Mix, but there was not the routine that can be seen today when almost every day there’s a gig with foreign bands...
E. And nobody is really interested in them, haha.
D. Yeah, and the gig is not a special even anymore. Today the special events are the summer festivals. Or maybe gigs of some very special foreign bands.
E. I’ve often thought about the difference between the end of the 80ties when the possibilities to get underground music were non-existent here in Latvia, and the first part of the 90ties with the open borders and possibilities to trade with cassettes and LPs, when the real foreign underground music came in. I think that was the first turning point.
D. And later on, the internet, of course. The exclusive touch of such recordings and music was lost.
E. For me personally the best period of Latvian underground are the mid 90ties, 94-98. Why’s that? The internet was still very weak and there were loads of cassettes and LP traded via snail mail from foreign activists with real underground stuff.
D. Yeah, these influences were important. Also, bands started to play better.
E. And people from all the genres were playing in the same gigs, there was kind of unity.
D. That was in the beginning yeah, but whenever something gets bigger it starts to divide. So the scene started to divide quite soon, the metalists, the punk/hc, the goths etc. Also, Latvia is so small that there will always be some overlaps, especially in the festivals.
E. And how many venues for alternative bands are in Latvia at the moment?
D. Depo, Nabaklab, A Nice Place, Aptieka, Melnā Piektdiena, Ļeņingrada etc. some 6-7 places for sure. Also Fonoklubs in Cēsis, Fontaine in Liepaja, THC in Valmiera, also Melno Cepurīšu Balerija in Jelgava, Artilērijas pagrabi in Daugavpils etc. Also Zabadaks in Kuldīga, though not very active at the moment. On the other hand, there are towns that are quite large, but there’s nothing there for underground, for example, Ventspils.
E. And about the new bands? Previously, we have talked a lot about bands becoming more similar or trying to play in certain styles or copy certain bands. And I think that was the case in the 2000-2010 period, but now I see alternative music is getting more interesting and original again. What do you think about that?
D. Maybe. One thing that is clear, though, is that in the 90ties most of the band members had learnt to play the instruments by themselves, in a DIY way. So the way of musical thinking was more original, without a traditional schooling. And nowadays, lots of youth are at a high level technically, either from YouTube or from teachers, but original content in many cases is still lacking. Also, the alternative scene here in Latvia is very small, if we compare, say, with Czech Republic, so people will always influence each other and make local clichés.
I.M. in flat
E. Are you in contact with punks from other countries? Are you playing / touring in other countries?
D. Well, I studied German in school, but in the end I don’t speak neither German, nor English. I can understand something but at a very basic level. Despite this, we have had several gigs abroad, like in Holland, Hungary and Sweden, but no big tours around Europe. Of course, we have been many times in Lithuania and Estonia, also twice in Russia...
E. What´s your future plans with I.M. ?
D. I hope we’ll have a new LP in the autumn, I’m not sure which album, though. I’d like to film music video. In summer we’ll play in many local festivals. Nothing very grandiose. Will see.
E. Thanks for the interview, Dambis, and good luck!
Check also: http://muzika-komunika.blogspot.sk/2015/05/inokentijs-marpls-speks-no-tetiem-2000.html
This was last post of year 2015, see you/hear you next year. PF 2016.