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A Czechoslovak underground rock band, most famous for its role in the history of the Velvet Revolution.

DVACET (TWENTY)

"When you are twenty in    our times
You're disgusted, you'll be    vomiting
But when a person is    forty
There's so many reasons    more to be

Only those who are    sixty now
Can sleep with Alzheimer's    sweetly now"

(translation mine)

The PPU (as they'll be called below) were founded in September, 1968 by:
Milan "Mejla" Hlavsa - bass, vocals
Jirka Premek Stevich - guitar, vocals
Michal Jernek - clarinet, sax, vocal Josef Brabec - percussion

The band went through numerous personnel changes during its career; notable later-joining members include Pavel Zeman (sometimes called "Eman").

They were originally to be named Hlavsa's Fiery Factory, but because Mejla came late to the band's first rehearsal, he was labeled irresponsible, and the name was changed to New Electric Potatoes. This name, too, was short-lived, and was replaced by PPU, which surprisingly was not inspired by Frank Zappa's song Plastic People, but rather by Andy Warhol's statement, "I love all that is plastic; I'd like to be plastic." (Deliberate outside influences were frequent throughout the PPU's career, and included everything from William Blake to Shakespeare to Egon Bondy.)

The band's first gig took place in February 1969 in the Na Orechovce pub in Prague. Within a few months they had picked up their "artistic manager", as important as any playing member, both artistically and from a historical standpoint: Ivan Martin "Magor" Jirous. Their early repertoire was made up mostly of Velvet Underground tunes. Until 1970, they toured officially, with no less than the former manager of the fluff-pop band Olympik as their manager. With the start of normalization, they lost this status and thus the manager... the stress also led to the departure of Stevich and Jernek. Hlavsa/Zeman/Janicek, with no equipment and no jobs, left to Humpolec to earn the money for new equipment as lumberjacks. In Humpolec they played in a band known The Lumberjacks.

After their return, only Hlavsa and Brabec still wished to play, so they recruited Jiri Kabes (violins) and Canadian Paul Wilson. This marks the beginning of their heyday, but the end of one source I'm shamelessly plagiarizing.

So let's switch to some effusive gushing.: "Everyone who knows even just a little about contemporary Czechoslovak rock music can tell the music of the Plastic People of the Universe after just a couple of measures. And if someone hears it who has absolutely no interest in rock, they usually, sooner or later, prick up their ears, stop talking, start listening, and then ask who's that they're listening to. I've often thought to myself: what is the basis of this noteworthy "trick", through which the Plastics achieve their discomfiting magicality? It can't be explained just by the unusual lineup (characteristic of the Plastics in this respect is e.g. the ennerving buzzing of their violas and violins), nor the God-given originality of Milan Hlavsa's musical talent, the music's main author, nor the long years of cooperation that have created the group's style - the intersection and exponent of their individual members, nor even is it fully explained by the fact that this is a group that has for years been significantly independent of audience moods and the caprices of the music bureacracy, and thus is significantly authentic in its work..."

Vaclav Havel, february 1984.

Now, let's go back into history a little bit.:

Havel did far more for the band than just stuffy-sounding lip service. Above all, he stood up for them after yet another jailing. "Yet another" because the band had been increasingly in trouble with the law since June of 1972. Certainly before then as well, but that was the time of a concert in Zruc nad Sazavou that met a negative press campaign and a Prague concert where a conflict with a police officer (a "public safety" officer, as they were called back then) occurred that led to Jirous's arrest and jailing. Another down-turning point was the March, 1974 concert in Ceske Budejovice, where Public Safety arrived en masse and arrested concert-goers; many were later put on trial. The PPU themselves were not arrested, but it was more than warning enough for them to drastically reduce the frequency of their concerts. A similar incident occurred in June, 1975 in Kostelec u Krizku. But the final turning point was the Bojanovice concert in February, 1976. It was such a tremendous event, and thus so threatening to the autorities, that within three weeks, everyone in or related to the band was arrested. Most arrestees were released in 1-6 months. But a show trial was held against a few of them, and a huge media campaign was run regarding the hippie threat.

(And this is where Havel comes in. The above trial was a major cause for the founding of Charter 77, whose best-known member is doubtlessly Havel.)

I guess I should also mention the 1973 arrival of saxophonist Vlastislav Brabenec and Wilson's 77 departure (his stay permit was terminated).

This cycle of illegal (and often extremely downright odd) concerts, occasional recordings which were occasionally skin-of-the-teeth published abroad (usually in France) continued without changes large enough to document here until March, 1981, when they played a concert of "Co znamena vesti kone" (roughly: What Does Leading a Horse Mean; abridged version published in Canada as "Leading Horses") and then the StB (the "Czechoslovak KGB") burnt down the house where the concert had taken place. It was thus clear the secret police were quite willing to kill them for any further appearances, no matter how "secret" they might be. This was also the year when Jirous was jailed for what was now the fourth time (this time three and a half years), and the StB pressured Brabenec into emigrating.

Thus only studio recording sessions followed in the years after this, and in 1988, the band broke up entirely. However, immediately afterwards, the band Pulnoc formed, containing many members of the PPU. Pulnoc had tremendous trouble getting respect from people both near to it and quite distant from it, the idea being - the whole point of the secret police's campaign had been to stop the playing of the band known as the PPU (and thus to quash the legend surrounding it), not to stop the particular people playing as such. Some people were in fact extremely bitter about Pùlnoc, and hard feelings continued for years.

Other post-PPU bands include but are not limited to Domaci kapela ("Home Band"), DG 307 (though it had once existed before the breakup as well), Echt!, and Fiction.

In January of 2001, Milan Hlavsa died of a brain tumor.

Discography:

1. Muz bez usi ("The Man without Ears") - concert recordings; 1969-1972 - CD (Globus International 1998)
2. Vožralej jak sliva("Drunk as a Brandyplum") - concert recordings; 1973-1975 CD Globus International 1998)
3. Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned - recorded in 1975 at the Houska - LP (SCOPA Invisible Production 1978), CD (Globus International 1998)
4. Ach to statu hanobeni ("Oh That Slandering of State") - concert recordings; 1976-1977 CD Globus International 1998)
5. Pasijove hry velikoknocni ("Easter Passion Play") (Passion Play) - recorded in 1978 at Hradecek LP (Boží Mlýn, Toronto, 1980), LP (Globus International 1992), CD (Globus International 1998)
6. Jak bude po smrti (Slavna Nemesis) ("What It'll Be Like after Death" (The Famous Nemesis)) - recorded in 1979 - LP (Globus International 1992), CD (Globus International 1998)
7. Co znamena vesti kone ("What It Means to Lead Horses") (Leading Horses) - recorded in April, 1981 - LP (Bozi Mlyn, Toronto 1983), LP (Globus International 1992), CD (Globus International 1998)
8. Kolejnice duni ("The Track-Bed is Thundering") - recorded in 1977-1982 - LP (Globus International 1992), CD (Globus International)
9. Hovezi porazka ("Cattle Slaughter") - recorded 1983 in Zbraslav - LP (Globus International 1992), CD (Globus Internacional 1997)
10. Pulcnocni mys ("Midnight Mouse") (Midnight Mouse) - Recorded in 1986 LP (Freedonia, Halstern, 1987), LP (Globus International 1992), CD (Globus International 1998)
11. Bez ohnu je underground ("{And} without the Fires, It's Underground"*) - concert recording, 1992 - CD (Globus International)
12. Line s tebou spim ("Lazily with You I Sleep") - Published 2001, Mejla Hlavsa in memoriam CD (Globus International)

Table stolen whole cloth from http://mujweb.atlas.cz/www/jonash/diskogra.htm, to whose author I deeply apologize. Translations in quotes are mine; others are "official"

*this refers to a quote by a member on what is and isn't underground; it is also the title of a book by Jan Pelc based on interviews with Hlavsa.

Sources: http://mujweb.atlas.cz/www/jonash/* and mujweb.atlas.cz/www/peace/* (same author)
http://www.plasticpeople.info/str/historie.php?lg=en&

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