Bicikl is a serbian collective from Belgrade led by two Lithuanian immigrants, Harbor Tévas and Vyrash Karunos, who started this project with the idea to promote old Lithuanian pagan values. As written on their bio: “They invited anybody willing to play to join them at their weekly gatherings in Vyrash’s living room, where they would spend time together, talk, drink tea or rakija, watch films and improvise music. Every rite was recorded, adding up to over 100 hours of original material. The collective soon grew to include more than 10 members, and in 2009 they started performing live rites that were a mixture of primitive theater, pagan rituals and modern eclectic music played on traditional ethnic instruments in combination with modern electronic gadgets.”
The name of their new tape is “Chertamy I Ryazami” (strokes and incisions, or tallies and sketches) and it comes from a quote written by Chernorisets Hrabar, a Bulgarian scholar monk, who wrote about the literacy of early Slavic tribes. He claimed that “Being still pagan, the Slavs did not have their own letters, but read and communicated by means of strokes and incisions.” He belonged to the school of Christian monks who invented a writing systems for Slavs to be able to convert them to Christianity more easily (a writing system that corresponds to Greek or Latin, so that the Bible could have been translated). It was in his interest to present them as illiterate and savage to propel the conversion.
After an introduction like this, it’s legit to think of “ritual” inspired acts like Ak’Chamel, Father Murphy or OM.
The tape begins with “Kolokola” which it’s not a serbian version of the famous soft drink but it’s the transcription of the Russian word Колокола, which means simply “Bells” and it’s indeed a field recording of church bells and voices that anticipates the first played track: “Bu yol (varılamayacağını)”, in my opinion the most interesting track of the tape, in fact it’s not so common to hear effected and glitched percussions played over a very weird and persuasive Morriconian-style track, this band already gained my attention!
The tape continues with “Zecharia Sitchin” (aka the Russian pseudoscientist who created theories of ancient astronauts) and the track is basically a beat loop that initally reminded me of some Finder Keepers‘ recordings but, after reading the press sheet, I’ve learned that this sample was taken from an American tape made for kids to learn about space, like a soviet funk version of Boards of Canada.
The heavily psychedelic “1st of August, 1555, at 4 PM” is about occultism, alchemy and quackery and it sounds like a highly occult intro of some tracks of the band Goat, but no female singer kicks. Instead, a throat singing and a sax solo kill the track that, in my opinion, could have evolved in a different way. The other track that really got my attention is “Death of Jahbulon”, I think Bicikl is the only experimental/psych band I know that can glitch and manipulate samples and percussions without sounding groovy and pretentious. Actually the song has an inner purpose: it samples Pavle Aksentijević (a Serbian singer of sacral songs) but in such a way that he is never allowed to utter a single full word that the Orthodox people consider holy or abiding… He is juxtaposed with wild zurnas, that Serbs adopted from the Turks, so it again brushes on the Serbian conflicting and contrasting heritage. And if you throw an harsh sax solo over this layer of granulated voice samples and percussions I’ll respect you forever, and they did it, but was it really necessary to put virtual DJ style cutoffs and flanger effects?
The last four tracks are a cool psych trip and you can hear the jamming attitude of the band, they know what they are doing and they know what to do: “Kayman Kaymaklar” and “Osman” are two liquid mantras full of samples from archive recordings and they bring to mind the most recent works of Corum (from Million Brazilians) or Donato Epiro’s Fiume Nero as well as some twangy middle eastern influenced guitar playing à la Holypalms. Sweet!
In conclusion, I think that their music really feels like going back to these slav roots and it feels like “strokes and incisions” indeed: rudimentary but immediate. I’m not talking about privitivism or about a bunch of hippies with bongos and flutes! Bicikl’s sound is far from being like that: the guitar riffs are catchy and never boring, the use of electronics and samples is well studied and not pretentious and the whole tape flows nicely from genre to genre without any abrupt change of sound. I’m very curious to hear their future releases and to hear a live performance.
I’m even more curious to see what’s popping in Serbia, besides NoBasementisdeepenough and Bicikl I’ve never heard of any underground project / label / act from there. How deep do we have to dig on the internet to find something like that?
The tape is out for the Iowa based label The Centipede Farm which I consider one of the best labels in terms of weird folk / experimental lo-fi shamanic tape music (one name over all: The Big Drum in the Sky Religion!)