Czech Life London-based collective takes old Czechoslovak tunes and makes them better
Pavel Růžička and Petr Dvořák, known as the ORM duo, have produced music for some of the biggest Czechoslovak pop-stars, including Karel Gott and Hana Zagorová, but they are also considered to be among the country’s pioneers of electronic music. A selection of their independent work from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s has recently been released as part of the newly launched label Little Beat Different.
The pioneering electronic duo ORM, consisting of musician Pavel Růžička and Petr Dvořák, is perhaps best known in the Czech Republic for the theme song of the legendary TV series Sanitka, Ambulance, made in 1985.
But not that many people are aware that ORM also released independent records, using incredible DIY methods, home-made musical equipment as well as some state-of-the-art synthesizers smuggled to the country in secret during that period.
Now, some of ORM’s best songs have been released as part of a newly established label Little Beat Different. Run by a collective of London-based DJs, including Olin Soldán from the Czech Republic and Robert Schön from Slovakia, they plan to release a string of records dedicated to long-forgotten music from Central and Eastern Europe, from old funk and disco to pop and synthetic music.
I spoke to Olin Soldán on the line to London and I first asked him why they chose ORM as their first release.
“I have lived in London for the past six years and I have worked in music business, as a DJ and in record stores. I went through a huge catalogue of Czechoslovak records and came across the duo ORM. So I contacted one of them, Mr. Růžička, and told him we would like to release something from his old records.
“He was open to the idea and opened his archive from the 1970s and 80s. So we went through and selected nine tracks, which created the new album. We spent three years putting all the things and facts together before releasing it as a record.”
What exactly do you like about the music?
“For me, it is linked to my work at the record store. In recent years there has been a huge wave on repressing old-school records from the 1960s, 70s and 80s, re-mastered with the best sonic treatment and brought to the market again.
“The music of ORM, despite being produced in isolation in the Communist Czechoslovakia, is comparable to what was created in the west at the time. So I thought to myself: why not try to bring their music on the market again in a small exclusive packaging?
“If you look at the western market, everything has been released and re-issued for many times. But not so many people know about what was going on in Czechoslovakia at the time. So it was a pure coincidence. Having worked in the record store and I saw that it worked, so I thought: why shouldn’t it work in case of Czechoslovak music?”
How would you describe ORM, would you say they were one of the pioneers of electronic music in Czechoslovakia?
“I would say they were definitely one of the pioneers of electronic music in Czechoslovakia. That particular period between 1979 and 1984 was a period of artistic expression. They were really good musicians, you can really feel it in their music. And it really captures that kind of period. It actually wasn’t accepted by broadcasters and radio stations immediately, because people weren’t ready for that kind of music.”
What about the technical quality of the original recoding?
“We needed to dig in Mr Růžička’s archive. He has got a huge storage of old recordings at his cottage in the countryside. I knew that to get a good sound on the record, I was looking for premasters, the original raw stuff. We basically went one step ahead back.
“These records from the 1980’s can still be found now and then, but their sound is not very good. At that time, the pressing plant in Loděnice did not emphasize the quality, because people in Czechoslovakia usually didn’t have good record players.
“So we brought the original recordings to a studio in Berlin, which focuses on various mastering of reggae, dub, disco and dance music. What we were looking for was the best quality possible.
“Another important thing is the pressing. The record is printed on a 100-gramme record and it really received a special treatment. Judging by the feedback, everyone is really satisfied. So we got the best quality possible.”
As far as I know, you plan is to put out whole series of records focused on similar music from other countries in the Central and Eastern European region.
“At the moment, we want to focus mainly on the Czechoslovak scene. Lots of interesting music, like jazz music, soul, funk and early electronic music was produced there in the 1980, so we would like to stick to the region at the moment. We have scheduled releases for another five year. So we want to release one compilation every year.
“But we are more than open to reach different regions across Eastern Europe. It just depends on how the public will react to it. At the moment, it seems quite successful. The record is almost sold out and that helps us to keep going and put our more releases in the future.”
Pavel Růžička and Petr Dvořák met at the end of 1960s while studying at high school. Now five decades on and in their mid-60s, they still keep producing music for other interpreters.
I visited Mr Růžička in his studio, tucked in his family villa in a quiet district of Prague, not far from the city centre, to talk about his long and successful music career:
“At the beginning of the 1970s we established a band called Ruchadze, called after our Georgian friend. We played mostly blues and funk music, such as BB King and James Brown. But in the 1970s, during the normalisation period, it was difficult to produce this type of music. When the student clubs at Strahov, where we had launched our career, were closed in 1971, it became virtually impossible to perform.”
Pavel Růžička and Petr Dvořák went on to play in various other bands, but in 1976 decided to go freelance, being fed up with restrictions imposed by the political regime. Two years later they formed their own duo called Petr and Pavel Orm and started to build their own recording studio. At the time, obtaining quality instruments and other music equipment from the West proved to be a very difficult task.
“The younger generation today cannot imagine what it was like living behind the Iron Curtain. We got our first home-made mixing console at the hi-fi club at Ve Smečkách Street, run by a group of music enthusiasts. The first albums were produced in cooperation with the Panton Company, which had a studio at the National Opera building with an eight-track Studer recorder.”
ORM’s first album, Diskofil, was made for the Panton company, who commissioned a dance music album with modern sound. The album was quite successful commercially and paved the way for producing music for other artists, including the Kamélie duo. ORM produced their first release, which proved to be a phenomenal success. Pavel Růžička again:
“With the second album, called Tropic, we wanted to present ourselves as instrumental players, so there are mostly instrumental pieces without vocals. Because it was a non-commercial record, we invited the duo Kamélie on board, to ensure it would attract listeners and get some sales.”
More than 30 years later, both Diskofil and Tropic have become valuable collectors’ items sought after by musicians from all over the world. Meanwhile, Pavel Růžička and Petr Dvořák continued to build their musical careers, establishing themselves as one of the country’s major music producers.
“When you live in a small country such as the Czech Republic, it is not easy to make a living by producing music. If you want to move forward, you have to stay open to all possibilities. We enjoyed venturing into different fields of music. In a way I would say we lived several different lives at once.” music