Hanspaulka’s Homegrown

Enjoying poise and noise from the Tata Bojs.

Tata Bojs

November 14th

Sky Club Brumlovka

Vyskočilova 2, P4 T

Turn your back to the new KFC on Vítězné náměstí one evening and look up to the
hills where the sun is trying to hide. If you look carefully you can pick out
the scattering of old villas and swaying fir trees that make up the Hanspalka
neighborhood. Take a walk up the hill, past the hideous technical university and
the Hotel Praha where film stars try to outdo each other’s room service tabs.
Pass Václav Fischer’s towering villa and get a glimpse of the landscaped, gentrified
glory that crow-ned First Republic Czecho-slo-vakia.

Like most of the city’s fashionable neighborhoods, it’s fairly difficult to distinguish
today’s Hans-paulka from its lower-class barnacles. To its residents, the difference
is as plain as day – as plain as the difference be-tween Texas and Ver-mont, for
example. Czechs’ pride in their neighbor-hoods is rivaled only by their pride
in what they modestly like to refer to as their “little” nation.

Milan Cais is proud to be a Hanspaulka resident. He grew up there, he went to
schools there, met many of his friends there and started his band there. In 1983,
he and Mardoa met in kindergarten, where they were members of class 3A. The Tata
Bojs, as their project came to be called, played their first concert five years
later. Now, after seven albums and half a lifetime, the two 28-year-olds find
themselves preparing for the biggest show they’ve ever played: a headlining date
at the 2,500-capacity Sky Club Brumlovka.

Poised at what may well be the peak of their careers, few things are as important
to them as where they come from, a fact they remember each time they squeeze into
the 12-square-meter practice space they’ve shared for the past 15 years. The Czech
Republic’s favorite rock band is, in its good-natured consciousness of its limitations,
a perfect mirror of the country.

“Mardoa’s father was a member of the Jazz Section, which was an illegal organization
at that time,” Cais recalls. “We saw a Sex Pistols movie [The Great Rock ’n’ Roll
Swindle] once in his basement – it was a horrible copy, but that was probably
one of our earliest inspirations. We started to write anti-political lyrics even
then, before we had any idea of how to use our instruments.”

Other classic punk influences are evident in their early recordings, especially
Iggy Pop, The Police and David Bowie, but the political aspect disappeared before
they seriously tuned a string.

Mardoa’s father was eventually imprisoned because of dissident activities, and
the news quickly spread around the school. Together with Mareček Padevět, the
two friends started writing songs. A friend suggested the name Tapa Boys, a reference
to one of Karel Čapek’s many invented words, tapa, meaning something like a devil.

“We decided to make it ‘tata,’ a nonsense rythmic word instead, because we didn’t
want to frighten people,” Cais grins. The Czech phonetic spelling of “boys” followed
in somewhat logical fashion.

The name speaks volumes of the early style of the band, which Cais lovingly calls
“infantile.” This style was more than musical; it was a playful image born from
integrating theme concerts, fierce energy and an irresistible stage presence.
At a Delta show three years ago, the band dumped a mountain of sand in the middle
of the theater and topped it with an inflatable swimming pool. By the end of the
show the audience and musicians – drummer and sampler excluded – were enjoying
a bizarre, and potentially electrifying, pool party.

When they were 13, Cais and Mardoa planned their first public concert at the
TJ Sparta gymnasium in Dejvická. They made the posters, secured permission and
the whole thing went on without a hitch on June 29, 1988.

“We even got two other bands to join us because they saw the posters,” Cais remembers.

They opened the show by introducing themselves as being from Hanspaulka, a tradition
that continues to the present day. The band lost Mareček, the original guitarist,
but gained a second in Marek, whose experience and contacts helped the group break
out into bigger venues like Delta. Wary of adding another person to the mix but
intent on expanding the sound, they added a sampler a few years back. Biorytmy,
their seventh full-length release, saw that electronic sound mature and helped
the band graduate to the top of the Czech pops, outsold only by the universally
appealing Karel Gott and marketing fluke Kabát.

“We aren’t sure what we can give our audience that we haven’t given them already,”
Cais muses, without a hint of immodesty. In this country of 10 million, the market
for their music may have effectively hit the saturation point – find a Czech between
the ages of 15 and 30 who hasn’t heard of the Tata Bojs and you’re probably speaking
with either a shut-in or a prisoner.

Throwing in the towel and coasting on their success is not part of the plan. “We
don’t want people to be bored at the Brumlovka show, so we’ve got lots of information
for them,” he says.

Part of this “information” includes an installation by Cais entitled Night Watch-man,
a pair of projected eyeballs that disturbed people from the top of the Goethe
Institute building earlier this year. This projection and two videos recently
finished by the band will grace the stage at Sky Club.

Based on reaction to these new videos, a Polish tour might be planned next year,
but Warner, the group’s label, isn’t making any promises. Cais seems interested,
but not overly concerned about the uncertain path in front of the band. He’s occupied
his time lately with planning the Sky Club show and the release of Biorytmy, which
includes a number of remixes and several of the group’s older songs revisited.
The new CD will hit shops this week.

“I suppose I could spend more time on learning English,” he says, “that would
give us access to the world audience.” But then someone would have to explain
to the rest of the world where Hanspaulka is, and why the band doesn’t just say
they’re from Prague.

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