AKU-AKU / Venkyhessku
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AKU-AKU / Venkyhessku

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"Prog-rockers Aku Aku make a rare appearance in Prague"

When Melody Maker editor Richard Williams speculated in 1970 that, "if Wagner were alive today, he'd work with King Crimson," he may have been jumping the gun. It's more likely that Wagner would have found the Czech band Aku Aku closer to both his musical heritage and home in nearby Saxony.

Formed in the late 1980s in Teplice, a city in north Bohemia where Beethoven once composed, Aku Aku is a regional prog-rock legend, with a Slavic-Germanic sense of drama that's hard to match. As Aku Aku founder/bassist Ludék Zedník once explained to the Czech magazine Rock & Pop, "The Bolsheviks taught us gloom and depression. I never thought about anything jolly."

Such moods didn't keep Aku Aku from gaining a solid regional reputation during the '90s, with tours that jumped across the Czech Republic's borders to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. As the freedoms of the Velvet Revolution took hold, Aku Aku's lyrics and music veered from protest to more mystical themes, fed by the band members' longstanding fascination with fantasy literature.



"We read Tolkien in samizdat [illicit hand-typed publications], but we could only get the first part of The Lord of the Rings," recalls Zedník. "The book fit naturally with our point of view. And we remain faithful to Tolkien's direction and continue to be inspired by things and events around him. The whole Lord of the Rings, and much of Tolkien's work, is about freedom and faith in goodness."


On the 2006 re-release of Aku Aku's KNAK 1992 (Guerilla Records), the band's evolution toward the better characteristics of prog-rock and jazz-rock is clear. Fronted by the classically trained and Jean Luc Ponty-inspired violinist/vocalist Slávek Neuhöfer, Aku Aku gravitated toward the delicate density of King Crimson's Larks' Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black period. Such comparisons have been hard to shake off, but, with 99 percent of Aku Aku's material being original, the band continues to pursue a distinct goal in both composition and performance.

"To me, one of the basic building blocks of music is the well-known fact that ostinato rhythms and a pace around 120 BPM are considered mystical and bring ecstasy," Zedník says. "And the construction of our melodies has careful gradation, dynamics and harmonics. Our ideal is to unite around these concepts."

Those aspirations work very well within Aku Aku's heavily syncopated sound, as the band demonstrated last month in a performance on their home turf in Louny. On a cold, snowy evening in a small city dotted with Gothic and Baroque architecture, Aku Aku's violin-driven prog-rock was especially fitting to the season and place. Occupying center stage was Neuhöfer, who looked like a giant mountain elf sawing epiphanies on his strings while tossing Czech lyrics into the lilting perpetual-motion mill of the band's rhythm section and lead guitar.

Prog-rock fans in Prague were disappointed in January, when Aku Aku's opening set for a Plastic People of the Universe concert at Akropolis was cancelled. As that would have been Aku Aku's first appearance here since 1997, it was a highly anticipated event. Fortunately, Unijazz's Kaštan club is offering another opportunity next week for local concert-goers to hear one of the Czech Republic's most unique roadside musical attractions.

No doubt there will be moments of what Zedník calls "rawness and ferocity." But Aku Aku's fire is well-tempered with an approach best described by Zedník when he says, "We are interested mainly in creation, and creation brings joy."


Darrell Jónsson can be reached at
features@praguepost.com

- Praguepost


Discography

LP AKU-AKU - Humanquake, 1991
CD AKU-AKU - Mezi psem a vlkem, 1995
CD AKU-AKU - Cekání na slunce (písne z roku 1988), 2003
CD AKU-AKU - Knak 1992 / Humanquake (remaster), 2006
CD SABINA - Co rekl kocour Sabine, 2009

Photos

Bio

The foundation of the band dates back to the middle of 1988 after Hever band had finished its activities and violinist Slávek Neuhofer, guitarist Honza Peclinovský and bassist Ludek Zedník stayed together. “We wanted to do it in a different way with a smaller number of people“. Ludek remembered his classmate Vláda Saska who took the vacancy of a drummer. The band was born.
It found its headquarters in a company called CKD Polovodice Prague. (at the time when the commies were in power a founder was necessary to have for public perfoming). “Thank you Mr. Zdenek Cerman. That man took this risk in despite of the way we looked. We needed the stamp“. The band started to work under the name Utaja Hunata. Then several concerts followed and a repeated invitation to the founder where the band learnt they had to change the name of the band “We were told it sounds somehow Turkish“. A new substitute name was thought up immediately on the spot and it was Aku-Aku. (The soul protector of the deads on the Easter island, nowadays also a row of drills, grinders and eventually shoes perhaps, too). That was the last meeting with the founder, because the activities of the band headed for the underground environment. “We also played quite difficult compositons and it was suprising that people approved of it. I would describe the year before the velvet revolution as one forbidden party. At first the concerts were offical but in time we started to play at various secret spots, steam boats, barns, just where we could.“ The band crowned this period by a performance at the legendary concert of Solidarita in Wroclav (beginning of November 1989). Besides the main folk stage there was also a rock stage. Unfortunatelly because of the tough controls on the borders only a minimum of bands could get there. Besides Aku-Aku, only MCHBand and Šanov were there.
There was a great boom after the revolution. In 1990 the band recorded the album (vinyl) “Humanquake“, (Pro Art 1991) where there are compositions of 1988-89. The band started its performances at different festivals and meetings around the entire Republic. In Wenceslas square in Prague the band met graphic designer and musician Lukáš Machata who was living in Switzerland. With his help we could carry out a tour around the Czech Republic which was repeated after two years. A meeting with the American band Sabot was of the same importance and a long-term friendship arose from it.
The activity of the band began to change gradually after the revolution. “All of a sudden everyone started to sing about freedom and make comments on past and contemporary events in a rather tough way. We did not want to take this way then when it was allowed. We learnt songs inspired by Tolkien´s poetics“. This period is partly recorded on CD KNAK 1992. “Nevetheless, it was not what people really wanted and we felt they wanted to amuse themselves more. We were not able to persuade them and after a certain period of fumbling we created a new programme again which was entirely recorded on CD named Mezi psem a vlkem.“ At the time around 1994 Aku-Aku made quite a lot of performances but despite this the band was at the end of its tether regarding its production. “Looking back in time I would call it burn out. We were not able to agree on one single note so there was a decision to finish with the activities of the band and call it a day.“
Basist Ludek and guitarist Honza stayed together and went on to record two albums (see other projects). There was a pause which lasted 14 years.
“The reincarnation of the band started after an accident which happened to the drummer. He had a serious injury. We arrived to see him at the hospital and the way he was there in bed with both legs hung up in splints made us think it was a signal perhaps to give it one more chance. At first we laughed at the idea and then, after a few months the idea became reality and the group reformed despite the various difficulties connected with Láda´s health condition.“
The band has been performing again since 2009. It has maintained its old repertoire and added some successful covers.