Graffiti in Szimpla Kert, a Budapest ruin pub.

Graffiti in Szimpla Kert, a Budapest ruin pub.

As Hungarian pop is isolated from the rest of Europe, especially Britain because of its language (though many groups sing in English) and, frankly, because of pure laziness from our part, I thought I’d give everyone a small sample of its output.

I’ll start with this Hungarian indie track which was a big hit there, but is totally unknown in the UK. The intro, which starts as French whistle-pop and then gives way to the Ennio Morricone-like guitar riff, always gives me goosebumps. The title means ‘Where’s that crazy guy?’ and the group is Heaven Street Seven who have been going since 1995. I actually own an ultra-rare version of the song in English; I haven’t found it on the Net anywhere.

If you are worried you don’t know the lyrics, a wonderful Eastern-European cartoon which you can’t fail to follow even if you don’t speak Hungarian, because it’s theme is rather universal. The title translates as “South America”, but there is nothing Latino about the sound.

Now, Kerekes Band normally play ethno from Transylvania, but here they’re in a 1960s groove – the Hammond organ could be Stevie Winwood or Brian Auger, but it’s the American session musician Mike Finnigan. No video exists that I can find; just listen to four minutes of this wonderful instrumental.

Pop Szegecs feat Mike Finnigan

The first ever Hungarian CD I bought was in 2002 and the band turned out to be the biggest cult band in Hungary; I heard the tune by accident when it was playing in a record shop (there were still around in 2002) and I immediately bought the CD. The title translates as “Cowboy on the Moon” and the band is the totally unpronounceable Amorf Ördögök (Amorphous Devils). They were a collective with two core members, Ambrus Tövisházi and Tariska Szabolcs with another dozen coming and going between 1993 and 2007 when they finally split. They experimented with many forms of music from electropop to Balkan ethno to reggae and are a very worthwhile band to discover.
Here “Cowboy on the Moon” (Betyar a Holdon) is the first of two live tracks given a folkloric treatment rather than the electronic version I first heard; the beat is unmistakeably the same, though.

Unlike Amorf Ördögök, Zagar make a lot of noise and sound like Inspiral Carpets meet Pulp. Their sound is grand and cinematic (and they have contributed soundtracks to many films). Their “Eastern Sugar” sung in English is a remarkable exercise in testosterone-fuelled pop with a video to match. Don’t blink towards the end; you might miss the porn shot.

There are of course the loner singer-songwriters in every country. We have Momus, Tricky or the Aphex Twin who let us deep into their inner selves with their music. The Hungarians have Yonderboi (Laszlo Fogarasi Jr.) who is a multimedia artist making his own music, shooting his own videos and collaborating with film directors such as Peter Greenaway.

So I will finish this small primer on Hungarian pop with Yonderboi who directed this film noir vid himself for his song “Were You Thinking of Me“. Listen to it: it sounds as if you’ve already heard it before and it’s been a hit – such is the song’s great hook.

And I hope I’ve tickled your fancy for more.