Repressed! Polish duo Marcin Cichy and Igor Pudlo have been making warm, crisp and complex beat-based music for a while now. It’s just that they’ve been making it in Poland. There, they are among the best-known and most respected DJs and producers about, with even a Paszporty Polityki nomination to their name (the most prestigious culture award in the country). Beyond, they are virtually unknown.
Until now, that is, and the release of their debut album by Ninja Tune. The pair came to Ninja’s attention via DJ Vadim who had worked with them on one of his Eastern European tours. But, as the saying goes, it ain’t where ya from… and Skalpel are definitely at some tomorrow places.
Drawing on Poland’s rich jazz heritage (much of it semi-illegal samizdat recordings made when the Communists thought that jazz could bring down the state), Cichy and Pudlo have an unrivalled source of samples to tap and they tap it with consummate aplomb. They combine a kind of broad brush romanticism with the most carefully dissected breaks for a sound which comes on like an East European “In A Silent Way” with heavier drumming. The truth is that they just get it right, again and again and again, making music which is by turns emotive, funny and filmic but always funky as fuck.
The opening “High” combines sharp conga playing with spectral warbling and flute stabs, “Not Too Bad” is held together by a killer double bass riff, single “1958” is kitsch dancefloor business, “Break In” lifts you up out of your seat and has you hanging above the couch, “Quiz” is garage-band jazz, “Behind The Curtain” is sublime road movie music.
But scratch a little deeper and the Polish scene of the 60s and 70s is more than just another crate to dig and also serves as their main inspiration. “We are much more influenced by this music than the present day scene,” explains Cichy. Pudlo points to the richness of a scene which included Michael Urbaniak (the only violinist to play with Miles Davis, like, ever) and Krzysztof Komeda (who composed the music for Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby). Which perhaps explains why Skalpel’s music, despite their name, never feels clinical. This is about keeping something living – not a post-mortem.