Romania’s VVVLV are among the most original current bands hailing from the Balkans. For those yet unaware of them, they combine slow and crushing sludge with fast and shrieking blackened crust of equal menacing power.
VVVLV’s upcoming release 100 Years of Defeat is one of the most exciting albums you can hear. Five lengthy tracks of constant anxious development, from doom to old school black metal riffs & d-beat massacre. Bleak, socially conscious lyrics delivered with harsh vocals getting under your skin. I can clearly see this becoming a future classic.
DIY Conspiracy is proud to present 100 Years of Defeat in full, followed by an interview with the band below.
Who is VVVLV and how did you get together? What was the initial reason for the band forming?
Adi: Alphabetically: Adi (guitars), Alessandro (bass), Mishu (drums), Vlad (vocals). For the foundation myth—and my memory is bad—Vlad was passing through Timişoara on his way back from Fluff Fest one year. We met and he asked whether we’d be interested to play together. I was, Mishu too, so we started the band in 2015 as a three-piece. Later, in 2018, after a show in Timişoara, a guy comes to tell me the band would sound better with a bass player. I’ve agreed, but we still couldn’t find one. Guy says he plays bass, enter Alessandro. To be philosophical, the reason for the band’s existence is its failure not to exist.
Vlad: When Mishu moved to Timişoara, we’ve lost 50% of the scene that can play an instrument, so I was kinda desperate. I wasn’t super excited to travel so often between Cluj and Timişoara, but I needed the rush of playing shows. You gotta feed your inner demons somehow, and VVVLV is just one way of doing it.
With the exception of Adi who played in the black metal-influenced crust band Livia Sura, you all come from playing in more traditional, fast hardcore punk bands. Do you think the kind of sludgier, metallic sound came out as a natural progression as you grow older in age?
Adi: For me, it was as easy as to just plug in the guitar and go.
Mishu: For me, I don’t think it has much to do with age. 95% of what I listen to and get most excited about is still thrashcore/hardcore punk/powerviolence. All go and no slow! That XIAO album you streamed last week was rad! But as me and Vlad played together in Stuck in a Rut, and then Vera Renczi, we’ve progressively added more sludgier parts into the mix. I think we just got more exposed to this kind of music.
“Sludge band would be death metal if they weren’t so goddamn tired all the time.”—The Hard Times
Vlad: For me, it doesn’t really have anything to do with age. I grew up listening to hardcore, sludge and black metal. When we played with Stuck In A Rut we did covers of Dystopia and Neanderthal.
In many ways, I think there are a lot of similarities between the [faster and slower] scenes, and they have always kinda intersected, especially here in Eastern Europe, where ten years ago we didn’t have any separate scenes for the different subgenres of punk & metal music. I would still love to play in a hardcore band. Also, for me, playing a 45-60 minute “slow” music is a way more exhausting than a 20-30 minute of jumping around at a hardcore show.
Why did you name the album 100 Years of Defeat? Can you go a bit more in-depths into the lyrics, ideas and underlying political message behind these compositions?
Vlad: The lyrics for the song “100 Years of Defeat” dates back to 2017, at the time of the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The song was actually inspired by a paragraph from Lenin’s “State and Revolution”:
After their death, attempts are made to convert revolutionaries into harmless icons, to canonise them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the ‘consolation’ of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarising it.
Though the song might sound like a defeatist condemnation of the revolution, it is really not. It’s just a way to find some kind of reconciliation with the past and the whole concept of how to approach our history. First, as someone who is on the Left, and second, as someone who lives in what once was the Soviet Bloc. While the October Revolution was a history changing event, it eventually failed. We are the inheritors of this history, which shapes both our present and future.
If in the first album, the focus was mainly on the past. This one starts with a kind of a symbolic resignation of the burden that we unwillingly inherit. And everything goes downhill from there, haha.
The rest of the songs deal with some more current events. You don’t really need to imagine a dystopian universe, the world is pretty fucked up and bleak as it is. In this sense, it’s really not that hard to write lyrics that go well with the “darker” undertones in our music. Basically, the rest of the songs are about the various joys that come with living through the fall of Western civilization: poverty, nationalism and xenophobia, religious fanaticism and bigotry of all kind. And not the least, the sword of Damocles which is the imminent ecological collapse.
The album ends on a somewhat positive note though, with “Magnolia”. If the first song is kind of closing the door on the past, the last one is a kind of an opening for a possible future. The first part of the song is about the nuclear annihilation (a fitting topic for a d-beat song) and fragility of the human species, but the second part is about reconnecting to the world. About being in the present. It was inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke’s “8th Elegy”, and it’s about the way that non-human animals perceive the world, how they are so radically present in the current moment, and the kind of freedom that it gives them.
The point is not to idealize this kind of being in the world and abandon rational reasoning, but merely to acknowledge that in order to avoid collapse a different kind of a relation to the world is absolutely necessary. Not conquer it, but is content to with living as an integral part of it. Here in this present moment. I mean, it probably won’t happen though, but it’s nice philosophizing about it.
Members of the band have been involved in the DIY scene for a long time. From zine publishing and booking collectives, to maintaining self-organized cultural & political spaces, Food Not Bombs groups, and community organizing across different Romanian cities. How did the COVID-19 pandemic change all this?
Adi: In Romania, as in everywhere else, I suppose, it shut everything down. But I do not believe that everything is dead now.
Mishu: Regarding the DIY music scene in Timişoara, the pandemic’s effect has paled in comparison with business as usual. Because of gentrification every venue (that we played or could book shows at), closed down or was just demolished. The pandemic just postponed everything…
Vlad: Things weren’t going that well before the pandemic, to be honest. The big cities are getting more and more expensive to live, and each year it’s harder for small venues and social centers to survive. In a way, we hoped that the pandemic might lower the rents in the city, but it was not the case. They are actually keep getting higher.
The “scene” was already small and kinda isolated from the rest of society, so the pandemic just made it worse. When it hit there was this general feeling of powerlessness. I remember at the time I was active within our tenants’ initiative, and we kept receiving messages from distressed tenants that were facing the prospect of being evicted, and we couldn’t really do anything for them, just give them a few tips about how to talk with their landlords. There were some attempts at different campaigns, especially related to so-called essential workers, but they all more or less failed.
There will be quite some picking up the pieces and regrouping after the pandemic subsides a bit, and life returns to just regular shitty. On the other hand, people are excited about getting back to shows and other events, so I think, at least for a while, there will be quite some good energy coming into the scene. Btw if you want to support an autonomous space in Cluj, you can find the fundraiser here.
Do you think that the pandemic was a huge blow to the Antiauthoritarian and Leftist movements, at least here on the Balkans?
Adi: No. I don’t think so, if anything, I have the feeling there’s a new consciousness arising, ideas are spreading faster than ever before. Of course, my perspective may be distorted, but I am the exact opposite of a pessimist.
Mishu: Since the first lockdown last year, local groups have been helping homeless people and refugees ro deal with the authorities. To me it seemed that the situation nudge people to get even more involved in such issues.
Vlad: As I said before, I don’t think we were doing so great before the pandemic, and we will probably come even worse off after it. The anomie that the pandemic brought to our societies meant that a lot of people that would be traditionally supporters of the Left are now going to support reactionary right-wing parties and groups.
This is nothing new, of course. It’s partly due to the Left’s own failure to actually connect with the broader society, but also to the fact that in many ways, at least here in Romania, there was no real consistent critique of the way the state is handling the pandemic coming from the Left, something that could also be translated into political action.
In many ways, it was easier to dismiss everyone as antivaxx and antimask loonies than actually engage with the real problems that the pandemic has caused to most regular people—from the abusive fines and the increased policing of poor communities, to the economic damage it has done. A lot of people from the Left have been caught up with online discussions and policy proposal writings that nobody cares about to read, and which have a zero chance of being implemented, instead of actually engaging with the local communities.
Is the Romanian government and society following the same pattern of authoritarian tendencies, conspiracy theories and failures to provide an adequate response to the crisis as many other countries in the region?
Adi: In short, yes.
Vlad: Honestly, I think the people in our government are nothing more than opportunistic idiots. It’s definitely not as bad as in Hungary or Poland. 30 years of turbo-charged neoliberalism meant that the Romanian state is in a pretty pitiful condition, and while the budget of the repressive institutions has constantly been going up, I wouldn’t say that we have experienced the same increase in authoritarian tendencies as some other countries in the region. I think, however, that policing has indeed intensified especially in marginalized communities.
The erosion of the social state, and of centralized power and vision, has meant that we are left with these kinds of decentralized, small “f” fascisms (to use David Graeber’s terminology): from racist mayors to fascist sympathizing enclaves in the Church. The recent experience of the so-called “Family Referendum”, when a few religious groups tried to introduce a heteronormative (homophobic) definition of the family in the Constitution, was a pretty telling example of the state of the Romanian right wing at the moment.
The referendum was an utter failure, with very few people showing up to vote. This shows that their capacity for organization is well below what we see in other Balkan countries, though these tendencies are getting stronger. Nationalistic parties are on the rise all throughout, riding in the recent wave of discontent created by the Covid pandemic.
What is your vision of the general state of affairs, the underground scene and the world of the future? Do you think DIY punk & metal music has a stake in the culture of tomorrow?
Mishu: I’ve heard a lot of bands recording and releasing new albums, putting up live streaming shows (what are you gonna do?), or simply finding the time to archive old videos (hate5six has been putting a lot of great stuff lately). As well as so many people getting bored of staying inside their homes. I guess everyone’s going to be stoked to go to a live show… The challenge is going to be finding ways to do one whilst minimizing the risk of transmitting the virus to the others.
Vlad: The future is cancelled, haha. I admit I’m a bit of a doomer, though, to be fair, the evidence does support the vision of a very bleak future. On the other hand, I still relate to Gramsci’s motto: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”, but in many ways it’s getting harder and harder to find any kind of optimism in the world of today.
Personally, I gave up on any hope that some kind of a grandiose change would come. I think that the trajectory towards barbarism is already set. I know a lot of people are excited about the fact that so-called Socialism is more popular now than it was ten years ago, but if we put things into perspective, the numbers the Left is putting up are tiny compared to what they were 100 years ago. And 100 years ago, we didn’t live in such a technologically complex world, but we still failed. I wish I was more excited about Bernie, AOC, Varoufakis, and other lefty celebs, but I fail to see any kind of a real social change coming up from their “movements”.
For this, I think that small communities, such as the DIY scene we are part of, are becoming more relevant than ever. Not relevant as if they will be the driver for some great social change, but relevant as an immediate support network that can offer a bit of a meaning for those involved in it—beyond the routine of work, buy and go to bed.
VVLV’s 100 Years of Defeat was recorded and mixed at Consonance Studios in Timişoara. Mastered by Daniel Husayn at North London Bomb Factory Mastering. Artwork by Danka @Bix Handpoke Tattoo.