Big in Bucharest
April 3, 2021 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Is there a way to find out what artists were bootlegged and popular during the Cold War and where? Were different artists circulated via mix tape in one area vs another? Lasting influences or popularity? Time frame 1975 - 1990. I'm already aware of the x-ray records in the USSR.
posted by fluttering hellfire to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to check out Red Wave: An American in the Soviet Music Underground by Joanna Stingray and Madison Stingray.

I haven't read it, but I've listened to the interview the New Books Network did with Joanna Stingray and I think it might be helpful:

Red Wave: An American in the Soviet Music Underground (Doppelhouse Press, 2020) is Joanna Stingray’s autobiographical account of her time on the underground music scene in the USSR and Russia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During this time Joanna met and worked with some of the most important names in Russian rock like Boris Grebenshchikov of Aquarium and Victor Tsoi of Kino. She also had encounters with both the KGB and FBI who were incredulous that an American girl would come to the USSR just to listen to rock. Listen in as she describes the creativity, inspiration and events that helped create iconic underground Russian rock.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:13 PM on April 3 [3 favorites]

Not bootlegged, but the Polish Public Radio had a top list going from 1982 to 2020 - all archives available online.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 2:09 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]

Vaclav Havel was famously a fan of artists like the Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa during the Cold War in Czechoslovakia. I don't know the extent to which they were bootlegged, but the Velvets, Zappa, and others were popular enough to inspire a Czechoslovakian band called The Plastic People of the Universe. Persecution of this band was one of the reasons Havel and others wrote Charter 77 and eventually went on to lead the Velvet Revolution.
posted by theory at 5:39 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]

Depending on the country and the severity of the local regime, you could find almost anything in pre-1990 East Europe if you really wanted. I know one older guy who hung around Budapest hotels in the 1960s and asked foreigners if they had any modern jazz records to sell. Beatles were a big smuggling item in the 1960s, but soon East Europe was flooded by Yugoslav semi-pirate releases of Beatles, Stones, and everything up to disco and punk that were picked up by Poles, Czechs, Hungarians on vacation there. Romania was under much stricter controls, ownership of tape recorders was tightly controlled so no mix tapes, but people could pick up Radio Luxembourg and Radio Free Europe broadcasts at night.

The hunger for contemporary sounds were filled by local interpretations. 1970s "Polish Jazz" featured a sort of smooth scat singing style which later became big among DJs in Japan. In Hungary local musicians latched onto a 1950s style of Rock and Roll and made it their own, recasting it as "Beat Music." Beat music continues to be popular, performed by bands with exaggerated hair styles and costumes of an imagined 1950s sock hop. Czechs latched onto C&W and Bluegrass that they could hear wafting over from US Army radio stations in Germany. It fit into the uniquely Czech cultural phenomenon of "tramping" which had adopted Jimmie Rogers songs as their anthems (in Czech). Today there are C&W "cowboy" bars in nearly every Czech town and Czechs are some of the hottest bluegrass musicians outside of Kentucky. In the southern Balkans - Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romanian Black Sea areas - Turkish pop music was in vogue - you could get it on airwaves blasting across the Black Sea from Istanbul.
posted by zaelic at 4:22 AM on April 5

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