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VISIONS OF ZHIVA

PRESENTING MUSIC FROM CENTRAL EUROPE

INTRODUCING: WOMAN (Cologne, Germany)

Words by Nathan Lova published 20.7.2018

Woman have been a secret tip among the cool kids of Cologne for some years, but it was 2017 that the trio finally delivered a long awaited debut and everyone else got a chance to catch up. Packed with smooth synthy tunes, Happy Freedom blends danceable sound with lyrics that raise questions about the troubled times we live in and our attitudes towards them. If the planet really is to burst – and no matter how hard some try, we can’t really deny we’re headed in that general direction – our only hope that this is indeed the the soundtrack for it. Once we reach the point where catastrophe is inevitable, we might as well put on our dance shoes and enjoy the spectacle, right?

The story of Woman starts with three local musicians getting together to play in a basement bar in a hip area of Cologne. Rumour has it that the initial output of then-yet-unnamed trio oscillated somewhere between Einstürzenden Neubauten and Suicide. Does it seem improbable that a band who now describes their genre as “peace pop” was born out of untamed noise? Not really. Happy Freedom sends listeners on a cosmic disco ride miles away from the aforementioned avantgarde, at the same time it makes perfect sense that such smoothness is a result of experiments on the border of listenability. 

But the way there was long and it wasn’t easy. First attempts to record fell through, so the trio dropped the songs they had written. Guitarist Manuel Tran and drummer Milan Jacobi agree that it was “hurtful but necessary”. Singer and keyboard player Carlos Hufschlag joined the band and Woman was briefly a four-piece, a period which ended with founder Marvin Horsch leaving. Then there were three again and they weren’t in a rush anywhere. The guys chose the path of patience and precision, which worked in their favour.

Another right choice was to team up with the Vienna based producer Zebo Adam. Known for his work with the Austrian funky sensation Bilderbuch, Adam definitely has plenty of experience with polishing smooth tunes. In 2016, Woman released their EP Fever and returned to Vienna the following year to work on their debut. Adam nursed the apocalyptic cosmic tunes to near-perfection which compliments their style. The songs are undoubtedly at their best on the record when they are crips and clear, but the rougher and rawer live renditions have their own charm too. The guys are modest and authentic on stage – even though the ambitious recording, hi-tech videos and neatly executed online presence might make one think otherwise, they don’t seem to be in a rush to make it big.

At the first listen, Woman might seem to be surfing a chill wave, but their lyrics reveal a darker side upon closer inspection. Three young men living in a big city live out their anxieties and frustration that the twenty-first century brings about. The press release reads: “The songs describe our lives – and while we wonder about the clever descriptions, we are able to dance to them as well.” Even though the songs work well separately, they feed off each other to make up a comprehensive whole. The album kicks of with cluster of groovy tunes with radio potential, among them Marvelous City or the instant mood boost Control that makes you want to throw your hands in the air and dance as you walk down the grey streets of whichever city. “What if control is an illusion after all?” seems to be a liberating thought in this over-regulated era. The album continues with slower, yet even finer gems such as Khung Bo (Terror) on which Manu laments how paralysed has our society become by fear.

The guys of Woman certainly have a good thing going – let’s make sure our planet doesn’t erupt quite yet so that we have somewhere to dance to all the albums they have yet to make.

Europe is easy to travel but her cultures are hard to access if you don’t speak respective national languages. On similar grounds, it is not easy for musicians to reach listeners beyond their country of origin. Even if they sing in nearly-perfect English, there might not be anyone writing about them in the global language. Visions of Zhiva is a zine presenting artists from Central Europe.

Who is Zhiva? Zhiva is the anglicised spelling of the name Živa (also Živena, Siwa). The Slavic goddess of life and fertility was worshipped in the region of today’s Poland, Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia before the arrival of Christianity.

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