1988 – present (30 years)
Půlnoc were an alternative rock band founded in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now in the Czech Republic) in 1988. The group was led by Milan Hlavsa as a successor to The Plastic People Of The Universe. The band was the first Czechoslovakian musical group ever signed to an American major label, and released their second album "City of Hysteria" on Arista Records in 1991. The group disbanded in June 1993 when Hlvasa re-activated the Plastic People.
In June 1986, Czechoslovakia hosted its first national rock festival, Rockfest 86. Many previously banned groups were allowed to perform and it appeared that the rock scene was beginning to show signs of liberalization. Late in 1987, hints were being dropped by Czech officials that if the group changed their name from the Plastic People, they would be granted a license. In April 1988, the Plastic People of the Universe broke up over disagreements on the issue of changing the name. Jan Brabec, the drummer, maintained that he would play as the Plastic People or not at all, and quit.
Hlavsa then formed a new band, Pulnoc, meaning "midnight". Hlavsa chose Pulnoc as the name for the band because it reflected not an end but a transformation of the Plastic People. "Midnight is a very special time", Hlavsa explained. "It is when one day dies and another is born. And yet there is continuity. That is how it is with this band." Along with the core of the Plastic People (Hlavsa, Kabes, Janicek), the new band featured a younger generation of musicians, including Hlavsa's sister-in-law, Michaela Nemcova, an operatically-trained singer and music teacher, Karel Jancak, a 23-year-old guitarist who had played in a Prague punk band, cellist Tomas Schilla, and drummer Petr Kuzamandas. Pulnoc was allowed to play abroad only because they travelled as 'tourists.' Pulnoc made its first official appearance at the Junior Klub in Prague in the spring of 1988.
Around this time, Magor was sentenced to 16 months in prison for reading protest poems in public. To call his attention to his friend's situation, Vratislav Brabenec made a rare appearance and performed in New York City in January 1989 with Allen Ginsberg and Ed Sanders of the Fugs in a benefit for Magor, who had at this time now spent 8 of his last 15 years in prison. Old films of the Plastic People performing in Czechoslovakia were shown.
In April of 1989, with lead singer Nemcova pregnant with twins, Pulnoc began a 7 city national tour of the United States. The band dedicated each performance on this tour to Magor. They performed new songs as well as Plastic People songs, marking the first time in nearly 20 years that they were able to perform Plastic People music in public without fear of arrest. Their historic shows at Performance Space 122 in Manhattan brought out the press, including an MTV film crew, and practically the entire Czech community in New York City. The audience gave the band a thundering ovation before they even began to play. Pavel Zajicek, now a sculptor living in NYC, reunited with his friends to sing lead vocals on a song based on a William Blake poem. The music they made during these shows glowed with the spirit of freedom and mirrored the soon-to-be death of communism on a global basis.
Back in Eastern Europe, things were happening fast. Communism was falling all around as revolutions and massive protests overwhelmed the Stalinist governments. In November 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. On Nov. 17, 1989, Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution began as more and more students showed up every day in Wencelas Square to protest police brutality. They were soon joined by playwrights, actors, musicians including the entire Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and other Czech citizens, until they were 300,000 strong. The revolution ended successfully 24 days later.
Magor was released from prison on December 2, 1989 and immediately got involved with the new young punk scene. On December 14, 1989, the Czech Philharmonic gave a concert at Smetana Hall in Prague, which became the most famous concert in the history of that country. Everyone there was delirious with happiness, knowing the overthrow of communism was almost completed. Vaclav Havel was not yet President but as the leader of the pro-democracy Civic Forum, everyone knew he ought to be. Conductor Vaclav Neumann wore a large Civic Forum pin on his lapel. When Havel came on stage, the entire concert hall erupted into applause.
Three days before the end of the decade, on December 29, 1989, Vaclav Havel became President of Czechoslovakia and began replacing the Communist officials in his office with his friends including other Czech dissidents and rock musicians. In January of 1990, just as the new democracy had begun, Frank Zappa flew to Prague at the invitation of Havel, one of his greatest fans. 5000 rock fans were waiting at the airport to witness the historic arrival of the famous American. A Prague film crew captured Zappa's arrival at the airport just as Shirley Temple Black, the former "good ship lollipop" girl, then the acting ambassador to Czech , was leaving. Mrs. Black was asked about her views on the distinguished Frank Zappa's visit. Czech citizens did not understand her horrified reaction to this question. Zappa met Havel at Prague Castle and presented the new president with several ideas on how to help Czechoslovakia move into the democratic age, such as cellular phones and tourism. Zappa was emotionally overcome upon meeting older fans of his who had endured beatings by the Secret Police for the sake of his music.
Another historic meeting was that between Havel and Velvet Underground founder Lou Reed, who had traveled to Prague in 1990 to interview Havel. In Prague Castle, Reed presented Havel with a copy of his latest album as Havel unfolded the incredible story of the Plastic People to an awed Lou Reed, explaining how influential the Velvet Underground and rock music had been in the Velvet Revolution. Later that night, Reed was taken to a club where a band was playing. As Reed recalled, "I suddenly realized the music sounded familiar. They were playing Velvet Underground songs „ beautiful, heartfelt, impeccable versions of my songs. To say I was moved would be an understatement." The band was Pulnoc. Reed joined them on stage as they performed for Havel and 300 of his friends. After the concert, an ecstatic Havel introduced Reed to his friends, most of them former dissidents, as they recalled reciting Reed's lyrics in prison for comfort and inspiration.
Pulnoc recorded and released their self-titled debut album in Czechoslovakia in 1990. On June 15, 1990, when the original Velvet Underground reunited for the first time in 20 years in Paris for the opening of an Andy Warhol exhibition by the Cartier Foundation, Pulnoc opened for them. The band recorded and released a second album, "City of Hysteria" (featuring liner notes by Vaclav Havel and a new song by Egon Bondy), in the United States in 1991. A year later, Milan Hlavsa published a book in Czechoslovakia telling the story of the Plastics entitled "Bez Ohnu Je Underground", which coincided with the release of a multi-album box set of the complete recordings of the Plastic People.
Pulnoc disbanded after the singer and the drummer left for personal reasons- this was a shame since this happened just after the release of their first CD in the West (City of Hysteria), which received good reviews, record company support and good notices for their live shows. Milan formed a new group, Friction, to record old Plastics material after that.
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