It was approximately two years ago when I Googled the name of my professor, Hammer Ferenc. I cannot recall what I was searching for, but I am quite sure it had to do something with the theme of his classes. And then “booom”, among the first results there was a video which was uploaded by him with the title Bodies by Lopunk at A38. First I thought he is a fan of this certain band called Lopunk (English translation: We steal) but it was a bit awkward that the front man of the group wore a ski mask. This image really caught my attention and I scrolled down to find another video uploaded by him of this very same group. Since it was curiosity that killed the cat, I must say my first impression of Dr. Hammer Ferenc was killed instantly by the next mouse-click I made. I was staring at the screen trying to put two and two together. My professor is the front man of a punk group. The professor, who is an associate professor at the Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Budapest. My professor, who holds a doctorate in sociology. He, who teaches and conducts research in the fields of media representations of inequalities and conflict, and on cultural history areas such as consumption and outfit in communism or social histories of colors.
I promised myself that I would go and see at least one of their concerts. And so I did. On April 26th they were playing in Roham Bar. I would probably need a slice of lemon to erase the smile from my face that appeared the minute I had set foot in the place. At first I thought I was late for the concert, but the girl who was selling the tickets told me that they were just about to start. And so they did, but there was no sign of the front man. With all do respect, I thought ‘where is he?’ Suspension was building. Many scenarios came to mind, but I was hoping he was present, behind the stage somewhere. I was right. He came on stage in a big black leather mask with a couple of zippers on it or better known as a gimp mask.
I was trying to find the perfect timing for the interview, but I felt like bothering the professor just after the concert would not be the most convenient time or place, so we settled a date, when the concert would still be very much alive in my memory but also to allow the mind some time to process all the information my ears could hear and my eyes could see.
Although not that sunny, it was a nice spring day when we met in his office at the University. Hammer Ferenc, the zippered black leather mask front man of Lopunk was sitting across me and I must say, he looked rather elegant in jeans and a jacket, although he is not wearing a suit and a tie, as he did on the night of the concert.
Ruth: Punk is related to certain ideologies, like individual freedom and common punk viewpoint including anti-authoritarianism, non-conformity, nihilism, anarchism, socialism, so my first question would be just to answer the five W (who, when, what, where, why) questions plus the H (how). I would like to stress the ‘why’ part of this question.
HF: Well, this is very easy. It comes from my childhood. I was always obsessed with music. I remember when I got my tape recorder, I was 10 years old and it was a big thing to get a Japanese tape recorder at that time and from that moment I became the DJ of the class. I was collecting music, recording music from the radio, but back then there was no punk. But there was disco, Boney M. Then I went to high school and even before that, in the last year of elementary school, I was going out for concerts to Buda Ifjúsági Park, listening to these very, very long jazz rock tunes with ten minute drum solos, and some sort of inner pressure started to emerge in me and this was the most boring thing I could ever imagine. And there was punk with Ramones, playing four and four drum sequences and I said – this is great!
The peer-to-peer music distribution played an important role in the analogue sphere. Copying records countless times to tapes and getting tapes from each other, sometimes sh*tty quality – for instance when I had ‘Kontrolcsoport‘ (the English translation would be Control Group), an important alternative band and everyone had the version of the recording when one of the song was broken in the middle, so the result was, that nobody knew the second part of the song.
This music had a very strong do-it-yourself character and there is a saying – you just have to learn two cords of the guitar and you are already a punk musician – so that was very easy. We started our band in 1980. And it is a very funny band. For instance we have one rule – never have more rehearsals then concerts, so we should never exceed the number of rehearsals. We didn’t have a fixed place with the instruments, so whoever felt like playing the bass guitar for that song – it was really awful. So that is the beginning and now you can see the other part of it.
Ruth: In one of your interviews you said that Lopunk is neither a cover, nor a tribute band; you just simply steal the songs from the major punk groups. The name of the group – Lopunk – highlights the way of your plagiarism or shall we call it your ‘re-use’ of famous punk group songs?
HF: I like playing with this thing. Obviously it’s my profession – or how would the cultural sociologist play punk? I like playing with the notion of this holy grail in pop music – searching for authenticity – and I think it’s ridiculous at a time when it is basically all pop music that is being produced – and by pop I mean from Johann Sebastian Bach to the avant-garde electronic music. For me everything is pop. In the age of industrially commercially used – produced – enjoyed – distributed music authenticity is a very problematic concept. So what we do is zero level of authenticity because we don’t have our own songs, we don’t do much of a transformation, we just play pretty much the same songs – sometimes a bit slower, sometimes a bit faster, but that doesn’t make a big difference, but at the same time I really thing our gigs. Our performances are very often about authenticity because I can see it on other people faces – they are amazed. And when they look like ‘aaaah’, there is some sort of authenticity, but not in the rock music museum sense of authenticity, but at this time when you can do something that amazes people.
Ruth: I must say your performance is much more energetic than a music video of any of the punk groups I have seen.
HF: Check out The Exploited.
Ruth: Do you think punk is a music-genre that looks best when performed on stage?
HF: I think it is very much about live performance. If you have ever seen a violin player, it is so beautiful. If it’s an old man it’s beautiful because it is an old man who is playing. Music really fits quite well with live performance, but if you take punk music, or at least the way we play it, this type of music that we play really fits to live performance because we are just playing with the rules of our own genre. So it’s self-reflective of what we do. We are making fun of ourselves – so it’s punk and not punk, but at the same time punk is very much about playing with its own rules. Punk is a very good genre to put it on stage and not put it on your CD.
Ruth: Just an additional question on this topic. Are you trying to hide your identity or keep yourself low because you are wearing the ski-mask or the leather zipper mask?
HF: For several years I had to hide from my children when they were in their adolescent years I didn’t want to give the wrong impression to my adolescent boys. And my mother – my goodness! My mother, rest in peace, she really liked going around our apartment and checking what was in the drawers and I really didn’t want my mother to get totally horrified by the gimp mask, so I had to take important measures to hide it (laughs). It was very expensive; I got it from New York City.
We were playing with Lopunk for a long time, but there was one moment when we thought – OK, let’s do it on a higher voltage, give it a little style, play at good places with good sound quality because it’s bad when you are playing your music and the audience can’t hear anything. We did our web site too. We also soon realized it is impossible to play concerts in the mask because it’s so hot. Once our bass guitar player asked me why wouldn’t I play the whole gig with the mask, so I gave him the mask in the second part of our concert and after 30 seconds he took it off.
Ruth: As a front man, you are in contact with the concert visitors and the public. Where do you most like to give concerts here in Budapest? And is there a particular song which makes the audience in Budapest go wild?
HF: It’s a very interesting thing. Sometimes we talk with the group members about what makes the audience move and it’s a mystery. It doesn’t have any theory behind it and It’s just pure practical experience and if you play 100 gigs there will be some patterns, but there’s our drummer – I think he is the most experienced musician among ourselves because he plays at other places and sometimes when we are playing somewhere he just shouts “Now we skip the two Ramones!” and we follow his instincts because he really knows the audience by their appearance and their moves and he knows what the audience would move for.
Ruth: That’s why you were walking on your playlist on the concert – it was there on the ground, on the floor and you were not paying attention to it.
HF: No, this is again this anti-rock star thing. I’m very keen on carrying a TESCO plastic bag on stage because it’s really not a rock star-like thing to do and I’m always looking what’s in my bag or checking my mobile phone. It’s all fun.
When it comes to our favorite place – we like small places. The closer the audience, the better. The A38 ship it had the best sound system in the world –OK, not in the world, but in Hungary for sure- I like it, but at the same time, the high stage is a very difficult thing. You really have to be a very experienced musician to overcome that very high stage. The previous Roham – because this is the new version of Roam – it was in Vas utca, I really liked that. But one of our best concerts was in a small town, in Keszthely, where I could reach the top of the ceiling although I am not a very tall man (laughing), so you can imagine what kind of place was that and there was a bunch of young skinheads and that was a fantastic show.
Ruth: And when can we see you on stage again in Budapest?
HF: I wish I knew.
Ruth: Because your web page is not really up to date.
HF. No, no. We are banning that. A new one is being built at this moment.
Ruth: I guess we will have to check out your Facebook page.
HF: Yes, because Facebook is up to date. We will be playing in September in Roham for sure and I think we will play at the Bánkitó Fesztivál.
Ruth: And one last question, just for my curiosity… How come you are wearing a suit on stage?
HF: Again, it’s part of the concept. I think it looks great.
Check out Lopunk here on Youtube!