Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Friday, July 12

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« This is Thriller Politically Charged »

Feature Thu Oct 16 2008

Pardon my Polish...

ANdrew martin.jpg

(photo by Andrew Martin)

The duo Aleks and the Drummer is comprised of Aleksandra Tomaszewska (vocals/keyboards) and Deric Criss (drums). They released their debut EP, May a Lightning Bolt Caress You, earlier this year. The album is a dark carnival of melodic organ synthesized tracks punctuated by Criss' stampede percussion and Tomaszewska's lyrical eerie operatic voice. It's difficult to describe what Aleks and the Drummer sound like exactly, but singer Tomaszewskas doesn't keep her music influences a secret. Between the band's ensemble compositions Tomaszewska threads in a dark and lyrical cover of "Co mi Panie Dasz," an early '80s hit from a Polish pop band, Bajm.

Bajm and Maanam were among the first Polish bands to make the switch from strictly acoustic to electronic sound. In fact, experimental and electronic music came to Poland much later than the rest of Europe. Even as late as the 1970s when Germany and France were experimenting with synthesizers, Poles tuned in on "Piwnica Pod Baranami", a cabaret founded by Piotr Skrzynecki located in the basements of a palace in Krakow.

Sung poetry and strong female vocalists like Ewa Demarczyk (who sang both in Russian and Polish) are symbolic of era. It was only later, that pioneers of Piwinica Pod Baranami, musicians like Czeslaw Niemen introduced a more experimental sound, tinkering with layering and the synthesizers. The introduction to psychedelic rock enraged the Socialist authorities with its Western influence, but Polish experimental bands like Gudonis Komendarek came to the light and there was no stopping them in the early '80s when bands like Maanam and Bajm took the plunge into electronic music.

Aleks and the Drummer's Tomaszewska invited me to peek at her record collection and reminiscence about the early days of Polish '80s bands. She sifted through the records at her apartment, pulling out classics like Maanam, Bajm, synthesizer experimentalists like Klaus Mitffoch, Kora Pudelski, synth-organ players like Gudonis Komendarek, and bands like Madam or 1984, packaged in the standard dull socialist cardboard slip that many Tanpress records sported at the time. This is Polish music at its best, she tells me, before the melodic synth riffs fill the room. Tomaszewska has been tracking these records for years. "I found old Polish mix tapes that my mom had been erasing over with English lessons when we immigrated here from Poland." Tomaszewska explains, "the cassettes had band names penciled in on the label." She searched them out in record stores in Krakow and London.

feature 10/16 Aleks and the Drummer

May a Lightning Bolt Caress You (photo by Aleksandra Tomaszewska, drawing by Nathaniel Murphy)

"I always wanted to play music," Tomaszewska answers when I ask about her background. "When I was really young I used to hide in the closet with the blanket over my head and record myself singing but then listened to it and erased it right away." Her first break came in 2005 when she performed at "Polonia Star," (a Polish version of the American idol organized by Polvision TV). She was hesitant at first, but her cover of solo "Do Lezki Lezka" won her a second place for best voice. "It was a good experience to get out in front of a large audience," she explains, "I had to train my voice in a way I hadn't before; I won a ticket to Poland and the prize money I ended up spending on a PA system for the band."

"My initial idea for the first album, was to do covers of Polish bands, it was a good place to start from. I was rehearsing with a band, we didn't have a name, and only a few unfinished songs, people come and went and took what songs we had with them. I had to move for a job to San Francisco for a few months and realized that if I had my own songs at least I could take those with me. Polish covers gave me a good place to start from and a base of listeners who I knew would be interested in what I was doing."

Tomaszewska kept close to her roots and her vision. It's only been four months since the release of their debut EP, but Tomaszewska is already planning for their next two albums. Her plan she says is to confirm the sound they've been working on, but also bring in more layers to the music. She elaborates jumping into an inspired array of visuals, "I always imagine different things when I hear music. I used to love the Beethoven tape I got from my father. I heard the trumpet and thought 'Here is when the queen enters. '"

"On our last album," she explains, "we worked with New York producer Dave Sitek who's also known for working with bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I'm interested in experimenting more with the process, working in the studio and bringing in more sounds," Tomaszewska adds, "like the sound of a dog barking". She jokes, "and I want to bring in a French horn with a steady synthesizer base." Then with a smirk after a moment of contemplation, "I want to find that Polish construction worker with incredible accordion skills who's floating around Chicago somewhere. I met him. He showed me his hands and said, 'see how rough they're getting?'"

[mp3] Aleks and the Drummer - "I Want to Melt His Eyes" from May a Lightning Bolt Caress You

Aleks and the Drummer perform at the Empty Bottle (1035 N. Western) as part of the Underground Film Festival's 9th annual Jukebox of the Dead featuring on October 31st at 9:30pm. Tickets are $12 adv. $15 day of show. Also appearing are Detholz! and The Hood Internet.

About the Author:

Beatrice Smigasiewicz moved to the States in the '90s. She studied art in Berlin and Krakow but is now happy to be in Chicago, working on a Soviet documentary archive.

GB store
GB store

Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

GB store


Featured Series


Transmission on Flickr

Join the Transmission Flickr Pool.

About Transmission

Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Sarah Brooks,
Transmission staff inbox:



Transmission Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15