Cymeon X is a legendary Straight Edge band from Poland, formed in the town of Poznan back in 1991. In 2011 they got back together and released “Pokonać Samego Siebie”, though they are not all SXE anymore. Here’s an article written by Sebastian Frąckiewicz for the Polish magazine Take Me, #6 from 2010. You can read the original text in Polish here.
In 1981, Ian MacKaye, the singer of an American band called Minor Threat, screamed to the microphone: I’m a person just like you / But I’ve got better things to do / Than sit around and fuck my head / Hang out with the living dead … / I’ve got the straight edge! A new movement was born in America, stemming from punk but negating the punk nihilism. Minor Threat’s lyrics inspired the name – straight edge. It promoted a lifestyle with no alcohol, no drugs, no promiscuous sex and favored vegetarianism. Although straight edgers were in opposition to the system, alcoholism and drugs also became a part of it part and a plague of the American cities. People involved into SE (straight edge) formed bands and played hardcore – a wild, fast and harsh music. They cut their hair and painted X’s on their hands. Formerly the very same marks were a sign of exclusion, worn by underage concert goers for bartenders to notice and not sell them any alcohol. In 1981 hand signs changed their meaning – a sign of exclusion became a sign of membership in a new subculture.
Not even a beer?
In 1985 Adam Szulc (Cymeon X drummer) was a 13-years old punk. He came from a family where everyone drank too much so he developed a revulsion to alcohol. In one of the zines he read about abstinent hardcore philosophy, which he later heard of again from his friend Bobas.
Back then I thought it was great because I had found someone like me. Then I discovered that what I read about was called straight edge. I made myself a slogan T-shirt and left for the Jarocin Festival (major alternative youth event in socialist Poland). Everyone there was puzzled and asked me what the point was. ‘Not even a beer?’ they asked me.
In the late 80s, Poland produced hardcore bands like ID or Ustawa o Mlodziezy but none of them was entirely straight edge. Adam was playing in a Poznan-based Hacesja band at that time. In 1991 he met Stiepan (real name Maciej Kalarus) whose brother was a member of yet another Poznan band HCP. Stiepan, who played bass, got into straight edge spending part of his time playing in the band Apatia. However, two people were not enough to form a straight edge band so they started looking for musicians. Technical skills were not taken into consideration very much. The candidate could sing out-of-tune and barely play guitar but had to be straight edge and vegetarian. These conditions were very hard to fulfill. The position of vocalist was the most problematic. Maras and Szymon were in the band for a while but Slonik (Dominik Wlodarkiewicz) and Norbert Lalko soon took their place.
Luckily, in the 90s every teenager was easily classified. Hairstyle, T-shirt and patches told everything. It was the general philosophy declaration.
Eighteen years ago a kid wearing a straight-edge badge or resembling a hardcore punk was a likely person to become friends with. You approached him and talked to him. Just like that, because there were so very few of them, Slonik, one of the vocalists, recalls.
Stiepan says: It was a similar story with Slonik. We had common friends in Poznan high school. Together with Adam and our roadies we were on a train to play a concert. We spotted him earlier. We approached him and had a conversation for 15 minutes. Then we left the compartment: ‘What do you think, is he good?’, I asked Adam. ‘Will do,’ he replied. And so Slonik became our vocalist, replacing Szoszon who played just a few shows with us.
Norbert says: I also got classified thanks to the band Apatia and the straight edge badges. Stiepan, whom I went to high school with, just asked me if I wanted to become a vocalist. Funny enough, I was a metalhead before and had first heard of straight edge from my friends who had made fun of it. Later I became straight edge. After that, more guitarists joined the band. Przystojny (Maciej Jacyna, living in the US now) and a 15-years-old Piotr Roszak who got in after a recommendation by an Apatia band member. In 1991 Cymeon X was fully formed and became a way of life for the musicians. In this formation the band recorded the Free Your Mind, Free Your Body album.
We wore X’s on our hands not just during the shows, like our US counterparts did. We wore them every day for the first half of the year. Guys had them when they went to school and I had them when I worked. I was a hair dresser already and I knew that every hairdresser chats with clients around 50 times a day. All of those 50 conversations concerned the X’s and straight edge ideas. I was a goddamn inspired ideologist back then, he laughs.
When Cymeon X started, the Polish hardcore-punk scene changed. The ‘no future’ moods had become old while more and more anarcho-punk bands were being formed, involved into ecology and anti-fascist philosophy. Although the punks did raise their elbows a lot and had no intention of becoming abstinent, Cymeon X became a part of the same environment. They played gigs along with Homomilitia and Apatia. Anarchists attended their concerts, as well as metalheads willing to see the first Polish straight edge band. But the X-ists were in a minority in the audience.
The punk scene greeted us warmly. We had significant things in common, the antifascist outlook, vegetarianism and aversion to the broadly defined system. It was more important than the abstinence. We made fun of punks who in turn laughed at us. We wore X’s on our hands while they drew vodka glasses or bottles on theirs. But it was still a friendly relation, Norbert says.
Cymeon X played harsh and fast music but used mediocre equipment. There was no artistic image, just cheap sneakers, hoodies, self-made badges and T-shirts. The only element of the stage imagery was the band’s flag and Adam’s colorful shorts, different for each show. They had nothing that the younger groups got 15 years later – great equipment, musical skills and fashionable clothes designed especially for alternative kids. But they were the pioneers and believed that Cymeon X could really change people.
Firstly, The Message
For the members of Cymeon X music was mostly a means of carrying ideas and promoting a different lifestyle free from addictions and people consciously controlling their lives. They sang, or actually screamed, about the purity of body and mind, independent thinking, vegetarianism but also about friendship and unity. Simple and straightforward. Their greatest hits were Drug Free Youth and Matko, znalazlem (Mother, I Found it).
To us, the message was more important than the music. That’s why we distributed copies of the lyrics during our concerts. And before playing a song, we would always describe what it was about even when people were bored with it. It was more of an outlook manifesto than a musical performance. But I still believe that on stage bands don’t just play music but also spread this positive energy they have. Unless they don’t have it. Sometimes I talk to young musicians who can’t really tell what they sing about and what the point of their music is, although their guitar is worth more than our entire equipment along with the van we used to drive. Not to mention that initially we even traveled by train. They also choose topics to write songs about, for example a social issue. Patterns and templates have invaded even the independent music world, Piotr laments.
Stiepan adds: We started out with a dream of converting people to our philosophy and after a few years it came true – we reached people’s minds and they became straight edge. It was amazing to find out we had this force of conviction. At our first shows straight-edgers were a minority. At the end of our ‘career’ in 1993, two hundred people out of the three hundred at the gig had their hands painted with X’s.
Cymeon X, being a great live band, gave fantastic concerts. Two guitarists, two singers and a roaring audience with X’s on their hands, familiar with all the songs’ lyrics, stage-diving, snatching the microphone out of the vocalists’ hands. The great atmosphere at their concerts was guaranteed and we loved to travel with the guys to Poznan concerts since they were always big events, Jaroslaw Skladanek, who played guitar during the 3 final concerts after the band’s breakup, recalls. Today he is the co-owner of a comic book publishing-house Kultura Gniewu and had formerly run a hardcore records publisher Youth Culture, together with his wife Aldona. But in the 90s the ‘great concerts’ were exceptional sometimes because of the likelihood of getting punched in the face, when it was wise to take such gadgets with you as a chain or a heavy buckle belt. In a number of cities, including Poznan, nazi-skinheads terrorized the alternative youth by raiding their parties. They would beat up everyone, girls too, and damaged the equipment. People were afraid to oppose them. When giving concerts around Poland, Cymeon X had to return home escorted by the police several times (from Bydgoszcz and Nowy Sacz). Adam was visited by shaved bullies in his hair salon repeatedly. Eventually the Poznan team, consisting of punks, hardcores and metalheads, decided to put an end to it in their hometown.
Every Friday people would meet in the Santos milk bar (Elite confectionery nowadays) on Polwiejska Street to patrol the city center in a group of at least 50 people and pick out skinheads. Battles took place on a daily basis but it was the demonstration of strength that mattered more than the fight itself. Although today Cymeon X members can’t believe what they did then, the method appeared to be effective and all the subcultures got along with each other. In a few years Poznan solved the skinhead problem and it became possible to attend concerts without weapons. Meanwhile in the US, straight edge underwent a change. New bands did not sing about the hardcore-punk scene unity anymore. Groups like Earth Crisis focused on vegetarianism, ecology and expressed radicalism – they wanted to have their own non-drinking niche. Eventually the American mood reached Poland and Cymeon X.
Norbert says: Performing along with the punks started to bother us. We wanted to be more pure, more radical and so, eventually, Cymeon X broke up, giving birth to Respect. Cymeon X consisted of 3 things: anti-fascism, vegetarianism and straight edge and suddenly it appeared that we were commonly considered just an anti-fascist band. We wanted to move the focus and emphasize the straight edge and the vegetarianism bit.
Stiepan adds: It was then that the strict straight edge scene was born, for example the band Healing, and we believed that such movement would grow and we would be able to join it, instead of chasing skinheads after gigs and performing at dirty punk events. Today I know it wasn’t a good idea. We blew hot and cold but we were young and just like the young, we followed a fashion.
Besides radicalism, personal confl icts between the band members were another reason of the breakup. In 1994 Cymeon X was disbanded. Respect was formed in its place. Occasionally, Cymeon X still gives ‘farewell’ concerts, the last one in 2006. The next one will take place in October 2011 marking the re-release of Free Your Mind, Free Your Body album.
Cymeon Stays in Your Mind
What do Cymeon X musicians do today? None of them works in a corporation or bank but only Stiepan remains engaged in any form of music. He still plays bass in Apatia. He runs a history magazine Pomost (the Bridge) and works in an organization of the same name, devoted to the Polish-German agreement and the exhumation of World War 2 soldiers. He is straight edge (although he had a short break) and vegan. Piotr and Slonik work in the skateboard business for different companies, but used to run the first Poznan skate shop, Mayer, together. They both have children of the same age and remain vegetarian as well as their families. They quit straight edge, although in terms of alcohol consumption they fall far below the Polish average. Just like Norbert who works in architecture today. Adam Szulc, the drummer, main lyricist and ideologist of the group, has never quit straight edge from the beginnings of Cymeon X. He has a family and 3 children today. He hasn’t changed profession either and has worked in his own hair salon in Poznan for 10 years. Although he doesn’t wear X’s on his hands anymore, regular customers and co-workers are aware of his philosophy. Even the party thrown for the salon’s 10th year anniversary was alcohol-free, obviously. The rest of the band members get their haircuts in the salon which has served as a meeting point for the scene members for many years. Adam has a great memory. Browsing his photo archives and choosing some for the article, he effortlessly specifies the year they were taken and who they played with, although some of the captured moments date nearly 20 years. All the members will meet again for another anniversary ‘farewell’ concert.
They emphasize it is not a reunion, although many hardcore scene people call it so, criticizing Cymeon X for capitalizing on their legend.
Norbert says: We don’t want to reunite for good or create new things. The now outworn idea of Cymeon X was strictly defined: vegetarian and 100% straight edge, so there is no way to go back now. But there’s nothing wrong with giving a concert once every 5 years to bring back memories.
Słonik says: Generally I follow a rule that when we play as Cymeon X, I don’t drink during the show, not even a beer, although I’m not that much straight edge anymore. Those songs I have to sing when I’m sober. I don’t really know why. I just feel it. Even after so many years, it stays in your mind.