Shadow Records part 1. Cryptoslavia: Douze Points!
The 1994 Eurovision Song contest was held on 30 April in the Point Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. Entries from 26 countries competed (25 countries officially, but we’ll get to that), and Ireland won for the third time in a row. A Riverdance craze swept Europe after the spectacular interval performance. Other than that, 1994's contest was notable for how it managed the contestants. The early 1990s saw a lot of new countries wanting to participate as Yugoslavia fell apart and the Soviet union dissolved. In 1994 the organizers kept the number of entries manageable by letting the worst placed contestants from 93’ skip a year. They then invited countries like Russia, Poland and Romania to compete for the first time. We don’t know if Cryptoslavia was also invited.
The Popov Brothers and the song “Hey My Friend (What’s Going On)” was one of the records in Nick’s black crate that started this series. There are other unusual things further back in that crate, but there is a certain matter of scale that makes “Hey My Friend” interesting. It’s not just one forgotten song (and it is sort of forgettable). It’s two forgotten brothers, three forgotten minutes and an entire forgotten country.
There is a sticker on the cover of ”Hey My Friend (What’s Going On)” that claims it’s “Cryptoslavia’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 1994”. This seems to be what got Nick interested, and why the unremarkable single is in the black crate. That little sticker says that this song was performed on live TV in front of tens of millions of viewers. The EBU, the Irish organizers, the performing artists and countless online resources say that it wasn’t.
Hey My Friend was 1994’s 26th entry in the Eurovision Song Contest.
The actual disc is a 7-inch single with Hey My Friend on side A and a karaoke instrumental on side B. The English language chorus is a bit of an anomaly for a Eurovision song, but not that unusual. In 1994 the songs had to be in the language of the competing country, but this rule was occasionally bent (for example, Finland’s entry from the same year - the atrocious “Bye Bye Baby” by sister-duo CatCat - has parts in English). Apart from the chorus, the rest of the song is performed in what Nick’s notes call Cryptoslavian. The Popov Brothers themselves are credited both as performers and songwriters, a rarity in Eurovision entries. There is no information online about Pvata Ilektrik or any of the credited engineers and producers.
The story goes like this. There is a “gap” of static in the tapes and recordings of the contest. This happens right after the end of Germany’s entry: some bad video distortion. The contest picks up after a couple of seconds. Both announcers look off to the side for about a second before facing the camera and announcing Slovakia’s song. This confused swivel is only clearly visible in the archived EBU master tapes. Home video recordings - there are plenty - tend to stay distorted until the announcer starts talking. Nick’s and others’ theory is that this broadcast gap is where Cryptoslavia’s slot was. This doesn’t explain how an entire three-minute pop song could fit into about three seconds of airtime, nor why Germany still has song number 14 and Slovakia number 15.
After finding the single with the Eurovision sticker Nick started searching for video of the missing performance. He’s gone to Geneva and seen the master tapes. He’s talked to dozens of people who were there on the night of the contest and he actually went to Ireland to interview announcer Gerry Ryan in 2002. No-one seems to know anything. Then someone called “A” sent him the videotape. This must have been the breakthrough that eventually culminated in the plane ticket.
The videotape is a German home video. It starts with a sharply truncated birthday party for a five year-old boy, continues with a camping trip to scenic North Bodensee and continues with the “Eurovision-party”.
The recorder switches off somewhere around the end of Germany’s entry, and when it switches on again we’re in the middle of “Hey My Friend”. No-one’s really watching the TV. The song plays in the background as the camera clumsily zooms in on the face of one of the women who pushes it away, smiling and sipping her wine. Her husband raises the camera again and pans right. And then we see a glimpse of the performance.
This is the best frame from a total of six seconds of the Popov Brothers. The tape is cut off abruptly when the cameraman leans in to kiss his wife and turns the recorder off.
So far so good: they found the performance (or a performance). But since the plane ticket is for Nick’s return journey from Cryptoslavia, it doesn’t seem like they stopped there.
How do you buy a plane ticket from a country that doesn’t exist? Since you absolutely can’t, you would have to make it yourself and print it. It’s possible to imagine that’s something Nick could have done, though based on the paper stock and printing process he would have to have used actual airport equipment. After seeing the souvenirs I don’t think he did.
I must have seen the cosmonaut dolls a hundred times on the shelf. I have probably seen the name Zrnograd on the snow globe just as many times. Still, it took a while for me to connect the ticket to the souvenirs. They seem unsettlingly legit. “Napravla u Kriptoslavi”: Made in Kryptoslavia. The danyar bill has watermarks and a magnetic strip. Nick didn’t make these. Based on all the available evidence, Nick didn’t only go to a non-existent country, he brought stuff back with him.
Nick isn’t here right now, otherwise I could have asked him what’s going on. Maybe it’s all an art project or a hoax, even though writing made-up notes about made-up music would be completely pointless to him. Nick has no tolerance for pointless shit - except in music collecting where he is the very concept made flesh (this is a man who owns three first pressings of Saxon’s Crusader). I could have asked him who “A” is, where he got the tape and how you buy a plane ticket to a made-up country to buy snow globes and space dolls. Since he isn’t here, and since I’m digging through his stuff without permission, I have to work with what’s in front of me. The actual artifacts.
So. This is what we know about the Cryptoslavians.
Zrnograd, with its Glypka International Airport, is probably their capital. Space toys with stars on them might mean that they're a spacefaring nation and/or somehow part of the former Soviet political sphere. Their currency is called the Denyar and their language is similar to Serbian and Croatian. Their country is probably located somewhere in the Balkans. They can’t possibly exist.
And they probably love guitar-heavy power-pop.
The Shadow Records articles are published in collaboration with Gunnar and Ludvig Orvegård.