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Ale house rock

Published: October 1, 2004 (Issue # 1008)


Spitalul de Urgenta, a band from Romania that effectively combines Balkan folk wedding and drinking songs with western rock and punk, was doomed to be a hit in Russia, where Emir Kusturica and Goran Bregovic are still all the rage. After packing Moscow art and rock clubs on its first Russian tour in February, the band, whose best-known song is called "Long Live Beer," will make its debut in St. Petersburg this week.

Formed in Bucharest in 2000, the five-piece band includes singer, guitarist and songwriter Dan Helciug, electric guitarist Emil Chican, bassist Adrian Chepa and drummer Vladimir Sergeyev, the latter being an ethnic Russian who moved to Bucharest from Chisinau, Moldova. The most drastic change that affected the band since its last Russian visit has been the trading of Vali Craciunescu's accordion to Claudiu Stoica's tambal, or a hammered dulcimer, a traditional Romanian instrument.

"It's a pure Balkan original, with a lot of strings and strange musical sounds," said Helciug in a recent telephone interview from Bucharest.

Spitalul de Urgenta, which recently released its fourth album, "Stupefiant," continues to develop musically, according to Helciug.

"Our style is in permanent state of change," he said.

"[Our] music is mostly rock, Balkan rock, with influences from punk, progressive rock, and symphonic rock, an interesting hybrid, but also very modern. I keep the irony and good mood of the lyrics, making fun of the false values of the society."

Helciug, 29, who has a degree in acting, has been a popular figure on Romanian television for several years, after appearing on a star-search show similar to American Idol. He also spent three years studying psychology at a university.

Apart from fronting Spitalul de Urgenta, Helciug also plays in another, more straightforward rock band called Nod, which he describes as a blend of Rammstein, Depeche Mode and Korn, but found it difficult to get that act broadcast on Romanian radio.

"I formed Spitalul de Urgenta without electric guitars and rock, in order not to scare the radio. But it's still rock at its base," he said.

Despite Helciug's efforts to placate listeners, though, Spitalul de Urgenta ("Emergency Room") remains a black sheep on the Romanian music scene.

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