How the Coronavirus is Affecting Hungarian Band Carson Coma
Those of us who enjoy experiencing music live have had a hard year, and the immediate future doesn’t look too bright either. If it’s tough for us music fans, think what it must be like for the artists themselves.
European tours by big name bands and festivals such as Sziget, the enormous event which usually happens every August and features an eclectic mix of international and local artists, have been canceled for another year. The Budapest music scene, normally vibrant, has gone silent.
The biggest bands will be financially buoyant enough to survive until 2022 when live music is cautiously predicted to start up again. They’re the ones who make money from Spotify and live streaming online events or have a back catalog that carries on selling.
But what about the fledgling groups just starting, or those who were poised to take the next step when the virus hit?
Curious about how Hungarian artists had been affected, I reached out to music management agency Gold Record, which has relationships with several of the country’s most interesting bands. One of these is Carson Coma.
Carson Coma is Zsombor Bóna, Péter Gaál, Barnabás Héra, Attila Jónás, Bálint Kun, and Giorgio Fekete. They began playing together in early 2018. Since then, the band has released two albums (“Corduroy Club” and “Lesz, Ami Lesz”) and several singles. They have played some of the most significant venues in Budapest (including Akvárium Klub, A38, Dürer Kert, and Budapest Park) and in clubs and at festivals throughout the country.
The band’s last two concerts before the virus put paid to live music here were sold-out nights at A38, the hip venue on a ship moored on the Buda side of the city near the Petöfi bridge.
Clever and Catchy
I don’t know enough Hungarian to know what Carson Coma is singing about, but the music is clever, catchy, and eclectic. Drawing on a range of influences that embrace everything from disco and funk to indie-sounding pop, it at times sounds, to this somewhat long in the tooth listener, at least, very like a sunny, cheerful 1980s pop band. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or me hearing things.
With around 10,000 followers on Facebook and almost 800,000 plays of their most popular song on Spotify, “Én még sohasem” (I Never Have), Carson Coma is clearly reasonably popular.
I asked vocalist Giorgio Fekete how a year of being unable to play live had affected the band.
“Before the first lockdown, we’d just sold out two nights at A38 and, with 20 to 30 concerts scheduled for summer 2020, we were looking at our first real festival season,” Fekete told me. “We were on our way to becoming fully professional.”
Hungarian regulations did make it possible for the band to play to smaller concerts, mainly outdoors, to audiences that didn’t exceed 500 people a few times between July and October 2020. The majority of festivals didn’t happen.
The second wave of the virus at the end of October 2020 put paid to Carson Coma’s nationwide club tour. By then, the band had capitalized on the lack of live performances earlier in the year by focusing on finishing their second album “Lesz, Ami Lesz” (roughly, “What Will be, Will Be”); admirably philosophical considering the circumstances.
“Lesz, Ami Lesz” was released just before the second wave of the virus put a halt to everything all over again. Luckily, the band had time to debut the album in two shows in Budapest before everything was locked down.
Being unable to play live has been a blow to the band. As Fekete says, “It certainly isn’t easy to live without concerts, which are the best part of being in a band and playing music, but fortunately we were able to keep working in the background. We rehearsed, wrote new music, made new videos, and so on. As a band that was on its way up before the virus, we’re highly motivated to keep going.”
Carson Coma is keen to return to the stage as soon as it’s safe to do so. Fekete supports measures that include masks in venues and appropriate social distancing, anything that makes live music possible again.
All over Europe, the music industry has been asking hard questions of the governments that benefit from the revenue generated by bands. The economy of Budapest is highly dependent on tourism, and a healthy music scene attracts music fans from boomers on down who spend money in music venues. Part of the appeal of Sziget is the fact you can discover excellent Hungarian bands in the smaller tents away from the main stage. But what of the future?
“I believe that, admittedly in different ways, the pandemic has had a major impact on all of us in the Hungarian music scene. It has affected the financial health of the bigger bands and their crew. It’s threatened the growth of many promising younger bands. The existence of several festivals and concert venues in smaller Hungarian cities that were already experiencing financial challenges is endangered,” Fekete says.
Despite this, he is optimistic. “I hope that, in the long run, clubs and concert venues in Hungarian cities will be able to reopen their doors. I also expect the trauma all of us who love music have experienced to result in a greater degree of cooperation between different members of the Hungarian music scene.”
As a fan who explored Budapest and other cities partly by finding out-of-the-way venues and going to festivals, I hope that the Hungarian government will support the country’s music scene.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 21, 2021.
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