Band members 2016: Jiří Kabeš (leader, vocals, viola, theremin), Joe Karafiát (guitar), Vojtěch Starý (keyboards, vocals), Tomáš Skřivánek (2) (bass guitar), Jan Ježek (3) (drums).
The Plastic People of the Universe (PPU) is a rock band from Prague, Czech Republic. It was the foremost representative of Prague’s underground culture (1968–1989). This avant-garde group went against the grain of the communist regime and due to its non-conformism often suffered serious problems such as arrests.
Bass player Milan Hlavsa formed the band in 1968, which was heavily influenced by Frank Zappa (“Plastic People” is a song by the Mothers of Invention) and the Velvet Underground.
Czech art historian and cultural critic Ivan Martin Jirous (aka “Magor”, which means: “loony” or “blockhead”) became their manager/artistic director in the following year, fulfilling a similar role the one Andy Warhol had with the The Velvet Underground.
Because Jirous believed that English was the lingua franca of rock music, he employed Paul Wilson, a Canadian who had been teaching in Prague, to teach the band the lyrics of the American songs they covered and to translate their original Czech lyrics into English. Wilson served as PPU lead singer 1970–1972.
In 1974, thousands of students traveled from Prague to the town of České Budějovice to visit a PPU performance. Stopped by police, they were sent back to Prague in cattle cars, and several students were arrested. The band was forced underground until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Unable to perform openly, an entire underground cultural movement formed around the band during the 1970s.
In 1976 the PPU were arrested and put on trial by the communist government to make an example. They were convicted of "organized disturbance of the peace" and sentenced to terms in prison ranging from 8 to 18 months.
Despite their clashes with the government, the musicians never considered themselves activists and always claimed that they wanted only to play their music. The band broke up in 1988, with some members forming the group Půlnoc (“Midnight”). At former Czech president Václav Havel’s suggestion, they reunited in 1997 in honor of the 20th anniversary of Charter 77, and have performed regularly since then. Founder and leader Milan Hlavsa died in January 2001.