State labels of Central Europe (1960 - 1990) Bookmark and Share

There is a saying that every downside has an upside to. If we look at Central Europe's music industry in the period under Soviet Rule we could apply this saying. Allergic to anything coming from the West (especially the USA) the local authorities created monopoly state companies for recording, pressing and releasing music. From then on, for nearly forty years, the only competition for those companies was from labels of the other Socialist countries. Although there was a strict regime of what was to be allowed the countries didn't want to look completely backwards when popular music started leaking in from the West in the sixties. They started to allow youth culture to record their own style of rock and pop based in the styles popular in the West. Although controlled and sometimes censored this warped form of protectionism formed a secure basis for musical projects that would, under normal commercial (read capitalistic) circumstances, never be sold let alone released. The intellegent progrock of the seventies, the Central European new wave of the Eighties, the folkrock movement, tens of thousands of quality titles came into being in this Socialistic bubble giving a rich and unique turn to western pop and rock. Collecting that music you'll bump into labels usually ending in 'TON'. The handy thing about it is you'll know by the label which country the act comes from. So in tribute to those old state labels we present an overview of the most important ones below in alphabetical order. We also give a short list of some acts that were releasing on that label. If we have a page about those acts online you can click through to their indivual page.

Acts on Amiga:

Veronika Fisher
Panta Rhei



AMIGA was the record label for popular music of the VEB Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin in the DDR. It was founded just after WW2 (1947) by German actor and singer Ernst Busch. From the Soviet Military Administration in Germany he got the permission to create a record label, that got its name AMIGA the same year. Since 1954 AMIGA was part of the VEB Deutsche Schallplatten - a state-owned record company having the monopoly on record production.

In 1954 it was transferred to the East German state record producers VEB Berlin and German records in the VEB was now subordinate to the Ministry of Culture. Amiga's catalogue should cover the spectrum of popular music. Including beat, rock and pop music besides the jazz, pop, folk music and popular instrumental music. In addition to artists from the DDR in the mid-1960s a selected amount of singles and LPs by artists from the West were released due to a demand western music. These were usually small numbers and sold out quickly. In most cases, no individual albums were licensed, but a compilation of tracks from multiple albums of the artist. The first of these were in the 1960s albums by the Beatles and Bob Dylan. In the early 1970s more restrictive cultural policies put a stop to this and license pressures were solely of artists from eastern part of the Iron Curtain such as Czeslaw Niemen and Omega. In the late 1970s they changed this policy again (also due to the declining popularity of the national product) and numerous licensing pressings by Western artists reappeared. In 1994 the label wasn't able to continue and the legacy of more than 30,000 titles (2200 albums and 5000 singles record productions) were sold to BMG Berlin Musik GmbH. As a brand name for releases of recordings from the DDR period Amiga is still used.

The label also had a Western sublabel called Bellaphon based in Frankfurt am Main. Through that label Eastern European releases were released exclusively in the West of Europe.




Acts on Diskoton:

Lili Ivanova
Bogdana Karadocheva
Yordanka Hristova



Balkanton was the state-owned record manufacturing company in Bulgaria. It’s origin can be traced back to 1947 when Lipha Records, Simonvia, Harp and Micherphone were merged into a mutual enterprise called "Bulgaria". In 1951 a separate building was constructed and equipped with six semi-automatic pressing machines for shellac gramophone records. This venture got the name "Balkanton". Balkanton's plant in Sofia was equipped for all aspects of record manufacturing from recording the masters and pressing the vinyl records to printing the cover. Being a rarity in the Soviet Union many Russian records were also pressed here. Being a classical label a separate department was made for popular and folk music. The first recording to come out on that part was from Vulkana Stoyanova. Multi-channel sound recording was introduced in 1972 with equipment purchased from England. Being the only record company in Bulgaria during 4 decades, Balkanton accumulated a vast library of performances of folk, classical, Bulgarian and foreign popular music, theater, poetry and more. After the demise of the old regime Balkanton found itself in hard weather. After a couple of attempts to reorganize the company in the 90's, it was finally privatized in 1999. Currently, Balkanton is reissuing some of its old recordings, mainly distributing them on the internet, closing deals with international digital distributors. This is rather difficult since the administration of legal rights wasn’t always done properly leading to several disputes with former Balkanton artists.




Acts on Diskoton:

Divlje Jagode
Dino Merlin
Zabranjeno Pušenje
Zdravko Čolić
Sead Memić-Vajta
Neda Ukraden.



Diskoton (full name Diskoton production of CDs, Sarajevo) was a record label from Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), established in 1973. Gathered around the nucleus of the editorial board of Music Radio Television Sarajevo Diskoton was established in the then fashionable economic and political trend in Yugoslavia of decentralization. Therefore, each republic had to have everything on a regional level. The first acquisition for the label was the then popular Sarajevo band indexi which just terminated their contract with (Zagreb-based) Jugoton and recorded their only single on the label 'Jedina Moja / I tvoje će proći'

Like many other labels in Central Europe at the time Diskoton also liscensed and published music by Western international stars such as; Commodores, Roy Harper, Diana Ross, Temptations and Stevie Wonder.

Diskoton is often associated with one of the biggest blunders in the history of the Yugoslavian music bizz because the then-music editor Slobodan Vujovic, did not want to release the first single of Bijelo Dugme 'Top / Ove noći ću naći blues'. The band then offered the single to Jugoton and signed a 5-year contract with that label becoming one of the biggest selling rockgroups in the region. In 1992, when war flared in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Diskoton's building (where they had a studio and audio and video library) was totally destroyed during the shelling of Sarajevo. This causing the disappearance of a large portion of their original mastertapes.




Acts on Hungaroton (Pepita):

Zsuzsa Koncz
Kati Kovacs
Locomotiv GT
Sarolta Zalatnay


Hungaroton (Pepita)

Modern Hungarian record publishing started in 1951 when the state established the Hungarian Record Company (MHV) as the monopoly state company. Orginally named Qualiton it changed it's name in Hungaroton in the mid sixties when export to other (socialist) countries increased. Qualiton remained as the label for gipsy and operetta music products. From the seventies, for certain reasons of marketing policy, independent light music labels were started within the company: Bravó, Krém and the best known Pepita. Hungaroton's heyday was the seventies and eighties: the most popular pop singers and groups received gold and platinum status selling over a hundred thousand(!) records at the time. Due to high technical and artistic standards and relatively low prices, classical records were distributed in large numbers all over the world. Light music brought more money, but the foreign currency earned by the export of classical music covered the cost of importing raw materials.

The liberalization of the market in 1988 broke this momentum: recordings of Western light music and the world famous masters of classical music, which had been all but inaccessible, suddenly became available. Hungaroton's business slowed down and in addition, this was the point at which repayments of bank loans for the building of the record factory and warehouse at Dorog became due. Hungaroton Record Company (MHV) almost collapsed under the pressure from these two directions.

The company trading under this name was wound up, but the publishing activities continued in new companies: from 1992 light music appeared under the brand name Hungaroton Gong, and from 1993 classical and folk music, literature, nursery tales and other genres as Hungaroton Classic, issued by independent limited companies. After lengthy preparations, Hungaroton was privatized in 1995. In order to protect the archive, the state wanted a golden share in the privatized company and thus established Hungaroton Music Co.



Jugoton was established in 1947 in Zagreb. The first singles 'Ti tvoji zubići' and 'Jedan mali brodić' performed by the Zagreb Male Quinteta were released the same year under the catalog number S-1001. Jugoton was actually a production plant not only focussing on music but also producing fancy goods and cosmetics packaging, and full name of the company was a "factory of records and equipment, and accessories of plastic". By 1956 the company started to focus more and more on their musical department. A first pop-single 'Pjeva vam Ivo Robić' sold 33.000 copies. By 1957 the singles (45 rpm) and EP (33 rpm) grew rapidly, a year the first stereo record 'Tam kjer murke cveto' was released. At the end of 1959 other parts of the former Yugoslavic region established their own record label starting with Belgrade based PGP RTB.

By 1960 Jugoton produces over 1.4 million records, and RIZ Zagreb (Zagreb Radio Industry) produces 100,000 phonographs. At the location of Dubrava (Zagreb) a new factory was build producing 10 million vinyl records each year by 1963. That made Jugoton by far the leading record label in the Yugoslavic republic. The first rock album was released in 1968 by the Zagreb band Grupa 220. The seventies were the period when the label expanded rapidly with local material selling by the dozens. Among them best-selling acts like Mišo Kovač and Novi Fossili.

During the breakup of Yugoslavia and the democratic changes in Croatia after 1990 the heritage of Jugoton went the State of Croatia who renamed the label in Croatia Records. The company is privatized soon and sold to a company with former Indexi member Đorđe Novković in the board. The label has over 70.000 music tracks from the entire former Yugoslavia in its catalogue.
Đorđe died in 2007 leaving the company to a new generation. In Macedonia a Jugoton label still excists under that name as a sub-label of Lithium records.




Baltic acts on Melodiya:

Imants Kalniņš



Some parts of Central Europe durin Soviet rule were treated more strict and not allowed to have their own label. This certainly applies to the Baltic states who were considered part of Russia. Due to this the few Baltic releases that were made were released on the USSR state label Melodiya. It was established in 1964 as the "All-Union Gramophone Record Firm of the USSR Ministry of Culture Melodiya". It utilized gigantic resources of numerous recording studios, manufacturing facilities throughout the USSR as well as powerful centres of distribution and promotion system. The best selling format at the time was 33 1/3 and 45 RPM vinyl records. As of 1973 Melodiya released some 1,200 gramophone records with the total circulation of 190-200 million per year and 1 million compact cassettes per year and was exporting its production into more than 70 countries.

The firm's production was dominated by classical music and music by Soviet composers and musicians, performances by Soviet theater actors, fairy tales for children, etc. For example, Melodiya released performances of works by Peter Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, which were valued for their authenticity. Melodiya also released successful western pop, jazz and rock records which included ABBA, Paul McCartney, Boney M., Dave Grusin, Amanda Lear, Bon Jovi (album New Jersey 1988), etc.

In other countries, Melodiya recordings imported from the USSR were often sold under the label MK, which stood for Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga ("International Book", Russian: Μеждународная Книга). In the United States, many Melodiya recordings appeared on the domestically manufactured Monitor Records label. In the 1970s and 1980s, Melodiya recordings of classical and folk music appeared in the West through an exclusive contract with EMI. In 1994 Melodiya granted exclusive rights to BMG. After expiry of the BMG contract in 2003, the company re-opened under new management and in 2006 started re-releasing Russian recordings under its own label. What happened to the Baltic catalogue is unclear.





Acts on Muza:

Ceslaw Niemen


Muza (Polskie Nagrania)

The pre-war Odeon company (located in Warsaw) was renamed in 1946 in the more phonographic "Muza". In 1953 the office for sound recordings was relocated to Ulica Długa 5 and serious plans were made to create a record plant and licensing house under state rule. The plant opened in 1955 under the name Polskie Nagrania Muza. In the years 1956 - 1968 the label was led by artistic director Ryszard Sielicki who fondness for western jazz enabled the Polish music scene to record and release a whole string of jazz records.

This enabled the musical movement of the later sixties and seventies to record and release more progrock and beatlike music. The seventies formed a highlight for the label with jazz artist and progressive rock acts selling thousands of records. Unlike other socialist neighbours the label never started releasing international releases focussing solely on local repertoire. For the west the label sometimes used the name Tonpress for their releases (named after their record plant). Coming from a jazz and classical background the label suffered hard when in the Eighties the governement allowed the establishment of competing labels Polton who focussed more on the new arrising pop, new wave and punk movement. This was a set back for the label who returned to their former terrain.

After the political turn in 1990 the label tried to pick up on the pop-market by licensing best selling albums from western artists. From 1 July 2005, the company is a wholly-owned Polish state Recordings and located in Warsaw on Ursynow Street. The label still releases albums and released some excellent compilations on Polish jazz, beat and soul music taken from their rich catalogue. It is still recognisable by the little rooster in the logo.



Opus was the Slovak branch of the Czech label Supraphon. Based in 1971 in the former Supraphon plant in Bratislava it was established by Ivan Stanislav who pursueded the Supraphon board that a seperate Slovak label would be a good marketing decision. To everyone's surprise they agreed and Opus was a fact. The first release on the label was the debut of progrock act Collegium Musicum. The original art work, shot at Bratislava castle, immediately caused for alarm by the Central Commitee of Culture in Prague who thought it much to nationalistic. The cover was changed but the tone was set. Opus was allowed to release Slovak-tinted albums but they were always screened by Prague. This also caused the liner notes of Opus to be of cryptic and poetic level. For instance "three musicians with verve seriously embarked on fulfilling their big dreams " stood on the first album Tublatanka or " strongly pressed with the door handle to pop music, it came with a large draft " ( the debut of Robo Grigorov ) .

In the first decade of it's existance Opus recording were done at Pezinok castle by lack of a true recording studio. Sometimes haunted by bats the former winery served as a hang out for most of the Opus artists. By 1986 Opus opened their own studio at Mlynské Nivy. By 1988 Opus reached it's peak with best selling album by Peter Nagy and Elan. A year later it would all change. In 1989 Opus cleared it's warehouse just before eminent privatisation selling it's catalogue for dump prizes in front of their Bratislava office. In 1990 culture minister Ladislav Snopko opened the discussion wether Opus should be sold. It was decided that Opus would denationalize but keep some governement funding. Archive , equipment and workers went to the new boss - Daniela Junas , moderator of the musical program Triangle . He would also become the proprietor of Opus Music publishing. In the new millenium Opus also bought the former slovak Bonton label from Sony. (thanks to Marian Jaslovské and Oliver Rehák for their blog giving more insight in Opus' history)





Panton was a music publishing company specialized Czech Music whose primary activity was the publication of music (especially of musical scores)by modern, 20th century contemporary composers, which had a major state at the morther label Supraphont. Panton focused on promoting the works of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, and other contemporary Czech composers of classical music (eg, Petr Eben, Jaroslav Jezek, Mark Kopelent, Miloslav Kabeláč, Ilya Hurník, Vaclav Trojan, Ian Lucas, George deer, Alois Haba and many others). Editor, art director and later director of long-Panton was a Czech composer Lubos Sluka. In the seventies it extended its catalogue to more music styles (country, folk, and tramp songs, jazz, jazz-rock, etc.), which significantly contributed to the development of musical culture in Czechoslovakia.

By the Eighties gains came primarily from the sale of works of popular music and helped to finance loss-making publishing works by contemporary composers of classical music. With the political turn in 1990 Panton was immediately sold with Supraphon and the label was termined. The Slovak branch names Bonton was initially sold in the same deal but later purchased by the Slovak based Opus thus securing the Slovak segment of the catalogue.





Acts on PGP RTB:

Ekatarina Velika
Laboratorija Zvuka
Oliver Mandić
Slađana Milošević



Production of Records Radio Television Belgrade (known by its acronym as PGP RTB) was the second-largest record company from former Yugoslavia after Jugoton. Initially Radio Belgrade owned two presses for production of records since 1951. The intention was not that the music was to be produced commercially but solely for archiving music tracks. The 1959 decission to allow a sort of internal competitive market in Yugoslavia gave enough reason to strat the production of records. The first records under the label PGP RTB was issued in October 1959. (Đorđe Marjanović "Zvižduk u 8"). In the first year the label issued six albums with a total of 15,000 copies. By 1963 PGP RTB had a solid drive of 13 presses for the vinyl record, which managed to produce 300 000 plates (150 titles).
By 1990 it's collected audio and video library contained 10.500 titles. After the breakup of Yugoslavia the company changed its name to PGP RTS (production of records Radio-Television of Serbia).




For reason that now seem very odd the Polish officials decided at the start of the Eighties they wanter to show the world that they were liberal too and allowed youth culture to freely express itself. What happened can be read in our section about Poland. With the same idea they decided it would be a good idea to create internal competition and thus they created three sub-state labels to publish the new musical output. Polton was largest of the three (with the others being Savitor and Arston) The company was founded in 1983. The label started with the debut by metalband TSA but by 1985 it had a firm grip on the youth market. By 1990 the label was commercialised and recieved a new artistic director with Jan Chojnacki. Although starting of promising the label was eventually sold in the mid-90s to the Warner Music Group.




Supraphon Music Publishing is historically the most significant Czech record company. The Supraphon label - originally the name of their time in the modern electric phonograph - was registered in 1932. In the postwar years the label was home to vinyl produced for export, helping to spread the fame of Czech classical music recordings from the thirties and fourties. The former gave rise to a purposeful editing an extensive catalog of titles, systematically mapping the work of Bedrich Smetana, Antonin Dvorak, Leos Janacek, and other personalities of Czech musical culture as well as world music greats. The recordings contributed by prominent domestic and foreign soloists, chamber ensembles, orchestras and renowned conductors.

In the years that followed became a public company Supraphon export firm (1949), a manufacturing company (Gramophone races - Supraphon, 1961), an independent publisher (Supraphon np, 1969) and - thanks to its increasing influence, synonymous with the Czech recording industry. With carefully planned presentation of Czech music and the renown local artists, has ranked among the respected record companies in Europe and overseas. This is illustrated by a rich archive of audio regarded for its uniqueness as an important cultural monument. After 1990 the label was rapidly sold to Sony music.



Acts on ZKP RTLJ

Pop Mašina




Založba kaset in plošč RTV Ljubljana or Založba kaset in plošč Radiotelevizije Ljubljana (acronym ZKP RTLJ, meaning "Publishing and Record Label RTV Ljubljana" in Slovene), was the record label of Ljubljana, in nowadays Slovenia, during the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It was the music production branch of the national broadcaster Radiotelevizija Ljubljana. From the Yugoslav record labels it was the smallest of the four.

It renamed itself to Radiotelevizija Slovenija during the breakup of Yugoslavia. In 1990, the name of the company was changed to Založba kaset in plošč RTV Slovenija.