27 passports almost like 27 long years or cca. 27 albums… great new CD (56 min) by The Ex flew in. It took some time for new vocalist / guitarist Arnold de Boer to fit inside well oiled band-machine. Or it could rather be that some fans needed more time to accept G. W. Sok’s departure from The Ex. His (anarcho-syndicalist poet on the dole) vocals (and word play) used to be band’s signature as much as Terrie’s sharp sounding guitar strings’ wrangling and Katherina’s style of drumming.
OK then, on “27 Passports” Arnold de Boer shines like he’s been one of super-fit The Ex veteran musicians for decades. Looking back and re-listening, “Catch My Shoe” (2010) brought along inspired energetic playing and complex songs but as an album in its entirety partly suffers from excessive length. Perhaps I slightly more prefer sax led “Y’Anbessaw Tezeta” (2012; Getachew Mekuria w / The Ex ) & “Enormous Door” (2013; The Ex & Brass Unbound). It might be too early to say definitively but “27 Passports” appears to be even better product than all of these recent The Ex issues! (although “Y’Anbessaw Tezeta” collaboration belongs to a league of its own).
Take off you old Doc Martens shoes (with slippery soles) and dance barefoot! Wait wait wait … ček ček čekaj … Teške se kiše spremaju. Kroz tvoj se prozor samo jablani vide. Nad gradom munje sijevaju. A doma nema goluba da te miluje.
Soon All Cities
Young and cocky anarchists The Ex burning music newspapers in ’86…
Listen to the Painters – listen to G.W.Sok!
A collection of tracks (recorded between 2009 and 2015) with G.W. Sok on vocals.
Two Pin Din – Listen To The Painters
Zoikle – Illusies 1
Surplus 1980 – The World’s Still Here
The And – The Heart Of Everything
L’Etrangleuse – Writer’s Blog
King Champion Sounds – Ghetto Of Eden
Action Beat – Spoonfeed Hell
Cannibales & Vahinés – No Can Do
Chapi Chapo & Les Petites Musiques De Pluie – Here We Go Again
Vol IV: Rock and Pop Music in Ljubljana in the 1980s (incomplete overview)
*subject to change*
Well, the story of YU punk-rock officially starts in Slovenia. Punk rock (and strange local branch of RIO) flourished in this Alpine region and encompassed the whole country due to small size of the northernmost and in some ways most progressive former Socialist Republic. The first independent music labels were situated only in Slovenia in the beginning. ‘Novi rock’ festival in Ljubljana had similar function as YURM in Zagreb, giving chance to local talents. In addition to that Novi rock organizers were inviting interesting foreign bands from independent / underground sector and presenting them to Yugoslavian rock public. Igor Vidmar from Radio Študent had the key role in promotion of new rock music (comparable to John Peel’s radio DJ efforts in UK albeit with very modest broadcast range) in Ljubljana/Slovenia.
Ljubljana (Laibach) is a lovely small town, compared to Zagreb or Beograd. However, it was equally gray and dull as the rest, just a different shade of boredom. To an accidental passerby and stranger, like I was, it always seemed sleepy and tranquil.
— punk rock / new wave —
Who were the culprits and catalysts then? Slovenian bastards – Pankrti!
a step back:
Satirical blues-rock of bearded granddads Buldožer (1975-84) that bulldozed and paved the way for critical thought in mid 1970s YU rock (if they didn’t update the sound farther than Zappa) should be mentioned as pre punk introduction note.
Prog punks ’79
Anyhow, Pankrti are proud parents (they were already students close to 25 years of age) of the first independently released punk single “Lepi in prazni” in 1978. It’s nothing to write home about today but way back it was important harbinger of the new. Heavier and typically mid pace recordings that followed sound like the first generation of punk music in general, steeped in garage rock and glam. It’s hard not to like Pankrti. They were consistent on record all the way except for the last album. These days my favorite would be 2 x 7 inch “Namesto tebe” (1981). Pankrti softened already at the time of their sophomore studio album called “Državni ljubimci” (1982). On the next one called “Rdeči album” (1984) the song arrangements became even more complex with ornamental overdubs added and as a result album is upbeat but a bit bloated too. “Pesme spravi” LP (1985) (produced by Angelic Upstarts guitarist) brought back grittier guitar sound and leaner songwriting. Mature effort “Sexpok” LP (1987) is a disappointing closer. Adio Lublana!
Other Slovenian punk primers like Lublanski psi, Berlinski zid, 92 and Buldogi straddled the thin line between old school punk-rock and original new wave.
Berlinski zid (punk-rock group w / keyboards that was developing post-punk approach in songwriting), 92 (punk-rock band with psychedelic organ reminiscent of the Stranglers; keyboards role was toned down later and new-wave elements crept in) and Buldogi (charming ska-punk kids) were included on legendary VA “Novi punk val 78-80” LP (1981) together with Pankrti and few Croatian punk bands.
Sinister punk-rockers Lublanskipsi (I like a lot their songwriting style but don’t know much about them in general) and again primary school punks Buldogi, along the second wave of wild teenage punks from other towns (Kuzle, Industbag, Šund), ended up on the subsequent various artists punk album “Lepo je…” (1982). It was released under coordination of ever-present Igor Vidmar.
At some point in 1981 happened infamous “Nazi punk affair” staged by the System and things got heated for a moment. So, when the creative energy could have really dissipated new generation of bands took over the “scene”…
— post punk —
Here comes the wave of furious post-punk bands: Otroci socializma, Laibach, O!Kult, Borghesia, d’Pravda, Via ofenziva and Čao pičke & very soon after them wild hordes of hard-core punks.
Almost all of them were refined provocateurs whether they chose to operate like an alien cultural organization (Laibach), a sharp-witted individual observer (Otroci socializma & Via ofenziva), a personal rights association (Borghesia) or a group of anarchic idealists (O!Kult).
Otroci socializma were an excellent post-punk band formed after split up of early punk band Berlinski zid. Brane Bitenc, young poet and punk, gave the band distinct individuality that easily separated them from the rest. When I better think about it he had some traits in common with M. E. Smith – stage presence, stature and diction. His sensibilities were different though. At the end (or during the second phase) Otroci socializma started to mess with plastic funk and marred their sharp minimal rock sound with bloody electronic drums in the studio (a bad zeitgeist decision in retrospect, like lazy Jet Black did in the Stranglers). I don’t mind fretless bass, it’s fine with me. Otroci socializma had two indie tapes out in circulation: “self-titled” (1982) and “Kri” (1986). Their members (drummer & bassist) were also guest musicians with Laibach in the studio. Otroci socializma allegedly recorded set of songs for never realized album on ZKP RTVL label – the finished master tapes mysteriously disappeared in transit between record companies.
Similarly focused post-punk band (~ Gang of Four/PiL influenced) with something to say in between lines (and quite directly!) were Via ofenziva,led by another young man with tendency toward poetic expression among punks – Esad Babačić. They didn’t last long but what has been left after them is pretty cool.
Via ofenziva shared split cassette release with Čaopičke, issued on independently oriented and very important Galerija ŠKUC izdaja cassette label (as was the first tape by Otroci socializma). Čao pičke were short-lived drums & bass band with 15 years old punk girl Alenka Marsenič Marsa on vocals. Their brevity and minimalism were mirrored in one minute long no-wave song sketches. After the break up Marsa continued with brilliant Tožibabe, group that moved in hard-core circles. Bass player resurfaced in jazz-rock Lolita in the second half of the 1980s.
O!Kult (from nearby satellite town Medvode) were young leaders of New Left. Early period of their activity under Crass influence was documented on anarcho-punk cassette “Razredni boj je edino gibalo zgodovine” (1983). Few years later they managed to release debut mini LP through German indie label Dossier records. On this overlooked album, divided into 4 long tracks running slightly over half an hour, O!Kult enriched minimalist post-punk with touch of funk groove and repetitive industrial elements. After demise of the band frontman Brane Zorman continued to compose music for theater and art performances.
Borghesia were early on post-punk band with drum machine and subversive collective of multi-media artists simultaneously. At first glance, when portrayed as duo, Borghesia resembled DAF but they were not that similar musically. Borghesia were also notorious for exposing “forbidden” kinds of love, certainly existent but hardly visible during Communist era. Spiritus movens Aldo Ivančić was in addition fully involved with setting up the scene around FV Disco Club and FV Založba indie label. He recorded/produced “Zastave” LP together with Paraf. I am quite fond of Borghesia’s early recordings issued as cassettes (s/t collected early songs; “Clones” was composed of soundtracks for short video films) & debut vinyl album (mostly early material from the 1st tape) titled “Ljubav je hladnija od smrti” LP (1985). In the second half of decade they were making music that could be categorized as (lukewarm) computer generated EBM. I’ve always thought that the sound of not fully controllable analog synths & primitive DIY electronic kits ( submerged in white noise to some degree) depicts general unrest or physicality of rough sex much better than the one produced by earliest digital equipment available. Having said that, I keep “Ogolelo mesto” LP (1988) in collection – I dig dark electronic vibes a la mid 80’s Severed Heads. Borghesia’s passion and interesting ideas were present (boiling under surface) all the time but only partially realized/translated via home computers in the second half of the decade. EBM electronic movement is fine but I am going to stick with period when Borghesia mingled with postpunkers. To each his own…
Laibach (Trbovlje – Ljubljana – London – world) didn’t care at all about rock’n’roll disguised as punk-rock. Their fancy was tickled by Throbbing Gristle and Kraftwerk. Instead of having strapped electric guitars on, Laibach picked best fitting hunting clothes and old uniforms, shined leather boots, oiled trumpets and horns, dusted off snare drums, trimmed their hair to perfect cow-lick… and stepped down from the small town theater stage to challenge (mock) totalitarian or oppressive system/s of this sad world. Original singer of the band hanged himself. Few bigger scandals happened. The name was banned. The group went into exile… but Laibach prevailed in the end. Backed by bigger contract (Mute) for “Opus Dei” LP (1987), that included successful cover/hijack of Austrian white (cod!) reggae hit “Live is Life”, Laibach immersed themselves in the world of POP media manipulation and later digital electronic music / techno. Don’t know about you but I always return back to unnerving spot by kozelec for some post industrial thrill. All their early recordings are excellent up to 1986. Laibach electronic spin offs 300.000 V.K. and Keller should be mentioned as well. That 30 years later they would have a concert in North Korea of all places is really unbelievable.
Enigmatic and ephemeral d’Pravda were provocative art project as much as amateurish band in between RIO and Dada post-punk. As far as I am informed they recorded set of demo songs in the summer of 1982 and soon disappeared.
— hard-core punk —
Teenage hard-core punk is usually on the margins of this website story telling but there were couple of really interesting and pretty pissed off bands in Ljubljana. Early hard-core sampler worth hearing is “Kaj je alternativa?” tape (Stres D. A. / U.B.R. / Odpadki Civilizacije) from 1983. Even better overview of Slovenian aggressive punk is offered on independently released various artists record: “Hard Core Ljubljana 1985”. (U.B.R., III. kategorija, Epidemija, Odpadki civilizacije, Tožibabe)
Pioneering hard-core band U.B.R. also left behind a cult single EP record issued in Italy in 1984. All girls (post) hard-core band Tožibabe managed to put out one of a kind seven inch EP locally. Initial HC phase by melancholic Niet was released on cassette only.
In other words Ljubljana (& SR Slovenia in general) was big and well-connected punk kindergarten / youth center unlike the rest of the SFRJ (with the exception of Rijeka and perhaps Novi Sad).
— synth pop —
Ubiquitous Iztok Turk (ex Kuzle, ex Otroci socializma) among other things also formed synth-pop group called Videosex. Videosex soon overshadowed any of his previous bands being commercially quite successful. Their self-titled debut is solid all the way through thanks to bits and pieces of vintage minimal electronica. Pleasing (sometimes too pleasing) POP aspect was saved by the remarkable and seemingly innocent voice of 16 years old singer Anja Rupel. The second album “Lacrimae Christi” (1985) got quite strong side A. The best songs are reminiscent of mid period New Order.
Somewhere here I’d squeeze anomaly of Gast’r’bajtr’s (from Brežice, not Ljubljana!) Their debut LP “Ni življenja brez ljubezni” (1983), issued on then newly founded independent label Dokumentarna, offered slightly sterile sounding mix of new wave influenced funk rock with saxophone and drum machine. Gastrbajtrs were not melancholic depressives but high spirited guys and that they were preferring drum box to real drums is quite puzzling to me. They formed few spin offs: arty Demolition Group and Silver Barracudas before returning to more energetic Gastrbajtrs dance-rock format few years later. The second album “Pot v raj” (1988) brought them closer to Miladojka Youneed.
Otroci socializma II (“Kri” 1986) under the influence (Alkohol) were treading synth-pop waters (Mlačna voda) in the late night hours (Noč) too.
— RIO & jazz —
Another very important but less known group that influenced Slovenian early 1980s was RIO type of band with specific folk aspect called Begnagrad. They stirred the city’s RIO scene during their second phase of activity and over the time attracted fans of this genre of music from all over the world. Great and weird debut s/t album (1982) is very recommended!
Na lepem prijazni jazz-rock band, as presented on their only album, lacks a bit of forward pushing kinetic energy which was as crucial ingredient for the time of production as it is today.
SRP crowned years long career with a conceptual avant-garde album that resembles soundtrack for a theater play. Recalling RIO, Zappa (jazz-rock period) and drunken cabaret at once, I doubt that SRP sounded like that on stage in concert. Like d’Pravda they crossed paths with post-punk youth occasionally.
Quatebriga (ex Begnagrad) excluded dissonant folk elements from the mix and recorded two jazz-rock albums in mid 1980s. More straight forward “Revolution in the Zoo” LP (1985) is excellent.
Miladojka Youneed started off at the point where city’s jazz-rock predecessors like Na lepem prijazni stopped and added hard core energy. Cutting down singing a little they left space for bleating saxophones to talk. Early jazz-punk Miladojka Youneed was awesome. Check out their first release issued on cassette only! They were simultaneously free and tight, playing eccentric combination of jazz-funk and punk. Unfortunately, the sound of debut record “Ghastly Beyond Belief” (1987) is produced too aggressively. Perhaps they strove for inhuman machine-like sound wishing to be extra repulsive. Industrial sheen of digital (~ ghastly) recording can sound terribly shrill to my jaded ears on a bad day, especially when it comes to drums. Too bad. With the second album “Bloodylon” (1990) Miladojka Youneed moved too far inside the dance rock territory for my liking.
Otroci socializma could be main protagonists of post-punk chapter in this pretty exciting period of Ljubljana’s rock and pop history. If they had an official album realized it would be for sure put on a pedestal here. Luckily post-punk and other “underground” or “alternative” happenings have been documented through already mentioned ŠKUC izdaja & FV založba small labels. Viva Ljubljana! The three most representative records for a short and intensive retrospective trip would be:
(1) Borghesia “Ljubav je hladnija od smrti” (85) , (2) Various Artists “84” (84) & (3) Laibach s/t (85)
Meanwhile, down on the ocean beach at SST premises…
Bye bye Ladbroke Grove & Rough Trade !!
In 1982 SST continued to broaden their Hermosa / Redondo Beach label beyond its original inner core circle (Black Flag – Minutemen – Saccharine Trust) sifting peculiar talent among punk-rockers, surfers and freaks in larger LA area and even outside California. Stains, Overkill and Meat Puppets (via Thermidor label) had already been recruited the year before in ’81. Dual guitar Black Flag (on obligatory hiatus due to lawsuit) recorded phenomenal Demo ’82 which would be the central event of the year. Würm regrouped because Dukowski wasn’t allowed to play bass under Black Flag anymore. About that time Saint Vitus, the Subhumans, Dicks and Hüsker Dü (via New Alliance label) joined the SST ranks. According to signor Carducci, Bad Brains had an open offer too.
So, let’s bring Blasting Concept back in slightly different way, following a linear timeline more precisely, beginning with late ’82 / early ’83 recording activities with legendary SST house engineer and producer Spot.
Various Artists: Blasting Concept ’83 Revisited
(1) Saint Vitus – The Psychopath (from “Saint Vitus” LP 1984) A
Saint Vitus – mammoth of a band (pulled out from La Brea tar pits!) – recorded seminal self-titled album in late ’82 with Spot. The tapes were sitting on SST shelves until early ’84 waiting for the cash inflow. The album sounds immense in its primordial slowness. Saint Vitus’ inclusion was indeed a tectonic move/ment for SST camp, not immediately recognized outside LA. It took many sloth years before humble Saint Vitus started to get reappraisal, mainly through fellow bands interested in heavy rock. Nowadays they are metal kings – highly appreciated grandfathers of (millennial) Doom or so called Stoner Rock.
(2) the Dicks – Pigs Run Wild (from “Kill from the Heart” LP 1983) B+
Heavy Texan punks Dicks didn’t shy away from blues-rock and soul while playing punk rock. Early songs from their first single and live split w / Big Boys are indeed classics but this debut LP brought something else to the table beside fearlessness. “Kill From the Heart” is (flawed) masterpiece that illustrates diversity of American punk-rock bands often superficially categorized same as juvenile and formulaic hard-core boybands. Although I appreciate communist slant and passionate rage of young singer Gary Floyd, sometimes I’d rather hear about “pigs” (cops), “nazis” or “klan” in a more focused way. Also, I don’t mind “Dicks Can’t Swim” funk jam but it does sound hamfisted a little. “Kill From the Heart” was recorded probably in late ’82 or early months of ’83. Political and social activist Gary Floyd would soon leave for San Francisco… the rest of the band decided to return to Austin after brief Frisco scene try-out. Dicks (mk I) split up.
Indicative cover version: Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix Experience.
(3) Husker Du – Deadly Skies (from “Metal Circus” mini-LP 1983) A
“Metal Circus” was finished very early in ’83. Typical hard-core songs from yesteryear were dropped from the repertoire and the world of rock music got an almost perfect mini-LP in rushed mid-tempo, but heavy enough. Buzz bomb from Minneapolis invokes Cold War dread on “Metal Circus”, even more personal than collective this time around. American individualism, you know. Using Minutemen spiel it could be dubbed “Buzz and Howl Under the Influence of Cold“.
(4) the Subhumans – America Commits Suicide (from “No Wishes, No Prayers” LP 1983) B
The Subhumans, politically active band from Canada, drove south from Vancouver bringing along spirited and moderately melodic take on old school punk-rock. It was not that dissimilar to the sound of their fellow citizens D.O.A., maybe a bit lighter. Their second full length album “No Wishes, No Prayers” was recorded in late ’82 or early ’83 with partially changed line-up capturing original group’s last gasps. There was only one “No Wishes, No Prayers” pressing because the Subhumans had already split up before SST managed to put it out.
Indicative cover version: Screwed Up by Menace.
(5) Minutemen – Little Man with the Gun in His Hand (from “Buzz or Howl…” EP 1983) A
“Buzz or Howl…” was recorded in two sessions: 01/83 and 05/83. Beloved caffeinated Californian leftist punks of the first order were enamored with politically charged UK art punk. More so than any other band related to SST. On the other hand, Minutemen were not ashamed of US arena rock that dominated their formative years too. Hard-rock moves to come (past one-off novelty trick “Project Mersh” EP) didn’t suit them. Their final album “3-Way Tie For Last” is actually an average 12″ EP stretched to a stodgy hodge-podge LP.
(6) Meat Puppets – We’re Here (from “Meat Puppets II” LP 1984) A
It took only year and a half from art/redneck hard-core punk cacophony of “Meat Puppets” (ruined by drunken/affected vocals) to this evergreen masterpiece. “Meat Puppets II” was recorded in (eternal) spring of 1983. Cock your ears and hold the breath! They are here.
“Surviving You, Always” is Saccharine Trust’s first LP, recorded in October ’83. Saccharine Trust didn’t care for UK stuff (music) one bit, it seems to me. These insular jazz cats were influenced by James Blood Ulmer, Beat poetry & Old Testament in equal measure. Saccharine Trust never made it, God knows why. Were they ignored (by American college radio and common punk rock fans of the day) due to “non-communicative” material lacking obvious POP hooks. Or were they just lazing around in drunken stupor too much? A hidden SST jewel. Lovely black sheep.
Indicating cover version: Peace Frog by the Doors.
Somewhere over the rainbow? No such place on the horizon. Zen Arcade Tour de Force is still exciting conceptual double album done as a tribute to the Who (who are real rock archetypes for fucked-up childhood / upbringing). Hüsker Dü recorded “Zen Arcade” very quickly in October ’83 as well, desperately trying to reach see-through zen state of mind with high intake of amphetamines. I totally flipped out during crossover punk-rock / speed-metal side-B while revisiting whole album for the purpose of this blog post. Mind bending!
Indicative cover version (a howling scorcher): Eight Miles High by the Byrds.
(9) Würm – 98 DA (from “Feast” LP 1985) C
Würm tapes were recorded sometime during 1983 with Ethan James and then they were bunkered. Sound of “Feast” gives off great live feel from roomy acoustics of old Radio Tokyo studio. The evil content might be a required taste. The second coming of Würm could be regarded as warming up for SWA since they broke up right after completion of this mongrel album. Würm was fronted by theatrical singer (Simon Smallwood) looming above band’s uncertain future like bad omen. The pattern continued later in SWA (Merrill Ward). Simon’s approach had more in common with lysergic madness though. “Feast” LP (1985) offers grotesque psychedelic hard-rock worth hearing in its entirety at least few times. Perhaps Dukowski had to vent his pent-up anger somehow.
(10) Black Flag – Nothing Left Inside (from “My War” LP 1984) B+
Recorded in December ’83 under (outstanding guitarist & SST boss) Greg Ginn’s tight reins. “My War” is exceptionally important and influential work-out recorded during Black Flag’s transient line-up still without official replacement for original bass player Dukowski. Album grade was a bit lowered just because Dukowski’s propulsive aggro playing is somewhat missed on “My War”.
Sex, I mean funk, is almost gone. A bit of dull pain remains. Can’t dance it all away.
I’ve managed to catch Trobecove krušne peći in concert only once since they have started playing live again in recent years. They were OK then. At this moment, or as captured on “Ether”, Trobecove krušne peći sound significantly better. I am pleasantly surprised.
Actually, the band never really disappeared into thin air. The spirit of Trobec (-ove krušne peći) was in the ether all the time, whether transformed in short lived Alpski rudar, or just buzzing around as Brujači during the 1990s, or for a brief period in time in the 2000s as seductively stylish Viva Glorio. It seems to me that minimal elements for keeping said haunting spectre active would be the throb of Bara’s bass playing and Bega’s vocal vitriol – ethereal energy of this creative bond has always been enough to attract all other dissipated band players and friends.
For those of you who are not familiar, Trobecove krušne peći are a sort of avant noise-rock band (with post-punk origins) but not the type with electric guitar in a role of lead instrument. Their newest recording “Ether” can be presented as an update of successful combination of the TKP studio album from ’85 & the live tape from ’87. In current incarnation all the instrumentalists – bassist Barišin, guitarist Vinski and (welcome) sax player Prica – compete for the space or coexist in the void above steady rock rhythm of drummer Dorvak. The songs mainly follow the tension building pattern without cathartic release in sight (or hearing range) apart from arresting sax squeals, slightly more dominant guitar parts or/and propulsive bass playing that can interchangeably bear elusive liberating role for a moment or two. Frontman Begić is in a dour mood from the very start. However, this time (or just for the LP song selection) his vocals are under control. With mature coolness that doesn’t allow straying into chaotic roar, Begić’s voice simply commands in mean monotone hovering above the simmering band. Black bile put into words and loudly pronounced may even have the therapeutic cleansing effect if one is in appropriate contemplative mood (for example pacing back and forth around an empty and cold apartment while music is playing, warming up the chilly air). The angry and bitter allure might pull you inside the vortex and then let you drift along with the tempo of music. It does soothe my soul, my unending case history. The truth is cruel. It hurts. Like that heavily prostituted word “love”. Take it in and spit it out. Once the record stops spinning, the ominous silence stays hanging there for a while. It can’t leave the room easily. Certainly this album is not a perfect present for the weak of heart or for those with short attention span or penchant for cheerful sing-alongs. Why do I like it. Am I just a masochist? A sadist!? Perhaps both!!
Potential foreign listeners that don’t understand Croatian language will definitely miss out an important TKP aspect. Nevertheless, the rhythm / sound of music, enriched with harsh Slavonic voice flavor, speaks for itself more than enough. “Ether” for sure deserves some attention outside the Croatian borders as well.
I had two passing associations while listening to the record: recent reissue of Grč “Sloboda narodu” & the latest album by Blurt “Beneath Discordant Skies”.
The sound of “Ether” (recorded live in Split in winter ’15) is massive and impressive.
Great album. Highly recommended, yet again.
Step in. Don’t be afraid.
(the first impressions review, in Eastern European broken English, is intended for accidental foreign visitors of this site that are curious enough to give it a try!)