Don’t Look Back: Novi Sad (SR Serbia)

Vol III: Rock and Pop Music in Novi Sad in the 1980s (incomplete overview)

*subject to change*

Korekcije faktografije, dopune, HQ mp3 doprinos (bilo bi lijepo čuti Ove sezone vedri tonovi!) i slično… su dobrodošli.

Provodim dane u parku nekom, u drugi grad otplivam rekom
tu spavam u potkrovlju slepom, rano uveče i posle još

“Došla su tako neka vremena” (La strada)

Novi Sad, the capital city of Vojvodina (at the time autonomous region in the north of Socialist Republic of Serbia) was a multi-cultural micro-center for new wave happenings. As with any other blog post about the ex-YU city “scenes”, this one starts with a domestic punk band too.

Pekinška patka (1978 – 81) was at the same time the first Serbian (or as their singer likes to point out as an illustration – the very first punk band from Christian Orthodox cultural setting). A lot of punk-rock scholars and fans around the world hold their debut album (at least one year late in production) “Plitka poezija” LP (1980) in high regard. It’s an example of entertaining punk with catchy hooks and exactly because of that melodic aspect Pekinška patka can be regarded as an authentic case globally. By the way, their singer Čonkić (Čonta) was a high-school professor at the time! Weirdos.

pekinskapatka

In Novi Sad there were quite a lot punk bands (Gomila G*, Crkveni pacovi*, Rafal*, Armija Spasa*, Van kontrole*, Dva minuta mržnje, Vrisak generacije, Fluorel Tačkaš*… ) of all varieties stretching the old school punk-rock tag over street-punk/Oi and later throughout whole decade over various versions* of hard-core punk. Looking back (from safe distance) it seems that Novi Sad was also capital city of street-punk/Oi in ex-YU. Obvious pick of the litter would be Dva minuta mržnje (studio demo ’84).

Pekinška patka II (1980 – 81) is yet another example of fairly successful transformation into post-punk band (quite tight instrumentally). However, Čonta’s changed persona hovering above in darker circumstances can grate my oversensitive ears on few songs. It took me years (even decades) to get accustomed. One can have impression that the second album came too soon (with obvious post-punk influences and ideas brought in with new guitarist Bulatović barely toned down) or that Pekinška patka were losing the steam towards the end. That said, I prefer “Strah od monotonije” LP (1981) nowadays.

strah

Original guitarist/sax player of Pekinška patka left the band before completion of their second album to join newly formed young ska-punk band Kontraritam (1980-82). Thanks to exceptional rhythm section Kontraritam could easily bring it on in concert. Lucky kids with happy feet.

New wave / power-pop bands of note in Novi Sad were Pop art* (officially undocumented) and Fotomodel (with a single put out by Jugodisk).

New wave circus rock troupe Laboratorija zvuka hailed from Novi Sad too. They were often novelty guests on ex-YU TV channels playing upbeat songs specifically arranged for children or, at the other side of spectrum, they were offering lascivious tunes for adult public. “Laboratory of Sound” caravan traveled across the country quite a lot. They even had conceptual performance abroad in London at some point in mid-decade.

New wave art project La strada (1979 – 81) led by Slobodan Tišma ended prematurely with formation of Luna. From this early phase they left behind two studio songs recorded in 1980.

Luna (1981 – 84) put out only one post-punk / dark-wave album and then (acrimoniously) split up before LP even appeared in the stores. Group of distinct individuals – great drummer Fece aka Firči (would become part of EKV (Belgrade) gang soon), excellent guitarist Bulatović aka Bale (ex Pekinška patka II), cohesive organ/synth player Mitrušić aka Mina & peculiar poet Tišma (ex La strada; here as stressed-out vocalist on the verge of mental breakdown) – barely managed to keep Luna together to document their intense existence. Film noir scenario! Perhaps presence of bass player would have pushed “Nestvarne stvari” LP to an even higher level… Well, I am being fussy here because this album really is awesome as it turned out. I might be emotionally more involved with Obojeni program and Boye but regarding the post-punk time frame “Nestvarne stvari” (Helidon, 1984) is picked as the centerpiece album from Novi Sad. Recorded in autumn of 1983 it would fit perfectly in early 4AD portfolio of bands (Bauhaus, Birthday Party, Mass, Modern English, Xmal Deutschland, Wolfgang Press) closing the post-punk years of said esteemed label with a record license from Helidon label.

luna

LunaNestvarne stvari (1984) – definitive post-punk album from Novi Sad

Luna sank in Danube to be washed ashore (think of some secluded river inlet overgrown with sedge rather than right between sun bathers on Štrand in summer time) as La strada II (1984 – 8?) again.  Tišma kept on cooperation with Luna synth player Mina and invited Kontraritam dudes for reformed version of La strada. They recorded eponymous album in 1986 (or was it really Live Aid summer ’85?). It was pressed in even less copies than “Nestvarne stvari” by Luna.  La strada were moving away from new-wave / post-punk templates towards literate guitar pop-rock (and 1960s influences). In my opinion Tišma’s vocal performance on La strada suits him better than his attempts at singing on “Nestvarne stvari”. On “La strada” (M produkcija RNS, 1987) album Tišma seemed to be more relaxed although he was unsatisfied with the end results. His brooding voice evokes (Slavonic) melancholia of river plains pretty well. In the flat field people do get bored.

lastrada

Grad (1981-82) was short-lived post-punk band (DAF, Joy Divison / New Order) interested in synths and cold electronic sounds coming out of Germany.

Boye (1981 – 199?) Enough!!! Enough of street-punk boot-boy bravado! Make space for girls to rock out freely or just dance and play modern pop songs. Or whatever they like to call their style. The Raincoats and Kleenex/Lilliput … might have left an impression on girls from Novi Sad. Boye recorded two excellent albums “Dosta! Dosta! Dosta!” (PGP RTB, 1988) and “’78” (Search & Enjoy, 1990) in succession that were preceded with plenty of tentative synth-pop/post-punk demo steps around Jugoton contract. Allegedly they had enough recorded material for an album even as early as 1984.

Obojeni program (1980 –  ) are indeed rock institution from Novi Sad today. Who would say. They formed in the early 1980s, finally recorded debut LP as late as 1990 for newly established indie label “Search & Enjoy” from Zagreb and… remained present. People often find Branislav Babić Kebra’s piercing vocal a required taste but to me he sounds just perfect.  Band’s fascination with M.E. Smith & the fall might be constant although not directly evident in their music. I am not sure if Obojeni program were ever captured on tape before unavoidable mid-1980s hiatus (JNA). Allegedly their early years were characterized by punk-funk sound. They continued live activities in 1985/86 with revolving membership and for a couple of years band existed as drum/bass/vocal trio. At the tail end of the decade Obojeni program would find balance with new guitarist and record long-waited first album together with Dušan Kojić – Koja (Disciplina kičme, Beograd) as producer. “Najvažnije je biti zdrav” LP (1990) is legendary around these parts.

Cult postpunk band Ove sezone vedri tonovi (1981 – 83) even appeared at YURM ’82 festival in Zagreb. Velvet Underground, This Heat and RIO bands are usually mentioned as possible influences or just OSVT’s affiliation. It seems that they disappeared without the recorded evidence of existence. Few OSVT members continued with free form avant-garde group Cirko della primavera** in the second half of the decade. Low budget avant cassette label Nikad Robom originated from this group of forward (or outward) looking folk. As a side note, Đorđe Delibašić – Đoka, member of the collective, recorded SexA’s noise-rock album in Novi Sad in 1990.

According to the book “Novosadska punk verzija” Armija kontrasta ltd* were short-lived post-punk band with rhythm-machine.

Neon vojnik* (ex Crkveni pacovi), Krik maske* and Skice* (ex Linija otpora) shared common love of Killing Joke at the different time frames and probably in a slightly different way. Judging by track “Grobar” solely Neon vojnik really had something to offer. After all, Killing Joke used to be popular with UK ’82 street punks and anarcho crowds as well. Do you remember Blitz (UK) boys and their excursion into post-punk waters on their second full length album?

Mitar Subotić aka Rex Ilusivii was an experimental electronic musician and producer.

Art-rock white-funk synth-pop romantics of Novi Sad were called Heroina. Frontman Petar Janjetov is esteemed artist / comics author today. At the time of recording their only album “Heroina” (1985) they had to replace departed drummer with a drum machine. It is somewhat reminiscent of Roxy Music, Boa (Zagreb) or Gang of 4 (during “Hard”). One can easily find couple of attractive songs (nice guitar playing) while in the heart-broken mood.

Ponoćni kauboj*  were rock band (with brass section) from the second half of the decade. Perhaps they realized that in “punk-rock” the part that really matters belongs to “-rock”. The only one track I’ve heard by them reminded me of Električni orgazam (Belgrade) and their own R’n’R transformation.

Hip-hop punk rockers Atheist Rap surfaced out of the hard-core punk scene in 1989 and reigned over Novi Sad (and beyond) in oncoming decades. Street-punk/Oi and hard-core in general gained momentum around that time and you get first studio recorded material by  Vrisak generacije (Oi punk), Ritam nereda (Oi punk), Mr. Joint (Oi punk/HC), Kapetan Leshi (hard-core), Generacija bez budućnosti (hard-core), KNO / Invalidi uma (hard-core)…

* scarce info about these bands gathered from “Novosadska punk verzija” book

**read more thoroughly about other side of Novi Sad on this extraordinary blogspot guide: Other Novi Sad Scene of the 1980s


Don’t Look Back vol. III: Novi Sad (1-2-ex-YU!!)

Pekinška patka – Biti ružan, pametan i mlad (’79)

Fotomodel – To nisi ti (’81)

Kontraritam – Obojeni grad (’82)

Pekinška patka II – Monotonija (’81)

La Strada – Sat (’80)

Grad – Gradsko šetalište (Maske) (’82)

Rex Ilusivii – Zla kob (’83)

Neon vojnik – Grobar (’83)

Luna – Fakir (’83)

2MM – Terorizam (’84)

Boye – Mikrosvet (’83)

Heroina – Zaigrajmo (’85)

Rex Ilusivii – Arabia (’85)

La Strada – Došla su tako neka vremena (’85)

Ponoćni kauboj – Mesec (’88)

Boye – (Gde) možemo se sresti (’88)

Atheist Rap – Atheist Rap (’89) uživo

Obojeni program – Kosmos u tvom srcu (’90)

Ritam nereda – Suton (’90)

Cirko della primavera – Sveti Mihajlo u laganom afričkom kasu u kozinom stilu ubija sedmoglavog apokaliptičnog zmaja (’89)

 

Don’t Look Back: Rijeka (SR Croatia)

Vol II: RI-Rock or Rock & Pop Music in Rijeka in the 1980s

Rijeka is the largest port city in the bay of Kvarner in the Northern Adriatic. It is (was) famous for its shipyards and quite tall soc-realist skyscrapers built on steep rocks looming above the narrow strip of land where the city center has been squeezed. Rijeka has nothing in common with capital city of Zagreb bar couple of edifices left after Austrian/Hungarian rule over the land. Rijeka used to have more punk rock bands per square km than any place in Croatia, closely following Ljubljana in whole ex-YU. The prevailing spirit of this city was closer to confrontational brand of punk rock played by teenagers crazy enough to raise hell and challenge (actually just tease) questionable communist morality and ethics along the way. Due to geographical position they gravitated more towards leading ahead Ljubljana (Slovenia) than to Zagreb. In addition, Rijeka had a very important focal point in ‘svengali’ figure Goran Lisica Fox, at the time just few years older than an average teenage punk. He was helpful in steering the collective energy towards some artistic goal (in post-punk sense) or eventual record label deal. Later on he founded Dallas Records, a small independent label of sorts.

As the story goes, the first punk band in Rijeka, Croatia (and perhaps Yugoslavia; depending on point of view) was Paraf, a brainchild of teenager Valter Kocijančić. After having read news about thing called ‘punk’ in imported music papers (NME) he decided to form the very first YU punk band. The whole 1977 was spent mostly in the garage and the first official appearance of Paraf happened early in 1978. Their late debut LP “A dan je tako lijepo počeo…” (1980) was recorded with borrowed instruments at the time when band was going through the changes. The guitar tracks were mixed too low which brought extra disappointment.  Anyhow, punk rock mission accomplished, mischievous  front-man left to finish his studies and become teacher. The band transformed into Paraf II (~ Siouxsie and the Banshees) with significant line-up change & persevered as genuine post-punk band during the first half of the 1980s.

paraf

Unlike situation in Zagreb with very weak punk response, there were more late 70s punk bands of note in Paraf’s tow (Zadnji, Termiti, Protest, Mrtvi Kanal, KAOS etc.) in Rijeka.

Termiti (1978 – 1982) were only band from the first bunch of city punks that had enough recorded material for a long play record in the beginning of 1980s. Their sound was from the start enriched by little electric organ with 60’s overtones and the songwriting became more complex at the end. Stage antics aside, punk concerts (performances) by Termiti were pretty wild.

Istočni izlaz (1979 – 81) were high-school punk-rockers with clean-looking mod aspirations. Think of the Jam.

Actually Rijeka had all sorts of bands to offer. Hard-core punk, neither of UK ’82 nor US ’81 variety, didn’t catch on in the 1980s. After the initial punk-rock outbursts from almost every part of the city, Rijeka got veiled in dark-wave gloom. Art decade.

izleti

The next record “Izleti” (1981) by Paraf II (1981 – 87) is an exceptional album for the time and place although somewhat patched with silly/playful filler/arrangements. Singer Vim Cola was still trying to find her voice as a young woman in punk. One of their better songs ever called (Državni) Praznik and recorded during LP studio sessions, didn’t appear on the album in the end. Censored? Follow-up album “Zastave” (1984), Paraf’s final release, is indeed Croatian (and ex-YU) dark-wave masterpiece and a definitive (centerpiece) album from Rijeka – a tattered flag of bygone revolutions attached to some rusty flagpole in the remotest city corner, waving in a heavily scented spring breeze to attention of very few outside the inner punk rock circle. It was issued by (adventurous) Helidon record label from Slovenia. At that time a lot of young bands around the world were preoccupied with the ideas about totalitarian society par excellence and/or imminent nuclear wipe-out, wrapped up in a typically adolescent (and self-induced) Cold War paranoia. The small-scale war would happen soon enough though. This captivating album could have been one of the warning dreams.

zastave

Paraf – Zastave (1984)a definitive (postpunk) album from Rijeka

Mrtvi kanal (1979 – 1983) were second best post-punk band in town early on. They stood out of the punk crowd even with the casual first glance due to long-haired accordionist / synth player in the mature line-up. At their last stage, as late as 1983, this bizarre looking group managed to record seven energetic and provocative songs under the Stranglers or Joy Division spell. The recordings were put out on a split tape shared with their comrades Grč. “Mrtvi kanal / Grč” (1983) would be one of the first independently released cassettes on Slovenian label Galerija ŠKUC izdaja, and for sure the first one for a band from Croatia.

Grč I (1982 – 87) evolved in a rabid beast of a band gradually. Early period captured on the previously mentioned cassette presented them as politically charged followers of Pere Ubu, sort of similar to SexA in sound but less arty and more sinister. Over the period of few years they grew heavy body and became scary axe swinging Goths who favoured razor sharp Killing Joke sound (when KJ themselves were going through troubled synth-pop phase!). In a way they shared (confrontational) interests and subject matter with Trobecove krušne peći (Zagreb) too. Recent vinyl reissue of “Sloboda narodu” (1987/2016) is highly recommended. Grč were type of Goths leaving unsavory odor of sweat and stench of carcass after them, not patchouli scent. They were also into pretentious rock performances so common in Rijeka. Truly remarkable sound thou.

grc

KAOS (1979 – 1984) also brought forth two distinct appearing forms: early punk-rock lasting up to ’81 and then synth-punk (1982 – 84). Unwanted loss of drummer worked well for them eventually.  The best songs by KAOS are based on rhythm-machine matrix. Dorotea (another exceptional female punk vocalist) reminded of Nina Hagen a bit because of her high-pitched warble. KAOS’s later phase (issued on CD recently) is highly recommended.

Ogledala (ex Istočni izlaz, Kum) (1982 – 87) were brokenhearted young men with healthy power pop instincts and origins in mod-punk band Istočni izlaz. Their direct lyrical expression matched with grandiose and spacey arrangements (Echo & the Bunnymen / U2 / Simple Minds) that included synth, was very close to being over the top. They wore their hearts on their sleeves (instead of zips, chains and badges). Material recorded in 1984 in Ljubljana for potential album that never materialized (unearthed in 2008 for a CD issue) shows fine ideas gone in unpleasant direction sound-wise in the studio (bloody big drum sound!). If they had stayed closer to their live sound it would sound much better today, less pompous at least. It seems that Ogledala often got carried away while daydreaming. Dreams are free, motherfuckers! Excellent drummer, by the way.

Quiet (and quite depressive) new-wave rock band Konjak (1981 – 85) existed on the margins of the city scene until the lead guitarist/singer joined Paraf II and broke up the band for good.  They left interesting demo tracks behind (mainly recorded in 1982). Konjak preferred dry (guitar) sound and bare bones rock arrangements. Might have been influenced by Azra a little bit.

Umjetnici ulice (1982 – 83) were balancing between punk rock and new wave while their passionate singer tried to steal the show.  He continued his now decades long artistic career with dark-wave group Let 2 (1984 – 86). Let 2 lasted few years as rock spinoff of electronic experimental performance group Strukturne ptice (1982 – 87). In the end they managed to overshadow Strukturne ptice with activity and became a warming up platform for Let 3.

Idejni nemiri (1982 – 88) transformed from anything goes punk-rock to an average pop-rock band after collective hiatus (traumatic experience in JNA?).

Fit (1982 – 91) also started early in the decade and went through few developmental phases: from punk-rock beginnings over mid-1980s dark alt rock (usually connected with the likes of Echo & the Bunnymen or U2) to EKV (Belgrade) sisterhood. It resulted with PGP RTB record contract and debut album (Goth-rock; Cult, Mission) produced by EKV boss Milan Mladenović.

Other groups in Rijeka that shared EKV art-rock visions to some extent were Grad and Laufer.

Demo part of the scene in the mid-1980s was captured on independently released VA record “Rijeka – Paris – Texas” (1987) showing the sugarcoated pop melody on the rise. These pop bands probably belonged to Paris quarters of Rijeka. Grč, Let 2 and Let 3 were definitely from Texas side of town. Some of them participants eventually managed to release debut LP and the best one, without any doubt, was by Let 3.

Let 3 (1987 – ) might stand for the third attempt for successful flight. They really did it their way despite having their flight feathers dirty with resin and blackened with tar. As original Grč guitarist joined the group they succeeded the title of Croatian Killing Joke with the difference that Let 3 really ended up mainly as surrealist jokers. The dark and psychedelic phase of Let 3 was short lived compared to circus rock career that followed. They have been into cross-dressing, surrealist exhibitionism & most importantly into Rock Theater as a way of life since then. “Two Dogs Fuckin’” (1989) is a brilliant record thou – as shameless and disturbing as two shabby dogs mating in the middle of Korzo promenade.

let3

Power-pop group with older and experienced musicians with Jugoton record contract and better connections in Zagreb were Xenia (1981 – 85). The first single & “Kad nedjelja prođe” LP (1983) are well crafted new wave influenced pop rock records.

Synth pop duo Denis & Denis (1982 – 1986) gained popularity throughout the whole ex YU thanks to strong voice and sensual sighs of female singer. Their early hits like Program tvog kompjutera or Soba 23 are on par with commercial UK synth pop. Minimal synth demos recorded in 1982-83 are a bit closer to post-punk spirit though.

Pioneering all girl pop-rock band Cacadou (Look) (1983 – 91) might have had hearts in the right place in the beginning but producers slicked their sound on debut LP too much. Too bad.

Industrial rock band Transmisia (1987 – 9?) (Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Killing Joke, Big Black) and post HC noise rockers Regoč appeared on the scene at the end of decade but their debut records would see the light of day in another decade and other countries (Italia, USA, Slovenia) altogether.

Don’t Look Back vol. II: Rijeka (1-2-ex-YU!!)

Paraf – Reforma školstva  (’78) – radio session

Istočni izlaz ( w / V. Kocijančić) – Plava koverta (’79) – radio session

Paraf – Visoki propisi  (’80)

Termiti – Mama, s razlogom se brineš (’80)


Paraf II – Državni praznik (’81)

Termiti – Kišni razdraganci (’81)

KAOS – Samo prvom klasom (’82)

Konjak – Pretežno vedro (’82) – demo

Grč – Ja imam pasoš (’83)

Mrtvi kanal – U ludnicu (’83)

KAOS – Roboti (’83)

Denis & Denis – 28 minuta do 5 (’83) – demo version

Xenia – Vjetar u kosi (’83)

Cacadou (Look) – Sama (’84) – demo version

Ogledala – Kako ti je sada (’84) – live in Split

Paraf II – Nikad nikad nikad (’84)

Let 2 – Ne trebam te (’84)

Grč – Crne rukavice (’87)

Transmisia – Šume umiru (’87)

Strukturne ptice – Zbog zvuka i pobuđivanja (’87)

Grad – Grad (’87) demo

FIT – Rijeka (’88)

Let 3 – Sam u vodi (’89)

Don’t Look Back: Zagreb (SR Croatia)

I stand for language. I speak for truth. I shout for history.
I am a cesspool for all the shit to run down in…

Do you want New Wave or do you want the Truth? (Minutemen, 1984)

Vol I: Rock & Pop Music in Zagreb in the 1980s

Disclaimer: These blog-posts (and the skewed point of view they carry) have nothing to do with the members of Pingvinovo potpalublje but with web administrator only. Please, send all your hate mail his way.

***subject to change***

Prljavo kazalište [1977-1980], Zagreb’s first (officially documented, at least) punk-rock band of sorts,  were teenagers from (despised) east end suburb that just about in time accelerated their sloppy Rolling Stones beginnings. They were typical high-school failures that even resembled protagonists from Alan Ford (Italian comic book extremely popular in YU) after which they named the group. Prljavo kazalište also had the very first Croatian “punk” single out in 1978. Both early punk-rock singles and then the 3rd ska single (if they had put reggae tinged number “Neka te ništa ne brine” on b-side it would be a double-sided ska-killer) are pretty OK in my book. I am not very enthusiastic about their albums but looking back they do have few moments of worth scattered on each, more so on s/t than on “Crno bijeli svijet”. Whatever they had in common with punk-rock they lost when the first frontman Davorin Bogović left the band. Too soon Prljavo kazalište went after success and became bland pop-rock institution destined for ex-YU sport halls. A cartoon punk character turned into a caricature – Prljavo kazalište are just an opening paragraph in this long-winded post anyway.

Few years older dudes from mysterious band Loš zvuk (borderline old-school punk-rock /  hard-rock with electric organ) had a lone single put out in 1979 as the only document of their existence. It’s not a bad record (sound) but it could have turned out much better with different vocal approach. Loš zvuk might have heard Iggy Pop / the Stooges before they heard Sex Pistols or the Stranglers. Similarly oriented Noćna smjena was a garage-rock/pub-rock band influenced by the Rolling Stones. “Vrtlog / Stojim na uglu” is pretty cool little single for the fans of the genre, nowadays totally forgotten and very rare.

Klinska pomora [1977-1980] was a wild teen punk band from the other side of town (Novi Zagreb) inclined to excessive behavior. They have never recorded anything to prove their infamous rank. The concerts at the end of their existence allegedly sounded like coherently played punk rock. Members later appeared in other bands of which (beside unavoidable Psihomodo Pop)  La Fortunjeros were most durable. La Fortunjeros boys couldn’t quite decide which way to go through rite of passage – as true punk-rockers (with black leather jackets or skinny ties) or with lies (in theater costumes). La Fortunjeros recorded plenty of demo tracks but only one single was pulled off  through the Jugoton label – an adolescent impersonation of Adam Ant.

Neron reportedly played simple and direct version of punk-rock aiming at physical aspect of concert entertainment (drinking, dancing and having fun) and avoiding intellectual pretensions of slightly older new wave colleagues. Following the replacement of singer and arrival of new players they gradually transformed into one of the Zagreb’s most enduring popular rock bands: Psihomodo Pop. The earliest version of Psihomodo Pop [1982-84], with guitarist Kepeski and saxist Banjeglav in lineup, recorded very good demo/live tracks. By the time of their very late and (from the strict rock perspective) disappointing debut album “Godina zmaja” (= fairly average tribute to the Ramones), Psihomodo pop glamorized, softened and heavily compressed their former art-punk attempts. New wave pop-rock band Heroji* appeared out of nowhere and disappeared without the trace apart from few articles in music newspapers and  few live tracks (“Osuđen na život”, “Zaustavljam vrijeme”, “Šarena strana mjeseca”)  hanging on the internet. Who were these unknown heroes? According to scarce information Heroji played during 1982-83 around Zagreb and participated in YURM festival. For the time being we can pretend that Heroji were fine modern rock band, worth remembering …

New generation of minor league street-punks started to be more visible as late as mid decade. They kept punk boyish scruffy dirty and even fast. For the most part I remain unconvinced (not my cup of tea!) but they had their place in town. Of them all Z.R.M. aka Zona rane masturbacije kept the closest connection to first wave of punk-rock. (Demo ’84 = melodic rudimentary punk with shaky old-school tempo!) Sköl, Excess, Blitzkrieg and Patareni were much more influenced by UK street-punk ’82. In the second half of the 1980s there must have been a lot of basement hard-core punk bands in the city. It would be pointless to list them all since hard-core punk is really not a big deal anyway. Among them you’ll find: Generali (HC with crossover (metal) tendencies – there were couple of decent songs in their repertoire – for example “Crni snijeg”), Patareni (transformed into grind-core pioneers), Motus (HC punks w/ good debut cassette album as a whole) and then again Sköl.

Zagreb spawned good deal of skinny tie late 1970s new/wave power/pop pop/rock bands in Blondie / Boomtown Rats / the Jam / Police vein. I don’t mind Parlament pilfering Police’s image & sound to get attention. Unfortunately, lukewarm debut album smacks of calculated populist move (probably coordinated by the record label) to sell more products. Usual common sins: feeble vocal with nothing important to say  or sing about pushed up in the mix; individual instruments toned down in the mix; youthful energy significantly downplayed etc. Oh, shut up and bang on the drums!! Parlament’s career went downhill faster than they climbed up pop-charts in the first place. Fickle Aerodrom was in principle a band with prog background / mentality that was trying to navigate trendy new-wave airways. The only album worth checking-out, considering proficient playing vs. banality of ideas, would be “Tango Bango”. Middle of the road new-wave pop-rock group Patrola knew the craft of tuneful songwriting and was quite functional live band. Voice of singer Metessi could carry the melody and stir the emotion behind it. Don’t let record cover art turn you off, the album is better than it may look. Not bad at all. After sudden split up Patrola members soon emerged in an average pop-rock group Zvijezde & ill-conceived synth-pop project Tora. Another very polite early 80s pop-rock band (late 60s & country-rock inclined) were Animatori, a type of band that 3 generations in a household could like – even a pious Catholic grandmother would approve of them, which is some kind of sin in itself, of course. Meticulously recorded “Anđeli …” LP works in their favor, especially today. Speaking of innocence, Stidljiva ljubičica, a teen band from a nearby small provincial town Vrbovec, competed for public attention  in and around Zagreb in the early 1980s too. Nicely recorded debut album “Osvrni se na mene” is composed of simple stripped-down songs covering general boy/girl topics.

Power pop idiom was so prevalent in Zagreb in 1980/81 that even arty bands like Haustor got entangled in it (if we take into account pop aspect of self-titled debut).

The cream of this loosely imagined power-pop section was the oldest band (original Azra spin-off from ‘78) & the hardest when it comes to rock – manic Film [1978-1983]. Film was definitive pioneering new wave band from Zagreb. They brought contemporary appearance / simple modern rock sound to town, sticking out of the crowd even more when compared with anachronistic aspects of their peers, for example Azra. Unfortunately, Film tarnished their reputation with many questionable decisions – among them a trip to Sweden to record a quasi art-rock album! But let’s go back to the beginning.  Despite the fact that Film was harbinger of the new and that their local popularity was indisputable, the record companies were late, as it often goes in real life. Everything was in slight delay, starting from abolished debut single by original Azra that consisted of Film members mostly. Too complicated to grasp, I know! Anyway, the excellent first single “Kad si mlad / Zajedno!” (1980) adorned with lovely street themed cover was at least a year late. Unsatisfied with treatment in Suzy, Film  subsequently left the label from their hometown. Once the debut album was finally put out through Slovenian label Helidon it was already 1981. The newness lost its spark. The end result album “Novo! Novo! Novo! Još jučer samo na filmu a sada i u vašoj glavi” was charming but also considerably polished in the studio. Ill-produced by Boris Bele from seminal 70s rockers Buldožer (Slovenia/YU), album only partially delivered promises of Film’s convincing live appearances. Listening to it one doesn’t feel the sheer force of the forward driving rock motion the band was famous for.  Stiff studio sound of the debut was radically improved a few months later on mini-LP “Film u Kulušiću (Live!)” (1981). Film simply became even better live unit when more proficient drummer Ivan Piko Stančić took over la batterie. However, there is an unpleasant rumor circulating around town that not only additional clapping and cheering of the public were added in the studio  but also some extra overdubs. Nevertheless it worked well at the time and it went gold with sales well above over 50,000 copies. At that point Film was nationally established as an energetic upbeat act. Album that followed, fittingly titled “Zona sumraka” (Twilight Zone) (1982), touched upon the darker issues of rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle like drugs, ruined personal relationships, ennui etc. Joie de vivre vibes of the first releases were gone. Failing to deliver a hit-single “Zona sumraka” album was a commercial downfall. Reviews were mixed too. It sounds pretty good to me! It is definitely my favorite studio album by Film. Stančić’s decision to leave the band marked the end of “proper” Film. Prior to his departure, the band went to Sweden and recorded a weird mélange of strangely arranged new wave pop & art-rock. With singer Jura Stublić’s hilarious and hectic rock persona on top of it, “Sva čuda svijeta” (1983) at times sounds psychedelic and “spaced out” and at times outright silly. Stubborn Stublić was always a one-off, resembling a speed freak beatnik/hippie type more than your average punk rocker. Indeed, “Holy Trinity” of the Zagreb New Wave: Azra, Film & Prljavo kazalište were all fronted by intense but peculiar personalities & the output of the bands reflected those personalities pretty well.

Cut-off point for mentioning pop-rock in general would be 1984, after that you get only vapid products of typical 1980s studios or simply garbage.

The most popular of all (new-wave) bands from Zagreb ever was Azra, led by charismatic Branimir Đoni Štulić (a beatnik from Balkans, a barefoot hippie & a rock guitarist in one). Being open to all sorts of stuff I do feel and understand appeal of this band but strictly limited to their most creative period [1979 – 1982] when they were a tight power trio. Cocky frontman Štulić (= bone of contention) was an idiosyncratic dude with overpowering ego. It shows all over their recorded output. Undeniably he had guts, hard-working ethic and remarkable talent as well. Reggae influenced drummer belonged mainly to class ’78 unlike Štulić who was more in ’68 frame of mind (blues-rock, the Beatles). Seemingly accidental bassist with quiet demeanor anchored the band for a while and brought needed stability. Highly charged live energy of Azra’s early concert repertoire should have been translated into raw 4-track garage recording. Surprisingly they tried to capture it with a mellow hippie (oblivious of zeitgeist) behind the console and … never mind, the debut s/t (1980) album certainly got its own specific charm. I grew to appreciate as it is. The follow-up “Sunčana strana ulice” (1981) 2 x LP was praised by rock critics and was extremely well received by public immediately upon release. It has reached canonical status locally and beyond over the time. However, not everybody has been (permanently) impressed. I find most of the acoustic songs underwhelming. There are a couple of trite examples among electric guitar songs too.  The sound quality of the recording (or production job) varies and occasionally it is not quite fitting, especially for hard-driving rock. Similarly bloated “Filigranski pločnici” (1982) 2 x LP sounds good deal heavier (which is good news!) but still there are too many songs for my liking. So, both double (studio) albums put out in succession would be admirable well-rounded single set LPs once cleansed of filler (often pedestrian puns wrapped up in haphazardly sketched songs). Triple (!!!) album “Ravno do dna” (1981) is widely considered as the best one for picking – the essential live overview of the band. Jugoton label spent plenty of vinyl raw material pressing Azra records during intensive period of two years and yet not a single one of them turned out impressive from start to finish; always something hasty, unfinished and incomplete about them. Megalomania and unpleasant aesthetics aside, Azra had a very important redeeming feature – they were genuine rock band on stage. Azra come(s) alive!

When one thinks about Zagreb in the 1980s the name that should cross his (her) mind in the milliseconds should be Haustor. Even band name “Haustor” fits well recalling drab unkempt facades of the faded provincial Austro-Hungarian past & dark damp and smelly “Haus Thüren” (driveways) of the city’s downtown architecture. Haustor was in a certain way also starting point for the arty section of Zagreb’s music scene. Gradually honed out from the hippie/psyche free form collective, Haustor took over the city art scene sometime in late 1979. Their self-titled debut album is to this day one of the best releases  from Zagreb ’81 (and Croatia in general). It’s a fine example of successful art-rock (think of Gong/Roxy Music rather than Genesis/Bowie) & new-wave (reggae slant) cross-pollination that was in the foul city air all those years. According to the witnesses slightly boxed studio recording didn’t quite capture Haustor in full swing. Broadened live repertoire (also a bit boxed and claustrophobic) can be heard on posthumously issued CD album “Ulje je na vodi”. It was recorded on Epiphany Eve, in January ’82 just before band went on a hiatus (JNA). This recording gives additional insight into the nature of the group’s quirky music. Haustor discography was also enriched by excellent 7″ EP “Majmun i mjesec” issued by Jugoton in 1982. Generally speaking, Haustor were at their best with Srđan Sacher (a poet, a bassist and an ethnologist) in a role of the band’s co-author [1979-1984]. This period of Haustor was crowned by modest masterpiece: “Treći svijet” (1984). Later albums with Darko Rundek as main songwriter are, if not excellent then at least, very good.  “Bolero” (1985), the only recording without Sacher’s contributions, is almost like a Rundek’s solo LP. There is only one total dud on this album – hilariously bad “Take the Money and Run” rap recital. Rest of the songs are local classics of the mid decade & few of them have been frequent on the radio to this day. They utilized rhythm machine a lot on “Bolero” and stylistically got closer to Karlowy Vary synth-pop aesthetic (“La Femme”). The last Haustor studio album “Tajni grad” (1988) was more like a group effort again – Gulić behind drums & Sacher back on bass on few songs. Haustor was a rock band that digged reggae jazz and world music equally.

Three post-punk names that should never be omitted when Zagreb is in question are: SexA (Captain Beefheart filtered through South Slavic minds – arty, haughty and wild – mental and visceral art-rock attack), Trobecove krušne peći (untamed jazz-funk no-wave youth barking from the city’s darkest corners) and Pingvinovo potpalublje (the closest to introverted and self-contained bookish types that Zagreb could ever get). Pingvinovo potpalublje were initially dismissed as half-baked Joy Division copycats which was very unkind. On the contrary, recorded evidence shows that they cherished distinctive mystic vision of their own.

Superb drum-box post-punk band Korowa Bar lost its serrated edge quickly and transformed into smooth minimalist synth-pop Karlowy Vary. Before fading out into oblivion Karlowy Vary added a drummer to the line-up and, judging by studio recordings, became even more anemic. At the very end they put out thin sounding official debut (actually the second album) titled “La Femme” and split up.

Beside power-pop Zagreb was also (in)famous for sophisticated Eastern European romantics who preferred art-rock (David Bowie, Roxy Music, Peter Gabriel and Japan) to dirty punk: Boa & Dorian Gray. I have the impression, based on what little I saw of film footage, listened to and read over the years, that they were quite potent as live acts. I’ve never heard Boa’s Demo ’80 but live tracks from 06/81 and 05/82 reveal them in superb form, especially guitarist who didn’t shy away from feedback and bassist with fat solid funky tone. At that point in time (1980/81) Boa was a thrilling modern rock band, few miles ahead from almost every other band in town. Unfortunately, Boa lost considerable part of its stylized vital power in the recording studio. They went so far and recorded problematic sophomore album in the state of the art studios in Sweden – now surprise! – it turned out ice glossy. Today it can be categorized as overproduced and dated disappointment, so painfully neutered it brings tears to my eyes. The sound of drums (holy instrument!) on that super polished album was totally desecrated. [approached as synth-pop/art-rock hybrid, album “Ritam strast” is pretty OK due to still very good content/songs] Dorian Gray followed the bad example. [Dorian Gray II were synth-pop/art-rock act so the second album “Za tvoje oči” recorded in the same Swedish studio turned out as even better accomplished product in overall than their unfortunate debut] Actual debut recordings by both bands are fine enough art-rock records although just a little bit too clean for my filthy low-tech taste. Anyhow, Boa and Dorian Gray were great live bands and represent this suave face of Zagreb very well. Trotakt projekt  – band from Metković that moved to Zagreb to make a career and enjoy life in big city – schlepped behind for a while; one foot in new-wave the other one in a permanent shadow of Saint Bowie. They were passable for an overambitious pop-art project until they decided to… dance! Young synth-pop troupe Fuj tajfel was dancing and clubbing around town for few years to no avail.

Brojani* were an earlier [1984-86] offshoot of Haustor, sort of ethno / world music influenced with emphasis on rhythm. Waitapu* continued where Brojani II left off.

Dee Dee Mellow would be something like a jazzy avant offshoot of Haustor.

Cul de Sac were simply free! As free jazz screechers in a blind alley could be.

There was a short rockabilly revival gathered around few bands at the end of the ’80s. More style than substance (more cuddly pussy cats than stray tom cats)  as it usually goes with retro things.

Parallel NWHM (new wave of heavy metal) side of the city isn’t close to my heart (or the lower parts of my body) as much. I am only superficially familiar with few bands: hard-rockin’ Divlje jagode came mainly from BiH/YU but were formed in Zagreb in ’77, III kanal (turncoats of sorts, their 1st single was a new wave/rock product! ), Legija (shared drummer with Trobecove krušne peći!?), Teško vrijeme (aka Hard Time) and Anesthesia (ZG thrash metal beginnings).

New wave generations were steadily losing inspiration as the time went on and yet there  was a sudden spark at the end of the most exciting decade in rock. It coincided with influx of foreign bands that started to play more often in Ljubljana, Zagreb and Belgrade & and as well with more private investments  (money!) on the partially opened market.

Old guard re-shuffled and re-grouped for the very last time: Sacher (Haustor), Leiner (Azra) and Juričić (Film) got together in Vještice which were unfortunately a tad bit too much on the lite and bright side of things.

Restless members of SexA (mk II) had moment of epiphany watching Rapeman in Ljubljana in ’88 and resurrected the band (they could have found inspiration watching Trobecove krušne peći in ’87 at home). From that point onward SexA was a noise-rock band and it suited them perfectly.

Disciplina kičme, an outstanding band from Belgrade (Serbia/YU), upgraded the line-up / style with two members (Novoselić from Film on sax, Gulić from Haustor on drums) from Zagreb about that time too. This short-lived Serbo-Kroatian Freundschaft version of Disciplina kičme often played in Zagreb and was generally awesome.

The House Painters would be the first band that fully embraced lingua franca of rock – with British accent! In a way  they represent continuation of funk influenced art-rock (Boa and Dorian Gray) from Zagreb.   However, their funk was cerebral and quite stiff. It belonged to art galleries more than on the dance floor. The House Painters were also the main protagonists from the new generation of Zagreb bands active in the ”gap” years (mid to late 1980s). Decent output recorded in period 1987-89 can be heard on independently released cassette album “Music for Leopold IV” (FV Založba).

Ex-punks and scene hangers-on that later appeared in goth rock bands. Phantasmagoria (ex Eksodus, ex Sköl) were the most resilient of the bunch and became the most in/famous name in the following decade. Dark and psychedelic Endymion started to sing in English from the very beginning and as a result lost some points in my book. Different strokes for different folks!  A couple of songs by Nezaboravan san o…  (sang or recited in mother tongue) fitted Zagreb’s brooding melancholic mood perfectly. Kinda electronically beautiful. Speaking of city’s Goth subculture it’s worth mentioning a compilation tape  “041” (1989) issued by FV Založba. Although it is uneven and incomplete overview of goth-rock/dark-wave/alt rock (and related) bands from the second half of the 1980s it did capture atmosphere very well. Beside already mentioned Endymion (unfortunately somewhat overproduced in the studio)  and Nezaboravan san o…, it included Nemesis (goth pop-rock with female vocal reminiscent of March Violets, competently sang in English), Lepra (with two wildest tracks on this compilation echoing and emanating corrosive Killing Joke vibes) and Jozo oko Gospe (synth-pop/dark electronica project). Lepra & Nezaboravan san o… songs would be my favourites here.

So, in the late 1980s (famous reformed Marković year) first private “rock entrepreneurs” appeared on the scene. Legend of local independent publishing Zdenko Franjić founded Slušaj najglasnije! aka Listen Loudest! cassette label. Franjić has been pushing his favorite garage-rock / punk-rock bands up and down the Balkans since 1988. At the start he was picking young Croatian bands mainly on the Vinkovci – Zagreb – Pula (hard) rock route. He was also trying to break through via Forced Exposure and other leading American fanzines. I could perhaps recommend VA ‎”Bombardiranje New Yorka”, first tape by Majke and Machine Gun (Put za Nakovo). Slušaj najglasnije! label was also responsible for digging out and dusting off very fine post-punkers Boykot Für/WGP from Pula. I like ’em very much. Satan Panonski was his in/famous protégé too.  This peculiar and extreme punk performer from Vinkovci was in essence a troubled soul – one side G.G.Allin and the other Nick Blinko. Unfortunately, G.G.A. side was predominant – an atrocity exhibition I’d rather avoid to witness. On the other hand Slušaj najglasnije! also gave a chance to still innocent teen punk rockers Overflow (Through Department Store) from Koprivnica & boys didn’t disappoint. Surprisingly one and only release from Zagreb on Slušaj najglasnije! at the time was LP “Čista perverzija” by Sköl. Beefed-up through Motörhead and Killing Joke influences Sköl (mk II) upgrade was good enough but album generally suffers from lack of variety: thick guitar sound is lost in the mix and the vocals are up front but for some reason not captivating at all.

City’s another independent label of note – Search & Enjoy – started promising in 1990 and immediately bridged Zagreb and Novi Sad (Serbia/YU).  They put out remarkable LPs by two stalwart bands from the Novi Sad scene: all female Boye (“’78”) & Obojeni program (“Najvažnije je biti zdrav”). Search & Enjoy also picked Majke (Vinkovci, Croatia) from Franjić for vinyl debut “Razum i bezumlje”.  Studeni studeni – garage-rock punks with great name and not that great love (!) songs squeezed on 33 rpm seven-inch record. Had it been issued as simple single record (“A ja sam je volio” b/w  “Čisto kao suza”) it would have kicked ass harder and louder, using less lovey-dovey words too. Sin Albert – then contemporary art rock band whose dissonant strumming was harking back to Velvet Underground would have profited from 45 rpm 12″ format and dirtier sound. Both bands released their decent seven-inch debut EPs with a little help from Search & Enjoy.

Šumski (and their own locally very important Kekere Aquarium cassette label) would be about the last band mentioned here, formed early in 1991 … but they really belong to an opening chapter of ZG rock legacy in post-war Croatia.

* = more info / samples of music needed