We bring you some of the most extraordinary Yugoslav electronic gems recently rediscovered through a bunch of existing and upcoming compilation releases in Europe and the US. Read the part two here
In the last couple of years, various collections of electronic music from former Yugoslavia popped up, ranging from numerous downloadable CDR mixtapes to official compilation albums. Yet there are several more waiting in line to be pressed and, as you will see, these are most definitely worth waiting for. In addition, there’s a full-length documentary underway in order to put all the ex-YU electronic music pioneers on the film map as well. Interestingly enough, a Croatian film critic and media connoisseur Željko Luketić seems to be right in the intersectional epicenter of most of these happenings. Naturally, we got in touch with him.
The trend of officially published compilations of Yugoslav electronic music started arguably in 2010 when Subkulturni Azil from Maribor, Slovenia, released the Ex Yu Electronica Vol I: Hometaping in Self-Management vinyl on its Monofonika label, followed next year by the Vol II: Industrial Electro Bypasses in the North – In Memoriam Mario Marzidovšek, dedicated solely to Slovenian scene. Here are some of the artist featured on these two vinyls, including the late Marzidovšek, DIY pioneer of electro/industrial music, whose creativity and innovation, as well as sheer volume of music production and distribution effort remain unmatched to this day.
Electric Fish – Stvar V (Slovenia 1985)
Andrei Grammatik – Poslanica Duholovcima (Macedonia/Serbia 1988)
Mario Marzidovšek aka Merzdow Shek – Suicide In America (Slovenia 1987)
Compiled by Luketić himself, The Ex Yu Electronica Vol III is to be released any day now. It’s focused, as he points out, “on Croatian musicians like Strukturne Ptice, Imitacija Života and Jozo Oko Gospe, but artists from other regions are also represented, for example Skopje’s Aporea.” In the posthumous section, Marzidovešek will appear again, as will Rex Ilusivii (aka Suba) whose track features Milan Mladenović’s unique take on folk music samples. Here’s one of art duo Imitacija Života’s hard-to-come-across videos, followed by a rarefied industrial electro breakbeat cover of Bob Dylan’s classic from Jozo Oko Gospe:
Imitacija Života – Instrumentator (Croatia 1989)
Jozo Oko Gospe – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Croatia 1984)
Yugo-Synth in America / Diskoteka in Croatia
The concept of other Monofonika’s Ex YU Electronica future editions is not crystal clear yet. But! Luketić has already confirmed that as a result of his other research efforts, Croatia Records is to release a collection set of Yugoslav electronic music, entitled Diskoteka, while San Francisco’s Dark Entries label decided to put out two compilations of Yugoslav electronica under the title Synth Yugoslavia.
“American label Dark Entries has successfully (re)released two records from Ljubljana’s Borghesia [whose videos you can check out in one of our earlier articles], Ljubav je hladnija od smrti and, very recently, Clones, and they are selling very well,” says Luketić. After contributing liner notes for the Clones release, Luketić was contacted by the label again. This time to come up with the tracklist for the upcoming Yugoslavia project. And he gladly delivered. Featuring artists like Max & Intro, Brazil and Denis & Denis, Synth Yugoslavia compilations will appear as vinyl-only editions in the first half of 2013. In the meantime, here’s a catchy hit which might be re-released on Dark Entries. It comes from Max & Intro’s only officially released record:
Max & Intro – Ostavi sve (1985)
Consisted of nothing less than mind-blowing seven CDs, the Diskoteka series is to feature some of the most rare electronic music diamonds, gathered from post Yugoslav cellars, attics, flea markets and private vaults. To get the picture, here are the working titles: Vol 1: Rare synth pop & electro (1978 – 1989); Vol 2: Rare disco (1972 – 1985); Vol 3: Rare funk, soul & jazz (1969 -1979); Vol 4: Rare no wave/indie (1979 – 1989); Vol 5: Rare electronica (1961 – 1986); Vol 6: Rare prog rock (1969 – 1985); and Vol 7: More synth pop.
“Since we haven’t officially started the promotion and still continue searching through the archives, I can’t disclose the tracklists, but there will be loads of rare and unreleased tracks,” Luketić assures me. The release of Vol 1 of Diskoteka series is also planned for 2013, by the way, and here’s my choice of a track to kick off the party – a ruby from one of Rijeka’s finest yet relatively hidden synth-pop/disco icons, who by most criteria, should find her place in Diskoteka:
Milka Lenac – Željo luda (Croatia 1980)
While indulging my curiosity by throwing out some remarkably teasing audio crumbs, Luketić also rightfully feels saddened by the fact that “plenty of this material doesn’t enjoy the status of protected cultural artefacts.” And I concur. Early electronic music production should be acknowledged as important cultural heritage, protected and looked after with the care it deserves.
Origins of Yugoslav Electronica
So where does the story of Yugoslav electronica actually begin? If for lack of space one focuses on popular music genres and puts aside 1960s and 1970s electroacoustic and avantgarde music composers (Branimir Sakač, Vladan Radovanović, Dragoslav Ortakov etc), the origins of Yugoslav electronic music can be detected in the late 1970s pop music, jazz, prog rock, film soundtracks, as well as radio jingles and TV themes. Here’s a good example of the latter – the legendary 1978 theme for TV Belgrade’s Daily News 2 programme authored by one of the most remarkable film soundtrack composers in Yugoslavia, Zoran Simjanović:
Zoran Simjanović – Dnevnik 2 RTB (Serbia 1978)
Discussing Serbian electronic music in 1978, one cannot but at least mention the famous soul/synth-pop artist Oliver Mandić’s track Šuma, the B-side of his debut single. This remains to this day Mandić’s sole daring take on electronica and you can give it a go by listening to Bturn podcast #002 by DJ Brka.
We speed on to Croatia’s Igor Savin. Although this composer and jazz musician released a proper electronic album Childhood in 1982, and went on to establish the Electronic Studio at Zagreb’s Vatroslav Lisinki Hall, he had been dealing with electronic music way earlier. Most remarkably on this track produced for a jazz/rock singer Zdenka Kovačiček:
Zdenka Kovačiček – Elektra (Croatia 1978)
Speaking of composers meddling with electronica, here’s an interesting teaser from Luketić: Kosovo’s Gjon Gjevlekaj. Creating tracks for television and film, Gjevlekaj has produced a number of remarkable pieces, and Luketić has been trying to get his hands on the original master tapes for quite some time now. While waiting for which of the original tracks he will manage to excavate, it could be worth checking out, for instance, Gjevlekaj’s 1988 soundtrack for Fog Guardians, a fascinating and rather horrorish avantgarde film directed by Isa Qosja, which at the time was actually banned due to its portrayal of secret police’s violent methods:
Isa Qosja – Rojet e mjegulles (‘Fog Guardians’); Soundtrack: Gjon Gjevlekaj (Kosovo 1988)
There will also be other rarities from Kosovo included in the series, “especially in the disco/funk section,” says Luketić, “as well as artists from Bosnia, Macedonia and other regions. It’s quite hard to draw a clear line between former Yugoslav republics, however, since in those days excellent Belgrade bands would record for Zagreb labels and vice versa. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Croatia and Serbia were producing more tracks than other regions, although Serbian production was rather stronger in terms of quality than Croatian. Slovenia, on the other hand, held the forefront position, which is understandable as some of the bands there were signed by international labels, for instance Borghesia by PIAS and Laibach by Mute.”