Dark Electronic Landscapes: A Brief Introduction to Macedonian New-Wave Music

 

New Wave music in early 1980s Yugoslavia was a unique phenomenon within the socialist world. In contrast to the USSR and the various Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe, whose leaders viewed control of culture, particularly popular and youth culture, as a means of consolidating power, the Yugoslavian authorities offered culture to their citizens, especially the young, as an outlet to safely relieve pent-up social trauma, while simultaneously presenting the illusion of freedom.

Factors such as the freedom to travel and consume Western pop culture, as well as the advent of the tape cassette, which made it easy to record and transport music, resulted in the spread of radical punk and new wave throughout Yugoslavia in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Although the main cultural epicenters were located in the urban zones of Serbia and Croatia, the other republics of the SFRY offered their own contemporary musical gems; none more so than in Macedonia, where a small but extremely talented group of musicians set out to create a uniquely Macedonian contemporary sound.

Unfortunately, the earliest Macedonian punk and new wave bands left little to no official recordings behind. The majority either split prematurely or transformed into something else, but regardless, they undoubtedly left a powerful imprint upon Macedonian youth and the bands of today. Here we give a brief introduction to some of the main players in a fascinating period for music in Yugoslavia.

 

Bastion

A drum machine, fretless bass and synths pulsating beneath the sweet, baby doll-style singing of Ana Kostovska, Bastion were key pioneers of electro-pop in Macedonia, striking the perfect balance between the energetically bubbly and downright odd. The band was formed in 1983 by singer/actress Kostovska, keyboardist Kiril Džajkovski and bassist Ljubomir Stojsavljević, while lyrics came from Academy Award-nominated film director Milčo Mančevski, who at the time was a writer for influential Yugoslav music magazine Džuboks.

Originally recorded in Skopje in 1983 and released on the Belgrade-based label PGP-RTB in 1984, Bastion’s self-titled record quickly became one of the most coveted to come out of the Western Balkans, striking in its frantic post-punk grooves, fresh pop choruses and slow-motion synth excursions. The record touches on feminism and femininity (Hollywood and Mister Kompleks), explorations of dark landscapes (Deca Sunca and Mesec u Šolji), while penultimate track Molitva carries the record towards a quintessentially Macedonian mysticism. The lyrics on the album were in Serbo-Croat, although the band did record a few songs in their native tongue.

In March of 2018, Bastion’s eponymous debut was reissued on vinyl by ACC, aka A Colder Consciousness, a label and radio station that has been broadcasting in London and Skopje since 2011. According to ACC’s Bandcamp, the reissue is currently sold out, but here’s hoping reinforcements are sent in soon.

 

Badmingtons

Led by Vladimir Petrovski-Karter, Skopje natives Badmingtons played melodic punk-rock during their short-lived existence and even managed to leave a demo tape, Posle mene što ti e gajle, behind. Now very rare, the 1984 release saw the band claim first prize at the Macedonian Rokfest competition, which was the opportunity to record in the acclaimed M-2 studio of the music production branch of the national Macedonian Radio-Television. They recorded several songs in the studio for their 1985 demo, one of which was their trademark track Site obični luđe (All the Common People), which became a Macedonian punk anthem and was included on the Makedonski dokument (Macedonian Document) compilation album alongside other notable underground acts.

 

Padot na Vizantija

Evoking the energetic post punk of early Echo and the Bunnymen or U2, the short-lived Skopje act Padot na Vizantija (The Fall of Byzantium) only managed to set down a couple of studio/live demo tracks that were scattered across three compilation tape cassette releases. Led by now-internationally acclaimed musician Goran Trajkoski, the darkwave collective burnt up too soon to leave a more lasting impression in their own right, although their departure did pave the way for space for even more powerful gothic rock delivered in the shape of post-JNA Mizar/Mizar II. Regardless of their brief lifetime, Padot na Vizantija still managed to tour the Western Balkans quite a bit, including an appearance at the famed YURM ’85 festival in Zagreb, from which they garnered rave reviews. Although any discernible releases were thin on the ground, what was put to tape was re-issued by NE! Records last year and can be purchased here.

 

 

Leb i Sol

Meaning “Bread and Salt” in Serbo-Croat, Leb i Sol are viewed by many as not only the most important and most popular Macedonian band of all time, but one of the greatest ex-Yugoslavian bands also. Formed on 1 January 1976 in Skopje, by Vlatko Stefanovski on guitar and vocals, bassist Bodan Arsovski, Nikola Dimusevski on keys and Dimitrije Cucurovski on drums, the band’s first three albums consisted of largely instrumental, ethno-jazz-fusion music married with traditional Balkan and Macedonian sounds. When Dimusevski and his successor on keyboards, Miki Petkovski, left the band in 1980, the remaining members decided to continue as a trio resulting in a change of music direction for their fourth album, into more rock-based territory, retaining some ethno-fusion elements but making them more accessible to mainstream pop/rock audience.

After Tavitijan departed in the summer of 1982 to be replaced by Dragoljub Djuricic, the group changed their record label from Belgrade-based PGP RTB to Zagreb’s Jugoton. The 8th album Tangenta was produced by the Canterbury scene veteran Kevin Ayers. In 1986 Tavitijan returned as drummer, while the following year they added saxophone and keyboards for their Kao kakao LP, which saw another radical shift away from their prog explorations towards a more laid-back sound, which included several bonafide pop-hits. Dimusevski returned for the final studio album, Putujemo, in 1989, while Djuricic again replaced Tavitijan on drums for the North American tour and 1991’s Live in New York album. Leb i Sol played their farewell concert in Thessalonika, Greece, December 1995, after which they went their separate ways.