Thanks to the widespread fetishization of the conflicts in the Balkans, most musical conversations in the region tend to deviate towards the regional brand of macho electronic, known as Turbo Folk, while disregarding most other areas of music. Slowly, Turbo Folk is starting to be presented as a gender fluent, inclusive genre of music that both queers and racists can enjoy under one club roof. That doesn’t change the fact the majority of it is pretty dreadful.
That said, across the former Yugoslavia there has always been a strong musical scene that is diverse but equally forward thinking. In contrast to the Soviet Union, where Western cultural influences were limited, citizens across the Yugoslavian SSR were allowed to consume ‘outsider’ music. As such, the country had one of the best music scenes during the late 70’s/early 80’s, with a diverse assembly of New Wave bands from each major city having its own unique sound. Throughout the 90’s, techno grew in popularity in Serbia, in spite of the crushing economic blockades on the country throughout the decade. Prodigy even played Breath for the very first time in Belgrade in 1995 during a legendary concert. Although it does not get the press it deserves, the contemporary music scenes across the region continue to produce great bands.
Given this richness of talent, the lack of attention paid towards the host of young artists emerging from the former Yugoslavia has been shameful. There is no real need to solely feel nostalgia towards artists like Sarlo Akrobata or Dorian Gray when the numerous different music scenes popping up across the region can also be embraced. With Belgrade’s clubs and a number of musical festivals gathering some international attention over the past decade, it is time for people to get excited about the talent emerging from each nation of what was once Yugoslavia.
Blaž is part of a broader and significant beat community in Slovenia, whose most famous act/crypto-currency owner is Gramatik. Like many beatmakers across the world, Blaž’s work thrives on our inability to peg or define him. Constantly producing new work at a frightening pace in the spirit of J Dilla (RIP) and Machinedrum, you find an eclectic body of fragmented and momentary inspirations that is unique and at times enthralling.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Unlike Belgrade, Sarajevo has never been famed for its electronic music scene or clubbing, given that it has no major clubs or infrastructure. Despite this, Hibrid is working against the grain by making a mixture of club jams and atmospheric tracks heavy in vocal samples. In this fashion, he is more than capable of soundtracking your highs and lows.
КУКЛА, aka Kukla Kesherović, is one of our favourite artists and provided one of our best Urban Soundtracks as well. A self-confessed Slavic gangster, КУКЛА is one of Slovenia’s most exciting artists, owing to her capacity to interplay her Macadonian heritage with a futuristic identity. Her music is one part avant-garde exploration, one part soul songstress.
Like КУКЛА, Matter is a group that is incredibly difficult to grasp in terms of genre that is emerging from the painfully underrated Slovenian music scene. Their mix of dystopian slow beats, wonderful use of vocoder, and rapping produces a sound so alien that it gets lost in those hazy nightmares and unknown pleasures.
Shockingly little is written about Macedonia, other than the disputes with Greece over its official name, that you would be forgiven for not being up to date about their music scene. Home to a number of decent punk bands, Palindrom stands out for their mélange of angular guitars, rhythmic drumming, and multiple bass lines. You can hear different math rock influences along with even some dance punk hints as well to make for some great headphone music.
The grandparents of the Nova Srpska Scena (New Serbian Scene), these guys may be the veterans of this list but have certainly earned their staying power. With a famed live show, Repetitor make loud and rhythmic post-hardcore punk. A sort of crass parallel can be drawn between them and American band Fugazi, for their ability to produce continuously high-quality music over a long period, live shows that amaze fans, and even singer Boris Vlastelica looking somewhat similar to Guy Picciotto.
Sergio Lounge is the perfect alternative for those listeners that like Osloni se na mene but hate Oliver Mandić’s fascism. Embracing all the campness of the ex-YU pop music scene of the 70’s, Sergio Lounge sings and plays the computer keyboard for all those long strolls down the Sava with your sweetheart. His retro pop is just soft and sugary enough to ease any of your daily anxieties in the times of Vučić.
Very much the descendant of Zagreb’s long history of producing post-punk bands, Side Project spoke to us in February with a mix that was our tutorial for the Croatian underground. This young band has an amazing capacity for exploring the visceral pits of our emotions, with tracks rich in emotional urgency and terror. Their dualistic vocals recall the XX but providing a far darker and heavier sound.
Svemirko has some of the most thoroughly enjoyable and magical guitar work that you’ll ever hear matched with a vocalist and band that have a lovely sense of melody. Their tracks Tajne Svemira and Zbogom Proleteri in particular have this beautiful, trebly bounce to them that dive the sound through a whirlwind of sugary sound. They make a pop sound that is warm and easily playable at all moments of the day.
Queer Croatian band ŽEN creates a shoegaze sound that would be like if Kevin Shields decided to drink a couple too many cups of coffee. Brawling, chaotic, and pulsating, listening to them is like being washed over by a wave of colour without the fear of drowning. Like their sound, their politics is equally progressive with their name playing with gender fluency and their lyrics critiquing continuing oppression. Their album Sunčani ljudi, released last year, was a critics favourite and considered one of the best of the year in Croatia.