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Crni Pek: Serbia’s thriving outsider music of the 90s

Published January, 2012
by Easterndaze

A new compilation put together by Nikola Vitkovic (as his independent endeavour) strives to highlight the buoyoant music scene of the troublesome period of Serbia’s history – the 1990s. It seems that the old maxim about art thriving in the age of general gloom is at play in this case as well. Nikola was, however, not interested in the country’s strong alternative indie scene (as an opposition to the state-supported turbofolk) but in the “genius freaks”, the talented and isolated (by their own will) dilettante. The album is divided into three parts depending on the time of inception – early 90s still heavily influenced by the preceding decade, mid-Nineties and the war, and late 90s. Each of these periods is manifest in the music itself, eg. the music made during the war with its almost “retarded” weirdness, a cathartic musical self-therapy. You can download the compilation for free.

What was the motivation behind compiling this list of songs?
The real, initial motivation was the desire to release several albums of experimental music projects from 90s Serbia, for the first time in public. There are dozens of undiscovered experimental gems from that era, but I was specifically interested in escapist projects outside of any scene, people who nurtured their private “one man scenes” in isolation.

I knew that a contemporary listener, whose attention span has tragically shortened, wouldn’t know how to handle such obscure releases and difficult music. So I decided that, along with the full albums on CDr, I should make one free compilation of the 90s experimental music in Serbia and write a little essay about it. I wanted a compilation to provide a broader context for the albums, raise wider interest in the separate projects, and suggest that they should be regarded as parts of the bigger picture of the 90s Serbian under-underground and the psychopathology of its culture.
Pigeons in Space – Starcounter by easterndaze
Can you describe the alternative independent music scene in the 90s in Serbia? 

But I must point out that my answer to this question won’t be about the bands on crni pek compilation – they are outsiders from all scenes, and the following generalisations don’t apply to them 🙂

In the 90’s, serbian alternative music was very much driven by distorted guitars. As someone who grew up in the 80s, I remember being shocked with the overall erosion of standards in alternative music. Everyone was trying to sound like it’s 1976… or maybe they tried to sound like 91? To me, they sounded like 76 anyway. There was much anger, energy, frustration and “resistant” sentiments, but very little else.
In the 80s and before, there has always been a strong negative stereotype about electronic music as being soulless kitsch.  When this conservative ‘technophobia’ was over with, our electronic musicians turned to techno. Techno was considered rubbish in the underground scene, because of it’s escapist and hedonistic lack of interest in anything other than drug-induced delirium. So, there was no electronics nor experimentation in the underground scene.
The good thing about the 90s was that the totalitarian situation gave us a sense that whatever we do, it’s leading us to some purpose, some hypothetical [metaphysical?] exit. There was this common urge to transcend ourselves into different occasions. And when you live in a permanent state of emergency, you set your priorities in craziest ways: partying was a priority, making guitar noise also, hanging out on concerts, drinking…
How did the war influence music? You mention that the most experimental bands appeared during the bombing…

The war influenced the media which selected and filtered the music, so we were served a very bipolar choice: be a turbo-folk war veteran [on the state governed media], or an “alternative” rebel [on the opposition’s media]. The majority of music fitted stricly in the respective styles of those two opposing "philosophies" – you had countless metal/punk/rock/hc clones on one side, and turbofolkers on the other.

This “media dualism” had nothing to do with the expansion of experimental music during bombing. This phenomenon happened when people felt a physical shock of bombing, and realised just how easily they could die any minute, without having even tried to express themselves ever. It was a moment when the worldwide lunacy was confirmed, and that gave us an endless right to reject sanity. With the adrenaline rush and no school to go to, everyone went positively crazy.

Skattor Minox – Methadone Metronome by easterndaze

You mentioned in the accompanying text, that alternative, rebellious music in the 90s was accepted better than smooth pop? 
Throughout the 90s, alternative music has become the mainstream of urban culture, that is – young people, people in big cities and generally people who didn’t support the regime. The question of taste has become a question of politics – just as it has always been. There was this paradoxical situation when more people supported some third-grade punks than an easy pop band. People identified their dissatisfaction with provocative culture, like underground comics and lofi movies.
On the basis of that, we could have made the strongest alternative scene in history, but we didn’t! Although there was an enormous public interest in underground genres, almost all our bands sounded alike, which means – oldfashioned and stereotypical. there was no eccentricity, no courage to be original, no genius. except… in private rooms, where social freaks produced their gesamtkunstwerks, in isolation. Crni Pek is a compilation of those freaky geniuses, and it suggests that isolationism is better than populism, and that one’s isolationism [or freakdom] can be of much greater value to a society than populist. What we needed then, and now, are eccentrics who would care and dare to present themselves to the public, with no compromise.
According to what method did you put together the various tracks?
It wasn’t hard to select the tracks, i just tried to fit them in a good “mix”. Much harder was to select the projects which should be included. they had to be:
– unlike any popular alternative cliche music of the 90s

– intentionally isolated

– undiscovered even among the underground circles
– produced whole albums [some of them had more than 20 albums]
– created in the 90s and terminated in the 90s preferably
– serious about what they were doing and strict about the concept of that work [even if it’s sometimes just freaking out improvisation]

STARR & WEBB – jamais by nebriga

How does the 90ties alternative music scene differ to today’s alternative music scene in Serbia and what can it learn from that era?
The scene today is entirely different but all its weaknesses are the same: middle-of-the-road approach, trying to impress and satisfy the target audience, striving to be accepted, trying to sound like some foreign band… and no trace of originality, or authenticity stronger than a “heartfelt imitation”. In the 90s, urban culture needed rough and angry music to express their dissatisfaction. Since 2000, it needs a “European class quality” music, to confirm that we belong to the European culture.
The goals are different, but the mentality is the same, and it’s mediocre. I released the Crni Pek compilation to point out that creatively we are still where we were 20 years ago, and that we need real eccentric outsiders to take part in the public culture, to expose themselves for the first time bravely, shock us, scare us, disgust us, and save us from our middle-of-the-road downfall.

-mrtvi- Sound c128 by easterndaze

Check out the audio interview for our weekly Radio Wave show Vychodiska.