Born in 1976. in former Yugoslavia and raised by parents musicians and having a brother who was 8 years older and who started as a drummer pretty young and had his first live gig at the age of 13, I was introduced to the life of music pretty early, since I could crawl. I remember the day Tito died in 1980. And even though I was only 4 years old at that time, I was old enough to remember the nation mourning for one of the most influential world leader who did some clever political moves for Yugoslavia in order not to isolate the country from all the influences coming from the west, even though we were a communist and socialist country. That greatly influenced the music scene, as it gave it enough freedom even with such a regime to artistically reflect upon politics and society and to make some brilliant music as well as to give birth to some utterly good lyricists.
While the rebellious punks ruled the Western Europe and Great Britain something was cooking in old Yugoslavia as well. In 1977 we were introduced to the sound of Pankrti (The Bastards) from The Republic of Slovenia. Known for their politically painted lyrics, they were provocative and relentless and were indeed “the first punk band behind the Iron Curtain”. They were the first punk band ever formed in a communist country. I still remember my brother playing their first LP Lublana je bulana (Ljubljana is Sick) that played an important role in starting a new music scene in Yugoslavia. The later formed bands of Yugoslav new wave referred to them as their influence.
Same years but another location, this time The Republic of Croatia, in the city of Rijeka Paraf was formed. Starting as a punk band and later post punk, they were one of the pioneers of punk rock in the country. Their first album A dan je tako lijepo počeo (And The Day Started Out So Nicely…) was indeed a daring one when it comes to provocative lyrics, in line with the punk rock ideology; they used communist slogans, mocked at that time some other popular bands, insulted the police and showed a lot of social awareness. They were greatly played at my home as well, since my brother was indeed a punk at that time.
Meanwhile in the capital city of Croatia, Zagreb was blessed with the scene of its own. Formed in 1977, Azra was soon recognized as well for their political lyrics even though a lot of songs were emotionally coloured, and although the sound of the band was more rock oriented, they still played an important role on the new wave and rock scene and named as one of the most influential bands with a controversial frontman but a great lyricist Johnny Štulić.
But another new wave band was formed in Zagreb as well in 1978 and they were called Film. The anthem of that time was their song “Neprilagođen” (Misfit) with which they won on the Subotica Youth festival, after which they became one of the most popular bands in former Yugoslavia.
Another prominent band Haustor was formed in Zagreb at that time and made a mark as one of the most influential new wave and post punk bands even though they relied more on ska, reggae and funk sound; they gained their first recognition with their hit “Moja prva ljubav” (My first love).
Known by the punk rock and new wave work in their early years, Prljavo kazalište (Dirty Theatre) appeared on Zagreb’s music scene of the time and became most know at that time for their everlasting new wave hit “Crno bijeli svijet” (Black and white world).
Another name that was a part of Zagreb’s new wave scene was Aerodrom (Airport) who released five albums from 1979-1986. Their greatest success was reached in the early 80s and one of their grates hits “Obična ljubavna pjesma” (A simple love song) was released on their third release Obične ljubavne pjesme (Simple love songs).
But at that time some new romantics appeared as well and Zagreb was indeed a happy place to be at the time. Starting in late seventies Boa offered that popular new romantic style and as soon as they released their debut album Boa in 1982 they already had a major hit “Milion” (Million). I really would need a separate article about this gem of the New romantic scene of Croatia as they produced so many truly great hits. What differentiated Boa and the bands alike was the prominent synth sound that new wave names of Yugoslavia did not use, but instead relied more on punk and rock influences.
Another new wave and synth pop band from Croatia that was indeed a hit factory was an electro pop duo Denis & Denis. Marina, the lead singer was indeed a fantasy of male half of the country, but what mattered here was the sound and their debut album Čuvaj se! (Take care!) was ranked as the best album in 1984 in “Rock” magazine rated from the foreign public. And so many years ago I sent one of my Swedish friends some Denis & Denis tracks for listening, and to my great surprise he was already familiar with the band as they played it in some Swedish clubs! They became instantly recognized by their debut album hit “Program tvog kompjutera” (Programme of your computer).
One more gem from Zagreb was Dorian Gray. Even though they released two albums only, they left a huge mark on the Croatian synth pop scene. In 1983 they released their debut album Sjaj u tami (Glow in the Darkness) that gained a major success and was treasured for their same title single, a cover version of the famous song “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”. Their second album Za tvoje oči (For your eyes only) was recorded in Sweden and released in 1985.
In Rijeka again Xenia was formed as an alternative pop band, again with two albums but was immediately recognized by their hit “Iznenadi me” (Surprise me) from their debut album Kad nedjelja prođe (When Sunday’s over).
Meanwhile on the synth pop scene in Slovenia Vidoesex was formed and gained much recognition with their first same title album that contained one of their many hits, “Detektivska priča” (A detective story).
But what I consider one of the most colourful scenes was the one forming in The Republic of Serbia.
Pekinska Patka (Peking Duck) formed in 1978 is considered as the band who released the first post punk album in Serbia. They drew the influence from The Clash, The Specials and Magazine and they based their sound on melodic punk. Being a provocative in their music, lyrics and live performance, they gathered a lot of followers among the youth of their home town Novi Sad and the rest of Serbia but as well had problems with live performances- many of which got cancelled on the day of the show by the authorities. Their debut album Plitka poezija (Shallow poetry) contains their major hit “Bolje da nosim kratku kosu” (I Better Wear Short Hair ).
In Belgrade something else was cooking and it was Idoli (The Idols), another post punk/new wave band. Idoli were not reluctant to speak their mind, as with “Schwule Über Europa” they made a parody on the attitude towards Germans, with “Maljčiki” a parody on Social-Realist art and propaganda and on “Retko te viđam sa devojkama” (I Rarely See You With Girls) they gave a gay hint. Their video for “Maljčiki” was banned on national television and some radio stations after the Soviet embassy responded. Their second album Obrana I poslednji dani (The Defense and the Last Days) was voted by the music critics as the greatest Yugoslav rock album. They are as well one of the most covered Yugoslav bands as many bands covered their songs later.
However my dearest Serbian post punk/new wave band coming from Belgrade as well was Električni Orgazam (Electric Orgasm), and I really cannot compare their first three releases with anything that I have ever heard. Električni orgazam (Electric Orgasm) released in 1981, Lišće prekriva Lisabon (Leaves Covering Lisbon) from the year after and Kako bubanj kaže (As the Lot Decides) from 1984 are indeed true alternative and experimental stuff, and hardly could provide true hits since the sound was so specific and alternative. Their debut album Električni orgazam had positive reactions both by the audience and critics, including an album review by NME that stated the band was one of the most exciting non-British acts. Leaves covering Lisbon played with the psychedelia that shaped the album into one of the most influential albums of both my childhood and adulthood. As they stated, during the recording of Leaves covering Lisbon they heavily experimented with LSD, thus psychedelic sound was incorporated into the album. The album talks about dealing with the problems of urban alienation for the most part. True hits that were so dear to whole Yugoslavia came on later albums such as Distorzija (Distortion) or Letim, sanjam, dišem (Flying, Dreaming, Breathing) when they started the transformation towards the more rock direction that they kept up until the present day.
Šarlo Akrobata (Charlot the Acrobat) was another post punk/new wave band from Belgrade, Serbia. Even though they split up before they even started, they released one of the most influential albums of that time by the name of Bistriji ili tuplji čovek biva kad… (Brighter or Dumber a Man Gets When…). It however did not achieve much of the commercial success, but rather a cult status and has influenced many of the later artists. Their sound was a mix of the post punk, punk rock, reggae and ska but extremely innovative. However the band members had very different sensibilities and showed much difference between two major creators, Milan who was more melodic and more poetic in his expression and Koja who was more focused on the hard bass line and minimalistic lyrics, and their differences in ideas led to the break up, after which Milan formed the legendary alternative band Ekatarina Velika and Koja formed Disciplina Kičme. Both of the later bands got a huge recognition and success.
But at the time the before mentioned bands: Idoli, Električni Orgazam and Šarlo Akrobata worked together on one of the most important and influential records ever made in SFR Yugoslavia. Paket Aranžman (Package Tour) compilation album was voted the second best Yugoslav rock album of all times by the music critics in the book “Yu 100: the best albums of Yugoslav rock and pop music”, just after Idoli’s Obrana and Poslednji dani.
One other band from Belgrade to mention is Laki Pingvini (The Easy Penguins) who incorporated a more synth sound and can be labelled as new wave/synth pop band. Their debut EP Šizika (Crazy girl) released in 1982 featured besides the same titled song two more tracks and one of those called “Možda, Možda” (Maybe, Maybe) became one of their greatest hits. In the following year, the band released their debut album, Muzika za mlade (Music for the Youth) and the whole album featured an analogue drum machine.
One more synth and electronic music oriented band from Belgrade was Beograd (Belgrade). They were influenced by Kraftwerk and Ultravox and in spring 1982 they released the first Yugoslav electronic single “Sanjaš li u boji?” (Do you dream in Colour?) that revealed their minimal electro influences. Their debut album Remek depo (a pun for the term Remek delo which means A Masterpiece) combines synth pop and brass instrument oriented soul. The album ranked high on the music charts in 1983. One of their hits from that release was “Opasne igre” (Dangerous Games).
The part of Belgrade new wave and post punk scene was U škripcu (In Dire Straits). They started off as a part of the new wave scene but with their first album release in 1982 Godine ljubavi (Years of Love) they moved towards a more experimental post punk sound, before they reached a commercial success with their second album O je! and their EP Nove godine (New Years), both released the same year.
One more name on the Belgrade’s new wave, synth pop scene was Zana. Formed in 1979, their first releases saw large mainstream popularity and up until the mid 80s they focused on the new wave and synth pop sound, later moving towards pop rock. The lead singer Zana Nimani left the band in 1984, but some of their major hits were however sang by Zana. Even though their debut album Loše vesti uz rege za pivsku flašu (Bad News Accompanied by Reggae for a Beer Bottle) was released in 1981, it did not reach the success of the second album Dodirni mi kolena (Touch My Knees) which brought synth pop oriented hits like “Dodirni mi kolena” (Touch My Knees), “Majstor za poljupce” (“Kisses Maestro”), “13 je moj srećan broj” (“13 Is My Lucky Number”). Dodirni mi koena was recorded in Sweden and saw high sales number. By the third album Natrag na voz (Back to the Train) that was recorded again in Sweden, the band already was a huge success and on this release from 1983 we can find some of Zana’s timeless hits as “Komplimenti” (Compliments). “Jabuke I vino” (Apples and Vine) that feature a legendary Yu singer Željko Bebek and “Mladiću moj” (My boy).
Meanwhile in Bosnia and Herzegovina a new subcultural movement New Primitivism emerged. It primarily focused on combining music with comedy on radio and television. The subculture summarizes the work of Zabranjeno Pušenje (No smoking allowed), Elvis J. Kurtovich & His Meteors and Bombaj Štampa (Bombay Press).
While the rest of ex-Yugoslav popular music scene followed the trends of the early 80s Europe post punk and new wave, Zabranjeno pušenje were a part of that unique rock movement centred in Sarajevo. The movement focused on simple garage rock with folk influences and distinctive New Primitivism feel. Zabranjeno pušenje captured the feel of Sarajevo, singing tales of local heroes, love and loss often in a humorous way. The band’s lyrics were cynical and progressive enough to show the last stages of Yugoslav socialism, providing morbid hints to the upcoming war.
One of the bands from Sarajevo was SCH (an abbreviation for Schizophrenia) that was described as “…a group of Sarajevan alternative maniacs who have, infinitely and into infinity, dissipated more wild energy and artificial rebellion than one could fit into all the gothic underground cellars from Hamburg to London.” by the Bosnian writer Miljenko Jergović. They were unconventional and experimental and described as industrial and noise oriented and they really sounded like nothing that came before them or anything that may come after they’ve gone. In their early phase their music was a mixture of new wave, punk and psychedelia with influences such as Gang of Four, Brian Eno, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and King Crimson. Later phase was characterized by their shift from post-new wave into harsh noise and industrial with the influences from The Swans, Sonic Youth, Throbbing Gristle and Einsturzende Neubauten.
How much the music of Novi val (New wave) was supported in Yugoslavia can be proven by the fact that those bands released their albums with Jugoton – the largest record label in the former Yugoslavia. Jugoton was based in Zagreb, Croatia and it is notable for releasing some of the most important former Yugoslav pop and rock records. The company owned a widespread chain of record shops across all Yugoslavia and the bands were greatly supported by the label. We as the audience could easily access the records by simply going to their store to get the latest releases by our favourite bands.