– A soft blue light suffuses the dim recesses of Belgrade’s newly
reopened Akademija club, as some young Serbian MCs rap over a brutally funky
marriage of techno and old-school beats. My friends Vuksha and Tijana are caught
up in the crescendo, dancing together as the music washes through the darkened
I stop observing and start dancing. The thumping mix is that irrepressible.
was the cultural center of Southeastern Europe before nationalism and Milosevic
chased away its cool, or at least drove it underground. During the 90s, the
country’s airwaves were mostly filled with inane "turbofolk"–kitschy,
electrified versions of traditional music augmented by lyrics celebrating Serbia’s
criminal materialism and criminality. It was the sound that drowned out nearby
wars for years, until NATO brought the war to Serbia itself.
a perfect illustration of how much things have changed in just the year since
Milosevic was swept from power. Before the Balkan wars, Akademija was voted
one of the best nightclubs in Europe by now-defunct Brit music mag Melody
Maker. The club’s reopening tonight is among the strongest signals
yet that things are getting back to something resembling normal.
toilets are exactly the same," Vuksha says as he emerges from the murky
facilities. "They’re still terrible."
is one of Belgrade’s bigger venues, but part of the delights in clubbing
here are the city’s smaller, odder places, many of them consisting of little
more than a concept, a DJ with infallible taste and lots of lukewarm Serbian
beer–usually Niksicko Pivo or Bip. One of those places is Krivi Stojko
(or "Bent Dick")–a club-boat nestled on the Sava River in the
south of the city. The night I climbed onto the rickety boat, the place was
throbbing to a mix of vintage Fela and samba jazz, with the odd Kraftwerk tune
thrown in for good measure. It was the perfect vibe for a warm Friday night,
and the place was just getting started at 1 a.m. Another local favorite, Pazi
Skola ("Caution! School!") is located in an underground complex of
shops. Pazi Skola’s crowd regularly spills out of the club and into the
arcade as its DJs alternate Yugo-rock faves with old-school hiphop until 4 or
5 in the morning.
late hours are a hallmark of Belgrade. Much like Berlin, nothing really happens
here until midnight at the very earliest. Venture out earlier and you tend to
run into Belgrade’s professional drinkers, like the moron who accosted
Vuksha, Tijana and me at a bar called Fili. He told us that David Crosby had
gotten k.d. lang pregnant. I tried to set him right, but he wasn’t having
any part of Melissa Etheridge.
scene at the moment is divvied up between a burgeoning dance scene that leans
heavily on down-tempo and dub and a hard-charging alternative rock scene featuring
groups like Jarboli and E-Play. The dance scene can be heard on two collections
put out by radio station B92, Radio Utopia 4: Belgrade Coffee Shop and
Belgrade Coffee Shop Sessions Volume 1. The city’s DJ culture
is much more advanced than its rock culture, and Jazzva and Speed Limit, featured
on the second disc, summon up a sophisticated, almost summery blend of dance
interesting stuff emerges when groups like Disciplin A Kitschme (English wordplay
on the band’s earlier incarnation as "Disciplina Kicme," or "Discipline
of the Spine") and Eyesburn try to bridge the gap between the two scenes.
Disciplin A Kitschme launch a thunderous assault that veers between hard house
and Moby’s more rockist moments, and their latest record, Refresh Your
Senses Now!, is one of the best I’ve heard this year, an oddly defiant
release that oscillates between moody and dizzy. Eyesburn’s latest, Fool
Control, is more straightforward and metallic, with its best moments coming
as the album steers deep into a heavy dub that would curl Jah Wobble’s
Belgrade band that’s as good or better than anything you’ll hear in
New York City is Neocekivana sila koja se iznenada pojavljuje i resava stvar–"Unexpected
force that appears suddenly and saves the thing." They often go by the
less wordy moniker "Sila," and their first two LPs–1999’s
eponymous collection and a 2000 disc called Hard to Dig It!–are
the high-water mark of Belgrade’s resurgent club culture. In Sila’s
music, dub and rock textures wash up against truly sinuous beats. Their brooding,
arty music sounds like the product of Lee Perry, Barry Adamson and the Cure,
all within a single tune.
At the moment,
Belgrade’s scene is still a test tube of sorts, isolated from the broader
influences that a regular influx of touring bands would bring. Even as its own
bands cook up fabulous music, Belgrade only gets visits from minor Aussie punks
Cosmic Psychos or dinosaurs like Coldcut, who played a visually stirring but
musically inert show in the old Turkish fortress of Kalemegdan the first night
that I was in Belgrade. Yet despite its isolation, Belgrade is still pumping
out better music than anywhere else in the Balkans. When the normal commerce
of rock resumes and bands like Sila, Eyesburn and Disciplin A Kitschme find
their way out of Serbia while bands from the U.S. and Britain flood in, Belgrade
will be poised for a return to its former musical preeminence.