Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Various Artists - (1988) The Cassette Played Poptones [compiled by Sestra Wazelin - reviewed by Sestra Hogon - 4 in 1]
Back in the days, this tape - The Cassette Played Poptones - was one of the seminal compilations of the so called industrial/experimental camp [huge quotation marks here as none of the bands present even comes close to all of the cliches connected with the particular genre], as it the was an attempt to bring closer some of the really interesting happenings in that part of the Yugoslav underground to a more wider audience [obviously, besides Laibach's and Borghesia's activities, respectively]. In that respect, the tape was one of the rare that was reviewed by the mainstream press [like Džuboks]. The importance of these kind of collaborative efforts in the individualist music scene of Yugoslavia is also mirrored by the fact that the there were so few of them, with the majority of authors usually preferring closely-knit acquaintances [if any] for collaboration and thus a more limited scope of influence, rather than this type of regional samplers. The tape compiler, Sestra Wazelin, was actually one of the participants Goran Lišnjić "Lis" from Osijek [Croatia] with his project Metropolie Trans, the other participants being Autopsia from Ruma [Serbia], NEP from Zagreb [Croatia] and Padot Na Vizantija from Skopje [Macedonia]. The tape came with a second issue of a fanzine of the same name [Sestra Wazelin], which I don't posses. The tape was selfreleased in 1988 in an unknown number of copies, ripped around 2008 in 320 kbps and split into two parts with 60 something mbs each: download - HERE. Originally published in four parts, but later merged into one for comprehension and aesthetic reasons.
A word of thanks must be said to whoever ripped this, Sabrina P. Ramet - whose thoughts and references I used extensively, Nikola of Kinovia for making the creative ends meet and of course Goran Lišnjić for the abundance of information provided.
The first band featuring on this 4-way compilation is Autopsia from Ruma [Serbia], nowadays world-renown name of postindustrial music with headquarters in Prague [Czech Republic]. What can be said about Autopsia that we already don't know? Quite a lot, actually. As the factographical data on Autopsia are particularly scarce concerning their first 10 years of operation and/or mostly coming from local storytellers often prone to memory lapses and hyperbole, this should be taken with a grain of salt.
Autopsia is basically Rade Milinković and whoever he gets to collaborate with. In the early 1980es period these collaborators would often include multimedia artist Slobodan Šajin [from Aux Manir] and one elusive character S. Vukelić engaged in graphic design and music production, yet in the late 1980es colaborators would often include Zlatko Sakulski of nowadays global phenomena from Ruma - Vrelo and Dušan Đorđević-Mileusnić from Belgrade who provided much of the theoretical edge. Autopsia officially functioned as an agricultural art commune, located on a farm in a the nearby vicinity of Ruma often taking participation in art exhibitions throughout the country. Deeply rooted in within the punk scene Autopsia started out as a fringe-fanzine advocating individual selfrealisation and responsibility, but later significantly broadened their scope of activities. Autopsia is still active and can be found here.
Autopsia provided three tracks for the comp, with two of them sounding like rather sketchy blueprints for further elaboration: both Kompozicija za Hor i Klavir [Composition For a Choir and a Piano] and Kompozicija za Hor [Composition For a Choir] respectively, feature a short libretto passage sung over and over again in a loop, creating an effect that quite resembles sampling, but it is in fact suppose to be performed as we are suggested by the track titles [on the other hand - if it is sampling then its really refined and clean-cut]. On the first track the reiterated passage is from Orf's Carmina Burana [Fortune rota volvitur, descendo minoratus] and the on the second its Te Decet Hymnus - from the Requiem Mass [which could be from virtually any baroque composer]. The last Autopsia track "Oh no! Hopeless" is a less oblique affair and definitely more musical than the previous two - we have a dramatic, intense atmosphere of barroom howls intertwining with drums and a sampled voice.
The second band on the compilation is NEP from Zagreb, a loose multimedia collective formed around 1982 by a young graphic designer Dejan Kršić, with the usual accomplices being Gordana Brzović and Jani Štravs. There is a slight ambivalence to exactly what NEP stands for as it can mean Nova Evropa Projekt [or New Europe Project], but also it can mean Novi Evropski Poredak [New European Order]. Whatever the abbreviation actually stood for, the activities of NEP encompassed political & art theory, music, graphic design and film, especially emphasizing the role of medias in contemporary society. During their heyday throughout the mid 80es, they even performed several concerts, with probably the most famous being in 1985 when they opened for Test Department as well as one in 1988 when they had a split bill with a Macedonian band called Aporea, purveyors of anchorite ritualism of whom more will be said on this blog in due time. Somewhere around 1991, when the old country fell apart/into war, NEP also ceased to exist - with individual authors continuing their work on other projects.
A thing in common with Test Dept. and a probably a principal and the obvious most NEP trademark was rather engaged political rhetoric, unambiguously leftist - heavily leaning towards marxist-communism. In my opinion, regarding this kind of explicitly political or totalitarian art engagement as something already exploited by the countries most famous avantgarde art export [Laibach], one should avoid calling all these art-projects that sprung up during the early and mid eighties 'bastards of Laibach', because it was more a matter of a common zeitgeist of the era for all of the artistic and intellectual vanguard in a communist country to be heavily politic. Of all the projects that operated in former Yugoslavia, Laibach, as of the 1982-83 NSK takeover of a outsiderist art-punk/industrial unit from Trbovlje of the same name to a state sponsored project, was not the only one doing this and certainly not the first. Rightfully or not, NSK/Laibach took over and heavily exploited the monopoly for being the prime vanguard on ex-Yugo territory, so we will deconstruct that notion as we unveil all the other interesting happenings in the Yugo scene.
Musically speaking NEP tracks on this comp are mostly unusual, but rather simple tape-looped soundscapes with explicit political content and very clear contexts. The first track (A4) Kada se Forme Lome (When Attitudes Become Firm) is for example taking subject to some of the really interesting happenings surrounding the 1984 UK Miners strike that proved to be crucial in shaping relations between trade unions and government, significantly diminishing the roles of the former for good (which was an essential topic for Test Dept's activities). While (A5) Cultural Struggle seems like a bizarre non-identifiable ethnic music jingle-loop combining passages from some textbook propaganda, in fact what follows it is the high point of the compilation. (A6) Novi Poredak (New Order) is a monumental epic for string instruments, choir and a synthesizer about new winds blowing on the horizon, an absolutely superb piece in every respect. Finishing The A Side of with (A7) Naš Cilj-Komunizam (Our Goal-Communism) is a bit of a humourous relief [with maybe a dash of self-irony] as a familiar voice keeps repeating "our people, our Party", presenting us with a romantic*, tranquil, even meditative vision about how communist utopia sounds like. [*did i mention comrade Tito's voice is sampled? yes, it's that kind of hopelessly romantic].
Opening Side B with three tracks - Padot Na Vizantija (The Fall of Byzantium or often Падот На Византија in original, Macedonian Cyrillic script) is probably the biggest name on this compilation in terms of ex-Yugoslavia [on the other hand - Autopsia would be probably the most famous name on the comp internationally, even if virtually unheard of here] and it's kinda strange that they found themselves here because - first of all - the group wasn't part of a wider industrial/experimental milieu to which majority of the compilation is dedicated to and second - they were defunct for 3 years when The Cassette Played Poptones was released. Nonetheless, their contribution here is precious for its historiographical value, because their discography is less then scarce as the group disbanded without even recording an 'official' studio-demo recording with only couple of compilation tracks and live-bootlegs remaining to testify for the cult underground following that Padot Na Vizantija enjoy.
Padot Na Vizantija was a post-punk group from Skopje, Macedonia. They were formed in October of 1983 by Goran Trajkoski on the ashes of Saraceni - his previous punk-rock group and the line up was Goran Trajkoski on vocals & bass guitar [until 1984, when a separate bass player was introduced - Sami Ibrahim], Klime Kovačevski on guitar [replaced with Zoran Dabić in 1984] and Špend Ibrahim on drums. After two years of performing numerous times on various punk venues and rock festivals throughout Yugoslavia - the group disbanded in 1985, as Goran Trajkoski went to pursue his fortune with Mizar. Although the recordings are pretty much awful, most probably audience bootlegs, Padot Na Vizantija are pretty much well represented on the comp with three of their most famous songs (B1) Početok i Kraj [Beginning and End], a sacralist postpunk anthem with liturgical singing characteristic of Padot, (B2) Noć Nad Jugoslavija [Night Over Yugoslavia] and probably their biggest hit - (B3) Istata Sostojba [The Same Situation].
Padot na Vizantija is now commonly accepted as progenitors of what will later be known as the Makedonska Streljba movement [or Macedonian Barrage], one of the most important currents in art underground of former Yugoslavia, spawning such cult names [of course in more or less local terms] as Mizar, Telonauka Sovršena, Anastasia, Arhangel, etc. This entry would be a nice occasion to tell you more about it, as the information on them are rather scarce and story rather interesting [the mp3's and individual bands information are more or less available, so I'll skip that]
Makedonska Streljba was a revivalist current within the existing post-punk movement in Macedonia and it was certainly one of the most fascinating ones [in the 1980es as well as now], as a it was a subculture movement which sought inspiration in what majority of the subculture movements dare not tread: spirituality and folklore. In the broader context of the epoch, it can also be considered as one of the first traces of Neofolk movement in mainland Europe. A little prehistory is required here - all these bands that came to be Makedonska Streljba and those bands that predeceased it like Padot Na Vizantija, Telonauka Sovršena and Mizar, were under direct influence by above all - Joy Division, and to a lesser extent bands like Siouxie & The Banshees and Bauhaus, because all of the mentioned bands had a certain introspective depth that could be interpreted as part of an inner quest [an inner quest like, for instance, religion is]. Now why Joy Division? Besides the obviously transcendental or even meditative sounding, Joy Division generally has that type of fervor to it that you could easily associate with feeling of religious intoxication [not to mention the fact that Ian Curtis is nowadays the martyr of a semi-official religious cult that has grown around him]. Anyway, there is a interesting essay by hieromonk Father Jovan Ćulibrk on the subject of such inner quests, Joy Division and Christianity to be found here.
One of the most important aspects of Makedonska Streljba was the admiration of the ancient culture of Byzantium that was present on the Macedonian soil more than 600 years ago mostly through liturgical singing and overtones (with traditional Macedonian folk music also proving to be a vital bond), but also through emphasizing the common religious and cultural identity, through the values and heritage of Eastern Orthodoxy which they accepted from the Byzantines. In other words - it was a Macedonian-centred movement, which first and foremost strove to stir the emotions of Macedonian people (for instance Mizar from Skopje and Telonauka Sovršena from Struga were among the first bands to actually release an album entirely on Macedonian language). Makedonska Streljba movement had a strong political and an ideological background as the emphasize of separate national values and identity was regarded as a secessionist provocation by the bureaucratic communist government which didn't chose means to keep order in the politically correct, multiethnic and multicultural Yugoslavia. Therefore many members of Makedonska Streljba faced open boycott and even unofficial persecution in Yugoslavia (and especially Macedonia) because of their views.
Here it would be more than tempting to underline the enormous sociological and culturological differences* in Yugoslavia even within the countries most vanguard factors, such are subculture movements of the separate constitutional nations, by mentioning that opposition to the official state doctrine was also done by the Slovenians and their Neue Slowenische Kunst, but on a whole another level. It wouldn't be too far from the truth to say that Neue Slowenische Kunst was in fact a complete ethical, aesthetic and philosophical antipod of its Macedonian counterpart as they adopted a specific postmodern, futurist world view, firmly rooted within the Western civilization, [with a particular fondness to the concept of German Ordnung], whereas Macedonians looked to a distant past to find inspiration, to their own people and the Church.
[*the differences that, when applied en masse, make the dismantlement of the former state the only logical outcome]
With Macedonia stepping out from Yugoslavia in 1992, the members of the movement found themselves in an awkward situation to be the favourites of the newly established ruling clique and in this new climate some of them adapted and made a commercial breakthrough with the ongoing 90es folk revivalism and some haven't and remained in the dark. In Macedonia nowadays, it is generally accepted that Makedonska Streljba movement is the groundstone of any modern culture.
Last, but not least we have Metropolie Trans of Goran Lišnjić "Lis". Hailing from from Osijek, Croatia's easternmost point and fourth largest city, Lis' very existence is one of the numerous evidences of ultimate triumph of the decentralization process of 80es mail-art network over the concept of traditional of art centres. Metropolie Trans is a project in a 30-year-and-counting string of projects of Lis', one man crusade in struggle for a total art. For him art and culture are not a mere decor for the Polis, but an all-encompassing control system through which inner mechanisms within the modern society are regulated. In that context, the frame of Lis' work was always open (as opposed to "multimedial"), in order to address as much instances of the postmodern society as possible. As for the art making process, it is entirely conceptual and therefore can often endure substantial shifts in form. It is a philosophy that is, certainly not revolutionary or new, but a product of a common 80es subcultural reasoning which spawned such culture-totals as Club Moral, Die Tödliche Doris, Smell & Quim, etc.
Metropolie Trans is the first serious actualization of Lis' ideas and it lasted from 1985 until 1990, occasionally including other people, i.e. Mladen Pavlović. Before Metropolie Trans there was Diskretni Šarm Buržoazije, a tape-loop oriented avant-punk effort which was a more a theoretical unit than a real band. During it's lifetime, Metropolie Trans had five solo exhibitions (most of them in Osijek and one in Zagreb), recorded four audio-works, one of whom is The Cassette Played Poptones, the other three being collected early works in Serija Ranih Radova (1985-87), a collection of mixes and edits entitled Transformer (1989) and a tape Numbers/Order (1990), produced numerous theoretical texts and graphic works and even recorded a film. After Metropolie Trans, new projects such as Nowy Lef, Lebensformer and ultimately Re:Form, the current occupation of Lis', followed.
The three tracks representing Metropolie Trans vary pretty much in style as well as intention. The first Metropolie Trans track (B4) Nowy Lef [standing for Mayakovsky's famous journal] is a rather good tape mishmash including dramatic operatic voices, German military songs and apocalyptic fanfare in the best tradition of any martial/neofolk band that came out from mittel-Europa, some 5-6 years before anything of the sort became a trend. After Nowy Lef we are in for a complete surprise as (B5) Virus is an entirely programmed track, presenting us with a upbeat electro tune in a collaborative effort with Mladen Pavlović [alias Radio Oktobar]. Finally, (B6) Žito (Corn) closes the compilation with a track that could probably be best described as an example of dark ambient.