It Came From Rijeka: Hrvatska Punk

Just recently, we here at The Little Black Egg went on an excursion to Croatia. Naturally, we worked to improve our collection of ex-YU punk music while we were there. You see, Dear Reader, Slavic rock music is the shit. Anyone who tells you different is lying and should be immediately smashed because they are in the employ of the forces of mediocrity.

However, figuring out what to buy is tricky if you don’t speak Serbian or Croatian, since that’s what most websites and books about the YU Rock scene are going to be written in. Music sharity sites specializing in rock and punk from the Balkans (which you can find under the YU Rock heading on my link list), are very helpful. Most of this stuff is long out of print, and looks like it will stay that way.

Our first stop in Croatia was Rijeka, which is a port town and major transit hub. Many tourists to Croatia pass through Rijeka but don’t stop there. To be honest, Rijeka is somewhat less visually entrancing than, say, Croatia’s many historic medieval cities located on scenic beaches. But Rijeka has the advantage of not being overrun with German tourists doing that tourist thing where they dress as though they are prepared for a jungle safari, instead of a stroll down the main drag of some UNESCO protected wonderland. Later on in my trip, I saw lotsa Germans in Winnebagos. But I digress.

The point is, Rijeka was also the epicenter of one of Yugoslavia’s major punk scenes.

Should you find yourself in Rijeka, the record store to visit is called Dallas Records. My friend Nikola clued me in about this place. It stocks local and international stuff, and is also a record label that has been steadily reissuing a bunch of Rijekan bands.

When I asked the woman at the shop about Rijekan punk, she told me “Yes there have been many many groups from here, we have one of the best scenes in the world and now you will listen to all our bands.” And then she proceeded to take about 15 CDs out of their shrink wrap and play them for me over the in-store stereo system. She talked a little about the Rijekan scene, and how there used to be a lot of back and forth with the Belgrade scene before the war.

If my budget weren’t so limited, I would have gotten tons of stuff, but as it happened I ended up only getting a collection of Rijekan legends Termiti, garagey punks from 1979 with a killer organ sound. Their song “Vjeran Pas” is monster anthem that can’t be stopped. The Dallas Records Termiti collection is entitled Lp ploca vjeran pas: kompletan opus legendarne punk grupe! 17 skladbi, bonus live + multimedia. The multimedia component is a short documentary about the band, which includes footage of them from back in the day. The singer is off the hook, and at one point sings with a toilet over his head. Like, an actual toilet, worn like a hat.

Later on, half of Termiti morphed into Let 3, a cheerfully transgressive bizarro-rock band that’s still kicking today. The CD of Let 3 didn’t really tickle my fancy, but then again I don’t speak the language so I miss all the jokes. They’re real popular in Croatia and the surrounding environs.

While in Rijeka, I was told that Dallas Records was releasing a 3CD comp of all Rijekan punk bands but it wasn’t out yet. I was fucking pissed. I’m always a day late and a dollar short.

But then, about a week later, I was in Dubrovnik and got a line on another record store. I went there and got the same treatment—the guy in the store kept playing me music until I said I had to go. And even though I’d been warned that he probably wouldn’t want to talk about Serbian stuff since he got hit with a bunch of shrapnel during the shelling of Dubrovnik during the war, when I got there he put on a Pekinska Patka album right off the bat.

Best of all though, that 3CD set came out, and it is a real motherfucker. It’s called Rijecki Novi Val. (Novi Val is Croatian for New Wave.) This is one of the best collections of anything I ever acquired. Punk and New Wave were huge in the Balkans. I said it once, and I’ll say it again: the ex-YU countries are responsible for the some of the best punk music made anywhere.

For a communist country, Yugoslavia was comparatively relaxed when it came to personal freedoms. A Yugoslavian passport would allow one to not only journey to the West, but also to travel behind the Iron Curtain (Yugoslavia was non-aligned, and not part of the USSR).

Yugoslav bands played shows and released albums, often with government assistance. The big YU music label, Jugoton, had a roster that included punkers such as Electricni Orgazam, and Jugoton also released albums by foreign artists like Bowie and PiL for the Yugoslav market. Balkan groups got exposure to a wide array of rock music from around the world, but never lost their regional sound. And as I understand it, the authorities mostly welcomed the satire they got from Novi Val bands, considering it to be healthy for society or whatever. For an example, check out this video from the Belgrade band Idoli:

The Rijecki Novi Val Antologija contains 70 songs from about 1979–1989, ranging from more garagey, obviously UK and US influenced punk, to New Wave tracks, to industrial synth experimentation. The production varies on some of the tracks, which include tracks sourced from live records or demo tapes alongside studio recordings. Luckily, these were remastered at Laibach's Studio NSK in Ljubljana, and everything sounds good.

The Xenia track “Troje” sounds has a radio-ready Siouxsie and the Banshees kinda vibe, but is more Slavic than anything else. And some of the more out synth stuff, like Mrtvi Kanal, would trounce anything on those Messthetics comps. But for all the stuff on here I’d heard of, like Let 3 and Paraf (legendary Croat punkers who totally rip off the Ramones’ “Chinese Rocks” in their song “Rijeka”), there is twice is much I haven't. Take for instance Porko Dio, a band with one song on this comp—an 80 second long lo-fi synthpunk workout. I can’t find out anything about these guys (guy?) except that the song, “Riba” (which means “Fish”), is from 1988. Do they have an LP? A demo cassette? I don’t know. Just when I think I’ve figured something out, something else sends me searching.

You’d think that a 70 song compilation would be exhaustive, considering that it documents the punk scene in a town of less than 150,000 people, but the more I look the more there is to find out. I’ve pulled a dozen tracks from the comp and made a sample mixtape, which you can listen to if you find yourself so inclined.

I’m not entirely sure what the best way of procuring a physical copy of this compilation would be, since Dallas Records doesn’t seem to have a web site. But I highly recommend buying it as opposed to downloading it, not because I’m a goody-goody but because the boxed set comes with a big booklet of photos and text, and a bunch of inserts. The time has right for this music to see distribution in the United States.

Someone should get on that.


The Shape of Things to Come

The Sightings have been around for a few years now, and were the headliners at a show I wrote about recently. They have several albums out, including their excellent LP Through the Panama, released last year.

This is the cover for Through the Panama. I was going to take pictures of the show but my camera is broken.

The show was an RNR 666 event, and the bands played at Corvinteto (please excuse the lack of Hungarian diacritical marks), a multi-story bar/café/movie theater located above Budapest’s first-ever department store, which was built back in the commie days and hasn’t made any concessions to trends in modern retailing. It looks like a warehouse with low ceilings and rows of florescent lights illuminating racks of useless merchandise with the occasional bored clerk waiting for her shift to end. I went in there once and the only other customer was this old woman in purple with a limp who kept coughing as she shuffled around, touching things.

The store atop which rests Corvinteto. This image can be found in its original context here.

The Sightings came out and introduced themselves, announcing that they hailed from Ronkonkoma, Long Island. The band is three guys making music that sounds like a radio transmission from the future. And it seems that the future is going to be a super fucking rad slimy David Cronenberg latex surgery hell world where bands like this pass for pop music. Thank god.

Weirdly, the Sightings have your standard power trio singer-guitarist/bassist/drummer lineup. They sound nothing like a power trio. I have no idea what effects gizmos this band uses, but their guitars make weird ghostly noises, or sound like handfuls of change hitting glass tabletops in slow motion, or anvils dropping on piles of undifferentiated meat at the bottom of a grain silo, or odd pulsating emanations—infrequently, they sound like distorted guitars. Out of this emerge songs—amidst all the reverb and delay, there are these structured songs that guide you forward amongst the strange, looming blocks of sound. It’s noisy material that seems like it should be difficult but it isn’t at all.

On Through the Panama, the Sightings are pretty nuanced. Sometimes the material is cold and sterile (in a good way), but it also crosses into territory that’s almost heartfelt, while also being really creepy. Live, they’re more unhinged; dynamic waves of huge, echoing noise bouncing and crashing, spilling forth and receding while the drummer propels the songs along, sometimes messing with piles of effects stuff. It's the sound of the shape of things to come. After seeing them, I was surprised that more bands don't sound like this.

The Budapest crowd warmed up to the Sightings' weird barrage fairly quickly. From what I’ve seen, Hungarian audiences can be a little reticent with the applause at first, but unlike, say, New York crowds, they aren’t the least bit jaded. Bands that venture outside the bounds of the typical Euro tour circuit can really leave a serious mark on the crowd. And at this show, there was a small group of people up front, staring at the goings on like they were downloading secret commands into their cortex. And they were. Those that were susceptible to this kind of music were being activated. That’s the kind of thing that can only happen once. I’m glad I was there too.


Zvoni Telefon

We here at the Little Black Egg just got back from a trip to Croatia and Bosnia. While our record hunting efforts in Sarajevo were a total bust, we scored some amazing stuff in Rijeka and Dubrovnik.

While we feverishly toil to complete two forthcoming articles, please enjoy this Serbo-Croatian version of a Blondie classic from Rijekan group Fit.


Büdösök: The Brown Danube Waltz

For nearly two years, we here at The Little Black Egg have been searching high and low for music by the Hungarian band Büdösök. We first saw them play at the 2006 Sziget festival. They really stuck out, considering Sziget is a giant, boring rock fest stuffed to the gills with bands a good fifteen years past their sell-by date.

Büdösök were playing on a tiny stage that was about 999 miles away from where the headliners played. Their lineup consisted of a drummer, a bass player, and a singer who played the trumpet and a tiny keyboard. When he sang he sounded like . . . well, you know those olden-timey sanitariums you sometimes see in period films, where everyone is chained to the wall and drooling and soiling themselves, and there’s this one guy in restraints who thinks he’s Napoleon or St. Francis of Assisi? And this guy is haranguing everyone around him? Imagine that backed by a distorted, skeletal bass plod. It was nauseating and impressive. I loved it.

The show ended, and two years passed while I tried to find out stuff about them. As in, I looked through the “B” bin in just about every single record store in the country. The record store guys either didn’t know what I was talking about, or insisted that the band had never made a recording. For a minute I thought I had a lead when I met a young man from a Budapest-based pop punk band whilst hanging out at one of my girlfriend’s gigs. When I told him that Büdösök were my favorite Hungarian band, he said “Ah! Büdösök! That is the true Hungarian shitpunk!” And he was right.

This is a video for their song “TV-Stáb-Uzo.”

If there is more Hungarian shitpunk to be found here, well, I’d like some help finding it. Büdösök were pretty goddamn elusive. I never saw any fliers for shows they played, and no record stores had their CDs. There was no Büdösök web presence to speak of, either. Or at least not that I could find. And I was out there sniffing out clues like Sam Spade. I’d pretty much given up hope until I bumped into two of the Büdösök guys at this show I went to.

A teaser video for “Büdösök B.Á.,” the band’s theme song.

I learned that Büdösök’s studio output is isolated to a four song EP called Markomban a buvészpálca . . . muvészetem buz és álca (I don’t know what that means, nor do I know how to get my computer to make the double accent mark over some of the vowels). The drummer told me that they were recording a full-length album, and were going to be opening for NYC’s the Sightings at a venue in downtown Budapest.

So I went to the gig, which was off the hook. In front of a rabid audience, Büdösök delivered the goods. Most of the crowd seemed to know the words and sang along. People were drunk and falling down and a few were crawling around on the floor. A lot of the singer’s between-song stage patter was delivered in a weird falsetto voice, and I think most of it was fake German. The whole thing was really, really funny. The crowd was elated and yelling. It was a big, noisy mess.

It’s possible that I’d like Büdösök more, or maybe less, if I knew what they were singing about. But I don’t, so never mind. (The few lyrics I managed to translate were unprintably scatological.) Büdösök’s sound is built on similar sonic terrain to that of AmRep stalwarts like Killdozer, the Cows, etcetera. Except Büdösök are not from the US Midwest, and they’re not trying to sound like they are. Büdösök’s brand of funny-yet-unnerving inebriated skudge rock is totally home grown. You can pinpoint a couple of influences, but . . . this is the true Hungarian shitpunk. It's seasick and strident and totally fucking weird. No one sounds like this. I'm sure that, if there are C.H.U.D.s living in the sewers of Budapest, these are the songs they march to.