Listen Loudest!: An Interview with Zdenko Franjic

Dear Reader, as you all know, we here at The Little Black Egg think that punk rock (and other music) from the ex-Yugoslavia is among best stuff ever made. Starting out in 1987, Croatian record label Slusaj Najglasnije! (or Listen Loudest!) documented many of Croatia’s greatest bands, including Madjke, Hali Gali Halid, Satan Panonski, Bambi Molestors, and many others.

Over time, Listen Loudest! evolved, and today releases music from artists the world around. The mastermind behind Listen Loudest, Zdenko Franjic, has been kept his label/life mission together for over thirty years without a break. His Bombardiranje New Yorka album is one of the all-time great punk comps, and has spawned multiple sequels. Zdenko is also a DJ and performer, and has published numerous books.

Hi Zdenko. What are you up to these days?

I just got back from Vinkovci and Novi Sad where I’ve been with my stall with books and my digital records. In Novi Sad we (“Iggy Onemanband and his Harp Explosion” and me as Lutajuci JD Zdena, or “Wanderin’ DJ Zdena) did a show in Nublu cafe/bookstore. Also, I’m preparing a little tour of east and south Serbia and Macedonia and I will play at “InMusic” biggest Croatian festival with my band Babilonci (The Babylonians).

When did you start DJing?

I’m a DJ from the late seventies. I like funky music.

How did you get into singing on top of other songs?

Well, I have been forced to do that. I remained without musicians and I use instrumental music to talk/scream my words over it.

I was reading interviews with you and you mentioned that what got you into music was this guy in your town who dressed all in black and wandered around with a violin, and the neighborhood kids all yelled stuff at him. Is this true? It sounds like Fiddler on the Roof.

My mother bought me a record player and a few records when I was a kid and there was that guy in my village. It was early sixties and he looked like he came from another planet to me. He died a few years later on a railway. A train hit him.

How did you end up gravitating towards rock and punk?

First I started to listen to glam and pub rock music and later came punk and all other kinds of music. I’m listening everything.

What led up to your starting a record label in 1987? Were there a lot of independent labels in Croatia at the time, or was it like just Jugoton, Dallas Records, and you?

I think there was another one in Slovenia, but I’m not sure. I used to mail order records from England and U.S. and I wanted to try to do it by myself. It was difficult of course but I think it’s worth it. Now I’m doing 10 albums a month, but selling is not going very well. : )

Do you find that people keep on discovering the bands on Listen Loudest! year after year? For instance, I know that Satan Panonski and Hali Gali Halid continue to have a cult fanbase in the USA—everyone I play that HGH record for loves it.

Yes, I sell some of my stuff abroad, too. I also have some US bands on my label: The Humpers, The Morlocks, Al Perry, The Suicide Kings, etc.

Satan Panonski and Hali Gali Halid are just the tip of the iceberg because here we have a lot more to offer, not just punk and rock bands, there’re also more progressive and different and great bands and artists.

Was there a reason why Bare didn’t continue with HGH?

Hali Gali Halid started as a joke and Bare’s project. He played all instruments and everything else on that EP. There’s a rumor that Bare will play one gig as “Hali Gali Halid” in the near future. So, who knows, maybe there’re will be a new release too.

Did you get to see Anti-Nowhere League when they recorded their Live in Yugoslavia album? I’ve heard some funny stories about those guys.

Yes, I went to that concert, which was part of a two-day festival in early eighties. Laibach also played on that festival and some other foreign groups. Anti-Nowhere League also made a Return to Yugoslavia album but that one is boring fart.

What was it like organizing a two-day festival during the war?

We were lucky because the guy which run a place where was a concert had a brother which was working at police so we get a permission for concert. At that time (middle of war and bombings of Zagreb) there were no concerts at all.

There are a lot of stories about Satan Panonski: that he killed a guy, he was in the institution, he cut himself when he played shows, he died mysteriously. But when I talk to my friend from Rijeka, who is a writer, he never mentions any of that stuff. Instead, he’s always talking about what great lyrics Satan wrote, and how important they were to him and his friends. Was Satan Pannonian an inspirational figure in Croatia at that time, or was he just seen as a madman, or both?

Satan Panonski was a band and Ivica Culjak was the leader of the band and he made a legend out of himself all by himself and without help of media. We first did his 8 song demo in 1989, and after that an album called Nuklearne olimpijske igre (Nuclear Olympic Games) in 1990. He chose to record for my label because my label gave him all the freedom he wanted.

For me Ivica was a great artist, a renaissance man I can add. He was a painter, a poet, a performer, an actor, he made even his clothes and everything he did with a great perfection.

The songs he did with the band are not his best. His best poems can be found in his book called Prijatelj (A Friend).

Ivica was an inspirational figure for me and a lot of my friends in Croatia and wider. Some saw him as a madman and were afraid of him, and when I sell my stuff at my stall everybody has something to say about him.

Was it hard to get him out to play shows?

No, on contrary, he enjoyed shows very much and there was a show before and after the show because he was also a great entertainer. Recording sessions are also big great fun because of him.

How did people take Satan Panonski’s Kako Je Panker Branio Hrvatsku album? Were people offended by the more nationalist songs, or did it capture the spirit of the times?

Yes, on that album there are two “nationalist” songs which perfectly capture the spirit of the times. He was on a first line of the front during the war, and they played those songs over the radio to his enemies.

Did Satan have a steady band over time, or was it more just random people? I’d read that a couple of his bandmates were killed in the fighting, but I don’t know if that is true or not.

Everyone who knew how to play also know how to play Satan Panonski songs in Vinkovci, his hometown. He never had a steady band and a lot of people played with him so it is possible that some of them were killed in the fighting, or from drug overdose, or from jealous woman etc. : )

How did you begin corresponding with John Trubee? He’s infamous for his song Blind Man’s Penis, and for generally just being a fascinating human.

I met John Trubee through “Real Life (in the Big City)” fanzine from LA. I think John is a great poet and musician. I did his book Electric Prong From Hell.

You’ve got loads of Bombardiranje New Yorka compilations. The first is obviously a super-famous punk compilation that sort of introduced people outside of Croatia to Satan Panonski, Majke, etc. You’ve kept doing them, however, going from vinyl to mp3, and the comps feature more international artists. What kind of stuff are you excited about nowadays?

Yes, I made the first one in 1989. I made a cover from two pictures, one picture of old NYC, and another of a plane dropping bombs from “Search and Destroy” fanzine. I was compiling Volumes 5 and 6 when real bombing was happening in a real NYC. It looked like pictures from a sci-fi movie when I saw it on TV.

Now I’m on Volume 14. The 13th Volume was on a DVD in mp3 format, both audio and video. Over 55 hours of music. Artists from all over the world. I don’t know that anybody ever did such a deed. It is a compilation to listen for a years to come. There was just one review of that compilation by Vladimir Horvat Horvi on Terapija Magazine on the net. I send my stuff to Roctober zine and KZSU radio, and some others, and they review and play my stuff, but nobody noticed or recognized that compilation.

What question do you never get asked during interviews that you wish people asked?

How about “why bother?” Sometimes I feel like a character from a sci-fi novel/movie by Ray Bradbury: Faranheit 451 for sure.

Anything else that you want to say to the people, sir?

All my releases can be downloaded through Soulseek. User name: franticz

So there you have it, readers. Slusaj Najglasnije! is still very much alive and kicking, and you can contact Zdenko directly to order any of the amazing records and books he puts out. There's shirts for sale, there's all kinds of stuff. Go there, fer chrissakes, and get some stuff. You won't be disappointed—there are a million record labels out there, but few present such a solid, unified body of work. It's worth your time.

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Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of "facts" they feel stuffed, but absolutely "brilliant" with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451