Serbian power trio Repetitor already caught so much our attention to deserve the highlight on Mixtape#27 at the end of last year. The band’s 2016 third album ‘Gde ćeš’ (Where are you), released for the Slovenian independent label Moonlee Records, was definitely one of the best kept secrets of the European’s alternative rock scene, a compelling and explosive mix of noise rock and post-punk, enough that an ecstatic John Robb, The Membranes‘ frontman and music journalist, not exactly the last guy in the game, claimed : ‘they’re the best guitar band in Europe right now’.
If the Serbian language barrier has unfortunately prevented a wider and definitive recognition of the band popularity outside the Balkans, it’s their live dimension the sonic tool that crashes any barrier, built on the foundations of an over the edge and possessed stage presence by frontman and guitarist Boris Vlastelica, unbelievably supported by a powerful and most effective female rhythm section made of Ana Marija and Milena, their high-voltage sound and performance will , at the same time, shake, quake, blow up your senses and your body like there was no tomorrow. If the band will show up in your nearby area, it would be criminal to miss such a rare and unique, especially nowadays, concentrated of true Rock’n’Roll spirit, as my Croatian friend said ‘they got MOJO!’.
Repetitor will play soon two shows in Greece, the first on September 27th at Rover Bar in Thessaloniki supported by the Canadian group Elephant Stone, the second on September 28th at Death Disco in Athens, supported by the local band Breath After Coma.
Let’s have a nice talk with Boris Vlastelica.
(P.S. I’d like to thank the lovely Ivana Popović Matić for her precious help)
Thanks so much for the interview. We should know anything about you, but due to the illogical matters of our troubled world, we have to start from the early days, from the school desks I guess…
Yeah, that’s when we started playing together. Milena, the drummer, and me went to the same high school, same class. At that time i was 17 and i stopped training basketball and going to Red Star football matches, so i had a lot, and i mean a lot of extra energy, so i started playing guitar, just covering Ramones, the easiest stuff. But i noticed Milena was really good with playing some rythms with just hands or pencils on the school desk. I gave her a Ramones cd and we booked a practice room, along with my friend from the neighborhood on bass guitar, just playing a few early Ramones covers, and from the first moment we were hooked and started making our own songs. At least Milena and me, because my friend soon gave up, so we had to find a bass player. So at some party i meet Ana-Marija, and she mentions that she played bass once and kinda liked it, and that was similar amount of experience on instrument that we had, so i had to call her to try playing with us, and we just bonded like glue as soon as we started playing together and here we are.
One of the few positives of the social media platforms is to know people from other countries, my Balkan friends talked to me about the mythical Jugoslav post punk and new wave scene of the 80’s (with seminal bands like Šarlo Akrobata and Idoli) where ‘everybody was into something: music, comics, poetry, theater’, a period that is obviously almost completely ignored over here.
How much have you been influenced and inspired by it? Did it happen a similar scene again around 2005 post-war, just when you started? I’ve read about the ‘New Serbian Scene’, is it true or a journalist overstatement?
The 80s scene was big and is mythical and influential and we do kinda lean on that heritage, but we also always tried to pay respect but distance ourselves and create our own sound and story. But we never thought that we are doing something original, never done before, there was a rock scene in Belgrade even before the 80s, and all through the 90s and 00s. We just felt the need to do express our energy, and felt that we could be pretty good at this and fun for other people. When we started in 2006, there was a surge of rock bands forming in Belgrade. They never got the media coverage and the free state’s radio studio to record like those bands in socialism, so not a lot of them had reached broader audiences but there was and is always good bands in Belgrade.
Could you please talk about your relationship with your hometown Belgrade? Is it an unconditional love? How is the cultural situation at the moment and is there a lively underground music turmoil around any particular venue, label or record shop?
We often say that Belgrade is the best place on earth to live when you got money. But now money is running pretty thin and uneven, and bad management has killed a few legendary live venues, and the rest are being pressured by gentrification for loud noise, and complete nightlife is commercialising and moving outside of the residential city center to special zones. All of that sucks but it cannot ruin the will of people to have fun so its still pretty wild. Underground music survives in these hard times thanks to internet and a few places around the city where young bands can play.
You are considered as one of the most thrilling and electrifying bands on stage, with your tirelessly energy and to die for attitude, like it was the last show of your life in a true punk spirit. Do you still recall your first gig? In these years you have toured throughout Europe and even in China, and taken part in important Festivals, what are the best fond memories and the worst, if you have any?
On the first concert we were very stiff and Ana-Marija, bass player and me had a high fever, we have the footage somewhere, there were 30 people, but it was good. Its hard to pick best and worst moments, we had a lot of good times, crazy good concerts, travels and nights, and on a bad side there was border patrols, arrests, fights with one another, with other people. Lets just say its hard to surprise us.
Your ‘no boundaries’ attitude turns out in your tours all around the Balkans, even in ‘dangerous’ places… Eventually, people are drowning in the same shit everywhere and the connection through music is much stronger, could you talk about it? Are you planning to return there again?
There are no really dangerous places in Balkans, its all media propaganda, and it has taken over even the Balkans itself. Everyone enjoys this nationalist myths, and all that fits in it gets a lot of attention, but in everyday situations, there is no dangerous place on Balkans. We played all of them and we can confirm. And music just never stopped traveling, Serbian folk is big in Croatia, Croatian pop is big in Serbia. Live bands started connecting in 2000. so in the 90s there was a generation of them who didn’t spread over new borders, cause of war, but apart from that, the connection has been consistent. It is one language after all.
Since 2008 you have released three albums, why those long breaks between them? Since your more powerful and direct ‘straight in your face’ debut, your sound is beautifully progressed and levelled up reaching the ‘perfect balance’ between anger and grace, noise and melody of your last work, How could you explain this unique alchemy between your three? Do you already have any sensations, hints about further possible developments of your sound?
Its just tough to record, prepare and release the songs, play the concerts and manage everything concerning the band. We always aim for 3 year pauses, but it ends up being four. I cannot explain the alchemy, i also cant explain why im so lucky to have such a great bandmates and not have to talk about how and what to play almost never. We just know. We just kinda of have ideas and make songs, and try not to analyze it too much while its in the process of making, so who knows where we’re going with the sound in the future.
From what my Balkan friends say, your lyrics seem to be quite hermetic but very emotional at the same time, written in the manner of the automatic writing technique pioneered by Surrealists, as a flowing expression of your unconscious thoughts and behaviours. They’re not explicitly political, but contain elusive hints at the harsh social reality. Who writes them and could you please give us a deeper insight into them?
Tell your Balkan friends i said hi, because that is a good damn good description. I wouldn’t say its surrealist, i would say its impulsive, because it means something usually, but thats a good description!
Your new album is titled ‘Gde ćeš’. Please help our readers to better understand the title, the influences, the recording process and the ups and downs that have brought to the final amazing result?
Its more of a “where are you going”, but without a question mark. A phrase you say to someone who’s rushing and hasting into something.
Which songs, from your current album, would you pick out as your most representative of the Repetitor sound and why?
Thats the hardest question, cause i dont know what that sound is exactly and i never think about that sort of stuff. Picking singles is hell for me.
A few days ago the legendary Can’s Jaki Liebezeit has sadly passed away, he was the inventor of the so-called ‘motorik beat’, the essential pulsating heart of the band sound. I’d say the same about the crucial contribution to the core of your sound by the mind-blowing powerful rhythmic partnership between Ana-Marija and Milena. Did you have an inspiration, a role model when you were learning to play your own instruments?
Well not in a typical sense, but before i heard the Ramones i thought that you have to know how to play really good and then make music, but thats bullshit, you dont have to ever be very good at some instrument to make good songs, and also good music can be very very simple, and usually is.
Another aspect that you pay close attention is the realisation of your surrealistic and ironical videos, from ‘Opet Jak’, ‘Ogledalo’ to ‘Beskraj’, what’s your approach versus them? Are you passionate about cinema? What are your favourite movies/directors?
To be honest im a guy who never cared much about videos. Didn’t watch them as a kid, so even now, its the best for me when we are working with a director who knows what to do, and who we trust and he just tells us what to do and where to stand, because he has an awesome idea. But its hard to find people like that, so we didnt make a lot of videos, but the ones we did, we are really proud of. Im more passionate about television and cable TV shows revolution these last decade, i watched around a 100 TV shows from the first to the last episode. After getting hooked on TV shows stories in movies seemed short and undeveloped. I dont sleep much during the night so its either TV shows, playing music, watching NBA basketball, or radical theory.
Since the second album you’re linked with the DIY Croatian/Slovenian Moonlee Records, I guess the most respected indie label in the Balkans. Why not a Serbian label? How is your relationship with them and their band roster, will you still continue your independent way with them in the next future?
There is no Serbian label that can offer printing of records and cds as well as booking services. Thats why we are at Moonlee Records, and yeah we would like to continue.
In our West European blurred vision imposed by the neo-liberal propaganda, we are persuaded that, after the fall of the Communist block and your bloody war, life in that finally ‘free’ countries is improved, (we have even gifted you of our factories, my country car and texile in particular)… But when I asked to my Balkan friends about it, their only answer is ‘before (the war) it was much, much better, never lacked anything’. Boris stated in an interview ‘I believe that it’s sorely clear that Socialism is the only way’. What’s your opinion about that and what did Boris mean?
There is a strong media narrative coming from above telling us it was way worse, and even if it wasn’t, this terrible state we’re now in is because we are paying the debts from socialism, but there are no facts to support this, and the memory of people is still strong. It has its flaws of course and i could talk about that, but your friends are right, it was better by any measurable statistic as well as the memory of most people. Health care, job security, quality of life, education, economy, it was all better for majority of people. Nationalisation provided a chance that poor families from villages that had nothing, and worked on rich owners farms for nothing, like my family, now move to the city, get a job, apartment and an education. So it was an emancipatory movement never seen before or after in this regions, which rose millions from the extreme poverty and gave them what we consider normal life. Factories didnt open after the war, they closed, and got sold for parts, or they have a fraction of production they had.
I consider war in the 90s a war for privatisation off all that value created by the socialist Yugoslavia. If you follow the money you will see that the richest people today were the manager class in socialism, running state export and import companies which they later privatized, so that is the class that had most to gain from the war, as they wanted it all for themselves. That’s the nature of capitalism in general, and specially in periphery countries like Serbia. Our best chance is to become very cheap labour force and compete with far-East markets, which is happening right now, and its a future we cannot accept and were not promised or voted for.
And even when you look more globally, there is just no chance this level of inequality, exploitation of both people and earth, and accumulating wealth can continue for too long. I think it is the number one problem of our time and that choice for me is clear, socialism or barbarism.
What kind of old/new music are you listening to when you’re not creating your own one? Any current bands/artists are you excited by at the moment?
When we are playing and traveling lately we listen to a lot of Neu!, The Black Lips, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Thee Oh Sees… There is a few new young bands in Belgrade we are excited about, one has an interesting name, Dogs In Kavala.
Many thanks for being our welcome guest, just the last one : Over and above, I can imagine, lots of unmissable ‘take no prisoners’ gigs around the world, what are your future plans?
Thanks for the truly awesome questions. In Serbia we are used to future being uncertain so we try to give everything now, like in Thessaloniki and Athens in a few days.
Photo credits: Igor Coko (1st one), Milos Hadzic (2nd one) & Borislav Brezo (3rd one)